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.
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