FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
The other afternoon, as the sky grew dark and I heard loud rumbling in the distance, I was reminded of Albemarle County’s proposed improvements to the development review process.
Just as the rumbling prior to a summer storm, last week’s stakeholder roundtable provided significant warning that the proposed revisions are not embraced by those whom will be impacted, and that the provisions regarding the Architectural Review Board (ARB) may make an existing bad problem exponentially worse.
Please let me explain.
By code, the ARB has very specific and limited powers. The ARB has been concerned that by the time they get to see the project’s “final site plan” too many decisions have already been approved (including the location of buildings on a site).
After the staff presentations, Paul Wright of the Architectural Review Board presented a number of concerns the ARB has with the current processes. These concerns included enforcement and an inability of the ARB under its current powers to control the skyline within the entrance corridors.
The resulting discussion changed the course of the meeting entirely. Rather than looking for ways to streamline the development review process and improve public understanding, the members of the ARB pressed for more power. In addition they expressed concerns that they were the last consulted regarding one of the County’s own projects Albemarle High School expansion. One member of the ARB suggested they should be consulted on every building the County has an interest in.
Trapped in a regulatory box, Albemarle County staff has proposed placing an ARB staff member on the site review committee. The site review committee will review all by right site development and the ARB representative will only be consulted on projects in the entrance corridor.
In addition, as this is a by right development, the site review committee will be able to issue two types of direction – requirements and recommendations. Most of the ARB work is directly written in the code so their comments will be recommendations.
As staff explained to the ARB last week, you would likely identify areas that, while not legally required for approval, might need additional landscaping to mitigate their impacts.
Taking this to its logical conclusion the ARB may wish to have a building on the rear of the parcel to better protect the streetscape in the entrance corridor, while the planning department may wish to have the building on the entrance corridor better to hide the sea of parking. Since relegated parking is in the code, and ARB’s preference is not codified, the building would be placed on the front of the parcel and the site plan is approved.
Now it comes time for the final site plan approval and the required certificate of appropriateness from the ARB. This applicant, who followed the prescribed plan clearly has ignored the ARB’s wishes because they did not move the building as ARB “recommended”.
How can the ARB move forward without malice on this application? How can they not even if just subliminally believe the applicant is unwilling to work with them?
The angry bee theory — as a young boy, my mother told me not to swat at a bee unless I was sure I would kill it; otherwise you have an angry, focused and motivated opponent.
While understanding staff’s intent in including the ARB in the site review committee, the Free Enterprise Forum believes that since much of the ARB power is not codified, the end result would be an ARB even more ostracized (and angry) than the current approval construct.
Neil Williamson, President
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: Ann Stober -Nelson County Life, Keenkid Blog