Monthly Archives: May, 2011

Public Meeting or Pep Rally?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

In recent weeks, the Free Enterprise Forum has been troubled by the lack of professionalism and courtesy at local public meetings. The worst (but by no means only) offender is Charlottesville City Council.

During the understandably emotional public comment surrounding the Rivanna sewage pump station location, Charlottesville City Hall had the feel of a lynch mob, cheering loudly for each additional speaker.

In our opinion, the chair, in the case Mayor Dave Norris has a responsibility to limit or eliminate such outbursts for that very reason.

We are not alone in this opinion.  Albemarle County‘s Planning Commission has schedule a training session regarding the “Best Practices for Public Bodies in Public Meetings” .  In the material prepared for this training session it focuses on the importance of the chair to:

assure that civility and decorum are maintained…. control those who are not in control

The City of Mercer Island, Washington publishes its ban on such cheering along with its guidelines for speaking at a public meeting:

Please remember that it is not appropriate at anytime during the public meeting for members of the audience to disrupt the meeting (e.g. clapping, cheering, ridiculing or jeering). The Planning Commission Chair may require the removal of citizens who disrupt the orderly conduct of a meeting. If order cannot be restored by removal of individuals, the commission may order the meeting room cleared and may continue in session or it may adjourn and reconvene the meeting at another time, subject to certain limitations.

A month or so back we wrote of a Louisa Supervisor shouting down a citizen during the “Matters from the Public” portion of their meeting.  Just as this supervisor explicitly attempted to silence a critic of Louisa County, public meetings punctuated by audience outbursts (applause, cheering, jeering) do not create an atmosphere of openness.

While we hold the public to a high standard we also hold the members of the board or commission to a similar standard.  We expect when a member of the public speaks he or she is treated with respect.

Audience participation is not a partisan issue, the right, left, middle, green and other have all been guilty of this type of opinion suppression at different times in each of the localities.

In addition, if a meeting has the opportunity for “responses to matters from the public”, we believe such responses should not sidetrack the meeting and turn into a dialog.  We also believe if a false statement is made, it should be identified and corrected.

In a recent Charlottesville meeting, a citizen said on the record that State Farm Insurance [an Albemarle County business] had all the money they needed and probably didn’t even pay taxes.  Though given the opportunity, not one councilor spoke up regarding this false statement. 

While the Free Enterprise Forum may not agree with all of the citizens that speak at public meetings, we believe it is imperative that the presiding chairs (and the respective members) work to foster a welcoming atmosphere for public comments.  If comments are addressed they should be handled politely and expeditiously.

If a government body allows cheering and applause of speakers, those with contrary opinions will be discouraged from coming forward.  The discussion will be diminished by this lack of inclusive participation.  Minority opinions will no longer be presented and elected officials will have a false sense of the true will of the people.   

As citizens we should demand civility and professionalism from ourselves AND all our public officials.

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, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Property Rights Top Concern for ‘Historic District’ Owners

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Property rights in Stanardsville’s “historic district” appeared to be the main concern in the comprehensive plan, as the Greene County  Planning Commission discovered Wednesday night during a public hearing on a draft to update the town’s current plan.

At issue is the consideration of a Historic District Ordinance to protect and preserve structures designated within the town of Stanardsville’s historic district and what such regulations might mean to property owners.

Doris Snow, a Greene County native who, along with her husband Phillip, owns one of the homes designated as historic, said that she advocates the plan’s vision statement but is against establishing such an ordinance because it would restrict property rights and impose regulations that could be costly to owners.

“We don’t want to put undue restrictions on businesses coming into the county,” Snow said, adding that imposing strict regulations on structures deemed historical would discourage potential investors. She also was concerned about limiting what current homeowners can do to improve their homes. “My husband and I have spent a decade making renovations in our house, many of them ‘green’ improvements that would not have been allowed under this regulation.”

buggs peytonStanardsville Supervisor Buggs Peyton, who is also a town resident, agreed that the ordinance is “the most bothersome item” of the comprehensive plan and strongly objected to any regulations that would interfere with homeowners’ rights.

