Monthly Archives: March, 2014

Albemarle’s Cash Proffer Addiction – It’s All About the Money, Money, Money

By Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are now considering two options for review of their cash proffer policy: Option One is a simple method that allows the staff to put current proffer practices, established by precedent, into the comprehensive plan, Option Two is a more comprehensive review with significant public input and a more holistic review of the policy.

While staff prefers option one because the cash proffer policy has only been in place since 2007 and there is not enough data for a more comprehensive review, the Free Enterprise Forum prefers the Nuclear Option Three – Repeal Cash Proffers.

But wait you said the Supervisors are only considering two options.  Unfortunately, due to what I believe may be an irreversible addiction to unreliable cash proffers as a capital revenue source, Option Three may never see the light of day – and that’s too bad.

Interestingly several localities across the Commonwealth are slowly walking away from cash proffers as a funding mechanism.  The Commission on Local Governments (CLG) Annual Cash Proffer Survey revealed that 22.84% of the 162 eligible localities reported cash proffer collections during FY 2013. This represents a decrease of 2.6% in the number of local governments accepting cash proffers compared to FY 2012. FY2011 saw a similar drop in locality participation.

jessi J

Singer Jessi J

 

Why then isn’t Albemarle, often a leader in land use reforms, considering the repeal of this rezoning ransom?  With apologies to pop singer Jessi J – It is all about the money, money, money.

When we presented the  Contradictory Consequences Cash Proffers White Paper to the Board of Supervisors last year, Charlottesville Tomorrow reporter Sean Tubs captured the thrust of the county’s philosophical support of cash proffers:

[Supervisor Dennis] Rooker asked Williamson and [2013 Free Enterprise Forum Chair Michael] Guthrie what their alternatives would be for raising money to pay for infrastructure. Neither had a response.

“There is an impact on the community that results from new people moving to the area and new structures being built,” Rooker said. “The question ultimately comes down to who should bear the cost of that impact?”

There is a fallacy inherent in Mr. Rooker’s argument – have the owners not been paying taxes on the land previously?  If it is a greenfield development the land has been under utilizing county infrastructure for generations. If anything these land owners are due a tax rebate rather than being hit with property devaluing cash proffer.

The inverse relationship of land value to cash proffers actually hinders economic development.  As the white paper outlined:

Lower land values, lower property tax revenue – In concept, cash proffers are voluntary payments made by landowners to mitigate the impacts of changing the prescriptive zoning on their property. The concept works best when the rezoned value exceeds the increased cost of the cash proffer combined with the other increased costs of rezoning the property (time, additional proffers, carrying costs, etc.). Such a symbiotic relationship is difficult to achieve with automatic inflation increasing cash proffers and fragile, fickle housing markets not keeping pace.

Further, any proposed rezoning must be in accordance with the publicly vetted Comprehensive Plan.  The developers therefore are the entities putting capital at risk to actualize the county’s vision – and for this they must pay a surcharge of $19,753 per Single Family Home?

Even Albemarle County recognized this when they proactively rezoned much of the downtown area and created an entire new zoning district without cash proffers. In the code it stipulates –

“By right uses; residential. The following residential uses are permitted by right, provided that the first floor of the building in which the residential use exists is designed for and occupied only by a use permitted by subsections 20B.2(A), (B), (C) or (E).”

Cash proffers are enabled by Virginia Code § 15.2-2303 which allows localities to accept cash contributions to address impacts to public facilities generated by new residential development.

In 2013, the Free Enterprise Forum produced the   Contradictory Consequences Cash Proffers White Paper 2013.  In this groundbreaking report we documented how the use of cash proffers was undermining Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan:

In many, if not most, cases the zoning in a locality’s development area does not match the comprehensive plan designation. Comprehensive plan designation must be reviewed by the locality every five years under state code. While the property owner does not have to agree to the comprehensive plan changes, they cannot act on those new designations until they have rezoned the property. Alternatively, if the land owner chooses to move forward with the existing, some might call “stale”, zoning, which likely does not agree with the locality’s comprehensive plan, they can do so immediately without paying any cash proffers.

By moving forward with the so called “stale” zoning the county fails to achieve their vision of more dense, mixed use communities.

