Monthly Archives: November, 2015

Randolph’s Forest Lakes Service District Shakedown

By. Neil Williamson, President

In a recent Albemarle County Planning Commission review of the County’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), Scottsville’s Supervisor Elect and current Planning Commissioner Rick Randolph suggested residents of the Forest Lakes Subdivision should foot the bill for the Hollymead Dam Spillway improvements by creating a service district (AKA Taxing Authority) to fund the project.

On the surface, his initial argument appears logical [transcribed from the podcast (53:50)]:

The question I have for you – This is an issue I want to address at another level – is this an appropriate location where a special district would be more appropriate because the primary beneficiaries of this  project are the property owners downstream from the dam.

The question is as this was once a part of Forest Lakes whether the taxpayers of the county should pay for repairs on a dam not constructed by the county, not engineered by the county but now we have a responsibility for public safety. Could a special district be created to pay for it?

forest lakesWithout getting into the details of this project – Albemarle wanted the road over the dam (between Forest Lakes North and Forest Lakes South) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) required the County own the land for VDOT to accept the road, in accepting the land they accepted the potential liability – the larger policy question here is the concept of service districts paying for what up until now have been County responsibilities.

Loudoun County has a number of special districts (mainly for water sewer and roadways).  Their definition provides good primer on such entities:

A special district is an independent unit of local government organized to perform a single governmental function or a restricted number of related functions. Special districts usually have the power to incur debt and levy taxes; however, certain types of special districts are entirely dependent upon enterprise earnings and cannot impose taxes. Examples of special districts are water and flood control districts, and transit authorities, port authorities, and electric power authorities.

Earlier this year, parents and administrators pleaded with county officials to make urgent repairs to Red Hill Elementary including, according to their testimony, a lack of hot water in the bathrooms.  At the Planning Commission hearing, The Free Enterprise Forum used this small example to highlight the flaws in Randolph’s proposal:

Some of the school repairs in the CIP are in the Red Hill District, I would like to know if Mr. Randolph would like to establish a service district for those repairs because that area is going to benefit from that expenditure.

piggy-bankThe idea that the county would create a special service district to ensure Red Hill elementary students have hot water to wash their hands is clearly beyond the scope of the enabling legislation but it provides a great example of a core government function that to use Randolph’s word is being “off loaded” to a subset of County taxpayers — This is the problem with service (or special) districts they are established to provide government with a new piggy bank because the old one was not big enough to carry what they want to spend.  The new piggy bank has the benefit of being funded by only some of the voters not all of the voters.

A review of the current service districts in the Commonwealth provides a window on this new governmental funding mechanism.  In Fairfax County they have at least seven service districts, each with taxing power usually based on real estate value.  The purposes include focused economic development (Old Town $.06/$100), Transportation ( Route 28 $.18/$100 commercial real estate only/Tysons Transit $.050/$100), Rail (Phase 1 Dulles Rail $.19/$100) and Stormwater ($.025/$100).

Other examples include Accomack County’s Wallops Research Park service district ($.025/$100), Arlington County’s Crystal City Improvement District ($.078/$100) and Richmond’s Riverfront Special Service and Assessment Overlay ($.35/$100).

While legal it seems that many of these districts were created to meet a funding challenge that the general fund could not properly address.  Frustrated citizens and lawmakers simply said we’ll pay more if it is dedicated to the specific need.  We are seeing a version of this in the “partnership” relationships where citizens are asked to raise at least a portion of the funds for “enhanced” infrastructure spending (Crozet Library, Pantops Pedestrian Bridge)

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that Albemarle County is already considering service district like funding for their stormwater policy.  We are on the record suggesting this funding should be a part of the general fund.

Service Districts are an expansion of government and a tax increase by another name.  The Free Enterprise Forum hopes that any discussion of establishing such a district includes participation by those who will be required to write the check.  In addition, if such a district is established for a specific purpose, once the purpose is accomplished the district should cease to exist.

Considering Albemarle County’s projected budgetary shortfall and based on Randolph’s foreshadowing, perhaps ominous,   comment “This is an issue I want to address at another level”   citizens can anticipate this topic is near the top of the new Board of Supervisors list.

Will the new BOS embrace the creation of this new taxing authority the same way many Northern Virginia localities have?

Only time will tell, but I know which way I am betting.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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.

Photo Credits: Facebook, Charlottesville Tomorrow,  Virgina Board of Elections

Neil Williamson


Greene PC Approves Home Business in R-1

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In their November meeting, the Greene County Planning Commission approved a Special Use Permit (SUP) for a home based landscaping service to expand operations in their current location.

