FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
At the suggestion of an Albemarle County Supervisor, my new year’s resolution was to be happier and more positive. Recently, I have found good reason to do just that as there have been several important directional decisions by local elected officials. These decisions, some of which are not yet finalized, may not completely agree with the Free Enterprise Forum positions but they are clearly positive for the community.
The four-leaf clover is the best known lucky symbol around the world and across many different cultures. It is the most common yet the rarest to find.
Albemarle County Cash Proffer Reform – in the Spring of 2013 The Free Enterprise Forum issued its Contradictory Consequences Cash Proffers White Paper. This paper outlined the problems with cash proffers and how development was occurring by right rather than through rezoning. The paper called for the abolition of cash proffers. In addition, changes to State law impacted the proffer calculations.
As Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow reports:
Localities in Virginia have the ability to charge developers a fee for each residential unit that is allowed because of a rezoning. Albemarle adopted a policy in 2007 that currently requires developers to pay $20,987 per single-family dwelling, $14,271 for each townhome and $14,871 for each unit in an apartment complex. . .
…In September, supervisors directed the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee to review the cash proffer policy to determine if it is an effective means of generating revenue to pay for the cost of additional infrastructure required to support population growth.
Over the course of the group’s 18 meetings, county staffers realized that a 2013 law passed by the General Assembly has changed how Albemarle can calculate proffer amounts.
“The change in the statute is that the only thing that can be considered now are projects that expand capacity,” Fritz said. “Building a school or expanding a school expands capacity. Replacing a school’s roof does not necessarily expand capacity.”
Applying the legal mandate to county policy would mean Albemarle could only charge $4,918 for each single-family unit, $3,845 for townhomes and $5,262 for each apartment unit.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes that cash proffers are an improper welcome stranger tax that neither captures the cost of increased density nor supports the comprehensive plan.
THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER: Albemarle is moving to a lower cash proffer. While we continue our call for repealing the rezoning ransom known as cash proffers, we appreciate this reduction, which is not finalized, as a step in the right direction.
Charlottesville Community Meeting Requirement Revisions – Early this Spring Charlottesville City Planning Commission chose to ignore their planning staff recommendations and throw what Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson called “the kitchen sink” at applicants.
As we described in our “Is Charlottesville Catching the Albemarle Flu” May Forum Watch Editorial:
We fear the city is moving in the direction of Albemarle County [Also known as the Albemarle Flu] who has made development applications so expensive and time consuming that they have not seen a significant residential rezoning in many years.
The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that Charlottesville’s well intentioned desire for increased public engagement results in several significant unintended consequences and may be legally challenged. Further, we believe this new layer of review will significantly reduce the number of applications that come forward and reduce the economic vitality of the development sector. We fear this may be the intended consequence of the proponents of this ordinance change.
Proving our persuasiveness, when the ordinance was voted on by the Planning Commission it passed. But when it first went to City Council concerns were raised about when the Planning Director might choose to waive the community meeting requirement.
THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER: In the first reading of the proposed ordinance last week, City Council limited the community meeting requirement to Special Use Permits and Rezoning applications. While the Free Enterprise Forum believes no such meetings should be required of applicants, limiting the community meeting requirement to those applications where the citizens can have impact on the application is a clear positive. As Councilor Dede Smith said, “We shouldn’t give citizens false hope”.
Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) Property Owner Agreement Eliminated – For the last three legislative sessions, owners of rental properties,. REALTORS and others have worked to eliminate utility lien provisions in State Code regarding tenant non payment. The concept in its simplest form is that the property owner is not party to the transaction, the utility extends credit to the tenant not to the property owner. The authority often requires a security deposit from the tenant.
Despite success in each legislative session, ACSA was advised by their legal counsel that they still had this authority to require property owner agreements under a separate section of code.
From the ACSA Staff report:
Effective July 1, 2015, the Code of Virginia section, 15.2-5138 – Enforcement of charges, was repealed by Senate Bill 868. The repeal generated concerns, from some of our customers in the property management community and the ACSA’s administration of the Property Owner Agreement. After thoroughly researching the changes in the Code and guidance from the ACSA’s attorney, we believe that we remain in compliance with the Code sections related to “Lien for Charges (15.2-5139)” and “Fees and charges for water and sewer services (15.2-2119).”
THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER: After discussing the issue with the Free Enterprise Forum and reviewing the lien policy with staff, ACSA Executive Director Gary O’Connell found the lien policy had never been used. He recommended the ACSA Board eliminate the Property Owner Agreement. In their September 17th meeting, the Board approved the elimination of the Property Owner Agreement.
Albemarle County Increases Land Available for Light Industry: After the Planning Commission unanimously voted in opposition to the proposed adjustment to the development area boundary, The Board of Supervisors took up the issue in a special meeting on September 23rd.
Once again, Albemarle County is faced with the challenge of defining who it wants to be. In order to reach their adopted goal of “Providing local business development opportunities”, they may need to adjust their philosophical opposition to altering Development Area boundaries.
If Albemarle County is serious about its dedication to have industry (and the related jobs), it should create strategic enterprise zones outside of the development areas for this growth to occur. Failing this or a significant expansion of the development areas themselves, as industry grows it will simply move out of Albemarle County.
Perhaps this is the goal?
THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER: Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors unanimously supported a small (35 acre) development area restoration/adjustment. While the Free Enterprise Forum, and Albemarle Economic Development staff, encouraged the Board to move forward with a larger restoration. This Board did more than “the least they could do”. They could have done nothing. While we believe the board was too eager to seek unanimity (and reverse the negative impression the PC vote caused), we will never know if they had the votes for a split decision on a larger restoration/expansion.
In addition, the BOS asked for a full light industrial inventory to determine if there is the need for further restoration/expansion (this work was put on hold by the Planning Commission in their Comprehensive Plan discussions).
It is scientifically debated whether the fourth leaf in a four leaf clover is caused genetically or environmentally. Its relative rarity (1 in 10,000 clovers) suggests a possible recessive gene appearing at a low frequency. In local public policy, we would suggest the four leaf clovers above were environmentally impacted. Only through active citizen participation can such advances be made.
Over the years, much has been written about four leaf clovers but the following poem captures the power and the meaning of this common rarity:
I know a place where the sun is like gold,
And the cherry blooms burst with snow,
And down underneath is the loveliest nook,
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.
One leaf is for HOPE, and one is for FAITH,
And one is for LOVE, you know,
And GOD put another in for LUCK —
If you search, you will find where they grow.
But you must have HOPE, and you must have FAITH,
You must LOVE and be strong — and so —
If you work, if you wait, you will find the place
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.
Author: Ella Higginson
Yes, Virginia there are reasons for optimism. The Free Enterprise Forum will continue to press for increased opportunity and reduced regulatory burdens; but it is important to recognize these forward steps. However small they may be, each is a four leaf clover and a step in the right direction.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.