Monthly Archives: November, 2011

Albemarle Planning Commission to Consider Expanding Vision of Rural Economic Sustainability

 

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

If you want to build a high end exclusive local food bistro in Albemarle County’s rural areas, you are out of luck – in most cases they are prohibited. 

converted wisconsin barnIf you want to convert your historic barn into a unique bed and breakfast, no dice in  Albemarle.

Care to use your existing detached dependency as a free standing room for rent – not in Albemarle.

But should they be prohibited?  Don’t we have local examples of good design and implementation that could increase the rural areas financial viability and create jobs?

Tuesday night (11/29) the Albemarle County Planning Commission will be discussing this very concept of improving the economic vitality options for rural land owners.  As 95% of Albemarle County is rural, this issue is a critical component of the Comprehensive Plan.

The Free Enterprise Forum has researched several local tourism uses in adjacent localities and is asking the Albemarle County Planning Commission why these uses should not be provided to Albemarle’s rural landowners.

The Guest House at Stone Mountain Vineyards.  When this Greene County property owner learned that the historic,  one- roomguesthouse at Stone Mountain Vineyards schoolhouse located directly adjacent to their property was going up for sale, they chose to renovate the structure into a unique mountain getaway.  Despite repeated claims that the structure is haunted by a young school marm, the Old Schoolhouse is rented almost every weekend May-December. 

Barboursville cottegeAnother example of adaptive reuse is the Cottages at Barboursville Vineyards (Orange County) 18th-Century brick servants’ quarters and the estate’s former private schoolhouse, screened by the ancient boxwoods of The 1804 Inn, the Cottages have been renovated to 21st Century standards of comfort, including air-conditioning and individual kitchen, while carefully preserving their irreplaceable charm.

Because these historic properties never served as an inn, they would not be permitted to operate in Albemarle County under current regulations.   Staff is recommending that this condition be reconsidered, the Free Enterprise Forum believes it should go even further. 

Regardless of historic designation, alternative uses of dependencies should not only be allowed but should be encouraged.  We have seen great success with adaptive reuse of country stores why not dependencies and other agricultural buildings?  How would the impacts on the rural areas be different due to their previous use?

Blue Mountain Brewery in Nelson County has just expanded theirblue mountain brewery Groundbreaking restaurant/tasting room. and on October 20th they broke ground on their first phase of new production space.  Nelson County Life reports:

Blue Mountain Barrel House and Organic Brewery is a 10,000 square foot production-only facility for the 10 lines of Blue Mountain beer that will be kegged or bottled in 750ml corked bottles and undergo 100% natural refermentation. These beers will be USDA certified organic and will tend toward the more “specialty” end of Blue Mountain’s beer production spectrum. Beers brewed will include the popular Dark Hollow Bourbon-Barrel Aged Stout and Mandolin, but will also introduce new styles such as an imperial pilsner and a barrel-aged Belgian-inspired ale.

Staff highlighted several differences between microbreweries and wineries including water use and use of crops grown locally.  Blue Mountain Brewery would not be welcome in Albemarle’s rural area.  The Free Enterprise Forum understands staff concern regarding water use, but believes such use could be regulated.

palladio-front-entrancePalladio Restaurant is another example of an Orange County rural use that is not allowed in Albemarle.  Located on the grounds of Barboursville Vineyards, Palladio offers high end northern Italian cuisine paired with Barboursville wines.  A glance at just a portion of their lunch menu starts your mouth watering:

Secondi Piatti / Second Courses

~ Piatto Vegetariano ~
Spaghetti Squash Cake
Butter Bean Purée, Fried Sweet Potatoes, Local Watercress

~ Pollo Farcito ~
Oven Roasted Chicken
Stuffed with Chestnuts, Apples, Pancetta
Soft Polenta & Braised Greens

~ Brasato di Maiale ~
Braised Pork Shoulder
Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Roasted Acorn Squash
Stone Ground Mustard-Sage Jus

~ Costine di Manzo ~
Braised Beef Short Rib "Osso Buco" Style
Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Carrots, Roasted Onions
Braising Jus

~ Pesce del Giorno ~
Cabernet-Orange Poached Cod
Crispy Potato Cake, Wilted Red Cabbage Salad
Orange Vinaigrette

• Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007 •

Chef Melissa Close has proven over ten years that a restaurant located at a winery can be hugely successful.  Unless you are in Albemarle County where such use is forbidden.