Barber’s Lawn Care, LLC requested a Special Use Permit (SUP #15-008) for their home business which is in a R-1, Residential area. Planning Administrator Bart Svoboda reviewed the request stating the home is in a suburban residential area but feels that the home business will still allow the area to maintain its character. Currently the business has a zoning certificate for a home occupation (ZC#15-017) and wants to expand to a home business.

The applicant, Stephen Barber, addressed the Commission requesting permission for 4 trucks and 4 trailers and limited storage. He also offered screening trees around the storage area. Svoboda mentioned that county agencies had no red flags for this request on a private road and that it was not located in a subdivision so there were no covenants to consider.

Barber stated that he would have up to four people reporting for work at his residence, they would go out to work and then return to get their vehicle and go home. No work would be done at his residence at 10 Terry Lane in Ruckersville. He also stated that his business has been in operation for 10 years and after hearing of the other lawn care business applying for a SUP he then made his application.

The agenda then went to a public comment – but no one signed up to speak. So the meeting then shifted back to the Commission. Commissioner John McCloskey questioned the screening of the vehicles and Mr. Barber explained that there is a 4 rail fence and some forsythia plants to block the view. Commission Chairman Jay Willer reviewed that Terry Lane only served 3 properties. One of the neighbors spoke up (although he didn’t sign up for the public hearing) explaining where his property was and that he had no problem with the SUP.

Commissioner Frank Morris asked Svoboda if there had been any complaints related to the business for the 10 years of the operation and Svoboda said there were none.  Willer said that the garage looks like a residential garage and he didn’t feel the SUP would change the character of the neighborhood.

Greene County Zoning Ordinance (Article 16-2) ….a. The use shall not tend to change the character and established pattern of development of the area or community in which it wishes to locate.

barber lawnMcCloskey again brought up the screening question and Svoboda stated that the applicant would supplement the screening with fencing and/or shrubs if it was deemed necessary per the county code. Willer’s final question was – “is the business registered in Greene?” Mr. Barber said that it was.

At this point, Morris made a motion to recommend approval of the SUP as requested, absent any conditions, only he and Commissioner Eva Young voted in favor – striking this motion down.

McCloskey then made a motion to recommend approval of the SUP with the following conditions:

1. Landscaping to be done per Article 22

2. A maximum of 3 trucks and 4 trailers to be allowed

3. Outdoor storage to be done per Exhibit A

4. A detailed sketch to be provided to the Zoning Administrator

5. Screening per 19-6-2 for a home business to be followed

This motion was approved 4-1 with Young voting no. The Planning Commission’s decision seemed to hinge on the SUP’s impact on the character of the neighborhood.  The Planning Commission determined, as it did in a similar request earlier this fall, there was not an negative impact to the surrounding community.

The SUP request will now be submitted to the Greene County Board of Supervisors for their action.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at

Photo Credits: Facebook, Greene County

Palmyra Political “Power Play”?– Fluvanna’s Late Night Water Vote

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

As the meeting waned on Nov. 18, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to the agreement between Louisa County, Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA) and the James River Water Authority (JRWA).

The vote was 2-1 with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting. Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) has recused himself from all LCWA related votes and discussion. Bob Ullenburch (Palmyra District) was not at the meeting.

The amendment requires LCWA to provide 400,000 gallons of treated water to Fluvanna at Zion Crossroads by the end of 2018. Fluvanna will pay the commercial rate for the water. Fluvanna can ask for more water, if possible. If additional capacity isn’t possible because of infrastructure limitations, Louisa can consider Fluvanna’s capital contributions to make it possible and a rate reduction could occur.

After a lengthy closed session, the supervisors reconvened to certify the closed session. After certification and before a motion to adjourn could be offered, Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) started the supervisors down a path to vote for the amendment.

No public nor any media members were present by this time. The audio recording, available on the county website, helped shed light on the proceedings.

OBrien2014 photo credit Fluvanna County

Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

“I think there is an opportunity to get something done. It may not be the best timing but I also think it may eliminate some headaches,” said O’Brien.

Weaver, confused asked what he was talking about. To which the recording hears O’Brien shuffle a paper and say, “I’m taking about this”, presumably the amendment.

“As far as I’m concerned the meeting is over,” replied Weaver.

O’Brien said, ““Well, it isn’t, because we haven’t adjourned yet. Think about what I’m asking. There is a controllable situation right now and there is not a controllable situation, potentially not a controllable situation. That’s why I’m asking the question.”

Weaver said it didn’t matter because O’Brien couldn’t get a second without his support.