The siren’s song of cash proffers is very strong for elected officials. The idea of generating revenue from new home buyers (who are not yet voters) to “pay their way” is too good to be true.

All Virginia Localities are required to have Urban Growth Areas where they plan to focus growth. Such design provides economic efficiency in delivery of core government functions and preserves important ecological contributions of the rural areas. Unfortunately, cash proffers discourage rezoning in the development areas and encourages the very type of large lot low density residential construction in rural areas.

Sold to the public as a way to make growth pay for itself, the unintended negative economic and planning impacts have caused localities across the Commonwealth to repeal such ordinances and replace these funds with more dependable and equitable infrastructure funding options. Today, rather than simply recalibrating their cash proffer calculation, as Albemarle County is doing, full repeal of cash proffers in all localities is a much more economically sensible and sustainable alternative.

Cash proffers are per unit fees “voluntarily” extracted from applicants seeking to rezone their property. These funds were designed to help fund major facilities and infrastructure, such as schools, roads, parks, libraries, courthouses and fire stations that are required to service the new residential (or commercial) units.

In theory, such “voluntary” proffers would be directly tied to the costs associated with the increased density of a rezoning.  We have found several case studies where cash proffers lowered land values, encouraged by right development contrary to comprehensive plans and fostered a false hope for outside infrastructure funding. In addition this economic disincentive promotes rural/leapfrog development and hinders the entire community’s economic vitality.

Cash proffers are an unreliable way to fund infrastructure spending. Forecasting cash proffer revenue is much like predicting snow in Central Virginia, localities do not know when it is coming, how much they are actually going to get or when it will stop. Cash proffers rarely, if ever, total the amounts localities are banking on.

In what may be a Pollyannaish perspective, we believe local governments are starting to recognize the negative impacts of cash proffers. Localities are finding that just because the state legislature may empower the ability to collect cash proffers in may not be in the localities best interest to collect them.

The elimination of cash proffers will promote better community design and encourage new home construction invigorating the economic vitality of all localities.

The Free Enterprise Forum is encouraged that the FY2011 and FY2012 CLG survey found the number of localities accepting cash proffers had declined. We are also encouraged by the actions of Hanover County to repeal their cash proffer policy and eagerly await the results of several other locality cash proffer reviews.

Cash proffers have produced a plethora of Contradictory Consequences without achieving significant benefit.

We encourage Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors to choose Option Three and repeal this rezoning ransom.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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

US29 Panel Design Closes the Drapes on Sunlight

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis

The need for speed at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will result in either underrepresentation of local governments or an opaque process that prevents a full public discussion of transportation options under consideration.

PayNoAttention2_thumb.jpg

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”

 

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne has instructed former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Phillip Shucet to facilitate a short term advisory panel to determine options for solving the US29 problem. 

According the the VDOT website:

The 10-member panel …will include officials from Albemarle County, the cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville, the towns of Culpeper and Warrenton, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Charlottesville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The group will meet three times in 36 days (the first meeting is tomorrow, 3/27) prior to May 5th and their recommendation will go to the CTB at their May 14th meeting.

Here’s the rub – While representatives from local governments are on the panel, how can they effectively determine the opinion of their elected bodies in such a short time? Most have only one meeting scheduled during these 36 days.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees four possible options for the representatives of government agencies:

  1. John Wayne – Have the representative speak their personal opinion and expect they can bring their council/board along
  2. Closed Door – Have representatives contact their council/board members privately one by one and determine their position on the the options presented
  3. Open Door – Hold special meeting of each of the council/board to publicly discuss the options the panel is considering
  4. Status Quo – Have the representative speak only to the public positions the elected body have already publicly debated and voted on.

If the groups determine to use the status quo there is no purpose for the meetings.  It is highly unlikely the elected bodies will choose to have several special meetings in the midst of the budget cycle to discuss the transportation options presented to this panel. 

Therefore, we fully anticipate the elected officials to use a combination of the John Wayne and Closed Door option to move their individual agendas forward.

While we have already heard the options considered will not include a bypass option, the speed and methodology of this process leads me to believe the Administration has predetermined the solution and is using this fast track to provide the appearance of public buy in. 

