Monthly Archives: August, 2014

Fluvanna Supervisors Consider Bond Financing and Refinancing

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The conditions are starting to come together for Fluvanna County to make a decision on water infrastructure.

One of the biggest hurdles is how to finance it and right now, bond rates are extremely low.

Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O'Brien

Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

“You are never going to see money this cheap right now,” Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said following a presentation from Raymond James & Associates, the county’s financial advisor.

Dianne Klaiss, senior vice president of Raymond James & Associates, agrees with O’Brien’s assessment, “If you have to do a capital project, now would be a good time to finance it.”

Rates were their lowest in history November 2012 and have stayed below the historical average since.

Unfortunately, another hurdle in adding to the county’s debt load is its financial history. In FY15, the current fiscal year, the county is paying $7.62 million for debt service. The total budget is $80 million but includes borrowing another $12.48 million.

Two previous projects are eligible for refinancing and the advisor is recommending the board start the process of doing so.

The Series 2005 bonds issued for the courthouse is at 4.29 percent interest rate and has a current balance of $1.86 million. It is subject to acceleration on Oct. 15, 2020 with a $720,000 final balloon payment in 2026. The county is currently scheduled to pay $2.51 million for the rest of the bond.

The two options to refinance the Series 2005 bonds is to have the same maturity date or to match the current debt service payment. Both will have a savings over the course of the loan compared to the current agreement.

Keeping the same maturity date would have a $204,000 savings but mean higher payments until 2026. Refinancing to keep the $162,000 payment of this year means only saving $157,000 but extending the maturity date to 2029.

The other bond is the Series 2006 bonds for the library. It matures in 2022 but has $1.75 million left. The county is currently scheduled to pay $2.07 million over the course of the bond. A refinance could save $116,000 overall with the same maturity date.

This fiscal year the county is considering paying for a fire truck and projects at the middle school with two bonds.

A fire truck bond of $550,000 would have a maturity in 2025 with annual payments of $65,000. The middle school bond projects are for $5 million with debt service payments around $500,000, changing depending on the bond length choice of 10, 15 or 20 years.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the refinancing of the first two bonds and issue the other two bonds soon.

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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

Photo Credit: Fluvanna County

Albemarle Development Double Standard Exposed as VDOT Steamrolls Places29 Master Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

Funny what a difference a few years makes.

Back in February 2011, as a part of gaining eventual acceptance of their Places29 Master Plan,  Albemarle County made what many might be called a promise to their citizens:

In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements, this Plan recommends preparation of Small Area Plans for two areas:
1) The area around the intersection of US 29 and Rio Road
2) The Airport Road Corridor

Remember Places29? A six year $1 Million dollar planning exercise complete with renderings and an implementation plan.  Lest anyone think the small area plans were just a throw away line in a lengthy Master Plan —  the promise included great detail. (and we fought it, and lost)

During preparation of the Small Area Plan and design of the road improvements, business and property owners will be invited to work with County, VDOT, and TJPDC staff to identify and eliminate or minimize possible impacts of the road improvements. When the Small Area Plan and preliminary design are completed, the short-term (construction) impacts and long-term impacts of the road improvements will be known.

Now specifically as it relates to US29 and Rio Road intersection, the Places29 Master Plan clearly outlines what is to occur:

Intersection Improvements at Rio Road and US 29. The process of improving this intersection and the transportation network around it will begin with preparation of a Small Area Plan. The small area planning process will include evaluation and development of the preliminary design concepts for transportation improvements that could prolong the life of the at-grade intersection and provide a design
concept for long-term improvements, as determined necessary at the time based on updated traffic information. The small area planning process is not expected to begin until the second five years of Plan
implementation.

As we now know, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of steam rolling past the Comprehensive Plan and having conceptual plans in front of the Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP)  next Thursday (8/28).  It has been made abundantly clear that the design concepts will be for a grade separated intersection despite Page A2-23, Project Reference No.18 of the Master Plan calling for:

Pursue design concepts that provide, to the extent feasible and practical, at grade relationships of roads to business to facilitate visibility and access.

The Free Enterprise Forum, and others have been incredibly concerned about the sequencing of the US29 improvements.  The Master Plan also considered this issue:

Short-term issues related to the construction of intersection improvements should be addressed through strategic construction phasing, development of the parallel local road network to provide alternative access prior to the construction of intersection improvements, and other strategies.

100_0338While the Free Enterprise Forum did not support passage of the Places29 Master Plan, we are well aware of the significant staff time and citizen engagement that was a part of the process.