O’Brien said, “I don’t necessarily have to have one. But again, that’s why I’m asking.”

Weaver raised objection because someone (Ullenbruch) wasn’t present for the vote. He said he wouldn’t be a proponent of it.

O’Brien asked what was Weaver’s major objection. Weaver replied, “Midnight.”

It is important to note the vote happened before midnight because supervisors extended the meeting until midnight. Each meeting has a time limit of 11 p.m., for the sake of meetings not dragging along. However, supervisors can extend meetings if they last past 11 p.m. After certifying the closed session on Nov. 18, the meeting was extended until midnight and never extended again.

O’Brien asked besides the late hour, Weaver said he wasn’t comfortable of voting on something not on the agenda. He consistently requests items be on the agenda, even ones he’s in favor of.

O’Brien then went into a short speech on the merits of the amendment. One part he said, “And you looked at it strictly at the standpoint we’re voting on is this a good thing for Fluvanna County, regardless of how the other two votes turn out, I think one will argue this is a good thing.”

He also noted that agreeing to the amendment did not force any vote on the two special use permits to be voted on Dec. 2.


Fluvanna Supervisor Don Weaver

Weaver still countered it should have been on the agenda. That is when Nichols says it was on the agenda but he was “threatened” to take it off.

Weaver still stays with the position he won’t vote on it because it wasn’t on the agenda.

O’Brien says, “I understand your position there. Procedurally these are, one could say, these will be one of the largest votes Fluvanna county will take in years to come that shapes the future of the county for years to come, whether you agree with that or not. Whether you agree it is shaping it in the right direction or wrong direction, it definitely shapes it.”

Weaver won’t budge.

O’Brien asks chairwoman Mozell Booker (Cunningham District) what she feels about the amendment. She says she wants to get it over with.

Booker said, “I don’t know his personal things but it is too many times he’s out and we have been considerate of not taking votes when he’s out. When you are out two and three and four and five and six times, and we have to delay our business because we don’t have a full board, I’m here all the time. I never miss. Don, you don’t miss any days. So why are we being so considerate of Bob because he’s chosen to take off at this very important time.”

Weaver won’t budge.

O’Brien then moved the board pass the amendment. Booker asked if she can give up the gavel and if Weaver could be chairman. He replied, “I don’t want to be chair.”

Fred Payne, county attorney, said the Chair (Booker) could recognize the motion without a second. She recognized it, O’Brien voted for it along with Booker. Weaver dissented.

After the meeting people keeping up with Palmyra politics were abuzz. First few questions were how this occurred without it being on the agenda and who threatened Nichols.

The amendment was not on the public version of the agenda. It was previously included in the agenda sent to supervisors on Nov. 13 but taken off once Ullenbruch saw the agenda, per Ullenbruch who gave a phone interview to the Free Enterprise Forum on Nov. 19.


Fluvanna Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch

Ullenbruch said he announced his planned absence two months prior to the meeting. The board has scheduled its agendas to hear bigger items for when the full board convenes.

When he received the agenda on Nov. 13 he was surprised the amendment was slated to be voted. He contacted Steve Nichols, county administrator, and he said he told him, “Do so at your own peril.”

Ullenbruch said of his comment, “If that is a threat, that happens every day in politics.”

The item was removed for the agenda and new supervisor packets were issued.

“[I] felt very safe I could head out and take care of the business I am taking care of,” said Ullenbruch about receiving an updated agenda without the amendment.


Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols

When asked about his comment on being threatened and Ullenbruch’s quoted ‘peril’ comment, Nichols said, “[My remark] was a not very elegant comment at the end of 17 hour day, after three hours of closed session, that could’ve been worded a lot differently. The point was, it had been on the agenda.”
Ullenbruch was not happy about the amendment passing, regardless.

“There was no need to do a power play at midnight,” said Ullenbruch.

He said the special use permits to be voted on Dec. 2, one for the JRWA intake facility and another for the LCWA raw water pipeline, could get conditions attached to them during the meeting. The amendment has no use if the SUPs aren’t approved.

“It just smells funny. It is just desperation,” said Ullenbruch.

When asked if he will not vote in favor of the LCWA pipeline, he wouldn’t comment one way or another because the public hearing hasn’t occurred.

“If I have already made a decision, what’s the point of the public hearing?” said Ullenbruch. “Anyone who weighs in right now how they are going to vote is not listening to the public.”

The two public hearings will be at a special 7 p.m. session on Dec. 2. Supervisors will have a regular 4 p.m. session on the same day


bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County

December Downzoning of West Main Street?