This reality coupled with the panel’s desire to eliminate spoken public comment (such comments may only be entered on their website www.Route29Solutions.org) leads us to believe the process is not seeking citizen input but instead is sprinting to the predetermined CTB deadline. 

Despite VDOT’s best efforts to appear to promote panel transparency – including live streaming the meetings via www.Route29Solutions.org – the timing and construct of the panel actually obscures public view of their elected officials’ deliberations.

Without appropriate sunlight, citizens will never know what goes on behind the curtain. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

—————————————————————

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: MGM Studios

Is This The End of The Road?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In July 2011, after the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted 3-2 to move forward with the Western Bypass, I wrote a post that quoted Sir Winston Churchill that this was not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning.  The results of today’s (3/19) Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting provide a fitting bookend as it now looks like the beginning of the end of the Western Bypass.

The audience in the Richmond auditorium featured many familiar faces from Albemarle and Charlottesville including four members of the Board of Supervisors as well as Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley.  [Considering it was a transportation meeting, I wonder if we should have done a better job car pooling-NW]

Last month, Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne selected former VDOT Commissioner Phillip Schucet to facilitate a short term Advisory Panel to evaluate what to do about the congestion issues on US29.  The very specific charge for the advisory panel requires the process to be transparent and to work with in the economic constraints of the $200 Million dollars the CTB already allocated to the Western Bypass.  In addition, any solution, or package of solutions, must be able to be constructed (or significant progress accomplished) in the three and a half years left in the current administration.  Layne was also clear in the charge that doing nothing was not an option.  The results of the group’s work are scheduled to be presented at the May 14th meeting of the CTB.

One CTB member, Mark Peake of Lynchburg asked the question directly, “Would this group consider any bypass solutions?”.  Schucet answered the question directly “No”.

Another CTB member, William Fralin of Salem asked the Secretary if the bypass was abandoned and the land sold back would those funds be available to the US29 Corridor in addition to the $200 Million?  Layne was appropriately deferential indicating that decision could not be made until the recommendation came forward and any funds to be reprogrammed would be a decision for the CTB.

Aubrey Layne photo credit VDOT

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne

The advisory panel composition was a concern for CTB member Alison DeTuncq of Charlottesville who questioned why Greene County, Culpeper County and other localities were not included in the panel.  [The Free Enterprise Forum did find the inclusion of the Southern Environmental Law Center interesting] Schucet indicated that there were a number of conversations regarding the number of people to be on the panel.  At one point it was five at another twenty.  He believed the size was now appropriate.  Layne indicated these were the localities that had been most engaged in the conversations thus far.

So the question remains.  ‘Is this the end of the road?’

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) February 18th letter indicated the twenty years of delay brought the original scope and purpose of the road into question.  The charge to the advisory panel has eliminated the consideration of any bypass at this time. 

My friend, and longtime bypass opponent, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council was quoted on Twitter this week saying  that he would believe the Western Bypass is dead when the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) sells back the right of way.  I tend to agree this will be an instructive and rather objective metric. 

Considering the Advisory Panel’s prescriptive charge and the tenor of the CTB’s discussion this afternoon in Richmond, if this is not the end of the road, it is in sight.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

—————————————————————

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: VDOT

Ruckersville VFD Matching Fund Request Denied

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Fire and Rescue Departments in Greene County are not funded by the county – they raise their own funds. At the March 11th Board of Supervisors meeting, Melissa McDaniel, Emergency Services Manager , did something she has never done before – she asked the BOS to pledge a 20% match for a grant request  being made of the Rescue Squad Assistance Fund for the Ruckersville Volunteer Fire Company.  She indicated that if the BOS turned down the matching grant  request that they would pursue the 100 percent grant option.

The request is for a Quick Response Vehicle that is to be a first responder in an EMS situation.

clip_image002

The current vehicle is 7 years old and has several mechanical problems and this modified vehicle does not support all the functions of a first response vehicle.

McDaniel understood that approval from the BOS may set a precedent that the other volunteer fire departments in Greene County will probably come asking for the same consideration.

Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville)  noted that the deadline for the application for the grant is March 15th, before the next BOS meeting – so an action is needed tonight. Supervisor Eddie Deane (At-Large) indicated his support but that this request will lead other fire departments in the county to make the same matching funding requests. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) stressed how important this vehicle is to the RVFD that they would go for the 100% request if the BOS turned them down. He further stated that this is a difficult spot to be in but the county cannot afford the matching funds being requested. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) stated that Greene County needs a policy on fleet management.

John Barkley, Greene County Administrator , was charged with looking at the fleet of vehicles across the county.  McDaniel understood this action and indicated that she would assist in working toward a fleet review for the next budget process.

All the supervisors made comments in support of the work that the Fire Departments and Rescue Squads do. The undercurrent from all of the comments from the BOS was that Greene County is facing a difficult budget coming up or perhaps it was just that they had spent the majority of the day discussing the FY15 budget.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway), asked for a motion to approve the 20% matching fund request and got no motion. The request was therefore not approved.

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 Supervisors Prepare for 11% Property Tax Increase

By. Brian Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors budget numbers are coming into focus and it appears an 11 percent real property tax rate increase is possible.

The supervisors spent March 12 in work session going over Steve Nichols’, county administrator, budget proposal and adding or subtracting from it. Nichols’ budget included a real property tax rate of $0.85 per $100 assessed.

Supervisor additions included money for Sheriff’s department, Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire and Rescue, parks and recreation, library staffing, economic development advertising, debt service for school capital improvement projects and increase county staff pay.

The supervisors found deductions in school resource officer funding and county staff health costs.

All told, the deliberations increased the tax rate another penny and a half.

The bulk of the contentious talks and tax increase centered around what to do with how much county contribution to the School Board budget. Also on March 12, the School Board approved a budget that will request $1.678 million more than FY14.

Nichols included $1 million than the previous year. Supervisors began the talk by picking where each stood individually.

“No department got what they asked for,” said Bob Ullenbruch. He said he didn’t like the $1 million figure but would be ok with it in the budget.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said he would like to see $1.3 million to $1.4 million over FY14 baseline.

“I just know where they’ve been,” said Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) as he announced he was in favor of $1.5 million additional funding.

Chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) concurred with Sheridan.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) approached it differently. Instead of building the budget and finding the suitable tax rate, he wanted to build a base budget then decide the tax rate to drive the rest.

“Where that tax rate ends up is going to change things; the county side and the school side,” said Weaver as he looked over the increases.

With each penny of real property tax making up $260,000, the budget with changes made during the work session jumped to $0.88 per $100 assessed. Even that still left a $19,000 deficit.

“It was easy to predict this was going to happen,” said O’Brien, referencing last year’s decision to cut taxes.

A look at the school historical numbers show the county still is not at 2009 local contribution numbers and neither is the state or federal governments. The proposed FY15 state budget is near the FY08 level. The FY15 federal numbers are the lowest in 10 years and 13 percent smaller than the second lowest number, occurring in 2005, in the past decade.

“We are being asked to make up for state and federal cuts,” said Ullenbruch.

Supervisors will formally hear the School Board presentation on March 19. Following the school budget presentation, supervisors will hold their normally scheduled meeting. The agenda includes setting an advertised budget, both personal and real property tax rates and the capital improvements plan.

The advertisement of the group begins a two week timeline of advertisement that culminates in a public hearing on the group. Following the public hearing supervisors can vote on approving each. Once a tax rate is advertised, supervisors can only pass an equal or lower rate. If supervisors wish to raise from the advertised rate, the timeline must be restarted.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to advertise a rate with wiggle room. For example, if the workshopped $0.88 budget is the settled amount amongst at least three supervisors, seeing an advertised rate of $0.89 would not surprise those close to the board.

“This budget season we did not look at alternative revenue sources,” said O’Brien.

The idea of different taxes or fees has been brought up before by Ullenbruch. Possibilities include business/professional/occupational licenses, emergency revenue recovery and lodging/meals tax.

“We can work at starting to stabilize this,” said O’Brien.

The March 19 meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Fluvanna Circuit Courtroom.

———————————

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.

