Monthly Archives: September, 2011

Despite Greene PC’s Light Agenda, Anticipation High for Future Rezoning Issue

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

If Wednesday night (9/21) was any indication, the Greene County Planning Commission can expect a large turnout at the hearing on Fried Companies’ application for a zoning change to the proposed Rte. 29 Creekside Development. Fried pulled the application weeks before it was scheduled to go before the commission, and the hearing was rescheduled for November 16.

Although the Planning Department posted the change on the county website, some residents hadn’t gotten the news, and a small crowd showed up to protest the developer’s request for a Planned Unit Development (PUD). Rezoning to a PUD would allow a change in the planned development in Ruckersville from 800 single family homes to 1180 homes, including townhomes.

Ruckersville area residents had been circulating flyers and sending electronic communications anticipating the impact the proposed increase in housing would have on area traffic, schools, and emergency services. People continued to trickle in throughout the meeting, only to discover the application had been deferred.

Commissioners faced an unusually light agenda that evening, due to another miscommunication that caused two requests for special use permits to be rescheduled as well. Despite Planning Director Bart Svoboda’s attempts to contact the local weekly newspaper and ensure the county’s ad announcing the public hearing for the special use permits would run, the newspaper omitted the ad, thus forcing the commission to delay the hearing another 30 days. Chairman Norman Slezak expressed concern about delaying an already lengthy process for those residents requesting special permits, but the county has little recourse when staff are relying on factors outside their control.

As a result, most of the meeting was devoted to a stormwater retrofitting study presented by Leslie Middleton, executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission. A team from the commission visited various sites in Greene County to determine how water was running off the land and where and how drainage and removal of pollutants as water flows to streams could be improved. Anticipating the state will prescribe more stringent stormwater regulations, Middleton suggested the county could use this analysis in the future as it applies for grants, considers capital improvement projects, and looks at upgrades and expansions at existing facilities, such as the schools.


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


Eight Greene County Supervisor Hopefuls to Face off Wednesday

By. Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

The eight candidates running for the Greene County Board of Supervisors will present their views at a candidates forum on September 28th, at 7:00 p.m., at the William Monroe High School Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center. Cosponsored by the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and the Free Enterprise Forum, this nonpartisan event will give voters a chance to meet the four candidates running for the newly redistricted Ruckersville district as well as the incumbents and challengers to the Monroe district and at-large seats.

“Clearly, the success of our community depends heavily on the vision and leadership of our Board of Supervisors,” said Robbie Morris, president of the Chamber.  “We strongly encourage all of our citizens to have a voice in our county’s future by coming to the forum so they can make informed decisions on November 8th.”

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson will moderate this free event, which features formal questions regarding the candidate’s individual visions for the future of Greene County.  Questions regarding economic development, comprehensive planning, community infrastructure, fiscal responsibilities, and the county’s projected future are all anticipated.

“We are excited and proud to lead this important discussion,” Williamson said.  “The very design of our program, from the location, the questions, the format, as well as the meet and greet session at the end, promotes two-way communication between the candidates and the voters.  In local races, political labels are not as clear, so it is important voters learn where each candidate stands on the issues.”

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded nonprofit public policy organization focused on issues of regional importance in Central Virginia.

Making Products or Making Beds


By. Neil Williamson, President

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released its 2011 jobs report. The report, a virtual gold mine of data, covered from 2000-2010 and included job category growth and decline.  The numbers showed that regionally jobs in manufacturing dropped over 45% and information dropped over 24% while leisure and hospitality jobs increased over 26%.

The report goes further to indicate that in 2000 Leisure & Hospitality made up 13.7% of the region’s private sector jobs (9,986).  In 2010, that number had grown to 12,632 jobs (16.3%).

Sometime ago, local businessman Gary Henry raised a concernGary Henry regarding the area’s increased reliance on tourism and retirees.  As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported in their 2008 article:

Henry, a Board member of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, is continuing his efforts to call attention to a fork in the road that he sees approaching for the area’s future; one branch leading to an economically and culturally diverse city with a healthy middle class (Austin), the other leading to a ritzy retirement and tourism community where only the wealthy can afford to live (Aspen).

According to Henry, if the region’s planners do not take action, greater Charlottesville will slowly drift towards the Aspen model, attracting more and more wealthy retirees until those providing services in Charlottesville will not be able to afford to live there. He advocates the pursuit of the Austin model, and his suggested method is the creation of a strong technology presence that would attract young, middle class workers to counterbalance the area’s aging population.

