Monthly Archives: December, 2010

Where’s the Beef?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County, which has 177,000 acres of farmland,  is home to 23,000 head of cattle at last count.  Considering the community’s desire for local foodphoto_cow2, it is amazing not one of these steers will be processed locally for commercial consumption.  That’s right, the cows must commute over 60 miles to be processed. 

Albemarle County’s Planning Commission closed their 2010 with a discussion of by right uses in heavy and light industrial lands.   The topic that has received the most attention has been their split decision (3-2) regarding slaughterhouses.

Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow penned an article outlining the issues in last Thursday’s Daily Progress:

No slaughterhouses operate in the county today and planning staff recommended changes, in part to satisfy the growing interest in the local food movement. The debate over slaughterhouses is also part of an ongoing review of the zoning ordinance to satisfy a directive from the Board of Supervisors to promote economic development.

“What you will see potentially happening in the coming years is more of a local demand for ways to process local food products,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning. “The turn there seems to be towards having more local food available for local sales.” …

Commissioner Linda Porterfield said she opposed the change.

“There are many considerations with a slaughterhouse, including the runoff,” Porterfield said. “There’s noise, bringing in the animals, killing the animals … They need a lot of water for this particular kind of business.”

The closest slaughterhouse to Charlottesville is in Harrisonburg, sixty miles from Charlottesville proper and up to 75 miles from Scottsville.  Anecdotal evidence shows some farmers shipping their cattle as far as Baltimore for processing.

Slaughterhouses are among the most highly regulated businesses in the United States.  In addition, Albemarle County retains the ability to draft supplementary regulations and performance standard for by right uses.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes keeping slaughterhouses as a special use permit will create significant uncertainty and even if such an application came foreword it would become a political issue not one based in solid land use decisions. 

Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan Economic Development chapter (amended March 2009) states:

We will work to encourage a mix of uses, and a balance of jobs and housing within our development areas, in keeping with our commitment to the Neighborhood model form of development. We will work with resident and new agricultural enterprises to, in an environmentally sustainable manner, maximize their productivity and tourism opportunities as a part of our overall strategy to preserve the rich agrarian tradition and texture of our rural areas. We recognize our position, along with the City of Charlottesville, as the center of the regional economy. We recognize the economic objectives of other localities in the region, while renewing our commitment to our own economic development within the framework of our growth management objectives

The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a supporter of agricultural enterprises that make the rural areas financially sustainable.  Based on this position, we believe slaughterhouses should be a by right use in the heavy industrial (and perhaps light industrial)  land in Albemarle County .

To be clear, we are not convinced that a slaughterhouse could be economically viable considering the current market rates for industrial lands but we believe it is ideologically incongruent to support land use taxation to encourage agricultural uses and then require a special use permit [and requisite public hearing] to complete the lifecycle of this important agricultural product.

We are encouraged that a majority (though not a consensus) of the Albemarle County Planning Commission was in favor of considering bringing slaughterhouses as a by right use to public hearing in the near future.  In addition, we applaud Albemarle County staff for bringing this topic forward as a part of the zoning ordinance revision.

Hopefully, when we next ask “where’s the beef” we can point to our local beef being processed locally.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website



Environmental, Business, Civic Organizations Reaffirm Support for the Community Water Supply Plan

From Staff Reports:

Charlottesville, VA – On a snowy afternoon, The Free Enterprise Forum, stood side by side with The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of  Commerce, The League of Women Voters, The Nature Conservancy and The Piedmont Environmental Council in reaffirming their support of the Community Water Supply Plan. The approved and permitted Ragged Mountain solution meets the fifty year projected need, replaces the spillway safety issue, restores flow to the Moormans River and provides water from within our own local watershed.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “While a vocal minority has generated significant attention, this event clearly illustrates there is significant broad based public support for the approved Ragged Mountain solution.