As we see private applicants held up to the exacting standards of the Master Plans as compared with their development plans, one has to wonder what kind of double standard Albemarle County is pursuing.

To be clear, if a developer wanted to make such a significant change staff would mandate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment process (likely a year) be initiated before they would ever look at a such a development proposal.  Then if successful, a Zoning Text Amendment (another 18-24 months) would be required.

The timetable for the VDOT projects is significantly truncated.  According to the summary minutes of the August 7th VDOT PDAP meeting:

The panel should see conceptual drawings at the next PDAP meeting on Aug. 28.  Design Public hearings for Rio intersection and Rt. 29 widening are currently scheduled for November 2014, and for Berkmar in July 2015.

The July 24th PDAP presentation provided the final milestone on VDOT’s projected timetables:

No-Excuses Deadline to complete
Berkmar, 29 Widening and all associated
work outside Rio intersection
Oct 30, 2017

No where is there any discussion of conformity with the Master Plan. 

Could the County is possibly unaware that their Million Dollar citizen involved Places29 master plan is being steamrolled by VDOT?

As a state agency, is VDOT a super developer with extraordinary powers over the mandates in the Comprehensive Plan? 

Clearly a Master Planning development double standard exists in Albemarle; the question is will anyone do anything about it?

If the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors fails to act and provide the citizens the promises contained in Places29 perhaps the entire Master Planning process should be questioned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

Greene Supervisors Get TJPDC Legislative Update

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has been undergoing some major personnel changes this year  . Prior to the naming of a new executive director due to the dismissal of Stephen Williams,  David Blount, the agency’s longtime legislative liaison had been serving as interim director for part of the year.

Annually, Blount meets with the respective localities in the TJPDC and gets their input on a proposed joint legislative agenda.  After the initial meetings, he takes the input back reworks the legislative agenda and returns to get each locality’s blessing prior to pursuing the agenda when the General Assembly is in session.

At the Greene County  Board of Supervisors meeting on August 12th, Blount gave an update on what is happening in Richmond that has an impact on Greene and the surrounding counties (Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson and the city of Charlottesville) – both from the 2014 Legislative Program and what is in the proposed program for 2015.

In 2014 the emphasis has been on primarily on public education funding – primarily “without making formula and policy changes that shift the funding burden to localities” and that the unfunded liability for the teacher’s retirement plan that “should be a shared responsibility of state and local government”.

In 2015, a major legislative priority emphasis is on giving the counties more tools to generate tax revenue similar to what powers cities and towns now have. Also, he said that School Boards were going to be invited into their process as their budgets are major component of localities expenditures.

After the overview, Blount opened his presentation to the Board Of Supervisors for their comments and questions. Supervisor Davis Lamb, At Large, commented that in the 1990’s and 2000’s like before the recession the state should provide more funding to counties.  Blount agreed and stated the equal taxation authority to enable counties to tax like cities and towns is a top issue this coming year.

Chairman Jim Frydl, Midway District, commented on the multiple studies cited by Commission that state that taxes other than property taxes need to be developed. Mr. Blount again agreed with the comment.

Bill Martin Greene County Supervisor

Greene County Supervisor Bill Martin – Stanardsville

Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District,  wanted to be clear that Greene County supports other methods of taxing, but is not trying to increase total taxes and wants Richmond to pay their share of the tax burden. Frydl added to the issue that ideally taxes would be assigned by some method based on the cause or driver of the activity as opposed to property taxes as the main source of revenue.

The concluding point that was agreed upon was that while Richmond talks about low taxes and having a reserve fund, this has been accomplished on the backs of counties by pushing unfunded mandates to localities and shifting the cost away from the state with no transfer of any revenue to cover the program.

Blount also expressed frustration that the underfunded Virginia Retirement System  has not been brought up for discussion. The VRS still has an unfunded liability of approximately $20 billion

Lamb along with County Administrator John Barkley both complimented Blount on being very responsive as questions arise throughout the year.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Photo Credits: Greene County

Fluvanna BOS Approves Poplar Ridge Rezoning

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

After two years of applications, Hotel Street Capital LLC has finally amended the previous Rivanna Ridge property zoning.

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved the zoning amendment and also a special use permit with two 3-2 votes, with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) and Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) dissenting both times during the Aug. 6 meeting.

PoplarmapThe location, just north of the Village of Palmyra and bordering Camp Friendship, was previously zoned in 2009 for about 60 hotel rooms and 250 residential units.

