Monthly Archives: April, 2012

US 29 Roadway Rope-A-Dope

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s Daily Progress banner headline touts a letter sent by Supervisor Dennis Rooker on behalf of the self selected Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee requesting an additional public hearing on the US 29 Western Bypass; a road that the a majority of the “Committee” members oppose.

This is a classic example of a vocal minority utilizing a Rope-A-Dope strategy to delay a popularly supported statewide transportation project.

Please let me explain.

Rumble-in-the-Jungle-001The Rope-A-Dope boxing strategy was most famously used in the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, known as the Rumble in the Jungle.  In that fight, Foreman was favored due to superior punching power.  During the bout Ali taunted Foreman and withstood a firestorm of punches.

ali_foreman_h boxingmemoriesHowever, far from being brutalized, Ali was relatively protected from Foreman’s blows.  When Foreman became tired from the beating he was delivering, Ali regrouped and ended up winning the match.

Outside of boxing, rope-a-dope is used to describe strategies where one seems to be accepting a losing position (i.e. actually designing the US 29 Bypass) only to delay the action and eventually overturn it.

When considering this concept first the casual observer must ask why would the task force letter be sent now, dated April 24th.  If the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) almost immediately accepted this request for a public hearing the “Committee” has specific demands regarding timing:

This includes notification to the public at least 30 days in advance of the hearing, project information being made available to the public at least 30 days in advance of the hearing and the draft Environmental Assessment being made available at least 30 days in advance of the hearing.  The public should be allowed to submit written and oral comments at the hearing as well as written comments afterwards for a reasonable period of time (at least two weeks). [emphasis added-nw]

Even if VDOT had all of this information at its fingertips (which it does not), the soonest such a public hearing could be held would be June 1st.  But June will not work for Mr. Rooker’s “Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee”.  Per the letter:

“We also request that the public hearing not be scheduled during June, July, or August since the community’s participation may be limited during these months due to vacations and community events.”

This is most interesting as Supervisor Rooker had no such issue in scheduling Albemarle County Board of Supervisors public hearings on the US 29 Bypass during the summer months last year, in fact, he strenuously advocated for such hearings.  The turnout at these summer meetings was strong with hundreds of attendees, banners, and leaflets.

In this morning’s paper, Charlottesville Tomorrows Sean Tubbs article explains the current public input process.

To comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations, VDOT is conducting an assessment to determine whether previous federal approvals of the bypass are still valid. VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said earlier this month that that process will consist of a citizen information meeting, but not a full public hearing at which comments would be entered into the public record.

“Members of the public will have the opportunity to provide comment during the citizen information meeting and during the draft environmental assessment review period,” Hatter said in an e-mail. “Public comment and questions have already been received through the two community task forces that looked at the northern and southern termini.”

Considering the turnout at last summer’s hearings, including one in Richmond, one can only surmise the true purpose of this  “Committee” request to postpone any proposed public hearing is yet another in a long string of delay tactics.

bypass survey  results graphic 2012Charlottesville Tomorrow’s recent survey confirmed the results of the 2004 Citizen Survey conducted by the Free Enterprise ForumThe public wants a US29 Bypass.  The opponents, while vocal, organized and well funded have not won the hearts and minds of the citizens.

To extend the boxing metaphor a touch further, the US 29 Western Bypass bout is clearly in the middle rounds and can still go either direction.  From this point, it looks like it will come down to the judges.

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

Photo/Graphics Credit: guardian.co.uk, boxingmemories.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

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Fluvanna Budget: Delay and Reorder

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna County supervisors delayed adopting the county’s Fiscal year 2013 budget until May 2nd, citing uncertainties regarding state funding levels. About half of the county revenue comes from Richmond.

But the Board made significant policy changes to the five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Supervisors essentially wiped out countypleasant grove park fluvanna participation in any improvements to Pleasant Grove Park and said that private donations would be required to fund the envisioned upgrades. Amenities such as ball field lighting, fencing and a swimming pool were left in the CIP but the supervisors left little doubt as to their reluctance to fund such programs in the face of a pending 20 percent real estate tax increase. The shift to local donations would save the county over $1.3 million over five years.

Also removed from the CIP was $135,000 for the purchase of a building currently occupied by the Commonwealth Attorney and staff. It seems that nobody bothered to ask the owner if he were interested in selling, which apparently he is not.

The Board also learned that the county reassessment fieldwork is about two-thirds completed, and the news is about as bad as was anticipated. Home sale prices are currently estimated to be at about 65 percent of the 2006 assessed values in Lake Monticello, with only marginally better results in the rest of the county.