“I can’t remember a single issue where these five groups, representing civic, business and environmental interests, have stood together and spoke with one voice. Based on all the data that has been presented to date, including the recent Independent Technical Review Team Review of the Black & Veach study, we remain convinced the approved and permitted Community Water Supply Plan is the most practical, least environmentally harmful water supply solution. As our joint statement says – ‘we look forward to the timely implementation of the approved and permitted Albemarle Charlottesville 50-year Community Water Supply Plan’. To do anything less would be a disservice to future generations,” Williamson concluded.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization. More information about the Free Enterprise Forum can be found on its website

Greene County Supervisors’ Decisions Indicative of Adapting to Change

By Pauline O. Hovey

The Greene County Board of Supervisors indicated its willingness to adapt to changes in the county landscape yesterday by voting unanimously to grant a special use permit to Bruce Shifflett for his Lydia Mountain Lodge & Cabins, a tourist attraction located in an area zoned C-1, Conservation. The permit will allow Shifflett to add outdoor recreational activities, including all-season tubing, a zip line, and an ATV trail to his Mountain Laurel Pass property. In addition, earlier that day, in a workshop with the School Board and architect SHW Group concerning the proposed school facilities project, supervisors agreed to move forward with a public hearing for January 11, 2011, for an estimated $5.3 million loan.

Tuesday’s full schedule began with the 4:30 p.m. workshop where the SHW Group representative Bill Bradley presented several very detailed handouts outlining base bids, lump sum allowances, and nine unit price allowances for additional excavation to the high school’s athletic facilities and Performing Arts Center. In addition, pricing for alternates such as baseball and softball bleachers, dugouts, and other upgrades were provided in 14 separate items. Five firms bid on the project, ranging from $3.8 million to $5.3 million, not including the alternates. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville), who served on the project Steering Committee, commended the architectural firm for providing “professional guidance and expertise. They did a good job of estimating things out, costs vs. need.”

If approved, the county would seek financing for the project through the Virginia Public School Association, and annual payments would be less than the debt that’s being retired at the end of this fiscal year, basically substituting a new school project for the old.

At the regularly scheduled board meeting, supervisors spent more than one hour discussing Shifflett’s special permit issue request and listening to public comments on the matter. Concerned about the noise generated from potentially 10 ATVs being operated at the Lydia Mountain Cabins as a result of acquiring this permit, one neighbor, Jeanette Halpin, commented, “One’s rights stop when they infringe on the rights of another.”

The concerns of all four neighbors who spoke against the special use permit were focused on additional traffic and light and noise pollution generated by the proposed recreational activities, although all agreed that Shifflett’s business operation to date has been conscientious and commendable. That same conscientiousness motivated several residents to speak in favor of the project, noting Shifflett’s connection to Greene County, and to the mountain, specifically, having grown up in the area. Margaret Ramsey, local realtor and chair of the Tourism Council, “I appreciate the measures the applicant has taken to make sure his plans have limited effect on the nature of the area and his neighbors.”

Board members then addressed their reservations, such as the need to widen the road leading up the mountain and the effect of ATVs and outdoor lighting on the quality of life. Supervisor Frydl clarified the lighting and noise issues for the board by pointing out that any new site plans would fall under ordinances for lighting now in existence and would be required to meet those criteria. As for noise issues, he noted that, other than an ordinance addressing disturbances after 11:00 p.m., the board lacks legislative authority this area under current County code. Concerned about the lighting issue, Supervisor Carl Schmitt (at-large) moved to accept the special use permit, subject to changing the hours of operation to be limited to until sunset rather than until 9 p.m., as originally proposed. Based on that change, all supervisors approved the request.

From there, the meeting moved forward smoothly and quickly, with the board approving a resolution for financing energy performance contract upgrades not covered by Qualified School Construction Bond funding and an additional appropriation for energy service upgrades to county facilities.

One of the last items, which the board will revisit over the coming months is prioritizing 2010/2011 county projects with the Planning Commission. County Planning Director Bart Svoboda prepared an extensive project list that includes top priorities of comparing the comp plan with zoning ordinances, revising proffer guidelines, and following up on water and sewer issues, specifically in terms of special needs requests. Supervisors realize they need to define “where the line needs to be” in terms of when a property should be required to connect to the current system, and they need to sort out the agricultural-based land issue, which Supervisor Frydl explained as the “mixed farming and creative use of land issues,” noting, “We want to make sure we don’t put undue burdens on property owners wanting to keep their land.”

