Monthly Archives: February, 2014

Fluvanna BOS Rejects Walker’s Ridge Revision

By.  Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors kept Walker’s Ridge to the original Rivanna Ridge plan during the Feb. 19 meeting.

There were 14 public speakers during the opening general public comments. Of them, 11 of them outright opposed, two spoke of general concepts to consider for the Walker’s Ridge action item and one person spoke on a different subject matter.

Public concerns ranged from the alternative drain fields to too many home sites to complaints the project did not fit in with how residents view Palmyra planning area.

“I think this project would be a disaster financially for the county. I think it would be a disaster environmentally for the county,” said Marvin Moss.

Three supervisors agreed with the public sentiment.

“It will change Palmyra, historically,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) said he supports property rights but couldn’t vote for the project.

“[Future supervisors] are going to be tearing down our pictures from the Morris Room [if we pass this],” said Ullenbruch. The entrance of the Morris Room in the county administration building has pictures of many Board of Supervisors.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) tried to defer action on the special use permit of Walker’s Ridge. The SUP was for major utilities and without it, the rezoning to a planned unit development (PUD) would fail. His motion to defer failed to receive a second.

O’Brien mentioned that state projections, that have been eerily correct historically, have the county growing significantly in future decades. He noted the project was not a five year project but would develop over many years.

“Reality is, where are those [new] people going to go?” asked O’Brien. “We have to have smart growth. Are we going to have them spread out across the county?”

He defended his motion to defer because of the procedures of the rezoning. The expert opinions the applicant provided defended the major utilities, such as the wells for the first phase and the alternative drain fields for the entire project.

Other documents that are part of the rezoning process, including staff reports, disagreed with some findings.

Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) mentioned some of the best parts of the Rivanna River includes the section that passes by the project.

Ullenbruch motioned to reject the SUP for major utilities and received a second by Weaver. The motion to reject passed 3-0-2, with chairwoman Mozell Booker and O’Brien abstaining.

The motion to reject the PUD rezoning passed 3-2, with Booker and O’Brien voting against rejection.

The owners of the property, Hotel Street Capital LLC, could begin another process of rezoning of the land or could develop using the original R-3 zoning granted to Rivanna Ridge. Walker’s Ridge PUD rezoning process took over a year.

Rivanna Ridge was approved for R-3 rezoning in the late 2000s but the owner did not submit a site plan. In order to develop, a site plan must be submitted and approved by the county planning director. Rivanna Ridge called for over 200 residential units with an idea of condominium style.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.

Round Two: Cell Tower on Route 810 Approved by PC

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Back on November 20, 2013, AT&T came to the Greene County Planning commission requesting a special use permit to install a cell tower on Dyke Road. At the end of the hearing they asked for a deferral of their application in order to meet with the community near Dyke where they wanted to place the cell tower. The November Planning Commission meeting had eight speakers, all against the location of the cell tower on Route 810 in line with the view of the mountains from Mount Vernon United Methodist Church.

At the February 19th meeting of the Planning Commission a request for the special use permit by Velocitel, Inc. was made again /. Since there had already been public comments allowed at the first meeting, no public comments were allowed at the February 19th meeting. However, that didn’t keep the crowd from turning out, mostly against locating the cell tower in line with the view from the church. Twenty to twenty five handmade signs were held up around the meeting room in the Country Administration Building that was overflowing with Standing Room Only around the room.

Chairman Jay Willer announced that a meeting between Velocitel, Inc. and the community was held on January 23rd at the church as had been suggested at the first hearing. A letter to the Planning Commission summarizing the meeting from the church was enclosed in the packet the Commissioners received.

Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, outlined the request and what new information was being provided. He indicated that a tower matrix showing the location of towers in Greene County and the increased coverage provided by the new cell tower per the coverage area in the northwest part of the county noted below in the second chart.

Current Service Chart clip_image002

Proposed Service Chart clip_image004

Svoboda also stated that the location was approximately 1,500 feet from Route 810. Svoboda continued that minimum distance of the setback requirement was twice the height of the cell tower, or 398 feet. Many of the parcels in the area would not provide enough size to comply with the 398 feet setback requirement.

AT&T was represented by Attorney Preston Lloyd . He stated that at the November meeting the Planning Commission asked that alternate sites be reviewed and that was done. He indicated that moving further up the hill would actually require more tree removal. The proposed location is actually 1,800 feet from the church. Alternative sites that were reviewed actually do not serve as many customers as the original site requested and many sites do not have the width necessary for the setback requirement. In his opinion, the site requested is the least obtrusive and provides the most coverage to users in the western part of Greene County. While no public comment was allowed during the hearing, Pastor Gordon Meariwether wrote a letter to the Greene County Record requesting that AT&T move their cell tower location out of the line of site of the church of the mountains to the west.