Rivanna Ridge failed before even submitting a final site plan. Thomas Ross, current applicant, started the rezoning application in July 2012. Originally the proposal was a planned unit development of over 900 homes known as Walker’s Ridge. The final amendment proposal was for same number units as Rivanna Ridge but all residential and no condominiums.

The approved proposal, Poplar Ridge, is for 156 single-family attached units and 175 single-family detached units. Commercial space is maximized at 74,000 square feet. The development will use mass drain fields and common wells.

The special use permit allows for the common utilities needed for the sewer and water. The zoning amendment keeps the R-3 zoning and same number of total units on the 230 acre property but just changes how the units are allocated.

The public hearing had 19 people speak, 18 spoke against the property while one spoke in generalities and took neither side. Supervisors were also given a petition with over 1,500 signatures against approving the project and accompanying SUP.

“Residential growth has put us in this problem,” said Al Talley referencing the county’s growing tax rate.

Carolyn Talley added, “This isn’t an issue that divides our county…everyone is against it.”

Chuck Ackenbom, founder and owner of Camp Friendship, was worried on the impact the project would have on his neighboring business, “I think this proposal is too big for Fluvanna County.”

Ackenbom previously owned the property and sold the main portion, 222 acres, for $2.18 million in 2008 according to the county’s online property information system.

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) took issue with Ackenbom complaining about the proposal, “I think the (sale proceeds of the property) was more important to Camp Friendship, that’s my opinion.”

Area residents raised concern to how the drain fields and common wells would affect the Rivanna River and area wells, respectively.

Former Supervisor Marvin Moss was chairman on the board when the property was previously zoned R-3. One proffer in that zoning was the county required connection to the proposed extension of the Palmyra water system. The system never expanded and does not have the excess capacity it once was projected to have. It currently only services government facilities.

Moss said no one took issue with the previous zoning change because central water was required. He said the SUP for central wells was too risky to the area. “You have the correct zoning for it now,” Moss told the board.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) countered later in the meeting that centralized water down Route 15 would have the opposite effect that residents wanting to keep Fluvanna rural would want.

“You wouldn’t be happy if we had water and sewer,” O’Brien told the crowd after the public hearing ended. “We probably would’ve approved 900 homes (Walker’s Ridge).”

Weaver thought the amendment would violate a tenant of county policy that rezoning should not have an impact on the surrounding area. “If you want to keep Fluvanna rural, then we don’t want this place,” said Weaver.

Weaver mentioned there were no perk tests or test wells to give enough evidence the mass drain fields and community wells would sustain the project. The applicant provided expert opinion based on studies that the property should be able to handle both sewer and water levels needed.

Ullenbruch and Supervisor Chair Mozell Booker (Fork Union) noted that if the Department of Environmental Control and Virginia Department of Health determine the drain fields and wells to not be sufficient, the project would not proceed.

Sheridan agreed with Weaver. “There’s too many open-ended questions on this,” said Sheridan.

The interesting aspect of the approval was Ullenbruch, an elected Republican, sided with Booker and O’Brien on the vote. While both Booker and O’Brien ran as independents, both are viewed on the more liberal leaning side of the board. Ullenbruch typically votes closer with Weaver.

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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

Optimism or VDOT Optics on US29 Project Panel?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Even this full throated critic of the Richmond based US29 Projects Steam Roller can see signs of optimism from the latest Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) US29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) meeting.  It has yet to be seen if these optimistic indicators are indicative of true community engagement or merely a part of a multimedia VDOT charm offensive.  To be clear, no promises have been made and in the end these it may end up simply being window dressing but the Free Enterprise Forum chooses to be positive after attending the panel’s third meeting.

us-29-logo.jpgLed by facilitator (and former VDOT Commissioner) Philip Shucet the first two meetings featured long Shucet soliloquies regarding process, agenda item postponements and project goals. On Wednesday,  Albemarle County Supervisor Brad Sheffield Ken Boyd [Correction 09:55 8.11.14-nw]very publicly told Virginia  Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne that panel members did not feel as if they were being heard.