Shifting Philosophy at ASAP?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything”.  This quote came to mind Sunday morning as I sipped my coffee reading Jack Marshall’s opinion piece in The Daily Progress.  Mr. Marshall is the President of local population control group,  Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population.

Mr. Marshall’s piece, tepidly headlined “University’s role deserves close look” was paired with an essay adapted from University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan’s speech at the 96th annual Chamber Dinner headlined “Thoughtful growth at UVa”.

Mr. Marshall has argued that if the University is to grow it should do so elsewhere via satellite campuses while Dr. Sullivan outlined her belief that as they grow UVa “wants to be a good neighbor”.

Mark Twain came to mind late in Mr. Marshall’s piece, when he wrote:

No one is proposing a reduction in the size of UVa or the population of the Charlottesville/Albemarle area, even though ASAP’s footprint analysis reveals we’re in severe ecological deficit.

Wait a minute, didn’t this same Jack Marshall present to both Charlottesville City Council AND Albemarle County Board of Supervisors indicating a desire for population reduction?

Knowing Mr. Marshall to be a thoughtful person and an exceedingly careful writer, I went back to the Free Enterprise Forum blog and found my October 18, 2010 post, Depopulation – Where’s the Outrage?:

In a front page article in today’s Daily Progress by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Brian Wheeler, a local population control group calls for the depopulation of the region.  Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) President Jack Marshall is quoted directly:

“We must, if we care about having a sustainable community for our grandchildren, we must consume less and simultaneously we must stabilize our population size or even reduce the population size of our community,” Marshall said. [emphasis added-nw]

While ignoring the internal inconsistency of having a sustainable community for our grandchildren where new members of the population are not welcome (wouldn’t that be our grandchildren),  Mr. Marshall expressly called for population reduction on The Daily Progress front page.

Recognizing that this may actually be a shift in organizational philosophy, the Free Enterprise Forum simply asks Mr. Marshall which is it? 

Does ASAP want to start building the moat to prevent people from moving here?


Does ASAP, in their “reasoned, informed”  tone, wish to build the moat and reduce the current population? 

Regardless of ASAP’s current position, The Free Enterprise Forum’s philosophy has remained consistant and intellectually honest — government should stay out of the population control business entirely.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website

Greene County Supervisors Anticipate Revisions/Changes in 2011

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Although the Greene County Board of Supervisors meets only once during the months of November and December, planning continues behind the scenes for what appears to be a year of changes.

No longer operating under the “plug the holes before we sink” method, conservative supervisors over these past several years have turned the county around, steering it in a more fiscally responsible direction and acquiring substantial reserves in the process. Although Greene County, like its surrounding counties, faces a decrease in property taxes, which will affect the overall budget, Greene may be in better shape than some of its neighbors. According to Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville), the county has experienced an increase in sales taxes and home development that will help offset the anticipated decrease in property taxes. Combined with the county’s reserves, he believes there will be no need for a tax rate increase in 2011.

As they plan for next year and beyond, supervisors are revisiting planning and zoning ordinances with the Planning Commission to determine priorities for the year and ensure ordinances are cohesive with the new comprehensive plan. They also will review the efficiency of processing in light of that plan. In addition, water and sewer issues will continue to be on their agenda. Next Tuesday, December 14, at 4:30 p.m., the board will hold a joint workshop with the School Board to examine specifics of a proposed school facilities project, with presentations by the architectural firm and a financing update provided.

The most interesting and curious item currently occurring in the county is the fact that as many as seven residents are running for the position of county treasurer vacated when long-term treasurer Gail Berry resigned. The interesting mix of candidates includes the assistant treasurer currently employed in the treasurer’s office, three school teachers, and one CPA. A public forum, sponsored by the Ruckersville Citizens Council, to meet candidates and pose questions will be held on January 5, 2011, at the Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center. A special election will be held January 11.

