By. Neil Williamson, President
It is a simple, objective question really, how much light industrial land is available in Albemarle County?
How much is designated Light Industrial in the Comprehensive Plan but not in the underlying zoning?
These would seem like a set of objective questions to ask of a professional staff to produce an objective report – But not in Albemarle County.
Please let me explain.
At the very end of this week’s lengthy Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Tim Keller (At-Large), with just two members of the public in the audience (FEF & SELC) and with the consent of his fellow commissioners, explicitly directed staff to have Economic Development Director Faith McClintic meet with the Planning Commission PRIOR to finalizing her inventory report on Light Industrial land.
Remembering that the Planning Commission is made up of politically appointed individuals (one of which is running for Scottsville Supervisor), one might reasonably ask why should the Economic Development Director, who reports to the County Executive, be required to run her professional report past the PC before it goes final?
The ONLY reason is because they want to impact the content of the report.
While I’ll agree the PC should see and comment on the report after it is written, to give them editorial control seems far beyond the pale and entirely unprofessional.
To this observer, Keller’s actions have much more to do with bruised egos over the I-64/US29 Deschutes Brewing Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) that the PC voted unanimously to reject and the Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed (albeit with a much smaller footprint).
In the discussion of the CPA, it was clear the PC believes, despite reports to the contrary, there were countless appropriate sites within the development areas. Two years ago, the Albemarle PC stopped the work on the Light Industrial Inventory because in their opinion there was plenty in the development area. Again this political direction was in direct opposition of the staff position.
That report, initiated well before last November’s elections, will be presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday night. Susan Stimart, the county’s business development facilitator, analyzed real-estate records and conducted interviews with business owners to produce a “snapshot” of available industrial land.
“Staff concludes there is a shortage of high-quality, vacant industrial land compared with existing users’ stated demands, workforce projections and comparable supply in other jurisdictions,” Stimart writes in the report.
The text in the report itself goes even further:
There is a very limited supply of undeveloped zoned land within the designated development areas. Most of the available, vacant zoned parcels are small in size (average size, 3.5 acres). There are properties currently zoned industrial within the County’s Development Areas, which are designated for other uses in the Master Plan. Most of these sites are located near existing employment areas. This creates a disincentive to market and develop these sites for industrial uses, instead marketing the site for higher valued uses (commercial-retail, office and residential).
The Planning Commission does not want the unvarnished truth for it will call into question much of the planning assumptions they have been using to design their designated growth areas. They fail to see how their planning paradigm has pushed quality businesses (read JOBS) from Albemarle County. No, they want to influence and shade, if not change, the professional reporting from Albemarle Economic Development staff.
One sure way to run off a professional is to treat them in an unprofessional manner.
Perhaps, that is the underlying goal.
Only time will tell.
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.