The effect of such a reassessment on the real estate tax rate will be significant. Assuming that supervisors increase the rate to the advertised $.68 at their next meeting, the revenue neutral rate would jump to $1.05 once the reassessment takes effect next January. This would be the highest rate in the region.

Finally, supervisors deferred a decision on issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to construct water and sewer lines for Zion Crossroads. Aqua Virginia has a proposal before the county but it would involve a public-private partnership that would not be subject to the RFP process.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Fluvanna County

The Beginning of the End of “Smart Growth”?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

California planner, and blogger Bill Fulton suggested one of his take aways from last week’s American Planning Association (APA) annual meeting was the concept that Smart Growth at least as a planning term is on its way out:

“We are truly at the cusp of the next big thing,” said presenter Tim Chapin, a planning professor at Florida State. “We are living in a time when planners and economic development are much more together than they have been in, gosh, decades.” [emphasis added-nw]

20071018-garden_city_detailHold the presses – at a meeting of 5,000 planners, someone admitted that smart growth does not adequately address economic development!  AND they admit that planners and economic developers have been at odds for decades!!!

But wait, Fulton also heard from the Federal government at this conference

Shelley Poticha, head of the Office of Sustainable Communities at the Department of Housing & Urban Development, agreed that economic development is a vital part of the emerging new trend. “We need to turn this around to a place-based ED strategy that is very multi-layered,” Poticha said. “Many communities we are working with had economies based on one or two strong sectors and one or both crashed. And so they don’t have much to stand on.” At the same time, she said, place-based strategies can strengthen downtowns and neighborhoods in a way that reinforces local businesses and allows wealth to stay and circulate in a community rather than leaving town.[emphasis added-nw]

Now we are seeing the new lexicon come in “Place Based ED Strategy that is multi-layered”.  Haven’t we seen this move before?

Dr. Chapin, one of the lead presenters at the APA Conference identified three historic eras in growth management:

  • The “growth control” era (1950-75) where growth was viewed as a problem – a cancer to be restricted and boxed in.
  • The “growth management” era (1975-99) where growth was considered a fiscal problem – permissible so long as it paid for itself.
  • The “smart growth” era (1999- ) where growth has been viewed as “an opportunity for achieving desirable development patterns,” Chapin said.

For all this discussion, I do not see a significant difference in the regulatory environments each of these philosophical positions suggest.  In each and every case, growth (and economic development) are being steered into a limited area with little or no concern for the chilling aspects of such regulations on business formation, location and relocation.

Tim_Chapin_mediumBut now that Dr. Chapin sees Economic Development and Planning working in concert surely it will be different; perhaps rather than looking at prescriptive zoning categories that restrict flexibility and limit opportunity, the planners could consider objective performance based standards that protect the citizens and the environment by dealing directly with the impacts of the building uses.

No, that’s not really what the planners had in mind.  According to Fulton’s report, a true philosophical review of planning was not what Dr. Chapin had in mind at all:

…. Chapin added, it may be time for a rebranding. “There’s some sense out there that this concept of SG is a bit stale – that it has lost its resonance with the public and political leaders.” He suggested that the next era of growth management will include a focus on jobs, regionalism, and other factors. He called this new era – admitting that he doesn’t particularly like this term – the era of “sustainable growth”.

Not only does the Free Enterprise Forum not like the moniker “Sustainable Growth” we do not believe the planning community is ready for the shift needed to rip off the regulatory tourniquet that is clearly restricting economic development in many communities across the nation.

The APA needs MUCH more than a rebranding, they need to refocus their energy on their mission statements that includes the creation of vibrant communities.

OpportunityKnocksRather than sustainable growth, perhaps a better philosophical banner would be ‘Rising Tide – Empowering Opportunity’.  Under this mantra, applications and plans would be considered under a much more flexible criteria that permits appropriate mitigation but also gives significant credits for economic impact of a proposal.

Alternatively, perhaps by simply reducing or eliminating the regulatory burdens that have been constructed to prevent economic expansion would have an even better impact.

In 2009, Emily Washington of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University wrote a great post regarding smart growth’s potential for cities:

Again, it is easy to explain hypothetical, ideal zoning practices, and to imagine flawless outcomes, but the idea such policy would come out precisely as theorists imagine is reflective of nirvana fallacy. When zoning came into practice in the early 20th century, it was touted as a way to protect citizens from living near the dangers of industrial land uses. However, zoning has an ugly history of being abused by policy makers and community activists to oppress groups of residents based on income or race.

In short, policy makers can easily verbalize how their imagined programs could be an improvement upon development realities, but unfortunately history demonstrates that government action often takes urbanities further away from their imagined ideal.  There is no reason to believe that policies in vogue today will have greater success, even if they are championed as “smart growth.” [Emphasis added-nw]

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds many of the goals of the Smart Growth movement the tactics being used to achieve these goals often undermine their original intent. 