Here we are three years later faced with empirical data that confirms Henry’s prediction of “slowly drifting toward the Aspen model”.  If the current drifting pattern holds, by 2020 one in five jobs in the region could be associated with the leisure and hospitality sector.

But are we “drifting” or does our local government funding impact this direction?

The Free Enterprise Forum asks the question how should the money (and time) we spend attracting tourists to visit the region with Albemarle/Charlottesville Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) compare to the money we spend to attract and retain high quality businesses through the Economic Development offices and the  Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED)?  How does such funding compare to other localities?

Earlier this month, Greene County Field Officer Pauline Hovey wrote about the Occupancy Tax and how this new tourism tax  is being spent in Greene County.

The Occupancy Tax in Charlottesville and Albemarle helps provides a steady, consistent stream of funding to the CVB.  It also ties the CVB to their own results, if they are successful in bringing visitors to hotels, their budget increases.  There is no clear funding mechanism for economic development funding.

In the short term, it is clear tourists who come spend their money and then leave have an immediate impact without the cost of children to educate and significant infrastructure demands but does it improve the fabric of the community?

While I appreciate Mr. Henry’s choice between Austin and Aspen, I believe Santa Barbara, California is also a fair comparison to Charlottesville.  My father once famously said, “It’s a town for newlyweds and nearly deads”.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2003:

The situation is demonstrated in a myriad of ways; Half of the city’s teachers, firemen and police forced to commute long distances.  An ever aging population.  Businesses leaving and potential arrivals looking elsewhere.  An uncertain future for minorities and the poor.

About 30,000 workers now commute to the city of 92,000, some from the north county cities of Santa Maria and Lompoc, others from such Ventura County cities as Ventura and Oxnard, where housing prices are lower.

30,000 workers (many in the Leisure & Hospitality sector) commute over an hour each way to get to work in a town of 92,000.  Businesses fleeing.

Is this where we are headed?  Is this where we want to go?

Based on the success of the Transient tax model, should local governments look at a dedicated stream of funding for economic development activities that is driven by commercial tax revenue?

Are there missing infrastructure elements that are keeping certain industries out of our region?  Is it the role of government to provide these elements?  Should we accept the “drifting” as market forces at work or implement strategies to change direction?

In 2040, will the average worker in Charlottesville be writing computer code or writing up a lunch order?

Will we be making stuff or making beds?

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

Photo Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow, Santa Maria Times, Hilton Garden Inn

Fluvanna Adopts a Telecommunications Ordinance, Discusses Zion’s Water

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors adopted a telecommunications ordinance at its September 21st meeting, perhaps ending years of muddled thinking, confusion, and ongoing charges of “not in my back yard”. The Board approved the ordinance by a 5-1 vote, with supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) voting against.

cell phone one barAccording to some estimates, fully half of the county’s land area has no cell phone capability, emergency communications, or broadband usage – or a combination of those services. Recently county officials commissioned a study to determine where telecommunication towers should be placed, and in a related action, supervisors agreed to be guided by that study.

The new ordinance explicitly states in what zoning districts particular towers may be placed, but more importantly from a vendor perspective, many of the placements will be by right, and not require a special use permit.

The by right condition should diminish substantially the pressure on the supervisors to reject particular tower placements in response to citizen opposition. Such opposition derailed one site approval a few years ago in one of the most under served areas in the county.

Special use permits still will be required for particular types of towers in certain zoning districts, but overall, the ordinance provides enhanced flexibility for vendors to provide service in twater supplyhe county.

In another development, supervisor Joe Chesser (Rivanna) reported that discussions with Aqua Virginia continue regarding bring water to the Zion Crossroads area of the county. A couple of options are under consideration but Aqua Virginia wants assurances that the service will be profitable within three years. That would require significant more economic activity in the area unless some water sales agreement could be reached with Louisa County.

Mr. Chesser also stated that Aqua Virginia is considering purchasing the Fork Union Sanitary District assets and accounts from the county for one million dollars. Aging infrastructure and declining well production will require substantial capital improvements over the coming years.


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, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson county as well as the City of Charlottesville.  If you find this update helpful, please consider financially supporting these efforts.

Programming the “Livability” GPS

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon (9/20), the Charlottesville City Planning Commission and the Albemarle County Planning Commission will hold a joint meeting as a part of their “Many Plans, One Community” Comprehensive Plan update.  The agenda for this meeting includes a discussion of congruency of Environmental goals and the start of a discussion on the compatibility of land use adjacent t the City/County border.