Another Stanardsville historic homeowner, Jackie Pamenter, had a different opinion, citing that the ordinance “doesn’t need to be restrictive, but people have a duty and a responsibility to keep up their [historic] buildings. The ordinance could be worded in such a way to not be so restrictive, but to simply state the need to protect buildings from careless neglect.”

One of the new business owners in town, Matt O’Varanese, who recently opened The Standard Eatery restaurant on Main Street, brought up other concerns such as speeding on the 25 mph road and evidence of criminal activity on the street, suggesting both be addressed to improve the town’s appeal. He also expressed concern about regulations and the need to ensure owners keep up their properties, but added, “The trick is in the balance.”

After listening to further public input, commissioners agreed that a balance needs to be found in imposing any restrictions on personal property rights. “The end goal is the revitalization of Stanardsville,” said Commissioner Anthony Herring.

imageCommissioners unanimously agreed that the public’s recommendations, including concerns about the town’s infrastructure and inaccurate population estimates that affect Stanardsville’s ability to apply for grants, be turned over to the working committee to be incorporated into the final plan.

The working committee, which includes Planning Director Bart Svoboda and several town residents, prepared the initial draft in conjunction with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. They will now meet to revise the draft before presenting it to the Stanardsville Town Council.

Sharp readers of the Free Enterprise Forum blog will remember the TJPDC was recently was awarded an almost $1 million dollar grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate comprehensive planning revisions for City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia.

Stanardsville Mayor Gary Lowe emphasized, “This is a draft. We’re in the process of getting more suggestions, getting more eyes to look at it. We will have at least one more public hearing and would like to receive input from all walks of life.”

In addition to the historic ordinance, the 31-page comprehensive plan addresses issues such as economic development, infrastructure, and community design and land use. It is available for viewing at http://www.tjpdc.org/pdf/Community/StanardsvilleComp_5-6Draft.pdf

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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 Credits: Greene County, The Lafayette Inn

Fluvanna Supervisors Increase Board Size to Seven

 

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

At its May 18th meeting, the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 to advertise a proposal that would increase its membership by one. Both Chairman John Gooch (Palmyra) and Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) voted against the expansion.

The proposal is the county’s response to the redistricting requirement necessitated by the 2010 census. After the June 15th public hearing, the Board will vote on a redistricting plan that will then be forwarded to the Justice Department for review.

The seven districts are relatively balanced: the average population is 3,670, with a variance of 343 between the largest and smallest. The Lake Monticello community, the largest in the county, would be split among three districts: Rivanna North, Rivanna South, and a reconfigured Palmyra.

The split effectively would end the opportunity for Lake Monticello voters to elect two at-large supervisors from one district. Further, by splitting Lake Monticello residents into three districts, supervisors have diluted the strength of the Lake constituency.

Supervisor Booker opposed the seven-member Board proposal. Instead, she advocated for a five-member Board, stating that her constituents favored only one seat for Lake Monticello. This was met by silence from her colleagues: Lake Monticello accounts for forty percent of the county’s population and would have been entitled to two seats even in the five-member configuration.

The northwest corner of the county will receive a new seat, tentatively called Zion, carved out of the existing Palmyra district. County officials hope to steer growth to that sector in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan.

No elected officials were redistricted out their seats; and the new districts will be in place for the 2011 county election.

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William Des Rochers serves as Free Enterprise Forum’s Fluvanna County Field Officer.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization.  If you found this report helpful, please consider financially supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.

VDOT Connectivity Regulations on “Fast Track”

By. Neil Williamson, President

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1462, requiring the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to  “fast track” their review of the proposed connectivity and review requirements for secondary roads.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported back in December 2008:

The goal of this new policy is very clear. For the first time, VDOT will require “that streets accepted into the state system for perpetual public maintenance provide commensurate public benefit.”

