By. Neil Williamson, President
Earlier today, the Free Enterprise Forum asked the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) to follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead and issue a limited categorical exclusion for business signage in the U S 29/ Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) Impact Area.
The EPA determined that the GSI project qualified for a categorical exclusion from environmental review, shouldn’t businesses attempting to survive the onslaught of construction and new traffic patterns receive the same kind of treatment from the ARB.
Please let me explain.
Even those not directly involved with business understand that businesses exist to meet the needs of customers. If a customer is unaware of a business it is impossible to meet the customer needs. This is where customer awareness and signage comes in.
While potential customers may not stop in to a North 29 business every time they travel on the road – they do see it and this raises company awareness.
Jiffy Lube was one of the local businesses impacted severely. After the highway construction was started they petitioned and got a small sign placed just past the “Jersey” barrier (photo left). In a phone interview, the Jiffy Lube manager indicated the sign has helped “bring some of the customers back but we have lost a ton of business.”
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the time is NOW to get the changes in place in Albemarle. Not only do we want to have little or no ARB constraint, we believe the signage permitted should be at least doubled for impacted businesses and height constraints be considered due to the change in roadway elevation.
Further, we ask that Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel member (especially Mark Graham and Brad Sheffield) champion this cause and do what ever can be done to fast track the ordinance change process.
I recognize this may seem like an alarmist call to action but believe me, just like Keanu Reeves in the 1994 film Speed, this entire project is rolling very fast and will explode if we don’t take action.
The ever speeding US29 Solutions steamroller is on schedule. Despite significant public outcry the Rio Road GSI is prioritized first. According to the Route 29 Solutions website:
[US29/RIO GSI] Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 and will be completed no later than Dec. 2, 2016. Construction that restricts movement on Rio Road through the intersection must be done between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time, Rio Road will be closed to through traffic and left turns at the Route 29 intersection.The Rio Road intersection must be reopened to all traffic movements no later than Sept. 2, 2016. [Emphasis added-nw]
Four lanes in each direction on Route 29, and two lanes in each direction on Rio Road, will be maintained during construction except during the period between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time traffic on Rio Road will be limited to right turns onto Route 29 and traffic will not be able to cross the intersection. On Route 29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and right turns onto Rio Road will be allowed at all times.
A temporary intersection at Route 29 and Berkmar Drive, controlled by a signal, will serve as a detour and allow traffic from Berkmar to turn right or left onto Route 29 and travel north or south to Rio Road and businesses along Route 29 north or south of Berkmar. That signal will also have preemption equipment that allows priority access for emergency vehicles.Traffic from Route 29 north and south will be able to access Berkmar at the temporary intersection.
Recognizing Albemarle’s unceasing desire to have homogenized entrance corridors, the Free Enterprise Forum has requested that the sign ordinance and ARB regulations be lifted for 24 months. This time frame would provide those owners who choose to make the investment in temporary signage to impact consumer travel and shopping patterns during and AFTER construction.
Two members of the ARB, Chuck Lebo and Fred Missel, seemed to be in general agreement with our suggestion. The third member present, Vice Chair Marcia Joseph asked to receive the information in writing so she might consider it from all angles. The ARB asked staff to consider the concept and perhaps draft a resolution to the Board of Supervisors regarding our proposal.
If we fail to act NOW, the businesses will be dying on the vine before the regulatory relief can help them.
Then we will see signs that really negatively impact the community:
Neil Williamson, President
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 Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, christheentrepreneur.wordpress.com