Monthly Archives: October, 2012

What’s Three Thousand Hours Worth to You?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Neil at Albemarle Board of SupervisorsIn our almost ten years of operation of the Free Enterprise Forum, it is conservatively estimated we have attended almost 3,000 hours of local government meetings.  Some of these meetings have been well attended with wide media coverage and others city council forum 2009where we have been the only person in the audience.

Our alphabet soup of regular attended local government meetings bos20060825bincludes, but is not neil at MPOlimited to: ACARB, ACPC, ACBOS, CBAR, CCC, CPC, FCBOS, FCPC, GCBOS, GCPC,  LCBOS, LCPC, MPO, PACC, RSWA, RWSA, TJPDC.  Extra points to anyone who can correctly name all the acronyms. 

Why do we go to so many meetings? – so you don’t have to.

Time is money and you don’t have time to get up to speed on all the issues of each locality and attend their respective meetings — but you need to know what happened and how it impacts you and your enterprise.  As the James Taylor song says “That’s Why I’m Here”.

Neil Williamson before the Albemarle County Planning CommissionIt is important to recognize that we not only attend we participate.  Our regular attendance at these meetings provides elected officials and staff an understanding of our commitment to these issues.  Our pro business policy perspective has directly impacted the regulatory environment in every locality we serve.

This year, I was floored to be named “Citizen Planner Of the Year” By the City of Charlottesville Planning Commission.  We are making a difference!

So I have to ask – How much is Three Thousand Hours worth to you?

The Free Enterprise Forum is a 501(c) 6 organization that relies on contributions from organizations, businesses and individuals to maintain operations. 

As we approach the end of the year, we have not yet met our 2012 fundraising target.

Put ever so bluntly, will you put your money where my mouth is?

Please click here for our secure server donation page!

Only with your support will the Free Enterprise Forum continue to be a strong voice in our community.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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.

Photo Credits- Charlottesville Tomorrow

Want to Improve Industrial Zoning? Eliminate It!

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The idea of increasing the availability of light industrial land and reducing the level of regulation is really about the development of career ladder jobs.  So regardless of the dense arguments that follow regarding zoning regulatory burdens, one must remember the over arching goal is to locate quality jobs closer to qualified workers.

According to Younger & Associates the  “Hidden Employment Pool” reported in the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED) Targeted Industry Report is significant:

When the components of the labor supply pool are combined [recent graduates, unemployed desiring work, underemployed and part time desiring full time work], the total Hidden Potential Labor Supply can be seen. … In the TJPED region, employers have a potential labor pool of over 95,100 workers, many with past work experience and training that can be beneficial to employers in key industry groups.

With this as the demographic and economic backdrop, Tuesday night Albemarle County is considering a fairly comprehensive update of its industrial zoning ordinance.  While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds this update and asks that amendment F be adopted to allow limited industrial uses in commercial zoning, we feel that the entire concept of industrial zoning should be reexamined.

Technology advances significantly faster than regulation [This currentbiotech-eight-bottom-1 Zoning Text Amendment dates back to 2009].  Even the staff report indicates the problem with contemplating all the potential uses “it is virtually impossible to anticipate every industrial use”.  Considering that zoning is enforced on a complaint basis; it seems intuitive that the drafting of any zoning ordinance is similar to fighting the last war.

So why not scrap the entire zoning classification game and work on what really matters – impacts to the neighbors and community.  Why should Albemarle County, or any locality, care if I am making widgets, wallets or wing nuts in my light industrial facility?

It shouldn’t matter.  But since the beginning zoning has focused on what you are doing on a parcel rather than how what you are doing may impact others.

gaschromatographyWhat should matter is the development of reasonable, enforceable performance standards for any and all industrial uses.  Rather than spending months and thousands of dollars to get a piece of paper that allows you by special use permit (or special exception) to create jobs and build widgets, that money can be spent building your production facility/studio/flex space to be nimble to market demands and respectful of your neighbors regarding noise, emissions and traffic impacts.

Albemarle County’s proposal goes halfway in this direction as it requires all industrial uses provide a certified engineer’s report (Sec 4.14.5) addressing the control of emissions, discharges and other by-products of the use.  But all of this is under their very specific permitted uses – if the externalities are the same, the actual use should not matter.

This is not an entirely new idea.  Performance Based Zoning has been tested in several localities across the United States with mixed success.

What is Performance Based Zoning?

According to a paper prepared by the Minnesota Department of Administration:

Performance zoning is a land use planning concept that has its roots in building codes that established performance standards as opposed to specification standards. An example of a performance standard would be “that walls, floor and ceiling be so constructed as to contain
an interior fire for one hour”. A specification standard example would be “that walls, floor and ceiling be constructed of 4 inch thick masonry or stone”.

