Monthly Archives: February, 2011

Albemarle’s Anti Business Mission Creep

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last year, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors passed their Economic Development Action Plan designed to improve economic vitality and business perception of Albemarle County.  It seems as though someone forgot to tell their appointed Boards and Commissions. 

In several different actions over the last two weeks, the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and the Planning Commission have unnecessarily flexed their regulatory muscles to the detriment of the business climate/perception. 

Before going into detail on these issues, it is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not have a position on any specific project application, we use these examples to highlight the policy positions we do support.

ARB Does Not Like “Wells Fargo” Yellow

Wells Fargo Sign Arlington Texas Back in 2008, Wells Fargo merged with Wachovia.  Since that time west coast based Wells Fargo has been steadily working their way east, rebranding Wachovia branches as Wells Fargo branches (Arlington, Texas in photograph). 

In their February 22nd meeting, Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board reviewed a color sample provided to staff by Wells Fargo prior to submitting an application.   It was clear the ARB did not like what was called “Wells Fargo” yellow.  As with the Giant Food application below, the ARB places no value nor import on established corporate branding.  As one Board member put it, “The corporate standard is not germane to the discussion of the ARB”.

To add insult to injury, the sign in question (Airport Road & US 29) is100_0350 located just eleven paces south of the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport sign that did not undergo ARB review.  As we wrote in a post earlier this month regarding the red light cameras (which also did not go through ARB approval), such action reeks of a double standard between “county/VDOT” projects and private businesses. 

It is difficult to argue that this sign  is not “advertising” the airport; why then does it not rise to the same level of county scrutiny as the Wells Fargo sign (eleven paces south)?

Giant’s New Logo does not impress ARB  

100_0356 Giant Food is also in the process of a rebranding effort.  The Seminole Square Giant is located in the City of Charlottesville (see photos) and has completed their new signage project

In September of 2010, The Pantops location applied  to the ARB to change out their sign with a colorful new sign where the logo is larger than the letters of the word Giant.

Working from staff’s recommendation, the ARB was troubled by the difference in size between the logo and the letters.  In discussion, one Board member voiced his concern that “ Graphically the logo is too large for the type”. 

Without any firsthand knowledge of the situation, I would imagine the graphic image that Giant Food is placing on their stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic region has been focus group tested and represents what the company feels conveys its corporate message and will bring in the most business.  The applicant described the logo as a “fruit bowl” that is important to Giant’s corporate identity. 

Rather than follow the the corporate standard (and the sign package100_0355 located a few miles away in the City), the ARB unanimously chose to dictate that the logo height must be limited to 4’, which is the maximum height of the Giant letters. 

The Free Enterprise Forum questions the impact of this size differential on a sign located approximately 500’ from the Entrance Corridor and if the benefit of the reduction in logo size is really worth the five months it took to get through the ARB process.

Planning Commission Dictates Membership

There has been a significant amount of media attention to the Blue Ridge Pool/Day Camp application.  In considering the application to establish a summer day camp at the existing pool location in Ivy, the Planning Commission heard from neighbors of the facility regarding impacts on their lives.  The applicant agreed to restrictions on the hours of operation, days of operation, number of persons on the property and number of memberships. 

The Free Enterprise Forum is most concerned with the last of these conditions.  The Planning Commission is charged with land use planning and regulation, how does the number of memberships impact the intensity of land use?  It does not. 

Clearly the Planning Commission was within their bounds regarding the number of persons on the property at any one time, this speaks to the intensity of the use.  To limit the number of memberships sold unnecessarily infringes on the applicant’s ability to address the needs of the market.  If the applicant finds that a weekday only membership provides new members (and revenue) to the club and does not impact his maximum capacity, why should this be restricted as a land use issue?

Without having an opinion on the outcome of this specific application, the Free Enterprise Forum hopes that the Board of Supervisors will remove the membership restriction prior to voting on the proposal.

Conclusion

As we reported in our Regulatory Rationale post, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission is clearly pushing the envelope of their regulatory powers by “criminalizing” winery noise violations.  It seems clear from reading the County Attorney’s remarks that this was not the direction provided to the Planning Commission by the Board of Supervisors.