The latest meeting (8/7) started much the same fashion with the release of a very aggressive implementation schedule:

Rio Grade Separated Intersection
• Conceptual drawings:  Aug 28, 2014 PDAP Meeting
•MOT plan development: Mar – May 2015
•Utility relocation plans:  Mar – Apr 2015
•Grading plans:  Apr – May 2015
• Roadway and Bridge Reviews:  April – June – July 2015
• Approve Construction Plans: Aug 2015

[MOT = Maintenance of Traffic-NW]

After hearing the Rio Interchange schedule, the panel was then updated on the regarding the so called “Best Buy” ramp. Several panel members questioned why a project with 99% of the engineering completed could not be accelerated to minimize the overlap between these significant disruptions of US29.

As Sean Tubbs reported for Charlottesville Tomorrow in The Daily Progress:

Henry Weinschenk, a panelist who owns the Express Car Wash on U.S. 29, said he thought it was unrealistic that VDOT could finish the projects before October 2017, given that the Best Buy ramp has been in the planning stages for several years.

“I am somewhat concerned that these projects, which are not fully designed, are moving along at 100 mph,” Weinschenk said. “And this project, which is pretty much done and we know a lot about, it’s going slow. We have a contradiction going on here, and to get some credibility out of VDOT, we need the Best Buy ramp done by the end of 2015.”

Shucet, a very skilled facilitator, seemed interested in the concept and pushed the questions to VDOT technical team members in the room and promised to circle back to that issue in the next meeting.

A member of the panel also questioned what would happen if the bids come in significantly higher than VDOT had estimated.  The concern was that perhaps Rio would be completed and the other projects would be cancelled.  VDOT representatives suggested their estimates were very conservative and they had a high level of confidence.

Perhaps due to this high level of conservative estimation, another panel member asked about the design for Berkmar Extended. Currently contemplated as a two lane road, with a two lane bridge over the South Fork Rivanna River, the panel member asked if VDOT was being short sighted not building a four lane bridge.

Other panel members requested that a connection between Berkmar and  Ashwood Boulevard; or at least the acquisition of right of way.  Again, while making no promises Shucet asked the VDOT technical team to make note of the suggestion and come back to the group.

All told, nothing was promised, many items were pushed off to the August 28th meeting but the issues raised by the panel members seem to be headed toward further conversation.

The tenor and attitude of all participants in Thursday’s meeting was more positive and more solution focused.  The responsibility to keeping this forward momentum is shared by both the facilitation team and the panel members.

The VDOT multimedia charm offensive continued in Sunday’s (8/10) Daily Progress where Secretary Layne penned an opinion piece that reiterated a position he stated to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on Wednesday (and will likely say to City Council):

Although the panel was not unanimous in its support for all the projects, there was broad agreement that transportation improvements much move forward.  Doing nothing gets us nowhere.  We are living with the consequences of our inaction over the years.

It is too early to know if the US29 Projects glass is half empty or half full, but The Free Enterprise Forum choses to think positively. While we remain concerned of falling into the “Don’t Get Fooled Again” trap, perhaps in the end the panel will find The Rolling Stones 1969 hit as their anthem:

No, you can’t always get what you wantrolling stones
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

 

Will Albemarle Supervisors Seek US29 Answers from Secretary Layne?

 

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors August 6, 2014 under Matters from the Public

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

Later today you will hear from Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne regarding Richmond’s plans for your main street US29. It is amazing what a difference a couple years makes. Two years ago, this board was so engaged in the design build process that you had not one but two separate ad hoc committees to provide input to the design build contractor.US29-Survey-July-16-2014_thumb.jpg

Flash forward to the end of the July 23rd to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting in this very space, when Former Supervisor Dennis Rooker said the Design Build Contractor should be provide flexibility in implementation.  My how things have changed.

We are well aware of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) VDOT Project Delivery Advisory Panel that Philip Shucet is facilitating. While we believe the panel’s members are thoughtful, we do not believe the panel is designed for any action. We believe this panel has been creatively designed to talk a great deal and accomplish nothing. Supervisors Sheffield has raised many concerns during the PDAP process only to be told yes that’s a good question let’s get it on a future agenda.

Therefore, we come to the Board of Supervisors and your 2 pm audience with the Secretary and ask, “Will You Press for Real Answers?”

The community wants to know:

How many lanes of traffic will be maintained during the construction of the US29/Rio inrterchange?

How will this impact the level of service?

How long will construction take?

Why is Rio prioritized first?

What traffic mitigation plan does VDOT have for the intersection during construction?

This is not fear mongering this is nothard core — these are real questions I hear from businesses up and down US29 everyday.

Thank you for taking the time to listen. I remain hopeful that you will ask these questions, since the public has not been afforded such an opportunity.