Regardless of the fare, rural area restaurants can provide an excellent connection from farm to table.

The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the Planning Commission to outline the specific impacts such destinations might create in the rural areas and work to mitigate the impacts in a manner that goes gentle on the land but also recognizes the economic viability of agritainment. 

It is important to remember that these agritainment ideas and the land that supports them is reducing the services that could be demanded by residential use of the same land.  If we preserve the rural vistas, retain the rural character and add a dose of economic vitality, the entire community wins.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

 

Photo Credits: University of Wisconsin, Stone Mountain Vineyards, Barboursville Vineyards, Blue Mountain Brewery, Trip Advisor, Charlottesville Tomorrow

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MPO Policy Board Directs Staff to Release Requested Files to VDOT

By. Neil Williamson, President

A last minute item was added to the Wednesday’s (11/16) agenda of  Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting that exposed a growing rift between Mr. Stephen Williams, the Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Utterback_j

VDOT District Administrator Jim Utterback

Prior to the meeting, the members of the MPO received an electronic copy of a November 14th letter addressed to Mr. Williams from Jim Utterback, Culpeper District Administrator (and a voting member of the MPO).  The letter said in part:

“VDOT has requested electronic copies of all activities covered under the 1st Quarter Progress Report, Task 2E, Data and Model Development, for review on numerous occasions. This request includes …. To date this information has not been provided to VDOT for review.

You have five (5) business days from the date of this letter to submit the requested information to VDOT for review, or risk jeopardizing reimbursement.” (emphasis added- nw)

The reimbursement language relates to invoices the MPO submits to VDOT for work conducted under the Charlottesville Albemarle MPO Fiscal Year 2012 Work Plan.  There was disagreement between Williams and Utterback whether VDOT had the authority to withhold such payment.

The primary disagreement surrounded the release of electronic traffic modeling files developed over the last 10 months by the TJPDC.  VDOT, per an existing agreement, is responsible for validating the travel demand model package. Williams had drafted a letter of agreement for VDOT to sign requiring VDOT to provide TJPDC access to all input and output files anytime the model was run for public use.

Mr. Utterback indicated this was the first time he was aware of an MPO ever refusing to share traffic modeling data with the State.  He indicated the agreement Mr. Williams had drafted would require state approval and he did not have the authority to sign it.  As the agreement would set precedent, he anticipated its approval would take time.  Meanwhile the model that has not been validated by VDOT would be used by TJPDC to make transportation planning decisions.

Steve Williams TJPDC Photo Credit Greene County Record

TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams

Mr. Williams (photo left) said that the MPO Policy Board should have learned this summer (during the Western Bypass discussions) that you can’t trust VDOT unless you have leverage.

The meeting was quite tense with Mr. Williams at one point chiding Mr. Utterback asking, “How many states have you worked in Jim?”

As one MPO Board member was suggesting providing the conditions for use of the files.  Mr Williams suggested he was uncomfortable with that solution as he did not think VDOT honor such conditions.

Another idea, to copyright the models, was unworkable because public funds had been used to create these “public” but not released models.  Publicly created models ca not be copyrighted.

In the end, by a 4-1 vote (Szakos opposed), the MPO Policy Board directed Mr. Williams to release the files to VDOT along with a letter outlining their use.

Considering the importance of VDOT to the mission, and funding of operations of the MPO, the Free Enterprise Forum is curious how this latest debate will impact the relationship between these organizations.