Whether or not the ARB’s actions are in concert with the thinking of Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is a bit more difficult to determine.  While applicants have the ability to appeal ARB decisions to the BOS, few ever do.  While this is regrettable, it is understandable – applicants have a business to run not windmills to tilt.

100_0358 Back in 2001, the ARB considered the Albemarle County welcome signs (in the US 29 median) on three different occasions.  It is unclear why Albemarle no longer believes such signs impact the entrance corridor and are not subject to ARB review.  There should not be such a double standard

In addition, the Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that appointed committees and boards may not have a solid understanding of their role on these “advisory” panels.  Too often these positions have become soapboxes for advancing personal agendas rather than promoting the publicly vetted and supervisor endorsed Comprehensive Plan. 

There is no doubt that Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is very concerned with changing the County’s anti-business perception and promoting the economic vitality of the region.  The anti-businees mission creep of their appointed boards and commissions actions seem in conflict with this mission.

If appointed committee members are not following Board Policy, they should be reprimanded, redirected or removed.   That’s the level of accountability the community deserves.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Former Greene County Supervisor Jeri Allen Leaves Legacy

By Pauline Hovey

To live with courage, dedication, passion, and integrity—what more could one ask of a public servant? When former Greene County Supervisor Jeri Allen died on February 10, she left such a legacy, as attested by those who knew her.

Jerri%20Allen1 Allen served in Greene County government from 1996 when she joined the Planning Commission for a six-year stint, through December 2009, after completing two terms on the Board of Supervisors. But she continued her life of public service by serving on various boards until she lost her six-year battle with cancer. Along the way, she was instrumental in moving the county forward in the areas of economic development and financial stability, working hard for approval and construction of a water and sewer infrastructure project, a new elementary school in her growing Ruckersville district, and a new library/senior center, among other accomplishments.

Board Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) spoke fondly of Allen, whom he has known since 1999 and served alongside during her years as supervisor. “From a business standpoint, her single biggest accomplishment was the water and sewer infrastructure project,” Catalano said. “She had a vision to make that happen, and it was very complicated in the beginning. But her strong desire and her wisdom and understanding of business helped put that infrastructure in place.”

Allen was known for her well-informed decisions and well thought-out ideas, her understanding of the county’s current and future needs, and her ability to listen and to communicate. “She was a better communicator than any of us,” Catalano said, “and that facilitated a lot of things with the board because of how she conducted herself. Being the only woman on the board, she kept us all in check, presented a more sensitive side, and built a lot of bridges along the way to move things forward. And she was proud of that fact.”

Jim Frydl, current supervisor for the Ruckersville district, agreed that his predecessor’s greatest achievement on the board was the sewage treatment plant, “because it set up the county for potential economic growth. She singlehandedly pushed that so hard. She was like a little pit bull. Her passion and drive were as large as she was diminutive.”

Despite her small stature, Allen did not back down at the county level or the state level. She took on VDOT to pave a badly potholed gravel road leading into the county park—a park that many residents frequent and that hosts countless sporting events. “She found the [state] grant and pushed for 2 ½ years to get that road paved,” Frydl said. “You wouldn’t know that about her, but she was hard core and pushed and pushed.”

Despite the red tape involved and the length of time such VDOT projects normally take, “she got aggressive with VDOT and got that road paved,” Catalano said. “She used to tell me she was on it like a cheap suit.”

In addition to her support of the County Parks and Recreation Department, Allen was a strong supporter of the Greene County Technical Education Center (GCTEC), once donating a truck she had won from a county fundraiser to the school’s automotive program. She was also instrumental in bringing the Free Clinic to Greene County—a nonprofit dedicated to providing free health services to county residents unable to afford health insurance.

A dedicated public servant, Allen served on numerous boards while residing in the county: the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, which she chaired for three years; the Rapidan Service Authority for seven years; Greene County Social Services; the Piedmont Workforce Network, a state-funded agency to facilitate job training and placement; the Greene Free Clinic; and GCTEC.