By. Neil Williamson, President

While appearing to be preparing to celebrate the holidays as usual, Charlottesville has aggressively pushed forward their agendas to allow the current lame duck City Council play the role of the Grinch who stole Christmas by downzoning Hooville’s West Main Street just days before Christmas (12/21) and ten days prior to the end of their lame duck term.

Please let me explain.

Back in October (10/13) the City Council and Planning Commission held a joint public hearing regarding changes to the zoning on West Main Street.  This history of this zoning change goes back to the form based code discussions and the West Main Steering Committee.  As is often the case, many landowners were unaware of these City meetings and learned of the impactful changes for the first time when the City sent notices to all 114 property owners in the area.

Much of this ordinance is in reaction to the recent developments on West Main Street [especially The Flats complex]– that were approved by the City and the Board of Architectural Review.

The ordinance creates two new zoning districts separated by the railroad bridge (West Main Street –East and West Main Street –East) and squeezes the potential building size by increasing reducing building height.  Chris Suarez reports in The Daily Progress:

Currently, the zoning for the corridor is divided from north to south. Buildings on the southern side can reach as high as 101 feet if the council grants a special use permit. Development on the northern side has a maximum height of 60 feet but can go as high as 70 feet if a special use permit is secured.

The zoning ordinance as proposed would limit new buildings on the eastern end of West Main to be no taller than 52 feet. New structures on the western end — where developments such as The Flats are located — would be restricted to 75 feet.

While much of the allowable density has not changed, the height changes have effectively eliminated achieving high density with market sized units.  Built on community aesthetic desires, this height adjustment is clearly a “backdoor” downzoning.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Planning Commission decision:

“The proposed zoning amendments seek to alleviate the concerns revolving around development in the West Main corridor by establishing clear building envelopes, reducing allowable heights and encouraging adaptive reuse of existing buildings with reductions in parking requirements,” said Carrie Rainey, the city’s urban design planner. …

…A possible future for another site on West Main was revealed when an attorney expressed concern the changes would limit his client’s development opportunities.

“The details need more attention and there is more work to be done on this ordinance,” said Maynard Sipe, an attorney who represented a potential developer for land currently occupied by the Blue Moon Diner, a convenience store and a vacant lot.

Richard Dreyfuss, who also worked on the West Main streetscape, said the prospective property owners of that site want to build homes for up to 50 to 60 residents but was concerned that might not be possible under the rezoning.

When the issue was scheduled to go to Council (11/2), it was pulled from the agenda and kicked back to the Planning Commission for additional public input.  Now the commission is scheduled to hold an additional public hearing on December 8th.

Our concern is the speed and timing of the ordinance’s return to Council.  The City Council has put this on their December 21st meeting and despite a unanimous vote to defer the first reading on 11/2,  sources indicate that Council may waive their customary (but not legally mandated) second reading of the ordinance and act on the ordinance ten days before the new City Council is seated.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the current rushed schedule placing the decision the week of Christmas short changes the citizens and the land owners and hopes that this Council will have the wisdom to pushing their final downzoning decision into 2016 and the new Council.

While we will likely not agree with the downzoning, perhaps, if we can agree on a proper decision date,  we can find  a happy ending [with roast beast].

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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.

Photo Credits: Cat in the Hat Productions

Fluvanna Supervisors Advance ZXR Water Design

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer


Fluvanna Supervisor Mike Sheridan

Before the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors could even get into the heart of its three and a half hour meeting, Mike Sheridan recused himself from any discussion on the Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA) special use permit request.

Sheridan (Columbia District), along with consultation of the county attorney, found he has a conflict of interest because the SUP requests would affect his own land. He would get a financial gain from approving the permit.

Sheridan read a prepared statement, addressed to the chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District). The statement says the raw water line to be constructed between Columbia and Ferncliff by LCWA would be partially located on property he owns. The county attorney advised Sheridan this ‘probably gives’ him a personal interest in the board’s consideration of the permit.

“He further advised me, that while my interest may fall within one of the exemptions provided by law, the better practice would be for me to disqualify myself from participating in the board’s consideration of the special use permit,” Sheridan’s statement reads.

From now on, he will not vote or act in any manner on behalf of the board. He will also not attend any portion of a closed meeting authorized by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act when the permit is discussed. Finally, he will not discuss the permit application with any other government officers or employees at any time.

He requested his statement be recorded in the county’s public records.

The LCWA special use permit is scheduled to be heard in public hearing on Dec. 2 in a special session. Also expected to be heard that day is the James River Water Authority (JRWA) intake request.

