Light Industrial Land Availability = JOBS

By. Neil Williamson, President

On Tuesday (10/11) The Albemarle County Planning Commission will be discussing the upcoming revision for their Comprehensive Plan as it relates to the size and location of the Development Areas.

The Free Enterprise Forum has reviewed the 100+ page staff report and was disappointed at the lack of focus on light industrial needs within the development areas.

While the report includes statistical census data relating to jobs, all of the discussion regarding “land capacity for growth” is focused on residential growth.  Albemarle planning staff has indicated it wishes to discuss industrial land in a separate portion of the Comprehensive Plan update, The Free Enterprise Forum disagrees. Now is the time to focus on the potential expansion of the development areas to accommodate job growth (and retention).

Way back in 2008, we wrote about the lack of Light Industrial land in Albemarle County.

In 2010 when Albemarle County’s Business Facilitator Susan Stimart produced her report on the Light Industrial land  it indicated only about 100 acres of Light Industrial Land was available.

Charlottesville Tomorrow penned an article about the 2010 report, citing the among the report’s conclusions:

In general, the report recommends the county take several steps to increase the amount of land available for industrial use. Using employment statistics extrapolated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stimart estimates the county will need between 184 and 500 additional acres of land zoned for industrial uses by 2018 in order to meet future employment needs.

The article went on to quote one local environmental advocate’s opposition to development area expansion (and the related jobs).

Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council said the county has squandered much of the land that had been zoned light industrial. During the residential and retail boom of the last decade, many properties that had been zoned for light industrial use were rezoned to make way for new developments such as Albemarle Place and Hollymead Town Center.

Werner specifically pointed to the March 2008 rezoning of 88 acres off of Fifth Street Extended to make way for a new shopping center.

“I don’t recall anyone from the development community raising any concerns about that,” Werner said

“Given that the county has been willing to rezone light industrial lands for retail, I see no need to expand the growth area.”

Mr. Werner is correct that land that was ill suited for industrial has been rezoned over the past decade. In each case the applicants successfully argued that their “stale” industrial zoned land had a higher, better use as residential or commercial should be rezoned to that use.   

When such upzoning  of industrial land occurs, if the community is committed to light industrial jobs, then there is a need for replacement capacity by expansion of the development area.

Earlier this year, in a meeting of industrial land users one more than one company indicated significant frustration with the lack of available industrial property and suggested they may be leaving Albemarle because of this lack of capacity.

Given that as a community we have limited funds to spend on infrastructure, doesn’t it seem silly to prohibit light industrial activity where the infrastructure already exists (or could easily be located)?

To be clear, changing the Comprehensive Plan does not change the underlying zoning on the land, it merely opens the opportunity for the land owner to request such a rezoning (and for the land owner to “voluntarily” proffer improvements required to mitigate the projects impacts).

Back in July 2008, Planning Commissioner Tom Loach indicated his preference was for Master Plans to dictate any changes to their respective development areas.  The Free Enterprise Forum  disagrees, the Board of Supervisors (and their appointees on the Planning Commission) are much better positioned to address county wide employment opportunity needs rather than  Master Planning Groups.

When we highlighted the shift of jobs moving out of manufacturing and into Leisure and Tourism (Making Products or Making Beds), we were taken to task by some asking what did we want government to do? 

Here is what Government can and should  do – Plan  for Job Creation and Retention.  If we fail to address this need in this Comprehensive Plan update, we are destined to lose enterprises.

Tuesday night the planning staff only wants to talk about residential growth, we suggest the Planning Commission lead the process by pushing staff to consider industrial expansion, now.

In Albemarle we are asking the Planning Commission to make Jobs- Job One.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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

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