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
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) is 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
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 package 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.
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.
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.
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