By. Neil Williamson, President
Rather than asking if they aspire to be Austin or Aspen, the real question for Albemarle County is a choice between fostering job growth or becoming a land of newlyweds and nearly deads?
After giving Monticello “viewshed veto” power over development and banning golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan review now turns to the Development Areas.
This chapter of the state mandated plan attempts to focus the vast majority of Albemarle’s economic development and housing into 5% of their land mass. In seeking a goal of a wide variety of housing and employment options, it seems counter intuitive to use the urban development boundary, first established in the late 1970s, to create a government induced land scarcity and push (or keep) many employers out.
In many respects, Albemarle’s current Board majority seeks to return to the not so distant past when certain affluent arrogance was palpable in their development policies and procedures. Businesses were regularly told they should consider themselves lucky to be permitted to locate in Albemarle.
The economic impact of Albemarle’s arrogance may very well now be coming home to roost. The latest Jobs Report from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce reported significant job growth across the region. If you look back 10 years, Albemarle’s private employment has grown by over 21% but dig a little deeper and you will find private sector employment in Albemarle County is 3.4% lower today than it was in 2007.
Is Albemarle headed in the wrong direction?
Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen famously said, “Continuing economic growth requires both recruitment of new companies and expansion of existing businesses.” As Albemarle contemplates its comprehensive plan it needs to revisit and reform many of their growth control policies to the meet the market realities of the 21st century.
It is unclear how many Board members fully understand the import of the Development Areas chapter – it is about so much more than merely land use – it will help determine if future jobs come to Albemarle or not. More than the aspirational platitudes in the Economic Development chapter, if there is not buildable land for jobs they will go elsewhere.
Despite the Comprehensive Plan statement that there is enough land for commercial and industrial growth in recent times, we have witnessed several high profile commercial/industrial defections from Albemarle County specifically due to lack of appropriately zoned property for expansion.
· Patriot Aluminum (to Louisa County)
· Faulconer Construction (to Louisa County)
· Boss Medical Equipment (to Louisa County)
· Ashbury International (to Greene County)
Not only are businesses leaving some are simply choosing not to come at all. We have learned that four “Top Ten” microbreweries all looked at Albemarle for a new location and all four decided to go elsewhere. Why, in a town that loves beer and wine, did we lose?
Albemarle’s growth management policies hurt existing “edge” businesses that cannot physically expand due to development area boundaries; some of these include UPS Shipment Hub, The Food Hub as well as the Crown Orchard distribution hub.
Due to the drawing of a few lines on a map in the early 1980s, many vibrant former employment centers now find themselves in the rural areas and unable to obtain the public water and sewer now required allowing for expansion or repurposing. Properties impacted include:
· Earlysville Business Park
· Ivy Business Park
· Yancey Lumber Mill
· Hunter’s Way
What if Albemarle County permitted water and sewer to be extended to such historic employment centers and created economic enterprise zones around them? Why shouldn’t rural citizens have the opportunity to work close to home?
Recently I met with a landscaping business owner looking to expand into Albemarle County. Already successful in two other Virginia localities, he was dismayed at the lack of properly zoned property his Realtor could identify in Albemarle. He explained his business expansion plan might have to be abandoned; due to increased fuel costs (and environmental impacts) if he can’t find appropriate land to locate within his targeted service area.
Current Albemarle policy is opposed to commercial development, including hotels, along the interstate preferring to locate such businesses in the development areas. Only there is a market based problem – the guests, and the banks that finance such projects, want hotels near the interstate.
A recent attempt to place a hotel in the Crozet development area failed due to a lack of financing. How do you think banks would react to a more traditional hotel proposal located near the intersection of I-64 and US 250?
We are aware of a number of weddings that have not been held in Albemarle due to the lack of hotel room availability. We regularly see venues in western Albemarle recommending Waynesboro hotels to their wedding guests. Is this an intended or unintended consequence of Albemarle’s growth control policies?
As Albemarle ponders their Comprehensive Plan and the best fit for an Economic Development Director, Supervisors must determine if they want to grow the private sector and provide room for such growth. The market will be molded only so far before economic pressures expand beyond Albemarle’s restrictive constraints resulting in an exodus of enterprises (and jobs).
Albemarle taxpayers will then be left with a burst balloon of high expectations — and likely higher property taxes to replace the underappreciated, revenue positive businesses that have long since fled to friendlier lands.
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