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

Photo Credits: Virginia Department of Transportation, Greene County Record

Louisa Voters Choose Leadership

By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

Louisa County voters have spoken – though by no means with a single voice, on most of the candidates and issues on the November 8th ballot. In the 17th District Senate race, Bryce Reeves edged past Edd Houck by only 52 votes. Tomas A. Garrett Jr., on the other hand swept the 22nd District with a margin of well over a thousand votes – 1712 to 646 over Bert F. Dodson Jr. On the House side, Peter F. Farrell won the 56th District seat handily, being unopposed.

In local elections, incumbent Willie L. Gentry Jr. ran unopposed for his seat as Cuckoo District Supervisor, as did Rusty McGuire for Commonwealth Attorney and Nancy M. Pleasants for Commissioner of Revenue.

clip_image004 Incumbent Dan Byers (left) defeated challenger James A. Smith Jr., a relatively unknown candidate with a surprisingly strong backing, 657 to 506 for the Jackson District’s Supervisor seat.

P.T. Spencer, the incumbent for the Louisa District was unable to overcome the effects of clip_image002vigorous campaigning by challenger Troy Wade (right), who won 742 to 532. Henry B. Wash won a hotly-contested, 6-way race for the office of County Treasurer, squeaking by David Jacobs by only 15 votes. There was no incumbent for the office and the other contenders did not fare nearly as well. The candidates for the three School Board seats all ran unopposed.

Ashland D. Fortune’s 5,591 to 2,196 victory over Travis C. Christian for Sheriff came as no surprise to most Louisans, but the Meals Tax referendum passed by a much narrower margin than the pundits predicted; the vote was 4,350 to 4,230. There will be a final public hearing on this issue on December 5th at which meeting it is expected to be adopted.

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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 Elects 3 New Board Members

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

With two incumbents out the door, replaced by citizens without significant board level governing experience, Tuesday’s election (11/8)  has not only altered the composition of the Greene County  Board of Supervisors; there is the potential it could change the county’s direction as well.

Greene County is governed by a five-member Board of Supervisors, four elected to a four-year term by citizens from each of the electoral districts and one elected county wide as the at-large supervisor.  Slightly more than 45 percent of voters turned out to elect three supervisors—all of whom are either natives or long-time residents.

catalanoAs Chairman Steve Catalano (photo left), whose term expires in December, expressed, “My only concern with  three new board members coming on at one time is the first budget.  It is hard for anyone to walk into a new experience and deal with a $60 million budget two months later.”

Eddie Deane, well-known in the county for his 25 years of charity fundraising through his local band The Deanes, won the only at-large seat over incumbent Carl Schmitt with 55 percent of the votes. Although he recognizes the challenge involved and said he has “a lot to learn,” Deane seems more concerned that many residents are unaware of county decisions and regulations that affect them. Deane hopes to use his position and his familiar face to encourage citizens to be more informed and involved. Also on his agenda: make the county “more business friendly and try our best to satisfy businesses within regulations.

“I’m excited about the responsibility of serving the county and inspiring the citizens to be more informed about their local government,” Deane said. “I’ve been elected to serve as supervisor, but I think it’s a collaborative effort between me and the citizens to work together for the betterment of the community.”

In the Monroe district, David Cox, a 39-year county resident and former dairy farmer, ousted Mike Skeens. Davis Lamb, who currently serves on the Planning Commission and is the only new supervisor with county government experience, won the newly redistricted Ruckersville district seat.

Catalano, who served as chairman for eight consecutive years during his 12-year term, advised the new board, “It is incumbent on the chairman to lead his board through this time, and incumbent on the new members to balance their election promises with reality.  That is the challenge for new members.”

Catalano had decided not to seek reelection before his at-large seat was eliminated due to redistricting. As he leaves the board, Catalano added, “My biggest hope is that the water impoundment project continues through the process of obtaining the permit and securing the property. This is an important piece of the puzzle and is essential to the future self-sufficiency of our county.”

