FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:36
Considering Thomas Jefferson’s strong belief in personal property rights, one must wonder what Jefferson would think of the Foundation that bears his name seeking to use Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan to enact ‘voluntary’ restrictions on the property rights of landowners whose properties might be visible from Monticello.
The Free Enterprise Forum sees this as an effective land grab via comprehensive plan.
Please let me explain.
According to Merriam-Webster, the term land grab was first used in the middle 1800’s “to describe a usually swift acquisition of property (as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force”.
Today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc., owner and operator of Monticello, is calling for the creation of a “Monticello Protection Area” overlay in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan. The Foundation contends that the view from Monticello is an important part of their dual nonprofit mission of education and preservation. They are seeking to have input on any development/construction activity that occurs within this “Protection Area”.
The map below, prepared by Foundation staff and included in the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, illustrates the vast area Monticello wishes to exercise their ‘voluntary’ design control.
The current iteration of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan includes a significantly smaller Monticello view shed map. The map below includes both the current (in blue) and proposed (in gray) view shed maps:
This is a huge increase in area and includes parcels that, due to topography can not be seen from Monticello (example: portions of Avon Street Extended).
Foundation staff provided both the verbiage and the map to be included in the just released Albemarle Comprehensive Plan. The word voluntary does not appear anywhere in the documents provided.
From the draft Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (as drafted by the Foundation):
The Monticello Protection Area is defined by the GIS map on file with Albemarle County which depicts all property visible from the Monticello mountaintop. The intent of the Guidelines for Development within the Monticello Protection Area (MPA) is to protect the historic character of Monticello and the rural character of entrance corridors, particularly as it relates to the visitor experience. The implementation of these guidelines is intended to maintain the historic and rural character of the area for both visitors and residents to improve the economic vitality of this community resource.
Members of the Foundation staff have indicated property owners will not have to abide by their ‘voluntary’ restrictions. They simply want to make the landowners aware that the view from their very important community asset might be negatively impacted by something the landowner could lawfully do with their property. The Foundation also wants to suggests ways property owners could change their plans to better suit the desires of the Foundation.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes if included in the Comprehensive Plan, the regulatory reality (different from the true legal standing) is that the Foundation would have effective design control power over all development in the “Monticello Protection Area”.
The guidelines the Foundation has proposed are exceedingly specific and overreaching. The Foundation wants to weigh in on the color, arrangement, lighting and even placement of windows on properties they do not own. They are mandating a seat at the table at every rezoning Albemarle considers in their view shed. In addition, while they want to have the ability to enjoy the view of properties they don’t own, they specifically do not want windows facing their property. Lest you think we have overstated these voluntary restrictions, here is exactly as they appear in the Draft Comprehensive plan:
Bright pastels and whites on exterior faces of buildings and roofs can be distracting when viewing the natural landscape from Monticello. Muted colors for roofs and walls that blend with the natural landscape (ie. mid-spectrum browns and greys, sandy tones) can be substituted for bright pastels and whites on building faces and roofs.
To minimize impact, avoid large roof expanses, especially those of one color—mottled coloring that combines light and dark elements for roofs is preferred.
Surfaces that are prone to glare and reflection increase visibility and should be avoided whenever possible.
For example, expansive windows facing Monticello should be avoided.
Flood lights, up- lights and exposed bulbs are more apparent in the night sky than shielded fixtures. Lighting for buildings and parking areas can use shielded fixtures at lower heights to reduce impacts. Whenever possible lighting should not be placed higher than the tree line.
Lighting on the tops of cellular towers should be avoided when possible.
Lighting for buildings and parking areas should use fixtures that reduce/eliminate glare.
Employ techniques that break up massing.
Development that breaks the mature tree line is more apparent than development that is lower than the mature tree line. Special consideration should be given to development which is higher than the mature tree line to camouflage impacts.
Parking can always be broken up with interspersed plantings of trees and other landscaping.
When there is no conflict with Entrance Corridor or Neighborhood Model guidelines, the preferred location for parking is on the far side of buildings as viewed from Monticello.
Landscaping to screen buildings and parking should employ trees which will generate a mature canopy of trees.
Monticello welcomes the opportunity to assist homeowners and developers who are contemplating construction in the MPA. Please contact Monticello with any questions about these guidelines.
Projects that require discretionary land use permits should consider offering a proffer that addresses protection of the views from Monticello. Albemarle County could consider conditions that protect the views from Monticello when special use permits are issued.
Considering the revised map and the voluntary restrictions listed above, development (that the Comprehensive Plan seeks to encourage) just got a great deal more difficult in the Monticello visible development areas of Albemarle County. In addition, The Free Enterprise Forum questions the legal standing for the existing Monticello view shed protection in the current Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan.
In 2004, we cheered when the Foundation purchased a neighboring 334 acre parcel now known as Montalto. This purchase is the proper way to control view shed – you want it — buy it.
When President Thomas Jefferson looked west to the expansion of the United States, he initiated the Louisiana Purchase. I firmly believe Jefferson would advocate for the protection of property rights over the view shed protections currently proposed.
Despite the fact that they wrote it, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation should now ask the Albemarle County Planning Commission to remove the “Monticello Protection Area” map and the associated ‘voluntary’ land grab language from the Comprehensive Plan before prior to sending it on to the Board of Supervisors.
As Jefferson wrote “Nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of.” –[Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 1786. ME 5:440].
Neil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Image Credits:Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc.