June 2, 2014 Public Comments to the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB)
By. Neil Williamson, President
My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as president of the Free Enterprise Forum a public policy organization in Albemarle County.
As each of you know, Albemarle County has over twenty entrance corridors and the Planning Commission has recommended additional corridors be added via the Comprehensive Plan. Albemarle’s number and geographic footprint is far beyond what I believe was the General Assembly’s legislative intent when it created Entrance Corridors.
By code, the properties in these corridors are subject to the additional review of the ARB. Generally when a project comes before this board for approval it is granted with a number of conditions regarding landscaping, building materials or other ascetic measures.
The Free Enterprise Forum is growing increasingly concerned at the new level of detail that the ARB is now requesting from some but not all applicants. Specifically, the need for three dimensional (3D) computer renderings seems to be above and beyond the reasonable requests from this Board.
The concept of “requesting” is interesting considering the powerful dynamic of the ARB’s conditional approval. I tend to consider these requests more akin to a game of chicken to see who will bend to the others will.
The game of chicken is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the worst possible outcome occurs when both players do not yield. In the applicants case this is a lopsided version of chicken as the ARB has very little to lose. While the applicant has often already put thousands (if not millions) of dollars at risk to get the application to the ARB.
Generally these “requests” are made during the preliminary discussion of an application when a voting member of the ARB states “it sure would be nice if we could see the 3D renderings for this project”. As an aside, while I have been in the room several times when such requests have been made to applicants, I have yet to find such requests formally recorded in the ARB minutes.
At any rate, at this point applicants find themselves in a position of either accepting the additional time and cost of preparing such 3D models as Albemarle County’s Cost of Doing Business or put their project’s approval at risk if they were to refuse this “request”.
Much like a child with desires for a shiny new technological toy, this Board, absent any expanded authority, has significantly increased the cost and complexity of development.
As applicants generally do not want to play chicken with the ARB, the Free Enterprise Forum “requests” that the ARB formally consider when three dimensional computer modeling is truly needed to understand an application versus simply nice to have.
If the ARB can not clearly delineate between when the pretty pictures are nice to have rather than truly and needed, such “requests” should be eliminated.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
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: readthehook.com, USA Today