Monthly Archives: December, 2015

Year of Shaking My Head – 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

It is amazing to look back and see how often this year, I was top ten listdumbfounded by the strategy, actions and inactions of public officials and the lack of action by some because while the process was broken, it was meeting their need.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2015 SMH moments

#10 U.S. 29 is not a city street Kevin Bacon and Albemarle’s Thank You Letter for VDOT’s U.S. 29 Steamroller

While we have found former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  Commissioner Phillip Shucet to be a most effective facilitator and an honest supporter of the McAuliffe administration positions, we believe the public has not been, nor will be, fully “engaged” in the process.  As an example, In  last week’s BOS meeting Supervisor Ann Mallek suggested there would be a public hearing on the design of the interchange – Nope.  Even though this is a design build process, the VDOT proposed design (not what will actually be built) was already taken to public hearing, satisfying the legal requirements.

Aubrey Layne photo credit VDOTIn his Daily Progress opinion piece on Sunday (1/11), [Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey] Layne used the same song sheet as he wrote somewhat single mindedly of Albemarle County’s economic engine that is North US 29:

“Between Short Pump to the east, Staunton to the west, Danville to the south and Gainesville to the north, no section of highway carries more traffic than U.S. 29 between U.S. 250 and Rio Road – not even Interstate 64. U.S. 29 is not a city street.  It is a major Virginia arterial highway” Emphasis added-nw

#9 Fluvanna sees higher taxes as far as the eye can seeFluvanna 4% Property Tax Increase Proposed

This year, Fluvanna is projecting a five-year forecast to see how future budgets will look, conceptually, based on what decisions are made this year. It includes a two percent rate of inflation along with anticipation of certain upcoming projects.

The projection based off of Nichols’ budget shows a real estate tax rate of $1.05 in FY17, $1.06 in FY1Weaver20146 and FY19 and a $1.11 in FY20.

“Even if they are ballpark figures, it is alarming,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Nichols replied, “It is absolutely alarming.”

#8 Albemarle’s Political Cover Committees – Meanwhile, back in Albemarle County the county is seeking a diversity of opinions as long as they all agree #SMH  Eliminate Albemarle’s Mission Creeping Community Councils 

In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:

The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw

If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?

#7 ARB managing views that can’t be seen  In June, we were shaking our head when we asked about  the authority of the Albemarle Architectural Review Board (ARB) over the Rio area businesses that will not be visible to at least half of the US29 motorists Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

#6 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Places Preservation of Natural Resources as #1 Priority What abut citizen health Safety and Welfare? Albemarle’s Natural Resources Chapter Rewrite – More Planners, Less Property Rights

The newly revised goal is much more expansive and interventionist in its tone:

“Albemarle’s ecosystems and natural resources will be thoughtfully protected and managed in both the Rural and Development Areas to safeguard the quality of life of current and future generations.”

If there was any question the direction the Chapter is headed, the BOS rewritten chapter declares

“Natural resource protection is the County’s highest priority.”

Really??

Natural Resource Protection is the Highest Priority?

Over the safety and protection of your citizens?

Over the education of the children where you currently dedicate 60% of your budget?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is philosophical hyperbole and is not supported by the facts (or four supervisors), we hope such inflammatory and incorrect language will be removed from the plan.

#4 Albemarle Planning Commission Attempts to Bully staff The Albemarle County Planning Commission was unhappy that the economic development office did not come to them first regarding the Deschutes Brewing prospect.  Despite being beyond their role in government, their egos were bruised in the process.  This lead to our #4 SMH moment Albemarle PC Seeks Improper Staff Influence

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.

Oct 20 PC meetingAt 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.

#5 Greene County battles with Jail Superintendent over budget and plan There was a great deal of head shaking in Greene this year (gun range, recycling center, public comment) but the Jail has been a source of some interjurisdictional anger.  As out own Brent Wilson reports Jail House Rocks Greene BOS

Bill Martin Greene County SupervisorSupervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) expressed concern about the poor timing in the budget process of the CVRJ and the impact to Greene County. Up until December, there was no indication of a significant increase and then in December, 2014 [Central Virginia Jail Superintendent Glenn] Aylor announced over a 50% increase in operating cost allocation to Greene County.

[Ruckersville Supervisor Davis] Lamb responded that there are a lot of pieces to the prison budget.

Martin stated he understood the complexity but all five counties that utilize the regional jail were caught by surprise by the size of the budget increase. Residents of Greene County are pushing back on a $10 facility fee on the water and sewer bill, Martin can’t imagine what residents will say when they see the cost increase for the jail in the upcoming budget.

Martin continued to state that the communication between the Greene Board of Supervisors and Aylor has been poor. He was not impressed when Aylor spoke at the last board meeting and Martin questions who is serving whom.