Although the plan includes many components, the element perhaps most likely to result in sweeping changes is a measured commitment to connectivity for all new road networks. In order to be accepted for maintenance funds, a proposed street network will have to look more like a grid and less like a series of cul-de-sacs.

As a part of this process, VDOT created a new  standard for evaluation of road systems.  This seldom used method of connectivity calculus within a development does not allow for thought given to local traffic patterns or needs.

In addition, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the prohibition on cul-de-sacs could dramatically, and negatively, impact land development trend in the rolling hills of central Virginia.  In speaking with engineers, the purpose of the cul-de-sac – in addition to being treasured by home buyers – is to take up grade on the site.  If such a high level of interconnectivity is required, one can anticipate significantly more mass grading of sites (also called “moonscaping” by some).  We believe this unnecessary removal of trees and slopes to attain link/node ratio requirements has not been properly evaluated.

The proposed regulations also run counter to the recent Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals of limiting point stormwater runoff.  The unintended (we hope) consequences is increased impervious surface cover on unnecessary roads and sidewalks and increase stormwater runoff.

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(Image credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow)

Interestingly, The Urban Land Institute in 1890 studied the various street options for the amount of lineal feet of pavement.  Prince Georges County (MD) adapted that model in 2000 to come up with the figure below.  The very type of development the regulations are trying to prohibit has the least impervious surface!

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(Image Credit: “Impervious Surface Reduction – Best Management Practices” www.metrocouncil.org [Twin Cities])

In addition to the vehicular connectivity, the new regulations seek to promote pedestrian connectivity as well.  While the goal of pedestrian connectivity is valuable, the new regulations fail to pass the common sense test when they require sidewalks on both sides of a street in an area where homes are on large parcels and pedestrians are few and far between.

On the whole the regulations will increase the cost of housing for the struggling new housing industry by the loss of buildable lots on any given parcel, the requirement of more roads and sidewalks to be built and the requirement for more environmental avoidance and mitigation to be paid.

In the long run, all of these roads and sidewalks will be turned over to VDOT for maintenance.  It is simple to calculate that if this regulation requires more roads and sidewalks (especially in large lot developments) to be built as a result of the necessary compliance with the link/node ratio, maintenance costs for VDOT will increase in the future.

The Free Enterprise Forum supports connectivity between new and existing residential developments and recognizes its value to local transportation networks, but that is not what will happen through the current link/node system.  Only inner development connectivity to nowhere will result through the link/node system.

The “fast track” review of these proposed regulations may be missing these very real concerns raised by the very businesses charged with implementing the new rules.

The comment period on these regulations is quiclkly closing (May 31) Comments can be submitted through the VDOT website, by email or by regular mail as detailed below.  In the subject line of your comments, please reference Land Development Regulations Comments”.

Comments can also be sent electronically  through the VDOT website http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/public_input_form.asp.  Written comments may be submitted by email to Robert Hofrichter at Robert.Hofrichter@VDOT.Virginia.gov.

If the goal of the new regulations is to go increase impervious surface, increase strormwater runoff and increase the cost of new housing then these new onerous regulations succeed.

If the goal is to create a regulatory burden so high that only private roads, and the commensurate perpetual roads bond, will work in new residential communities; thus freeing VDOT from costly maintenance requirements, then the new onerous regulations succeed.

If instead, however, the true goal is to promote a neighborhood design that allows for interconnectivity internal and externally, then these regulations require significant change prior to adoption.

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, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Suburbanization in Louisa County

By, John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer

The Zion Crossroads area of southwestern Louisa County is rapidly becoming the poster child for their efforts to manage growth and suburban development in a predominantly rural locality.

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The short 16 mile drive – almost exactly equal to the Gum Spring to Metro Richmond run – makes this burgeoning community attractive for commuters from the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, with significantly lower housing costs for comparable accommodations within the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area 

Some new residents to Louisa cite the added benefit of distancing ones’ family from the urban problems once thought to be the exclusive province of much larger cities than Charlottesville. The Free Enterprise Forum notes this citizen perception is often short lived for as communities change and increase population density many of the crime challenges tend to increase as well.

clip_image006The residential community of Spring Creek is the largest, but certainly not the only housing development in the Zions Crossroads area. It boasts a world-class golf course flanked by nearly three hundred single family homes and another thirty or so 3-story town homes.

clip_image004Such residential development does not come with out costs (schools, police, fire, etc.) to the locality.  It is critical that commercial and/or industrial growth be encouraged to balance the residential demands. 