This concept transmuted into a system of industrial zoning by permitting defined industrial activities and locations based on measurable adverse externalities and their effects on adjoining properties. An adverse externality is an economist’s term that is defined as a harmful effect of one economic agent’s actions on another. Examples are pollution from factories (a production externality) and smoke from cigarettes (a consumption externality). Industrial performance zoning permitted the location of specific businesses and activities theoretically anywhere in a community based upon their measurable pollution impacts relative to their surroundings, human and natural, as opposed to being permitted only in established specific areas on the community’s official land use map.

In a paper published in Planning and Markets, Indiana University’s John R. Ottensmann explains the economic rationale for current so called Euclidian Zoning:

The economic justification for zoning is that the regulations prevent the negative external effects associated with the proximity of incompatible land uses (Clawson 1971, Moore 1978). By eliminating these externalities, the argument goes, zoning can produce a pattern of land use that results in greater overall economic efficiency than would occur in the absence of regulation.

By introducing controls on the private use of land, however, zoning necessarily results in land use decisions that are less efficient from the perspectives of the individual landowners. Proponents of zoning argue that these private inefficiencies would be offset by the increases in economic efficiency obtained by the prevention the negative external effects associated with unregulated patterns of land use. But the question arises as to whether the private inefficiencies created are indeed offset by the reduction in externalities (Nelson 1989). Furthermore, even if the net social benefits associated with zoning are positive, the question remains as to whether traditional zoning creates greater private inefficiencies than would be produced by alternative, more flexible forms of land use regulation.

We recognize there would be significant work to move forward with the creation of a performance based industrial zoning ordinance but we believe the economic benefits far outweigh the upfront bureaucratic costs.

A performance based industrial standard would better, and more specifically, protect adjoining landowners and could significantly improve the economic development opportunities, and employment potential, for the locality that embraces the challenge.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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.

Photo Credits- Biotech 8, Richmond, VA; Indiana University

Fluvanna Money Woes Continue

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors met on October 17th and rejected most of a School Board request for more funding for the current fiscal year. School officials requested an additional $374,000, of which $66,000 was for unspent FY 2012 funds. Supervisors approved returning that money.

The Board however rejected a school request for an additional $308,000 to cover unanticipated new expenses, most notably for heating fuel. It seems that the high school engineer underestimated heating oil consumption by 200 percent and the heating bill will be $208,000, instead of the original $68,000. The School Board also wanted to restore funding to some categories where it removed previously allocated funds.

There was little sympathy for the school position. A motion by supervisor Mozell Booker to provide the funding died for lack of a second, Supervisor Robert Ullenbruch stated: “we’re four months into the budget … it’s not acceptable… The end has to be now to coming up to the podium and asking for more money”.

Currently school officials are reviewing their options, including moving towards a four-day school week.

Separately, Steve Jacobs of Robinson, Farmer and Cox presented the results of a study that shows that Fluvanna spends substantially more on schools than is required by the Commonwealth to meet the standards of quality. Mr. Jacobs noted however, that every school division in the state spends more than the minimum requirement, and that some items, such as bus transportation, are not required by the Commonwealth.

Separately, the County Treasurer, Linda Lenherr, reported that county tax revenue is not meeting budget expectations. Real estate tax collections are running at a 90 percent payment rate, significantly below the anticipated 96 percent rate. This represents an estimated $1.1 million decline in projected revenue on an annual basis. Ms. Lenherr also said that personal property tax revenue collections are below the 90 percent collection rate projected in the FY2013 budget.

Prior to the meeting, Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan stated that the real estate reassessment indicates an average 28 percent decline in county values. He indicated that land values declined significantly more than home values, and that there did not appear to be significant variations among different sections of the county. Mr. Sheridan cautioned however that the data are subject to change as the review and appeal process is just underway.

Finally, at the request of supervisor Joe Chesser (Rivanna), supervisors directed the staff to “present land use and zoning options at an afternoon meeting in the near future”. This suggests that the long dormant “rural preservation” issue might be addressed before the next supervisor elections in 2013.

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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

Greene BOS Supports Artisan Trail

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

Rarely are Board of Supervisors approached to help make something happen without providing funding. Sherrie Smith, Executive Director of the Artisan Center of Virginia, approached the Greene County Board of Supervisors (BOS) on October 9, 2012 asking only for their support, not their dollars. Funding from the local Tourism Board would be directed toward ACV to get Greene started. The first year would involve implementing links to ACV’s website and then future years would maintain the system. Of course Greene’s BOS agreed to provide a letter of support of Greene’s participation in ACV.

So what is the Artisan Center of Virginia and what is the Artisan Trail Network? In 1987, then Governor Gerald  Baliles directed state agencies to “enhance the craft industry.” Finally in 1997, ACV was incorporated and on June 11, 2000 it was designated as the “official state artisans center.” Its goal is to help crafts of all types get their message out to increase tourism, increase jobs and finally, increase revenue. ACV has developed a statewide Craft Registry that identifies who and where the artisans are.

There are specific “trails” that identify specific areas such as the Monticello Artisan Trail. Nelson and Albemarle County combined to form this trail and it includes vineyards, breweries, a distillery, restaurants and lodging. This can then be linked to other websites that potential visitors to the area can easily link to.