“People didn’t realize how many boards she served on,” Frydl said, “and she was active on all of them and just as passionate about every one of them. Everybody who knew Jeri knew she was somebody you could count on to work hard and improve things.”

Ray Dingledine, former superintendent of Greene County Schools, remembered Allen’s conscientious support of county schools. “Jeri was really proud of the schools,” Dingledine said. “She toured the facilities before making a decision to be sure she fully understood what she was voting on. She asked good questions about the school budget and always wanted to know the facts, and I respected that.

“The last school building project she voted for —the high school/middle school expansion project—it took two years to pass it,” he said, “and she was one of our #1 supporters. She totally supported our schools and community, and her opinion was always respected. She was willing to stand up for something even if it meant a battle.”

As a fellow supervisor, Catalano sometimes witnessed those battles. “At times we argued to the max,” he said, “but we respected and liked each other very much. She was a great confidante of mine, and she made me a much better supervisor than I would have been without her. She taught me that it’s not about being right, it’s about building consensus.”

Allen brought many years of business experience with her when she moved to Greene County in 1992, and she was president of Redding Consultants, an international business consultancy founded by her husband, until she retired in 1996. In addition to the countless hours she gave as a supervisor and offered as a volunteer, Allen donated her supervisor salary each year to organizations such as the Greene County Rescue Squad—just another demonstration of her desire to make a difference.

“Jeri wasn’t ego driven,” Frydl said. “She served to try to make things better.”

Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Greene County

Regulatory Rationale

By. Neil Williamson, President

How should localities approach regulation?  Should they consider themselves to be locked in combat with the regulated industry or should they work cooperatively with industry to develop objective, enforceable standards?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that for regulatory reforms to be successful, they should have input (and possibly buy in) from those being regulated. 

Based on a couple recent meetings, we are not convinced that all the local officials agree that applicants should be equal partners in the reform process.

In a joint meeting of the Charlottesville City Council and the Planning Commission, one commissioner voiced support for an adversarial relationship.  She repeated a philosophical position that “Once you write an ordinance, someone is out there trying to find a way around it.  That is a lot of times how it happens”. In the same meeting, a City Councilor indicated. “I think it’s fine to ask for extra stuff from applicants”.

This mind set is not unique to Charlottesville. 

In a recent Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, the commission, charged with land use regulation, decided on a 4-3 vote to move winery noise ordinance out of the zoning ordinance (which is under their jurisdiction) to the criminal code (which is not).  Their rationale was that at the time of noise offences at wineries (evening wedding receptions) zoning officials are not available.  In addition, they chose not to create an objective metric of decibel level but to retain the current, somewhat subjective, “audible” standard.

Charlottesville Tomorrow reported the reaction of County Attorney Larry Davis when he was informed of the Planning Commission decision:

“If I understand [the action], the Planning Commission does not want to deal with the … winery issue as a land use issue, but instead deal with it as a nuisance issue,” Davis said. “You could take that approach, but it’s envisioned … that you would deal with land use issues in the zoning ordinance.”

“I would hope that the Planning Commission would hold a public hearing and bring a zoning text amendment to the Board of Supervisors rather than recommending that you adopt a [police powers] ordinance that’s not under their purview,” Davis added.

The reality, in both these cases, is that those being regulated have requested clear, objective metrics be applied to create predictable outcomes.  In many ways, the desire not to have such standards is fueled by a belief that standards somehow reduce the power of enforcement. 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes by working with those who will be regulated can produce ordinances with both predictability and objectivity.  While we he hope such a philosophy will win the day as these proposals move forward, we continue to see “relief valves” added to ordinances as an attempt to add ambiguity and reduce applicant certainty. 

Such “fuzziness” can’t be rational.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Fluvanna Supervisors Look at New Taxes

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

 

On February 9th, Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors considered new taxes as a way to close a potentially large budget deficit and reduce its reliance on real estate taxes as a funding source.