Literally across from the entrance to the Spring Creek community are a Wal-Mart mega store, a Lowes Hardware and a string of boutique shops.

Within half a mile one can find fast-food franchises, gas stations, banks, and other essential services that used to require a trip to “town”.

clip_image008By combining commercial and residential growth near the I-64 corridor, Louisa has mitigated many of the traffic issues generated by such activity elsewhere in the region.

This growth is enabled, in part, by Louisa County’s foresight in providing an abundant municipal water supply. The area has access to a generous 582,000 gallons per day (of which only 16% is currently used) and state of the art waste-water processing plant. Clearly Louisa’s targeted infrastructure investment was a critical part of its long range vision for economic development.

There are other planned future growth areas along the I-64 corridor, at Ferncliff, Shannon Hill, and Gum Spring, but none are expected to be of comparable scope in the forseeable future…largely due to the difficulty of providing scarce water and problematic sewer services in those areas.

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During a downturn in the overall economy, Louisa County’s local option 1% sales tax revenue has grown from $1.5 million in 2006 to $2.6 million in 2010. Clearly Louisa County’s experience with targeted water and sewer infrastructure investment is worthy of examination by other localities as they seek to shape future economic development.

John Haksch is the Louisa 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

Greene County Chairman Catalano To Retire

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large), who has served on the Greene County Board of Supervisors for 12 years, notified the Free Enterprise Forum on Tuesday that he will not seek reelection when his term expires in December. Catalano has not yet made a formal announcement, but told the Free Enterprise Forum, “I believe in term limits, and it’s time for me to move on.”

Although he has not accomplished everything on his agenda, Catalano said he feels confident in the county’s fiscal responsibility catalanoand financial status, which he played a role in securing during his tenure.

When Catalano joined the board in 1999, Greene County was suffering financially, borrowing money to pay monthly bills.

Catalano, knowing the work would be difficult, chose to dig in with a tough, conservative stance. He helped turn the county’s financial status around by reigning in spending; building revenues and infrastructure by, among other things, getting developers to invest in the county; and putting the board on track with establishing a feasible annual budget, from which they could not deviate whenever departments showed up asking for money. Part of the problem, Catalano said, was predecessor boards “spent money on the fly.”

Catalano listed the following as his five top personal favorite changes to Greene County government during his tenure:

  1. Sustainable fiscal reform.
  2. Integrated economic development program with the goal of making Greene a self-sufficient society.
  3. Successful start-up of the largest infrastructure project in the history of the county.
  4. Restoration of due process in the county’s internal operations and the restoration of the inalienable right of citizens to petition their government during meetings (“Believe it or not, this was a problem,” Catalano said).
  5. Directing and managing the county to accept its constitutional responsibility to emergency management.

Catalano served as chairman for eight consecutive years, “not because I was into the power,” he said, “but because I knew what had to be done and knew there was a need for consistency in leadership.”

During his tenure, Catalano only missed one Board of Supervisors meeting, and that was due to a death in his wife’s family.

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 Credits: Greene County

Greene County Supervisor Could Be Displaced By Creation of Fourth District

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Greene County Board of Supervisors’ decision at last night’s (5/10) meeting to split the Ruckersville voting district and establish a new, fourth district could effectively leave Ruckersville Supervisor Jim Frydl out of a job in two years.  In addition the creation of the fourth district without an expansion of the Board, reduces the number of at-large seats from two to one.

jim_frydlFrydl currently resides on the west side of US 29, an area that would be located in the new “Midway” district (a name supervisors agreed on last night), meaning he would no longer be able to represent Ruckersville.