On the surface such a planning exercise seems benign, perhaps even appropriate but it’s much more than a simple planning exercise.  This may be the first step in changing the priorities in each localities comprehensive plan.

Without being overly dramatic, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Many Plans, One Community” has predetermined the result of their three year process as if they were programming the destination on their GPS.

Please let me explain.

As a review, Federally funded ($999,000) “Many Plans One Community” planning exercise is being conducted to provide:

updates  to Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s comprehensive plans, the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan, and the creation of a Livability Implementation Plan for our area.

Each localities state mandated Comprehensive Plan must be updated every five years.  In their documentation, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) indicated that :

As a part of the Comprehensive Plan update process, the two localities will review current policies in existing plans.

Perhaps due to the funding source , the review of environmental goals is first up on the agenda for discussion with a number of meetings designed around solely that purpose.

Wait a minute, isn’t a comprehensive plan supposed to be, well, comprehensive?   Shouldn’t the planners (and the Planning Commissioners) seek to place the environmental goal in context to other goals (density, affordable housing, economic development)?

Taking a step back, it appears the staff has designed a “silo” based philosophy as it relates to the elements of the comprehensive plan.  silos-225x300Writing in a BusinessWeek post “Smashing Silos”, Evan Golden defined the silo mentality this way:

The term “silo” is a metaphor suggesting a similarity between grain silos that segregate one type of grain from another and the segregated parts of an organization. In an organization suffering from silo syndrome, each department or function interacts primarily within that “silo” rather than with other groups across the organization. Marketing may develop its own culture and have difficulty interacting with other functions such as sales or engineering. This manifestation of silo syndrome breeds insular thinking, redundancy, and suboptimal decision-making.

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that by leading with environmental goals the other priorities in the respective Comprehensive Plan may fall subservient.   While this may be completely appropriate and accurately reflect what the elected officials desire, the public may never know; because it is not being discussed comprehensively.

Clearly the “livability plan” GPS has been programmed with a single focus and destination in mind.

And very few citizens seem to be paying attention and fewer still are asking the hard questions:

What are the most important goals?

Are our goals in conflict?

Where is this taking us?  Do we want to go?  Why?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Greene Supervisors Attempt to Set Reserve Fund Policy

By Pauline Hovey

Facing an unusually high reserve fund of 26 percent (as measured against operating budget), the Greene County Board of Supervisors held a workshop last Tuesday hoping to put fund policies in place that would ensure the county remains fiscally sound. Supervisors found themselves wrestling with what percentage of the budget should be established as a set policy for the reserve fund. This is an enviable position for any county, but is especially significant for Greene, which has completely turned itself around over the last several years, going from deficit spending to meet payroll to its current above-average amount in reserves.

“It’s only been in the last year or so that an honest reserve fund has been there,” said Carl Schmitt (at-large), “and we’ve come far enough in improving our county’s financial condition that it’s time for us to consider what we want to do as a norm.”

Supervisors could not agree, however, on whether that amount should be 10%, 15%, or some other amount. “If we do all agree on what would nominally be an acceptable amount to have in reserve, it will give us a base amount to plan to have in the budget for when an emergency arises, like what just happened in Louisa,” Schmitt said, “which is literally what the reserve fund is for.”

In our research, the Free Enterprise Forum has not found a hard and fast rule regarding fund balance direction.  Anecdotally, we are aware of localities with 8% and higher fund balance as a goal.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has made fund balance discussions a part of their Best Practices:

The GFOA recommends that governments establish a formal policy on the level of unrestricted fund balance that should be maintained in the general fund. Such a guideline should be set by the appropriate policy body and should provide both a temporal framework and specific plans for increasing or decreasing the level of unrestricted fund balance, if it is inconsistent with that policy.

In establishing a policy governing the level of unrestricted fund balance in the general fund, a government should consider a variety of factors, including:

  • The predictability of its revenues and the volatility of its expenditures (i.e., higher levels of unrestricted fund balance may be needed if significant revenue sources are subject to unpredictable fluctuations or if operating expenditures are highly volatile);
  • Its perceived exposure to significant one-time outlays (e.g., disasters, immediate capital needs, state budget cuts);
  • The potential drain upon general fund resources from other funds as well as the availability of resources in other funds (i.e., deficits in other funds may require that a higher level of unrestricted fund balance be maintained in the general fund, just as, the availability of resources in other funds may reduce the amount of unrestricted fund balance needed in the general fund);7
  • Liquidity (i.e., a disparity between when financial resources actually become available to make payments and the average maturity of related liabilities may require that a higher level of resources be maintained); and
  • Commitments and assignments (i.e., governments may wish to maintain higher levels of unrestricted fund balance to compensate for any portion of unrestricted fund balance already committed or assigned by the government for a specific purpose).