In our world view, communities should have the ability to organically develop (and redevelop) into a tapestry of diverse homes and businesses that to support citizens lives and their livelihoods.  It is not the proper role of government to dictate the specific shape, speed or direction of these neighborhoods.

In their promotional materials, the APA highlights that planning is about choices.   Too often the choices the planners make (and localities approve), restrict (or eliminate) the viable options available to landowners.

If the end of Smart Growth is near, it will not be because planners have grown tired of the name it will be because as communities we can’t afford for it to continue.

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

Photo Credit: Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Florida State University, RTOHQ.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

The Politics of Economic Development – Employment, Underemployment & Goldilocks

By. Neil Williamson, President

targetTomorrow (April 11), the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED) will release their highly anticipated regional targeted industry study.  This study will attempt to quantify the specific geographic and demographic assets each participating locality brings to the economic development table and synch those assets with industry sectors poised for expansion.

First and foremost, the Free Enterprise Forum sincerely appreciates the renewed regional attention economic development has received over the last 36 months.  As they say – there’s nothing like a recession to focus economic development activity.

Despite a deceptive low unemployment rate, too many in our region are doing less than they could.  We are most interested in the promised “underemployment” information in the TJPED report.  Based on significant anecdotal evidence, we believe our region has enormous untapped potential.  Further, we believe in some cases, regulatory red tape and hubris  is preventing citizens from finding employment that fully utilizes their capabilities.

Keep an ear open to what our elected officials say about the very real underemployment problem.  Beyond those who are underemployed, the problem trickles down as the underemployed are holding positions that might otherwise go to a more appropriately qualified applicant. 

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe just moving the underemployed up in the job cue is nearly enough.

figure 1 jobs report 2011

Based on our initial employment analysis, the City of Charlottesville is perhaps facing the largest challenge.  The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce 2011 Jobs Report indicated:

The City of Charlottesville has the 2nd largest private sector employment base within the Region in 2010 with 24,708 jobs. However, private sector employment in Charlottesville is 8.8% lower in 2010 than it was in 2000 (27,094), the 2nd worst overall private sector job growth performance in the Region. [Emphasis added-nw]

It will take political courage for leaders to question the goals of the TJPED study if it only focuses on the high end white collar jobs and fails to identify appropriate targeted industries for this underutilized population. 

While we have been eagerly awaiting the release of the TJPED study, we are equally interested in the specific feedback political leaders provide.  Philosophically discussing improving economic vitality is one thing but when you get down to the brass tacks of business sector identification, it is interesting to see the urgency shift.

Earlier this year in a discussion of the “fast track” process in Albemarle County, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) suggested perhaps a distribution hub could qualify for a speedy application process.  Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) thought otherwise raising the environmental and traffic impacts of such a facility located within Albemarle’s urban ring.  He said that application probably would deserve EXTRA scrutiny based on potential impacts.

The Board of Supervisors even had a brief discussion last week on how to “receive” the report.  There was trepidation by some Board members that is they “accept” the report it would be akin to endorsing it.

This really speaks to the myriad of different perceptions of economic development. 

Position 1 might best be summed up by British Researcher and Author Richard Wilkerson who once suggested:

In its broadest ecological context, economic development is the development of more intensive ways of exploiting the natural environment.

Position 2 could be captured in Ronald Reagan’s quote regarding economic development. 

Reagan said:

We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free. Trust the people. This is the one irrefutable lesson of the entire postwar period contradicting the notion that rigid government controls are essential to economic development. [emphasis added-nw]

Position 3 – perhaps the “Goldilocks” perspective comes from Bill Clinton who  addressed a group of New York economic developers last September.

Clinton said a strong economy requires an effective government and one that will ask the right questions. He credited [Andrew] Cuomo for doing just that in New York.

Clinton said, “These regional economic groups you set up, the discipline, the thinking you had to undergo to ask ourselves, what are our problems and what are our assets? How can we develop the economy? How can we maximize our partnership with government? How much government do we need and what is the best way to pay for it? [emphasis added – nw]

As we examine this new study, the Free Enterprise Forum will be listening closely to elected leaders to hear which path – if any – they choose to stimulate economic vitality.

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 Credit: http://www.greatoccupations.com

Graphics Credit: Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce 2011 Jobs Report

Fluvanna Gets New County Administrator

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna County supervisors selected Captain Steven M. Nichols (USN, Ret.) as the county’s new administrator at their meeting on April 4th. Captain Nichols, a resident of Lake Monticello, is a former hospital administrator who has been active in county affairs over the past several years. He is a former member of the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals. He previously applied for the position when it was last open but was not selected.