The two are separate projects but linked together. Without the JRWA intake, the LCWA pipeline would be a pipe from nowhere.

The Board of Supervisors also approved the design of a Zion Crossroads water and sewer system in their November 4th meeting.  This action starts the clock on moving to the final step of constructing such a system but  it didn’t come without controversy.


Fluvanna Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch

Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) raised concern the system is expected to cost over $7 million while the ROI that was commissioned a few years ago was based on a $5 million system.  It also concerned Don Weaver (Cunningham District) the system would be built at once, weighing on tax payers while waiting for a return.  “We have limited our ability [before] by the debt we have taken on [in the past],” said Weaver.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) countered that without spending the money on the system, the county will never get a chance to lower real estate tax rates; no businesses are coming without a water system.
“There is only one location we can maximize our economic engine,” said O’Brien.


Fluvanna Board of Supervisors Chairperson Mozell Booker

Chairperson Booker agreed with O’Brien.  “We have an example right across from us,” said Booker about Louisa’s economic development.

Ullenbruch said if the county spends about $500,000 designing the water system, there is no turning back. Booker said she hopes there is not turning back.
The supervisors approved a contract with Dewberry Engineering to design the water and sewer system on a 3-2 vote (Weaver and Ullenbruch). The contract costs $430,000 and will be paid for by CIP funds approved two years ago.

Supervisors also approved $35,000 to purchase a new vehicle for the crime scene investigator. He currently uses a seven year old sedan. The supervisors voted to buy a F150 pick up truck. “If you don’t have the tools, you don’t have the equipment, you can’t do a professional job,” said Ullenbruch.

Weaver raised concern this was being done out of the budget calendar, something he and Ullenbruch often complain against. He said it was not fair to items other departments might need but wait for budget season to present.

“If it comes through the budget, I might be able to approve it but not under these circumstances,” said Weaver.

Ullenbruch, who champions public safety, said, “It is a small price to pay to get the job done right.”  Weaver dissented in the 4-1 vote.

The board ratified a previous vote to give raises for employees who earned licensures, degrees or certifications after hire. There were some minor changes and discussion about requiring the degree to be in a related field.

Steve Nichols, county administrator, said it made the program much too complicated to include a requirement to be in a related field.  He said the core requirements of any additional education will help employees be better workers. Requiring related field put undue burdens on department heads and him to make a decision to grant the raise or not.  “The amount of appreciation we will see from our employees…we can’t replace that,” said Sheridan.

The ratification of the pay raise program was unanimous. Originally, Weaver and Ullenbruch voted it down.

Supervisors ended the meeting with seven presentations. A highlight of the seven was a Fork Union Sanitary District (FUSD) rate structure.  FUSD will need rate increases and might even need a district wide tax to stay in the black.

With modest rate increases and a few capital improvement projects, the system could pay the county back all of its owed $118,000 by the end of FY26. It is currently FY16.  By end FY28, the system could pay off its other debt.

The Fluvanna Historical Society is raising money to build a farm heritage museum at Pleasant Grove. The museum is mostly being built from non-county money but would be operated by the county once complete.  The historical society asked the county to give $15,000 this year to help complete fundraising. The supervisors originally planned to give $10,000 next year.

Of note from Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Route 53 has been given grant money to improve the roadway. The department will start advertising to expand the right of way along the entire road to put in rumble strips on the sides. It will be a multiyear project.

The supervisors next meeting  is on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.


bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County

The Gecko and The 2015 Election

By. Neil Williamson, Presidentgeico gecko logo

You may recognize the reptile to the right of this column.

This Tuesday’s question is not are you willing to spend 15 minutes to save 15% on car insurance, but are you willing to spend 10 minutes to determine the future direction of your community? 

The Free Enterprise Forum estimates total voting time this election will average 10 minutes from the time voters step into the voting location.  As an off-off year election, regular readers understand how the import of their vote is multiplied.

Elections Matter – As one who follows local public policy for a living, I firmly believe not only elections matter — voting matters.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization that does not endorse candidates but it does endorse, encourage, and cajole voter participation.

Don’t know what district you live in?  Use the tool above

Don’t know where your polling place is located — Use the tool above

Don’t know what is on the ballot? — Use the tool above

Don’t know who to vote for — get educated about the candidates

While I am not one who subscribes to the notion that if you don’t vote you lose your right to complain, I do however believe the future belongs to those who show up and those who stand up.

No, we do not have a multi-million dollar reptilian driven ad campaign to generate voter turnout — all we have is you.

Do your part — vote!

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson 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 inf