More good economic news for the county: the Piedmont Virginiafrank_friedman Community College satellite campus is on track to open in Stanardsville in the fall of 2012. In his report to the board, Dr. Frank Friedman, President of PVCC, reported they have raised $375,000 of the $750,000 needed to upgrade the space located above the library on Main Street. Encouraged by the amount of private contributions from businesses and individuals and “the great excitement behind this project,” Friedman said he will propose to his board that they hire an architect and get started.

PVCC has experienced “explosive growth” and “even faster growth in Greene County enrollment,” Friedman noted. Considering careers currently in demand in the local area, Friedman hopes to add more technical/work force-related concentrations to the curriculum at the Stanardsville campus, including a nursing lab, information technology program, and an “intelligence community/analyst” program with the goal of enabling graduates to find employment at the National Ground Intelligence Center as well as other up-and-coming employers. “We want to be a community partner,” he said.

In his annual report to the supervisors, David Blount, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District legislative liaison, provided a review of their draft 2012 Legislative Program, noting he expects the governor to be “cautious” concerning education costs, law enforcement, and environmental issues. As the state decreases aid to localities, supervisors are concerned, and rightfully so since the costs will most likely be passed on, as Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) expressed. “We need to make sure if the state does “devolve” the maintenance of roads, they don’t pass on the cost to taxpayers.”

Frydl was referring to the “Devolution Statute,” which the Commonwealth’s General Assembly enacted in 2001 to provide boards of supervisors with the ability to assume responsibility for any portion of the state secondary system of highways within that county’s boundaries. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District has been looking into the issue of devolution and has “urged the state to maintain its responsibility for road maintenance and construction, and not shift that responsibility to localities.”

A recent study commissioned by the Virginia Department of Transportation on the state’s secondary road system titled Policy Options for Secondary Road Construction and Management in the Commonwealth of Virginia addresses such issues as devolution and their impact on counties. Not surprisingly, the studied identified that “many counties have limited capacity to assume secondary maintenance responsibilities.” catalano

Steve Catalano (at-large) expressed concern about state government shedding responsibilities by putting maintenance of secondary roads on the localities. “The state’s accountability to us as an elected board and to our citizens has not been good in the last five years,” he said. Catalano has been known to voice concern about his frustration with unfunded state mandates and the increased financial responsibility of smaller counties like Greene.


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

Is Greene County’s Occupancy Tax Increasing Tourism?

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

In the slightly more than two years since Greene County’s Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) went into effect, how has the tax and the increased spending on tourism impacted Greene? The Free Enterprise Forum spoke with Tony Williams, director of the Greene County Economic Development Authority (EDA), and local lodging owners to find out.

Tony Williams

Greene County EDA Director Tony Williams

“For the first time, in 2010 we had the money to effectively place ads in tourism-related publications and magazines,” Williams said, “and we’re now targeting the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. metro area.”

As of July 1, 2009, businesses that provide accommodations for overnight guests such as motels, hotels, B&Bs, boarding houses, and campgrounds, pay a 5 percent tax, of which the EDA receives 3 percent. In the first year, EDA received $72,856, and the Tourism Council, composed of a mix of local tourism-related businesses, including artisans, antique shops, and realtors, made recommendations to the EDA board on how to spend that money. Jillian Peatross, general manager of the Best Western in Ruckersville, is one of the Tourism Council members who helped make these recommendations.

Best Western Ruckersville“The county needs to have such funds available for marketing and bringing in tourists,” Peatross said. “The nice thing about having this tax is that 3 percent of the 5 percent collected has to be allocated to tourism, whereas before, the county could choose what it wanted to do with the 2 percent lodging tax. This enables us to do more things that benefit tourism.”

In addition to marketing, the TOT money has allowed the EDA to move its Visitors Center—previously located in a warehouse front office on Rte. 33 Business—to Rte. 29 South in a plaza with restaurants, shops, and businesses that generate traffic. “Most people didn’t even know where we were because we were located off the beaten path,” Williams said. Offering better visibility, the new site has been responsible for increasing the number of visitors to the cengreene County Visitors Centerter. In turn, this has allowed staff and volunteers to steer visitors to local establishments for dining and accommodations.

“Although we can’t track this, we have seen a lot more short-term business and more people walking in from Rte. 29, some of which are referrals from the Visitors Center,” Peatross said. “We have seen some level of increase in guests since the hotel opened in 2006, and a portion of that can be attributed to the work the Visitors Center and the county have done.”