Supervisor Davis Lamb  noted that this website gets about 22,000 hits per month. Director of Economic Development Tony Williams  who introduced Smith to the BOS, assured Supervisor Jim Frydl that this would not add to his workload and believes that this agreement will allow Greene County to market their product better than they are currently doing. Representatives of the newly formed Art Guild also endorsed this arrangement.

Central Virginia attracts a great number of tourists with well known sites such at Monticello, the University of Virginia, Montpelier, etc. Greene County will receive much greater exposure working with ACV and being linked on the same website as these major destinations rather than trying to attract visitors with a stand alone tourism website. Logically visitors coming down US 29 to Charlottesville or over Route 33 from the Shenandoah Valley are more likely to stop in Greene if they are aware of artisans in the area that they saw from the link on the ACV website when they are planning their trip.

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Brent Wilson is the Greene 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 Credits: Artisan Trail Network, Greene County

Fluvanna BOS – the Calm Before the Storm?

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Minus two supervisors, Fluvanna County’s  Board of Supervisors raced through a thin agenda on October 3rd and will consider supplementary school funding at its next meeting on October 18th. The highly contentious issue was deferred until Supervisors Joe Chesser (Rivanna) and Robert Ullenbruch (Palmyra) return from vacation.

County administrator Steven Nichols informed the Board that approximately $180,000 in additional funding could be available for school capital programs. These funds come from proffers made by the developers of the Sycamore Square subdivision. An additional $84,000 contribution is pending. Funds obtained through proffers must be tied directly to projects that are included in the county’s capital improvement plan.

At their next meeting, supervisors will address two school-related issues.

Earlier in the summer, supervisors contracted with Robinson, Farmer, and Cox to study the school budget. While careful to avoid calling the study an audit, supervisors hope to determine if funding levels are sufficient and meet state requirements. That report will be sent to the Board on October 10th, and according to the county administrator, will be on the agenda for discussion on October 17th.

Supervisors also will discuss the School Board’s request for additional funding to meet operational costs for the fiscal year. Given the county’s current political climate, it could make for a very contentious meeting.

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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

VDOT’s US29 Bypass Environmental Assessment

This letter was provided (without photographs)  to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on October 5, 2012:

RE: US Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass Environmental Assessment

State Project No.: 0029-002-844, P101; UPC 102419

Dear Ms. Deem,

The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization, appreciates the opportunity to review and comment on the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Environmental Assessment (EA) of US29 Bypass. By means of background, the Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in Central Virginia’s land use and transportation discussions for just shy of a decade.

us 29 logoFor the better part of the decade we have advocated for transportation solutions. When the Places29 plan was considered by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Free Enterprise Forum opposed the plan, in part because it failed to even consider the US29 Bypass as a potential solution. We believed then, as we do now, the US29 Western Bypass must be a part of any real transportation solution.

This project has a long history marked by successful delay tactics. The initial Finding of No Significant Impact was issued in 1995, with a reevaluation and Revised Record of Decision was issued in 2000. After litigation, the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) Record of Decision was issued in 2003. As this project moved through the approvals and litigation, traffic only continued to grow on US29.

Even though some of the areas on US29 North have been rezoned and/or developed since the 1995 study was originally prepared, these areas have been designated for high density growth since at least the 1984 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Plan. This designation was factored in when the original route was developed.  100_0404

Significantly, the route of the bypass has been on the Comprehensive Plan Land Use maps for many, many years.   The most recent map, which was effective up until Places 29 was approved, is entitled “2015 Land Use Map” and is marked “Adopted June 1996, Amended May 2010.”  So all land use decisions since at least 1984 were made with the expectation that this road follow this route and as recently as May 2010 Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan map envisioned this road in this location for its long range planning purposes.

Despite claims to the contrary, the EA correctly notes that “the current forecasts for 2040 confirm that up to 28% of traffic will divert to the proposed bypass from existing Route 29” (page 6). The project will result in significant improvement in traffic flow on the new Business 29. The EA states that “the Route 29/Hydraulic road intersection, the average delay would be reduced by approximately 42% in the AM peak and by approximately 35% in the PM peak” (page 14). Clearly the US29 Bypass continues to meet the identified purpose and need as described in the previously approved National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the level of detail and clarity included in the EA regarding citizen concerns and the metrics used to determine what, if any, mitigation may be required. We believe this document meets or exceeds the requirements and should be forwarded to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approval.

While we anticipate relatively swift approval from FHWA, we also fully anticipate one, if not more, federal lawsuits will challenge this decision. Based on our comprehensive analysis of the EA coupled with the favorable federal court opinion in 2003, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the 2012 Environmental Assessment will be upheld and the project to move forward.

Thank you for the opportunity for the community to comment on this critically important project. Once constructed, the US29 Bypass will provide Virginia with a significantly safer, less congested roadway for all its citizens.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President