Fluvanna Supervisors Prepare for Budget Discussions

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Prepare the for the marathon that will be the next two weeks of the final month of Fluvanna’s budget calendar.

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will meet on Wednesday, March 12 for a work session for the entire budget, including revenues, expenditures and the capital improvement plan (CIP).

Where their minds are? In the public session of last week’s meeting, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) doesn’t think the supervisors are as far along as they should be.

Ullenbruch - Nov 2012 Web

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch

“We’ve got one week,” said Ullenbruch in reference to the scheduled work session on March 12.

He reference how his first budget cycle included a meeting that lasted until midnight to discuss every item.

“There are some numbers in there (the budget and CIP) that are place holders,” said Ullenbruch.

Chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) countered, “For all the concerns we have, we have solutions.”

Booker had confidence the supervisors could pass a budget in the time allocated.

County administrator, Steve Nichols, assured the board his staff was prepared to adjust numbers and scenarios on the fly.

“We are ready to work at whatever speed you want to,” said Nichols.

The FY15 budget is tight. Supervisors have discussed large items like $10 million worth of debt service for the CIP and painfully went through projects to see if there were savings of $20,000 here and there to piece together.

The budget is built with a higher anticipated tax revenue collection rate, using historical figures. The adjustment allowed to budget revenue as if there were an extra penny on the real estate tax.

The question mark Don Weaver (Cunningham District) had was the school system budget. The School Board will submit a budget on March 19. Immediately following its submittal, the supervisors will put the finishing touches on the budget then pass a budget and tax rates to advertise.

The school budget, if higher than anticipated, can really throw the county budget out of sorts. Weaver noted that if the School Board submits a budget higher than the preliminary reports, it could add to the anticipated tax rate.

“To make a decision when you get the budget, that’s not really good,” said Weaver of the tight time frame the supervisors get.

Weaver noted he was ready to work on the budget as long as needed and even schedule another meeting if appropriate.

Two weeks after supervisors advertise the tax rates and budget, they are then eligible to formally approve the tax rates and the budget. After those two weeks supervisors can set a tax rate only lower than what is advertised. The advertised rate is the ceiling tax rate. To raise higher than the advertised rate, it takes another two weeks of public notice and another public hearing.

The Board of Supervisors will meet on March 12 for the work session and March 19 for setting on an advertised budget and the tax rates. Both meetings start at 7 p.m. in the Fluvanna Circuit Courtroom.

———————————

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.

Greene County Gets A+ from Auditors

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

 As with all localities, Greene County has their books annually audited by an outside accounting firm.    At the February 25th Board of Supervisor meeting Matt McLearan, from Robinson Farmer Cox Associates , presented the audit of the fiscal year 2013 (July, 2012 to June, 2013).  McLearan reviewed the five requirements of the audit – 1) records complete, 2) misstatements, 3) disagreements, 4) opinion shopping and 5) significant audit findings.  None of these posed any problem for Greene County as the auditors issued a clean report. 

The main variance during the audit period was the level of expenses for the year were below budget by $3.6 million.  Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) commented that this was an indicator of good management of the various departments that make up the county.   And that over the past five years since 2007, such underspending has allowed the Reserve Fund to grow each year which in turn has allowed the county to fund major expenditures.  The change in the Reserve Fund in FY13 was a decrease of $700,000, however, expenditures of $1.5 million for water impoundment was made out of this fund. 

 The Board of Supervisors has set the minimum Reserve Fund goal of at the end of 23.3% of the annual budget, made up of 15% plus one month which is equal to 8.3%. The Reserve Fund serves multiple purposes.  Primarily, it provides the locality the ability to pay the bills between tax collections.  In addition, the Reserve serves as a rainy day fund for the county.

The current reserve fund is above the minimum level – 31% of the annual budget even with the $700,000 decline.  So Greene consistently overbudgets, underspends and lets the excess funds flow into the Reserve Account and then the BOS applies the overage of the Reserve Fund to its most critical capital expenditure – water impoundment in last year’s case.     

RFC did announce to the BOS that in the future GASB 68 will require the reporting on the county’s financial statements of the VRS pension liability.  Up until now this issue has been disclosed as a footnote but starting in fiscal year 2015 it will required to be a line item in the balance sheet. 