By state law, Frydl would be allowed to finish his term. By the time it concludes (2013), a new “Midway” supervisor could  be halfway through his/her four-year term, leaving Frydl in the lurch. A looming question is whether Frydl will decide to run for the Midway district after a two-year hiatus from county government.

None of this is yet enacted.  So far,  the discussion has focused on the name of the district and geographic integrity, rather than the decision’s consequences.  One alternative, regardless of the name, the Board could designate either district the “new” district.

If the Board chose to assign “Ruckersville” as the new district, Frydl would remain in his seat and maintain the ability to run for reelection in 2013 in the “Midway” district.

Such an alternative concept has not yet been discussed by the Board.

The issue of redistricting arose as a result of the 2010 census.  Continued population growth in the Ruckersville area has created an imbalance in the three voting districts. Since Virginia state law allows only a 5-percent population differential among districts, supervisors’ options were either to move more than 700 residents from Ruckersville to the Monroe and Stanardsville districts or establish a fourth district.

County Planning Director Bart Svoboda presented these two options to the Board based on meetings with the Registrar of Voters Sandra Shifflett, County Administrator Barry Clark, and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), the latter being responsible for producing updated county maps.Redistricting Maps GC Draft April 2011

Splitting the additional residents into the two other districts seemed like the least viable option, given anticipated growth in Ruckersville over the next 10 years, which may require revisiting the redistricting issue as soon as three to five years.

“If we stick with three districts, we’ll have to spend more money in the long run,” noted Supervisor Frydl.

Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) agreed. “We know Ruckersville is where the growth is. A fourth district sets us up for the future; it’s the plan with the longest duration.”

For the new district alternative, Svoboda basically recommended splitting the current Ruckersville district along Route 29, but he suggested establishing the new district, possibly named “Piedmont”, on the east side of US 29, running north to the Madison County border. The Board countered, stating they wanted to be “geographically correct” and changed the location of the new district to the west side.

In creating a fourth district, Catalano, Frydl, and Carl Schmitt (at-large) expressed concern over the loss of an at-large seat. The board currently has three district seats and two at-large seats.

carl_schmitt“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Schmitt said. “Two at-large members gives the county a stronger element of communitywide representation. Adding a fourth district would reduce the number of supervisors that residents could vote for.”

Because at-large seats can draw residents from anywhere in the county, supervisors were also concerned about reducing the number of people eligible to run for county seats by eliminating an at-large seat.

“I understand the difficulty in getting people to run, especially for School Board,” Frydl said. “The at-large seat gives us more options.”

But no one wanted to increase the number of seats on the board beyond the five they currently have. In the end, all supervisors agreed that establishing a fourth district now is the best and most economical choice to handle anticipated growth, but absent any further action by the board, their geographical focus impacts Frydl, his constituents, and may result in an unintentional coup .

The Free Enterprise Forum is hopeful that the Supervisors may discuss the assignment of the incumbent district at their scheduled May 24th meeting.  Such a discussion would better inform citizens of the intent of the Board.

Supervisors will receive public input concerning redistricting at a June 14th public hearing, which will be officially announced later this month. After the Public Hearing the final decisions on redistricting are made by the local governing body.

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 Credits: Greene County

Charlottesville “Critical” Slopes– it’s not about environmental stewardship; it’s about control

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tuesday evening (5/10),  the City of Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing regarding their proposed amendment to the current critical slopes ordinance.  This joint public hearuing with the City Council may be the last opportunity for members of the public to speak, on the record, about the proposed zoning text amendment.

The reality is that much if not most of the environmental protection intent of the proposed critical slopes ordinance is already covered under current regulations.  What is not covered is the hidden intent of the ordinance which is to prevent further density to occur in the City.

Erosion and Sediment Control plan regulations exist for all construction in the city.  In addition, Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation require a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan for effectively all new developments disturbing earth. 

Project engineers are also required to follow Minimum Standard 19 (MS-19) regarding runoff from a site. 

