FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
As the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors prepare to review the “Development Areas” chapter of their comprehensive plan, many are wondering what exactly would trigger a revision of the development area boundaries?
Instead of considering a revision of their development area boundaries Albemarle’s Draft Comprehensive Plan chooses to change consumer behavior.
Our independent analysis of the proposed Comprehensive Plan exposes a clear “Albemarle Arrogance” regarding consumer desires. The draft Comprehensive Plan considers the market demands to be, as the prison Captain in Cool Hand Luke would say, really a “failure to communicate”
It is natural for residents to fear the effects of change as the County makes efforts to create more dense and urban neighborhoods in the Development Areas. However, when residents understand the relationship between density and preservation of rural areas and the goals of the Neighborhood Model, they seem to find more acceptance of density. Conveying the benefits of density, such as neighborhood schools, parks, sidewalks, and bicycle paths is also important. Understanding that the Development Areas can be great places to live can help residents embrace density in the Development Areas. Emphasis added-nw
So if only consumers were properly educated, they would “understand” and no longer choose to live in single family homes with yards for their children to play in and would embrace Albemarle’s mandated “Dream of Density”.
A significant portion of the development area chapter is dedicated to promoting efficient land use and the new urbanist designs that are embodied in the Neighborhood Model.
Despite our opposition, over the last ten years many of these Neighborhood Model “guidelines” have been codified to make them no longer options but requirements (i.e. street trees, open space, curb, gutter, relegated parking etc.).
Well intentioned environmental regulations have significantly reduced the area available for development in the development areas (stream buffers, wetlands, intermittent stream protection).
Since the last comprehensive plan we have also seen the Commonwealth of Virginia decide the most efficient use of 1,200 acres of Albemarle’s Development Area is a state park (Biscuit Run).
Yet the Comprehensive Plan Draft seems to feel that the development area boundaries, originally drawn in 1979, continue to provide enough land for twenty years of residential and commercial development.
To review, the growth control philosophy implemented in Albemarle County is to focus dense human activity (housing, employment, recreation) in the development areas and retain the rural areas for less intensive agricultural and forestal uses.
To maximize density, the draft Comprehensive Plan would likely force more residents to live in less space. But is this what the market wants?
In a recent letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) raised several questions about the development area and asked if staff had appropriately calculated the “Marketable Density”
The proposed Comprehensive Plan speaks of low and high capacity of units in the development areas. From multifamily apartment buildings to townhomes to single family homes, BRHBA members build all types of homes to serve all types of citizens. Each of our members proudly builds with the end user in mind – the occupant. As such, the reality capacity is likely significantly lower than the high end proposed in figure 5 of the Development Area chapter.
While there is a market for dense new urbanist style development, and our members serve that market, the vast majority of the new home buyers in Albemarle County are looking to live in single family detached housing. We are curious if based on the current market mix of housing, would those numbers multiplied by the dwelling unit demand would result in a different calculation of required land area? [emphasis added-nw]
With well over ten years of “understanding” of neighborhood model implementation, the Draft Comprehensive Plan discussion provides the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors an opportunity to discuss if they are comfortable with the high density being pushed into the development areas despite lack of consumer demand AND if they will put their money where their mouth is to provide concurrent infrastructure investment to support their “density dreams”.
If Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan fails to radically change consumer demand, the twenty year anticipated growth will exceed the capacity of the allocated development area pushing lot prices significantly higher and pushing many out of the Albemarle’s designated growth area. Some of this displaced demand may be answered by those who choose to build their homes in the rural areas by right; the majority of new housing starts [and commercial activity] will move into the outlying counties where the regulations and staff are more receptive to market driven design – perhaps we are starting to really understand that maybe this was the “plan” all along?
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: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, Albemarle County