New Commission member John McCloskey asked if colocation of other providers would be allowed and was told that would be allowed. He then questioned why propagation maps were not provided for the other locations. Mr. Lloyd stated that one was prepared for the location requested. Mr. Lloyd was asked about a shorter tower, say 150 feet and Mr. Lloyd indicated that shorter towers would require more towers to get the same amount of coverage.

Chairman Willer asked Mr. Svoboda about the Scenic Highway designation and what impact a cell tower may have. Mr. Svoboda stated that VDOT along with the Commonwealth Transportation Board decide on the Scenic Highway designation. There are no specific qualifying criteria and that a cell tower should not prohibit Route 810 being designated a Scenic Highway.

Commissioner Schaff spoke in favor of the SUP, stating that school age children need access to the internet that the tower would provide. Commissioner McCloskey stated that he lives in the area and can get internet and cell phone service from a different carrier. Commissioner Morris stated that he attended the meeting at the church and spoke with a lot of residents and he supports the SUP after seeing the search ring other proposed sites have limitations. His final concern was one of safety and he had spoken to both the sheriff and the fire department and both are in favor of the placement of the tower to improve communication.

Commissioner McCloskey felt that AT&T had not gone far enough in their research of alternative sites and what is best for AT&T may not be best for Greene County. He didn’t feel that a sincere evaluation of alternative sites had been done. Chairman Willer also had concerns about the lack of effort by AT&T.

Commissioner Morris made a motion to approve the SUP request with color stipulations. McCloskey and Willer voted no while the other three commissioners vote to approve the SUP. As always, Special Use Permits are passed forward to the Board of Supervisors for final decision along with the Planning Commission recommendation.

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.

Albemarle BOS Public Hearing – Is it a Donne Deal?

Comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Public Input Session February 19, 2014

Madame Chair, Members of the Board, Mr. Foley and Mr. Davis,

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization located in Albemarle County.

We believe the proposed US29 Western Bypass is the most practicable and least environmentally impactful transportation solution to US29 congestion concerns.

Over the last few weeks we have shared several reports with this community and the Board:

·       Recent travel time information from the Virginia Department of Transportation showing 22 minutes of Bypass travel time savings

·       Engineering concerns with the construction viability of the expressway often touted as a bypass alternative. 

·       Three independently conducted surveys showing the public support for the bypass. 

·       Cost comparisons to the unfunded Places29 improvements

Even with all of this data, we understand this is a political not necessarily a rational decision. 

John DonneI humbly request that you consider English Poet John Donne as you evaluate your decision on this National Highway of Significance this Federal Aid Route.  As Donne wrote:

 

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.”

 

Albemarle County is not an island and the first letter in VDOT stands for Virginia – when will we recognize our role in the Commonwealth Transportation Plan? 

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

VDOT Study Indicates US29 Bypass Will Reduce Travel Time Up to 22 Minutes a Day

By Neil Williamson, President

us-29-logo_thumb.jpgIn responding to a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by The Free Enterprise Forum, The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) released The US29 Travel Time Analysis with and without the Bypass in a study conducted by Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The recently released documents show that future commuters using the proposed US29 Western Bypass will save up to 22:30 minutes each day (11:30 Southbound, 11:00 Northbound) by utilizing the bypass.  In addition, the modeling shows a daily reduction of nearly 10 minutes on the existing US29 & US29/250 corridor due to the Bypass.

US 29 Bypass Travel Time Savings Chart December 2013 big

The stated purpose of the analysis is to estimate the potential time savings that the proposed project would offer to drivers utilizing both the existing US29 and the proposed Bypass as compared with a No Build scenario and no major improvements to the existing US 29.

The Executive Summary indicates:

The travel time study was conducted utilizing VISSIM, a micro-simulation model that uses traffic volumes and proposed roadway layout to estimate delays and travel times. The study estimated travel times on US 29 and US 250 between Ashwood Boulevard on the north and Leonard Sandridge Road at the southern terminus of the proposed Bypass. A comparison of travel times for the year 2040 with and without the Bypass was developed.

The VISSIM travel time analysis estimated 2040 travel time savings of approximately between 7½ minutes to 11½ minutes for vehicles using the proposed Bypass depending upon the direction of travel and peak period. In addition, the construction of the proposed Bypass provides reduced travel time for vehicles that continue to use the existing US 29 ranging from 1 to 2 minutes in the non-peak direction to between 3½ and 7 minutes in the peak direction.