Properties and receiving waterways downstream of any land development project shall be protected from sediment deposition, erosion, and damage due to increases in volume, velocity, and peak flow rate of storm water runoff . . .

DCR inspections of a site are the rule rather than the exception.  To be clear DCR clearly declares its legal jurisdiction over such matters this way:

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (Department) is responsible for the successful implementation and enforcement of Virginia’s Stormwater Management (SWM) Regulations (4VAC3-20-81) and the Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) Regulations (4VAC50-30-40.19).

Since the beginning of this process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been raising questions regarding the need for a “critical” slopes ordinance in a city of 10 square miles.  Back in March 2010  a  staff report highlighted:

Staff has uncovered no evidence that any other city in Virginia with a population over 20,000 has a steep slope ordinance.

According to the minutes (and my recollection of the March 2010 meeting) Chairman Jason Pearson asked a very telling question:

Mr. Pearson was not sure their intent was to protect critical slopes. He thought it was possible they were protecting critical slopes only to achieve some other objectives such as water quality objectives and that critical slopes, in and of themselves, have no inherent value to the city.

If the goals are to protect the contributions of critical slopes to the environment, the City has already indicated such solutions can, in most cases, be engineered. 

But if the environmental contribution is not what is being protected – what is?

While the City’s Comprehensive Plan goes to great lengths to discuss increased density as the way of the future, one prominent City resident is searching for an aesthetics metric.  Writing a question to the online community of planners, then Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Bill Emory asked:

“When we replace green infrastructure with bricks and mortar, how can we quantify the value of what is lost?”

Internal to this question is something the community has lost.  But the 100_0317community never really had ownership of this asset.  If there is a property of value that the City does not wish to see used to the highest and best use, the City should buy it.  To continue to enact further restrictive land use policies to make sites indivisible is in direct opposition to the stated goals of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

Further the ordinance is filled with subjectivity that has no business being a part of a legislative document. Much of the concern about this proposal revolves around the ambiguity of the waiver provisions and a clear presumptive denial of most waivers by the current Planning Commission.

Under section (6) Modification or Waiver:

The planning commission may grant a modification or waiver, upon making a finding that a waiver would serve a public purpose of greater import than would be served by a strict application of the requirements of these critical slopes provisions.

Any  waiver  should  be  based  exclusively  on  a  public  purpose  specifically identified in the Comprehensive Plan.

A waiver shall only be granted if the alternatives proposed by the developer are more likely to satisfy the purposes and intent of these critical slope provisions than leaving the slope undisturbed.

Then the ordinance turns on itself raising the potentiality that sound engineering practices could mitigate, or even improve the environmental conditions on a site:

No modification or waiver granted by the commission shall be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare, detrimental to the orderly development of the area or adjacent properties, or contrary to sound engineering practices [highlighting added- nw]

In April, staff provided the Commission with a list of 23 waiver applications that were reviewed under the current ordinance over the last 5 years or so.  Of those 23, the Planning Commission unanimously decided in their work session that 6 of those were “trivial” and should never have had to come before the PC.  They also decided that an additional 3 may have been trivial, but they were not unanimous on those 3.  They decided that the other 14 should be classified as critical and should definitely be subject to the new ordinance and need a waiver.

The proposed new ordinance would exempt only 4 of the projects on that list… maybe.  The remaining 19 would require a waiver.  And the 4 that might be exempt are not guaranteed to be exempt because they can be called critical and swept back under the ordinance if they contain “significant and unique natural or topographic features”.  Any group of highly intelligent and educated people is likely to disagree about what constitutes a “unique natural feature.” 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes nearly all natural features are unique for one valid reason or another.  That phrase is very troubling.

Since the new ordinance doesn’t actually exempt any slopes that previously required a waiver, the rest of the ordinance changes are even more troubling. 

If the stated intent is for this new ordinance to provide a mechanism to administratively exempt many slopes, but make it much harder, if not impossible, for the slopes that aren’t exempted to get a waiver.  It is clear based on their waiver review exercise above, this ordinance fails.