Maintaining a high reserve cash position is also important, according to Catalano, who helped turn the county’s precarious financial situation around during his tenure. Based on the county’s current condition, Catalano said he is “satisfied that our county is positioned well for its future.”

The new Board will take office in January.

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 credit: Greene County

TJPDC Institutional Arrogance Exposed

By. Neil Williamson, President

When a public employee charged with building regional cooperation tells a visiting delegation that our local elected officials are acting like  “Space Aliens” and working with the community is like “100 warring tribes”, we have a problem.  

Please let me explain.

On the morning of  November 8th (Election Day), Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) Executive Director Stephen Williams gave a presentation to the ”Greater Mankato Inter City Leadership” at the Boar’s Head Inn.  He indicated he could be frank in his remarks because the room was filled with people “he would never see again” and he did not see any elected officials in the room. 

As I was scheduled to participate in a Public Policy breakout session following Williams remarks, I arrived early.  Williams had started his presentation and as I did not see any open seats in the ballroom, I sat outside and listened to Williams speech from the adjoining room.  I only mention this to be clear Williams did not know I was in the audience. 

What I heard was exceedingly troubling and exposed the institutional arrogance of the TJPDC.

Williams was asked to address the Mankato delegation to speak about TJPDC’s Many Communities One Plan project.  The TJPDC received a $999,000 federal grant for this planning exercise

After insulting elected officials for acting like “space aliens”, Williams said that there is “an unfortunate trend” where the region is like “100 warring tribes not concerned about the good of the community at all”.

Williams then provided his seven strategies for advancing a sustainability agenda.  His number one  strategy was to “tune out the noise”.  How does he define “noise”?

Newspapers, Elected Officials, Bloggers, Special Interest Groups

To be so dismissive of the citizens who pay for the work of the TJPDC is outlandish.  To describe “special interest groups” on the left and on the right as warring factions only seeks to create an us versus  them mentality.

But the very idea that the TJPDC should ignore these interested parties and focus internally speaks to the true institutional arrogance of the TJPDC –  We’re the planners we know best.

Consider the above remarks when contrasted with the TJPDC Mission statement:

“The mission of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is to serve our local governments by providing regional vision, collaborative leadership and professional service to develop effective solutions.”

In their Public Involvement Policy the TJPDC says:

We recognize that public involvement is an essential component of the planning and programming process and believe that input from the public and partners results in better plans and successful implementation.

Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.  Either Williams misspoke or the TJPDC Executive Director is not following his very own Public Involvement Program.

As one of the “Special Interest Groups” Williams suggests “tuning out”, the Free Enterprise Forum believes our well researched reports on Community Land Trusts, Transportation, Government Spending, and others have helped to inform the debate.  We would argue that data provided by other organizations is equally helpful to the discussion.

We are curious if the TJPDC Board of Directors, that is made up of a majority of elected officials, believes we are a community of “100 warring tribes” or share Williams’ definition of “noise”.

We certainly hope not.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

President Obama and FEMA reverse Stance on Louisa Eligibility for Earthquake Assistance

By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

On November 4th Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that clip_image002President Obama, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has reversed their previous decision to disqualify Louisa residents and businesses from receiving federal aid following the earthquake that rocked the county on August 23rd. The official request by the governor for assistance was made on September 20th, following thorough, weeks-long investigation by FEMA and both professional volunteers and county staff. The much-needed aid will be in the form of housing assistance, grants, and low-interest loans. A local FEMA office opens today (11/08) in the town of Louisa to handle requests for home and business owner assistance, located at 502 East Main St. (the Triangle Shopping Center). Along with phone registrations (see below) citizens can register for assistance on the government website at www.disasterassistance.gov or at m.fema.gov using smart phones or mobile devices.

Business owners (including those with rental properties) should apply to FEMA for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Anyone applying for assistance should be prepared with to provide basic information about themselves (name, Social Security number, address and phone number), and documentation of their losses, which might be from assessments, repair bills from contractors, or insurance information.