The Technical Documents of the analysis make the case that the increased traffic volumes within the existing US 29 Corridor will result in the duration of congestion on US 29 increasing in the future.

US 29 Bypass LOS Chart December 2013 big

This new information is helpful but it begs many questions:

  • How much is 22 minutes a day worth to our community?
  • How will commuters use this new time?  Family, increased productivity, relaxation?
  • If one could put a dollar value on time, how much is this time savings worth?
  • If a vehicle (especially a tractor trailer) is operated 22 minutes less each day, can one quantify the net environmental benefit (or harm)?

The full December 19, 2013 report (and related documents) can be found on the Free Enterprise Forum website under the reports tab.

Greene BOS Approves Fitness Club Permit

 By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

        The Gateway Market Center, LLC received the approval of the Board of Supervisors at their February 11th meeting for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow a fitness facility in the development across from Walmart.

Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, presented the SUP request to the BOS.  There were no concerns expressed by the agencies that review SUPs.  As the use that is planned for the site fits the comprehensive plan, the staff recommended approval.

There were no comments from the public and the Board were all in agreement that this request fits the property well for the existing zoning.  Svoboda noted that the developer of the property would only use a portion of the structure for the health club and that other tenants must conform their use to what is defined in the B3 zoning.

This property is at a key location of the Gateway Center as it has access from Route 33 and US 29.  The majority of the traffic entering the development will pass this parcel whether they are headed to to the northern anchor (Lowes) or the southern anchor (Walmart).

Snap Fitness is the operation that will locate in this space.  This national franchise business model operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week with key access for its members.  An internet review found comments from other franchise owners to be very favorable and member reviews to be mixed.

This 24/7 business model is very similar to Anytime Fitness that has an existing franchise location just south of Ruckersville on US29 near the Best Western Hotel.

The BOS unanimously approved the SUP and all agreed that this is the type of business that the county is looking for.  Svoboda explained that the need for the SUP was due to the 24 hour access.  This location is in a heavily traveled, well lit area and he had little concern about the security of the facility.

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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.

Fluvanna Budget Proposals Includes $10 Million in New Debt

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna FY15 budget is just as tight as anticipated.

County Administrator, Steve Nichols, presented his budget proposal at the Feb. 5 meeting Board of Supervisors meeting. His proposal shows just how hard it will be for the supervisors to do everything it has said it wants to do.

The Nichols’ Budget includes a real property tax rate of $0.85 per $100 assessed with the personal property rate staying at $4.15 per $100 assessed.

The big shocker of the Nichols’ Budget is the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP is a five-year plan for capital projects. The supervisors approve a plan for all five years but only commit to paying for the first year.

The FY15 CIP is for $13.1 million, including borrowing $10 million to pay for a large portion of it.

Big ticket items Nichols slated for debt are upgrading the aged Fluvanna Middle School HVAC system, construction of Fluvanna’s portion of the James River Water Authority system and developing a water system for the Zion Crossroads Development Area.

Other items to be paid in cash were all below $1 million, with the two largest being $650,000 for lighting at the Pleasant Grove athletic fields and $600,000 for safety and security upgrades for the school system.

The CIP also has over $1.4 million in maintenance projects.

The budget itself is higher than last year’s but it mostly maintains services currently offered.

“There is nothing but bone marrow left, other than personnel,” Nichols told the board about possible cuts.

Had Nichols included every request from agencies and departments, the real estate tax rate would have to be $0.93. It is currently $0.795.

The raise in the real estate tax rate isn’t the only thing helping increase the projected revenue for the budget. This year the anticipated tax collection rate was also increased, using historical trends. Because Fluvanna has collected higher than anticipated, the calculated collection rate was increased slightly. It isn’t a huge difference but saved a penny of real estate tax rate.

Extra tax revenues collected over projected are put into the ‘Fund Balance’, the county’s savings account.

The fund balance is required to have $7.2 million, per county policy. With Nichols’ budget proposal it would sit $1.5 million higher than policy.

The supervisors will also conduct another reassessment. Last year the reassessment lowered property values. One occurring in calendar year 2014, taking effect Jan. 1, 2015, will more than likely increase property values. The increase in value will increase the June 2015 tax collection.

While that is likely to occur, it is not projected in the budget process.

The debt service will continue to be an ongoing issue for the county and it won’t get better for the next several budget calendars. The budget has $7.536 million of debt service or $0.28 of real estate taxes. The payoff of current debt load is 2036 with payments lessening in the 2020s decade.

The supervisors have already heard from agencies during the Feb. 5 work session. On Feb. 12 they supervisors will hear from the non-profit and regional agencies.