When Did Focus Groups Replace Leadership?

By. Neil Williamson, President

A quote from Chiara Canzi’s C-ville Weekly article about the latest Meadowcreek Parkway delay accurately sums up the philosophy of many of the region’s decision makers (and regulators):

[Julie] Langan [of state Department of Historic Resources]  proposed that all the consulting parties meet and discuss mitigation issues.

“What you work toward is a consensus among the project applicant, our office, the advisory council on historic preservation, and the community,” says Langan. “We would think that there might be suggestions that haven’t been made yet that could be appropriate and that’s why we think there should be another meeting.”[emphasis added-nw]

If only this were an isolated incident.  One need only look at Sunday’s Op-Ed in The Daily Progress to see another example where a regulatory agency (Department of Environmental Quality – DEQ) has been asked to facilitate a meeting between Charlottesville and Albemarle, the two localities that meet on water matters every month under the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

In a carefully worded letter on Nov. 23, DEQ asked for clear confirmation about its role in such a meeting, which it sees as:

* Providing technical background information.

* Facilitating and encouraging “constructive dialog” among the local two governments and two water authorities charged with developing and implementing a water plan.

Indeed, as the letter hints, it would be highly improper for DEQ to become more involved. It’s the agency that has to issue a permit for any new water project. It cannot simultaneously steer local decision-makers in any particular direction, or even appear to do so.

Perhaps even more surprising is the recommendation coming out of the subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board regarding the US 29 Corridor study and the disconnect between Charlottesville MPO (including Albemarle County), who favor grade separated interchanges on US 29 and the Lynchburg/Danville community, who would prefer to bypass the Charlottesville community rather than drive through. 

In the minutes from the subcommittee meeting (which have since disappeared from the web), the subcommittee was planning to recommend the CTB hire a super mediator to work out the issues between the communities.

In each of these instances, I am reminded of a quote from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke:

Captain, Road Prison 36: What we got here is… failure to communicate.

As one who has watched this movie at least a dozen times, I am fairly certain that the Captain misdiagnosed this problem. 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that leadership often requires clear bold stances.  Having such clear lines is not an invitation for insurrection but should be an invitation to win in the marketplace of ideas. 

Further, once a matter is decided, it has become commonplace for the “divas of delay” to use the threat of litigation to hinder the approved community’s advancement.

A failure to actualize projects that have been agreed to by previous elected bodies brings the credibility of all elected positions into question.

We don’t need another meeting, we don’t need mediation, we need a little leadership.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website



Fluvanna Board of Supervisors: Reality Checks

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative

At their December 1st meeting Fluvanna County’s supervisors were briefed on a number of issues that presage more difficult times for county residents and government alike. For example, debt service payments will increase dramatically over the next two fiscal years to pay for the new high school, according to the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Debt service will exceed the county’s current policy of twelve percent of governmental revenue by several percentage points, even when federal and state funding is included.

Moreover, the county’s undesignated fund balance, or savings account, also has fallen below the county’s target ratio – also at 12 percent – of savings to expenditures. This will further reduce the Board’s flexibility to adjust the budget during the fiscal year.

Supervisors also were briefed on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) concept currently under review. The Commonwealth’s initial proposal was submitted just two days prior to the Board meeting and discussed only in general terms.

According to Ms. Leslie Middleton of the Rivanna River Basin Commission, alternative on site septic systems will become mandatory. They will be more expensive for homeowners, will require more maintenance and could become a cost burden to local governments.

Supervisors also approved the Thomas Jefferson Planning District’s 2011 Legislative Program Proposal, the last locality to do so. They also authorized the county administrator to enter into negotiations with a firm to develop financial forecasts that would assist in the budget process. The results should be available in February.

The Board appropriated $791,000 of federal education funds to the School Board. The school administration will use the funds to provide a one-time teacher bonus to restore pay cuts instituted earlier this year.