The most contentious issue may be the enactment of a Business and Professional Occupational License or BPOL tax. The tax, long opposed by many in the business community, is employed by half the counties in Virginia and is levied on gross receipts. Supervisors reached no conclusions.

Also, supervisors considered a Meals and Lodging tax, but such a measure would have to be approved by county voters before it could be enacted. Ironically, some supervisors seemed to like an idea, floated by county administrator Jay Scudder, to hire a public relations firm to advocate for approval. Spending taxpayer funds to lobby for a new tax in Fluvanna would be a novel approach for the county.

The tax options were part of a larger FY 2012 budget proposal that currently calls for a four-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, to $.58 per $100 of assessed value. However, the current budget keeps school funding at current levels and does not take into account a potential 1.3 million shortfall in state assistance. No pay increases are planned for county employees.

Each cent of real estate tax provides the county with about $360,000 in revenue so to just fill the operating shortfall for the schools would add an additional four cents to the tax rate. This would equate to a 15 percent increase.

The county has set aside $250,000 to conduct a reassessment in FY 2012. The last reassessment occurred before the real estate market decline, and the county’s Commissioner of the Revenue, Mel Sheridan, has estimated that the county’s current assessed value is overvalued by some twenty-five percent. If accurate, Fluvanna’s revenue neutral real estate tax rate would jump to $.74 over the current $.54.

William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Albemarle County Responds to Free Enterprise Forum Red Light/ARB Blog Post

By. Neil Williamson

100_0345Yesterday (2/11), the Free Enterprise Forum blog posed the question, Did Albemarle’s Photosafe Cameras Run the ARB Stop Light? 

The post received media attention from NBC29 as well as CBS19/ABC16/FOX27

Lee Catlin, Assistant to the County Executive for Community and Business Partnerships, sent an e-mail explaining Albemarle’s position on this issue. At her request, I am sharing the content of the e-mail:

The PhotoSafe system (both cameras and signage) is located in the Virginia Department of Transportation right of way and thus is subject to VDOT traffic control and safety requirements and is exempt from local planning and zoning provisions like ARB  review. The PhotoSafe system is considered part of the area’s traffic control system, much like a stop sign or a traffic signal.  The County obtained the necessary land use permits from VDOT last September before any construction was started, and the system was installed following the specific direction of a VDOT traffic engineer to make sure all requirements were met.  Aspects of the system, for example the color and exact placement of signs, were determined by VDOT requirements that give very specific guidance about what colors are to be used for what type of signs, what distances and orientations should be used in placing signage, etc. so that the ultimate goals of traffic safety and control can be achieved.

While we understand Albemarle’s position,100_0344 we continue to see a double standard.  Prior to obtaining the VDOT land permits, Albemarle County could have asked the ARB for their opinion.  They chose not to. 

Entrance Corridor businesses do not have that option.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Did Albemarle’s Photosafe Cameras Run the ARB Stop Light?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In late November of last year, Albemarle County installed red lightPhotoSafe_logo enforcement cameras (Photosafe Program) at the intersection of Rio Road and US 29.  As regular readers of this blog know, Albemarle County has designated twenty one of its roadways as “Entrance Corridors” which requires a “certificate of appropriateness” to be issued from the Architectural Review Board (ARB).  Both US 29 and Rio Road are “Entrance Corridors”. 

According to Albemarle’s website:

The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and is charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.

100_0346

As the only regular public attendee at ARB meetings, the Free Enterprise Forum has witnessed many long discussions about specific sign colors, sign height, massing of letters on a sign, materials used, and much more.

Last week, we watched as the ARB admonished business owners who were placing neon signs in their window or placing their products out in front of their store in the entrance corridor. 

We are aware that there is a well established criteria for cell tower composition (hollow metal painted brown).  So we were most curious how we missed the meeting where the ARB approved the construction of the sleek, tall silver twin towers peering directly on the entrance corridor. 100_0346

Remembering that these units were placed in the Entrance Corridor at the specific direction of Albemarle County, not the Commonwealth of Virginia and that they reach approximately 15 feet into the view shed; we were more than a little confused to learn that the  cameras were not the subject of a review by the ARB.  Examining the photos in this post, it is difficult to argue these twin towers do not have an impact on the appearance of the entrance corridor.  At a minimum, they have as much impact as a cell tower located much further from the Entrance Corridor.