McLearan was very complimentary of the staff and especially Tracy Morris, the County’s financial administrator, as were the BOS.  So from a procedural perspective, Greene County is well run.  However consistently underspending a budget indicates a true demand for less funds than what is approved.  The funds freed up from properly budgeting operations closer to historical actuals would allow the county to budget funds for larger projects that need to be addressed in the budget cycle rather than wait to see if there is anything left over at the end of the year for such major, critical projects.

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 Arrogance on US29

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

directional question signPrior to determining what transportation solution to implement on US29, the community, state and federal government must determine exactly what problem they are trying to solve. Unfortunately,the Free Enterprise Forum continues to see a vocal minority expressing a self centered circular argument that precludes productive dialog.

Please let me explain.

The February 18th letter from The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) changed the conversation paradigm from the approved and funded bypass versus anything else to everything is now on the table.

But the question remains, what is the problem the project is seeking to solve?

Alice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleLewis Carroll captured this concept in his famous tome Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Throughout the 5 hour public hearing at the Albemarle Board of Supervisors last month, speakers mentioned that the bypass is a misnomer and needs to be significantly longer.  The Free Enterprise Forum wrote about this concept in September US29 Bypass Extension is too short and too long.

The question raised by the FHWA letter is one of “purpose and need”.  The feds believe this road was properly designed for a time that has passed.  The letter also suggests that VDOT should get significant buy in from the community to any solution proposed.

To gain community consensus, the Free Enterprise Forum believes an objective set of metrics needs to be developed to evaluate ANY proposed solution.  The metrics discussion should happen now absent any concrete (pun intended) concept. Some of the metrics I have heard discussed include:

          • Cost/Return on Investment
          • Throughput Improvement (Corridor Travel time)
          • Congestion Improvement (how many hours at level of service  E or worse)
          • Preservation/Destruction of Rural Area
          • Water Quality
          • Economic Dislocation
          • Freight Capacity
          • Distance to Schools

us 29 logoSeemingly, there are some in the community that have little to no concern about the import of this National Highway and Federal Aid Route as it relates to the rest of the Commonwealth. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs article in Sunday’s Daily Progress included two direct quotes that clearly voiced this sentiment:

“I don’t think … I’m sitting here to worry about people from Lynchburg getting to Washington, D.C.,” said Places29 council member Cynthia Neff. “I’m worried about the growth area of the Albemarle community and how we move traffic through most effectively.”

“It’s obvious Virginia needs a third north-south interstate, but it ain’t U.S. 29,” Places29 Council Member and President of Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition George]  Larie said. “There are too many driveways.”

The Free Enterprise Forum has also learned that one person at the meeting heard a Places29 Council member member suggest under their breath “[explicative deleted] Lynchburg”.

It is interesting those generally described as Bypass Opponents, including Neff and Laurie, have little difficulty with the concept of accepting Federal funds (from all of the US) for transportation improvements as long as they are programmed for their myopic local improvements.  This “Albemarle Arrogance” suggests a lack of understanding of the word “Commonwealth” and undercuts the goals of VDOT.

Despite calls for the immediate sale of Western Bypass Right of Way,  Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) February meeting discussion of selling the right of way is premature because it would rule out a possible solution.

Interestingly, in the February meeting two CTB members indicated a willingness to accept the funds that had been dedicated for Charlottesville and reprogramming them to projects in their districts.  Again, Layne suggested such reprogramming of funds would be premature (but not out of the question).

Unfortunately, I believe Lewis Carroll correctly projected Albemarle County’s current transportation planning philosophy in Through the Looking Glass.

“Well, in out country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’dAlice_in_Wonderland generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

We eagerly await the March 19th CTB meeting where VDOT has been charged to present a laundry list of projects designed to address the concerns raised in the FHWA letter.  Whether any such projects might garner the required local support is an open question.  If not, there are plenty of other communities in the Commonwealth who are lining up for these Federal dollars.

If the funds are reprogrammed outside of Albemarle, no significant transportation improvements will likely be completed in the near term “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”.

Maybe that was the opposition’s goal after all.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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: Pixabay, Walt Disney Company