Following the Feb. 19 regular meeting, supervisors will work on the CIP and capital budget.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.

Albemarle Knows Best – Comprehensive Plan Mission Creep

By.  Neil Williamson, President

Through the use of zoning, architectural design guidelines, regulations and overlay districts, local governments already control the size, appearance and type of activity conducted on any given parcel, now in Albemarle they want government to dictate when the market is ready for a permitted activity (see first bullet below).

Please let me explain.

One of the primary philosophical issues with government comprehensive planning is government comprehensive planning.  While state code mandates that all localities have such plans and they be updated every five years, the level of detail of these plans differs widely.

Albemarle County has been engaged in this comprehensive plan update for well over two years.  Late on Wednesday evening, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan.  After the public hearing, they plan to hold future work sessions, where public comment may or may not be permitted prior to adoption of the plan.    We strongly encourage the Board to accept public comment prior to each of their work sessions.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been engaged in this effort since the beginning and continues to find significant issues.   Here are just a few:

  • In what can only be described as government overreach, page 7.34 outlines that Albemarle should only approve a permitted land use “when a significant unmet need can be established for this type of use”.  This concept is outlandish and fundamentally flawed.  While government can, and should, consider the impacts of uses on the larger community, the business decision of need or viability should be placed squarely with the landowner who is taking the risk.
  • In addition to being a planner employment act (calling for significant increase in planning staff), the comprehensive plan regularly fails to recognize property rights and the positive stewardship of private property owners.
  • Last year at the Planning Commission, we led the fight with Monticello and successfully got the “veiwshed” preservation regulations removed from the document.  Surprisingly despite that very public victory, the plan still calls for enabling legislation for new overlay powers designed for “scenic protection and tourist enhancement”.
  • In the mid 200s, the community was engaged in a rancorous debate over property rights and mountaintop “protection” ordinance.  The ordinance effort failed yet is mentioned in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan no less than four times.
  • The transportation chapter cites a reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a goal.  This is nonsense.  The goal should be efficient and effective transport not a multimodal anti-mobility metric.  Conceptually, this misguided goal would be met if no one ever went anywhere.
  • The number one objective in the Economic Development chapter [the shortest chapter in the plan] is to “Ensure that economic development goals are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with other Comprehensive Plan goals”.  This is a misplaced priority.  Objective 1 should be focused on making sure there is work for those who want to work.
  • Strategy 1d in the Economic Development chapter is “Encourage all businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices”.  Such a strategy may be appropriate in another chapter but I am at a loss to understand how this will help economic development.  It seems like a “feel good” tack on that has no nexus to economic vitality.

With much of the community now focused on the Western Bypass public hearing next week, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates few speakers on this critical five year philosophical planning document.  Absent significant public outcry, the Supervisors will choose not to review the plan chapter by chapter but to enact it with little or no changes.

Considering the perceived import of this plan if the BOS fails to fully vet the document, that’s planning to fail.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

clip_image0024.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Budget Proposal Includes Tax Increase

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna’s County Administrator Steve Nichols will formally present his budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 5. That budget is expected to include at least a real property tax increase of over five cents per $100 assessed.

Multiple high-ranking sources close to the draft budget process have confirmed the proposal will at least include a real property tax of 85 cents. One source said it could be 86 cents but both expected it in the mid-80s.

Nichols would not comment on his budget proposal until after he presents it to the Board. He noted it will be available later this week on the county website and physical copies at various county locations. Supervisors were given a copy of the proposal late last week.

Sources said the budget is rather level funding but includes modest increases to maintain services. The local school district funding is expected to include a $1 million increase over FY14.

The School Board had mentioned in preliminary discussions it would need $1.5 million more than FY14. Although, it was noted that number could change during the School Board budget deliberations.

Fluvanna School Superintendent Gena Keller did not comment on the possible rumored budget figures but noted the county administrator proposal is just a starting point for the supervisors to begin discussions.

Keller said in an emailed statement, “I will present my budget to the School Board on March 5 and [the School Board] will approve a budget on March 12.  On March 19, I will present the budget request to the Board of Supervisors for their consideration.

“We must work to rebuild a foundation for our schools so we can thrive, innovate, and become a vibrant realm of our community! It is important that we stop existing in survival mode.”

Nichols’ budget proposal last year created one of the easiest budget processes in recent history for the Board of Supervisors. The budget that was approved had little variations from his proposal. All five supervisors voted in favor of the budget and noted Nichols’ starting proposal was a reason why.

Nichols will present his FY15 proposed budget formally during the 4 p.m. Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 5. Following the meeting the board will have a work session on the budget

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.