The ARB has had a significant impact on development (and the cost of development) in the “entrance corridors”.  Last year, the Free Enterprise Forum published the  “Eye of the Beholder” report documenting some of our issues and potential solutions to the delays that often accompany an “entrance corridor” project.

To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum does not have a position on the effectiveness, legality  or appropriateness of red light cameras, we will leave those discussions to others.  We do take great issue with the double standard that Albemarle County is not required 100_0344to undergo the same level of ARB review for revenue generating (and perhaps life saving) red light cameras as the businesses located  in entrance corridors. 

Based on our understanding of the sensibilities of the members of the ARB, We believe they would likely have made modifications to the design to improve the project’s “impact on the entrance corridor”.

But instead of adding this delay to the implementation of PhotoSafe Albemarle County choose to simply run the light hoping no one would notice.  Luckily we had our camera.

 Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Dog Owner Rights Hottest Issue at Greene Supervisors meeting

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Despite a long list of agenda items for the Greene County Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday night (2/8) meeting, the majority of the crowd attended for one reason: to stress dog owners’ rights to keep their dogs roaming free. The county’s current leash law pertains only to certain zoned areas, making it difficult and frustrating for animal control to enforce, so the supervisors were considering whether to repeal the current code and amend it to cover the entire county. The issue of citizens’ rights, especially in relation to their animals, can sometimes become emotional, and that was true at the public hearing  with the half dozen residents who spoke against amending the law and the lone person who spoke in favor.

Although supervisors related mixed feelings about this issue, the county’s recent growth combined with the number of complaints they receive about dogs running loose, prompted the need to look at resolving this problem. Both Supervisor Carl Schmitt (at-large) and Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) stressed the number of negative calls they’ve received about loose dogs over the years. “Bar none, the #1 complaint I’ve had since I’ve been on the board is this one,” Catalano said.

“The important issue is that the law apply across the board,” Supervisor Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) argued. He noted that when animal control receives a citizen complaint, the officer should not have to pull out a county zoning map to determine in what area the dog is located and whether or not the area applies to the leash law. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) said that although the dog owners who spoke against the leash law are responsible owners, they cannot assume that others are as responsible. “The intent is to control those who don’t control their dogs,” Frydl said. He then made a motion to repeal Section 14-61 of the county code and enact it with new wording applying the leash law to the entire county.  The Motion passed unanimously.

In other matters, supported by the county’s economic development goals and a favorable vote from the Planning Commission, two home-based businesses seeking special use permits received the go-ahead from the Board of Supervisors. One is a gunsmith shop offering a full range of repair services, and the other is a jewelry-making business, which will conduct its transactions online. Special use permits were required because both businesses sought to construct a small structure on their properties from which to conduct the business outside of the main dwelling. In both cases, supervisors fully supported the home-based businesses.

The quarterly report from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) revealed the status of projects the supervisors have requested, specifically the Mutton Hollow project and the extension of the turn lane from Rte. 29 onto Rte. 33 where the new Super Wal-Mart is located. VDOT’s Karen Kilby reported that although a “small amount of money” is available for the lane-extension project, the agency does not have the workforce currently available to do this and would therefore have to “contract out” for the project. With tongue-in-cheek, Supervisor Schmitt asked if any of the State’s newly funded transportation projects would be coming to Greene. Kilby  explained the money is going to projects “already defined,” and funding to Greene “will remain the same” – the only possible new projects affecting the county would be any federally funded bridge repair work. Expressing some humor on the subject, Supervisor Frydl suggested when filing requests for project funding, Ms. Kilby rep could help the county by spelling Greene “F-A-I-R-F-A-X.”

Supervisors also unanimously agreed to a request from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to erect a monument on the courthouse lawn to recognize local American Revolutionary war patriots. The county will not incur any cost related to this monument, as the DAR is seeking funding from its organizations.

Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org