The EDA has also been partnering with local tourism efforts such as the Discover Virginia Wine Festival and the Mid-Atlantic Power Fest to bring more people to the county, and this October, they will hold the first annual Discover Virginia Chili Cook Off. Combine the growing number of events and festivals with the addition of more attractive retail outlets such as the Super Wal-Mart, and the result has been an astronomical jump in the amount of sales tax the county collected—a 31-percent increase in the first quarter of 2011 compared with the first quarter of 2010, and a nearly 40-percent increase in the second quarter, according to the EDA.

TOT money has also enabled EDA to build a new, easy-to-use, more informative website and keep it up to date. Part of the money is used to send information packages to people interested in visiting or moving to the area.

“The whole movement with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) coming to this area gave us an opportunity to put together information packages on shopping and places to stay and eat,” Williams said. “Before DIA employees started relocating here, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District coordinated trips to the area, and we went up there and had contact with their HR person. We also coordinate with realtors to help people looking to buy houses.”

“The council has to be fair to everyone and be sure that the return on the money spent is to the county as a whole, rather than bring in revenue for only a few businesses,” Peatross explained. “Overall, I think tourism dollars are spent well. We’ve seen a steady increase in tourism in Greene, and we are hoping to continue to build on that.”

Chuck Swinney, owner of Chesley Creek Farm Cottages who also serves on the Tourism Council, agrees. “For me, it’s been a very busy cottages at Chesley Creekyear, one of my best, with a lot of tourism coming from the Best Western.”

Although it’s hard to track how guests are finding him, Swinney believes the EDA advertising on the state website and now getting into more print advertising can only help. “We’re trying to focus on getting people from within a 2- to 3-hour drive,” said Swinney, who has been in the lodging business for 16 years.

“It sounds good to have that amount of money coming in,” Swinney added. “It means people are doing business in the county. We have just about everything we need here in Greene County now.”


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

Photo Credits : Greene County, Best Western, Chesley Creek Farm

Disaster Relief Grant Challenge Announced by the Cooke Foundation and Louisa County

LOUISA, VIRGINIA – The Louisa County Board of Supervisors is pleased to announce the William A. Cooke Foundation’s Louisa County Earthquake Recovery Program Challenge Grant. The Foundation has pledged to match the first $100,000 in individual donations to the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation to assist with the earthquake recovery effort. “The largest Virginia earthquake in historic times struck the heart of Louisa County, impacting our friends and neighbors,” said Chairman of the William A. Cooke Foundation Board of Directors, Wallace “Chuck” Tingler. “The mission of the Foundation is to provide support for the people of Louisa County. We were moved by the amount of destruction caused by the earthquake and felt this was the right thing to do.”

The purpose of the Louisa County Earthquake Recovery Program is to help Louisa County homeowners repair or rebuild uninsured or underinsured owner-occupied dwellings. Louisa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Willie Gentry said, “The amount of damage to our community is unprecedented, affecting all citizens of Louisa County. We are please to be partnered with the Cooke Foundation and the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation in establishing this program.”

Howard Evergreen, Executive Director for the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation said, “We are very grateful to the Cooke Foundation for its generous challenge grant and the Board of Supervisors for its continued support and partnership. The application process for Louisa County homeowners is not yet open. The fund raising effort needs to make substantial progress before any funds can be distributed.”

To donate, please send checks made payable and addressed to Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation – Earthquake Recovery Program, PO Box 160, Louisa, VA 23093.

Only Two of Three Louisa County Board Seats Are Being Contested

By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

clip_image004The terms of three Supervisors: Willie Gentry, Cuckoo District, Dan Byers, Jackson District, and P. T. Spencer, Louisa District are expiring this December. It is interesting to note that in only two of the districts – Jackson, in the person of James Smith, and Louisa with Troy Wade clip_image002– have challengers to the incumbents materialized.

This somewhat unusual show of communal solidarity is matched in 6 other uncontested races for county offices. In fact, only the offices of Treasurer (6 candidates) and Sheriff (3 candidates) have attracted any interest.

clip_image006Despite the havoc caused by the earthquake of August 23rd, the plans for the Free Enterprise Forum Louisa Candidate Forum progress apace.

The venue – the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center – has been secured and is relatively undamaged. The Forum is limited to candidates for the contested seats for the Board of Supervisors, to allow time for more in-depth answers to the series of questions, relevant to Louisa voters, which they will be asked in turn. The event will be held on September 22nd at 7:00 p.m.


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