However, however if the intention of the new ordinance is to gain significant new power over privately held property, perhaps usurping state powers, than the ordinance succeeds. 

The issue reminds me of writer/philosopher Edward Dahlberg who famously stated:

The ancients understood the regulation of power better than the regulation of liberty.

In Charlottesville, they could learn a great deal from “The ancients”

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, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Supervisors Go for Odd

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

At the May 4th meeting, Fluvanna County  Board of Supervisors spent an hour discussing potential redistricting scenarios. They did not reach a conclusion, but did advance the process considerably.

The Board made two very key decisions:

· There will be either five or seven supervisors, eliminating the possibility of tie votes killing any given motion; and,

· Lake Monticello will be spilt into at least two, and possibly three districts.

The Lake Monticello decision is very significant. For the past ten years, Lake Monticello residents, which account for about forty percent of the county’s population, have been able to vote for two at large supervisors.

These two at large supervisors meant that Lake Monticello residents were able to vote twice for a supervisor every four years, while the rest of the county would vote only once. All of the redistricting scenarios under consideration currently break Lake Monticello into two, and potentially three separate supervisor districts.

This will diminish the Lake’s influence on county’s politics, but according to one well-placed source, the Lake’s political leadership (an elected Board of Directors) seems to have been most reluctant to exercise that influence in recent years. Any realignment will combine Lake residents with those outside the gated community.

The most significant growth in the county over the past ten years has occurred in the northwestern quadrant of the county. The five-district scenario under consideration would add portions of Lake Monticello to an expanded Palmyra district, giving the northwest quadrant two seats. The seven-seat scenario would add a third seat to the quadrant.

Supervisors seemed inclined to go to seven seats in the discussion. Some members obviously wanted to preserve colleagues seats, as well as other elected and appointed officials, most notably Ms. Camilla Washington, a current school board member who conceivable could be shifted to another district.

Supervisor Shawn Kenney (Columbia) cautioned supervisors to think of the good of the citizens of the county and not current incumbents.

Any decision by the Board, expected after a public hearing in June, will have to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice before it can be implemented.

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William Des Rochers serves as Free Enterprise Forum’s Fluvanna County Field Officer.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization covering Albemarle, Charlottesville, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson county as well as the City of Charlottesville.  If you find this update helpful, please consider financially supporting these efforts.  More information about the organization and how to donate can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Many Staffs, Many Plans — Is the New Planning Paradigm Staff Driven?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Thanks to a three year, $999,000 grant from the Federal Government, The City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, The University of Virginia and The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) are working together to develop the “Livable Communities Planning Project”. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has raised significant concerns of the different perspectives regarding livability between city residents and county residents.  The Meadowcreek Parkway and Community Water supply issue are just two of the latest examples of different visions.

But this week, we are also concerned that the professional staffing for this project is ideologically homogenous with a significant new urbanist philosophical bent.  In a normal planning process we would not be as concerned because it is a more formalized public process with significant resident and business input.  This process values input but is process driven.

Summer Fredrick, a former Senior Planner in Albemarle who resigned to join TJPDC specifically to  head up this effort, said in the Daily Progress last week:

“This is a process-driven project, but the process is only as good as the input we get.”

The kick off event, held in the lobby of Albemarle County’s Lane Auditorium seemed crowded as folks milled about looking a number of different posters and speaking to planners about the Livable Communities Planning Project. 

Reflecting on the meeting, I was struck by the large number of staff in attendance.  I looked back on the photo by Brian Wheeler that ran in The Daily Progress:

staffing one community launch

Photo Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow Staff Identification by Free Enterprise Forum

It is important to note that The Free Enterprise Forum has worked with staff from all of the organizations represented in the Livable Communities Planning Project.  On the whole we have found these staff members to be solid planning professionals.  Given the federal funding and the significant in-kind staff support each of the participants are bringing to the table, citizens must remain vigilant that their perspectives are represented.  This will require a three year commitment from community members as well as advocacy groups.

We know the staff will remain engaged; will the public?

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