Captain Nichols will serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors and will receive an annual salary of $110,000, plus a $6,000 annual allowance for automobile and telecommunication expenses.

Nichols inherits a staff bereft of senior leadership and will assume his duties, fortuitously for shortly after the supervisors approve the FY2013 budget on April 11th.

Supervisors did not discuss the budget at their meeting, but supervisors Robert Ullenbruch (Palmyra) is on record as wanting to reopen budget issues at next week’s meeting, especially the funding for the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). In past years, some supervisors have been successful in reducing the real estate tax rate at the last minute, but in this case there is no indication as yet that supervisors will back away from the $.68 per $100 of assessed value that they approved to be advertised.  Virginia state code allows the Board the ability to enact a lower rate than advertised but not a higher rate.

The Board also was briefed by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) on what rate of return it might expect from a water/sewer line serving Zion Crossroads. The Return on Investment Study suggests that with only minimal growth on the Fluvanna side of the Zion Crossroads area, the county would see a positive return of $1.4 million over ten years.

fluvanna water line projection TJPDC 2012

Minimal growth was defined as twenty percent of what Louisa County received during the 2000-2010 period. Should comparable growth occur in Fluvanna, the return would amount to about $14.7 million, according to the analysis.

Separately, the Board announced that Aqua Virginia provided a Letter of Intent to provide several services to the county. Without binding itself, Aqua Virginia indicated willingness to:

· Provide water services to Zion Crossroads;

· Purchase the Fork Union Sanitary District Water System for $750,000;

· Provide operational/maintenance services for the Palmyra Sewer System; and,

· Construct a sewer collection system for Zion Crossroads.

According to supervisor Joe Chesser (Rivanna), each specific offer is independent of any other so that the county could negotiate, for example, the sale of the Fork Union Sanitary District without consideration to any other proposal.

Supervisors also were briefed on the VDOT Secondary Road Six Year Plan. According to VDOT projections, Fluvanna can expect less than $600,000 in new funding from the state over the life of the plan. To put that into context, currently VDOT is spending about $150,000 for sidewalks and bicycle paths on 0.17 miles at the entrance to Lake Monticello at the Food Lion shopping center.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Chart Credit: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission via Fluvanna County

Is Albemarle Asking the “Right” Questions?

By. Neil Williamson, President

For the second time in as many months, the Frpolice trainingee Enterprise Forum witnesses incredible mission creep at the Albemarle County Office Building.

Last month, we wrote a post about the Albemarle Architectural Review Board seeking to answer questions better suited to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)

Last night (4/3), the Albemarle County Planning Commission was considering whether a proposed Police shooting range on the old Keene landfill property (closed in 1991)  was compatible with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

It is important to note that the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other application.  We do find it incredibly enlightening whenever Albemarle County is the applicant.

In a perfect world, the Planning Commission would limit its questions to those areas where it has legislative authority.  Other questions may be “interesting” but applicants should not feel compelled to answer them.  The Free Enterprise Forum has spoken out about this mission creep in several recent meetings.

During the questioning of the applicant several commissioners raised the issue of safety, noise, hours of operation, caliber of weapon (as it impacts noise) as well as intensity of facility use in the discussion with the applicant.  All of these questions clearly are tied to the land use and the neighborhood impacts and are appropriate.

Three of the commissioners also asked the applicant (the County) questions that were way outside the land use determination in front of them:

  • Did Albemarle County consider other properties for this facility?
  • How wide was the search?
  • Were non county owned parcels considered?
  • How much will this facility cost?
  • How short is the department from its full staffing of officers?
  • Has the County considered other options for this stated police training need?

When I raised the question of appropriateness of cost questions to a land use decision during the public hearing, the ex-officio (non voting) commissioner responded “it’s because it’s tax dollars”

Rather than publicly argue this point in what is designed to be a one way conversation, I replied that I understood.

What I understood is that this commissioner (and some of her associates) did not understand their charge.

In the end the issue passed 5-2 (Smith and Dotson opposed).  As stated above, the Free Enterprise Forum has no opinion on this application but we believe this case is illustrative of a flawed Albemarle “inquisition” process.

The question before the Planning Commission was simply is this land use compatible with the comprehensive plan.  The idea that it is a vital function of public safety is important but not critical to the decision.  It could be argued if a police shooting range is found to be compatible with the Comprehensive Plan clearly a private range in the same location with the same impacts and should result in the same decision.

sandbox - lowesIf any Planning Commissioner want to “protect the taxpayer” from wasteful spending rather than consider land use decisions, they should run for the Board of Supervisors where such decisions are made.

Until then they should stay in their own sandbox.

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: www.ccijax.com, Albemarle County, www.lowes.com