The Governor’s request for Public Assistance funding, used to repair damaged infrastructure such as school buildings, has yet to be addressed by FEMA.

Louis Office Hours

Monday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Sunday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

FEMA Telephone Registration Hours

1-800-621-3362 (Voice)

1-800-462-7585 (TTY)

Monday – Friday 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. EST

Saturday – Sunday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST

Fluvanna County Administrator Resigns Abruptly

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Jay ScudderMr. Jay Scudder, the Fluvanna County Administrator, resigned abruptly after the November 2nd Board of Supervisors public meeting. The Board had gone into closed session to discuss Mr. Scudder’s job performance after his initial year in the position.

According to multiple sources, a strong majority of the Board was not pleased with Scudder’s performance and voted not to retain him. Since Scudder was not fired for cause, he was eligible for a financial severance package but chose instead to resign.

The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, John Gooch, will be the acting county administrator. He met with the county staff Thursday morning to deliver the news.

According to multiple sources, Scudder alienated the staff almost from the outset of his tenure and never managed to gain their confidence. Supervisors became aware of the problem and also had their own difficulties with the administrator. Some believed as administrator, he was developing his own agenda and was not as supportive of the Board’s policies as he might have been.

Sources also indicate that Supervisors were particularly concerned about the upcoming budget and did not feel that Scudder had sufficient command of the budgetary issues facing the county. In addition, Scudder publically advocated for several acquaintances to receive consulting jobs with the county.  Several supervisors expressed disappointment in such advocacy. 

The last time Fluvanna advertised for a county administrator, it had a difficult time finding someone who was qualified for the position, and employed a management search firm. The Board is expected to do the same thing again.

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In the public Board meeting proper, supervisors:

· Unanimously approved the Thomas Jefferson Planning District’s legislative agenda for 2012;

· Approved 5-1 (Weaver dissenting) the economic development plan recommended by the County’s Economic Development Commission;

· Approved 5-1 (Weaver dissenting) the Pleasant Grove Park Master Plan; and,

· Were briefed on the County’s volunteer rescue squad’s inability to provide sufficient service to the county. Supervisors Kenney (Columbia) and Fairchild (Rivanna) will join a committee to find solutions to the problem, including the possibility of paid rescue squad members.

The Board’s next meeting will be held on November 16th, and it will consider amendments to the Planned Unit Development ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan regarding Urban Development Areas.

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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, 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.

Get’cha Head in the Game and VOTE

By. Neil Williamson, President

The 2006 Disney Movie High School Musical featured a mind numbing HS Musicalsong called Get’cha Head in the Game.  Despite the inane catchiness of the song, it has a solid message for our local 2011 elections.

In our Apathy Increases Voter Value post, The Free Enterprise Forum has already written about the importance of your vote in next Tuesday’s  November 8th election.

While 77% of the registered voters are projected to NOT cast ballots this “off-off” year election, how many of the balance will cast knowledgeable votes?

Do you know who you are voting for?

Do you know what issues the candidates agree on?

or where they differ from each other?

If not, why not?

Regular readers know the Free Enterprise Forum is appreciative of all who put themselves up for election.  It is a very time consuming and ego challenging thing to do.  Elections are about ideas, the candidates have, for the most part, put their ideas out for the voters to see.  Have you looked?

The work of an election does not fall completely on the candidates.  Do you know where you vote?  many polling places have changed due to the census data.  Take two minutes right now today and confirm your polling place with the Virginia Board of Elections by clicking here  I’ll wait.

OK, now that you know where you are going to vote, the question of who you plan to vote for is of equal importance.  In addition to the candidates’ web sites, Facebook pages and advertising there are other sources of information:

As a reader of this blog, you already know more about the issues facing local government than the average citizen.  You owe it to yourself and your community to continue your education, learn about the candidates AND VOTE.sy syms

To paraphrase the late Sy Syms – “An educated Voter is our best citizen”.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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

Photo Credits: Disney, New York Daily News