[Midway Supervisor Jim] Frydl questioned Lamb why the alternative budget that the five counties had presented at the last jail meeting wasn’t considered? Lamb’s only reply was that if you can find a better plan to bring it to the meeting and there are many variables. Frydl asked Lamb if he was ok with the jails budget to which there was no reply.

#3 Greene County Muzzles Public Comment The Free Enterprise Forum continues to have issues with Greene County’s current Matters from the Public Policy but after months of “inappropriate” public comments Greene seemed to want to muzzle public comments as Brent Wilson reports

The hearing of comments (or not hearing comments) from the public has been a work in progress the past several weeks in Greene County. The year started with all comments being allowed at BOS meetings with very little guidelines or restrictions. Several weeks ago, the Chairman decided to eliminate all comments from the public from the July 28th agenda.  The Board discussed the issue at the July 28th meeting and adopted (4-1 Deane opposed) a very restrictive procedure in place to allow public comment at the July 28th meeting

This takes us to the most recent Board of Supervisor meeting. Chairman David Cox, Monroe District, started the meeting stating that it is critical to hear comments from the public. He has not been trying to silence the public but trying to control rude and confrontational behavior.

Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District, stated he believes that Cox has an impeccable record in allowing all comments – sometimes to a fault. Cox would never disallow the public to speak and he believes that Cox will be fair to all citizens and not infringe their freedom of speech.

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively regarding the import of public comments and we believe they should be placed near the top of every agenda. While the comments some citizens make may cause you to shake your head, not hearing those citizens speak is much worse.

#2 Albemarle Chooses Not To Have a Beer – In a clear affront to the County’s new Economic Development Initiatives, Albemarle County decided not to expand its development areas enough to accommodate Deschutes Brewery [and about 100 new jobs]  from Bend, Oregon while shaking our head we did come up with  Da Lessons from Deschutes

Deschutes-BrewingIt is entirely possible that [Former Albemarle Supervisor] Sally Thomas’ position of keeping growth in check may be the majority opinion of Albemarle County citizens.  If the philosophy of the Board is that any business is lucky that we are allowing them to locate here and should be happy to jump through our bureaucratic hoops, then there is not “A new day” in Albemarle.

The current and future leadership of Albemarle County need to determine the direction of the Economic Development Department.  That decision, perhaps more than any other, will determine not only the success of businesses to locate and expand; but also the jobs that may or may not be available as well as the percentage of government costs that will be carried by property taxes.

Da Lesson from Deschutes – Albemarle was not ready.

Da Question from Deschutes – Do they really want to be?

But this year’s #1 is without a doubt

#1 If I call you Karl Marx is it an insult?  Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors gave us plenty to shake our heads about this year including accusations of Communism.   The Board meeting sounded more like a playground taunt than a governing body as our own Bryan Rothamel reported Fireworks at Fluvanna Supervisors Meeting

After Parish briefly started his presentation on the [employee] recognition program, which includes monetary gifts for various awards throughout the year, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) raised his issues with the recognition program.

Ullenbruch2014

Ullenbruch compared the recognition program as a pat on the back and children in youth sports getting a participation trophy. He then concluded his remarks and what ensued was Ullenbruch leaving the meeting after Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) responded.

Here is a transcription from the end of  Ullenbruch’s statements. It was the 1 hour, 59 minutes mark of the meeting.

Ullenbruch: You are hired to do a job. You are hired to do a job the best you can. I’m not saying our employees are paid enough or they’re not recognized enough. I’m not saying that at all. I’m trying, once again, keep people from being divided. This is devise. I’ve lived in this atmosphere of awards and plaques and that-a-boys, in the back, in the little huddles, in the little corners, it becomes a bitch session. The intent is not for that to happens, but it happens.

O’Brien: You sound like a communist, Bob. I mean honestly, why don’t we–

Ullenbruch: Wow. Wow. That’s on tape.

O’Brien: Yeah, your idea is that people don’t appreciate recognition. That they should just do their damn job, to use your words.

Ullenbruch: I’m just saying it causes divisiveness.

At this point Ullenbruch stands up to leaves. The two began talking over each other but O’Brien responds to Ullenbruch’s comments with, “I mean, that’s what you sound like. I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ullenbruch talks from the doorway. O’Brien responds, “I don’t think calling someone a communist is necessarily insulting them, Bob.” He turns back to the board, “That’s a first. Sorry. Apologies.”

Yes, the Free Enterprise Forum will look back on 2015 as the Year of Shaking My Head.

Perhaps 2016 will be different.

I know which way I am betting.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, Fluvanna County, Greene County, Virginia Department of Transportation,

Fluvanna To Move Polling Station

Ballot-Box_thumb.jpgBy Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County  Board of Supervisors will have a special public hearing on Jan. 6 about moving the Rivanna District polling station.

It is currently the Lake Monticello Clubhouse but because of planned renovations, the facility may not be accessible during a primary election, if held, and the general election.

The new proposed location is the Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire Squad Station (LMVFS). It previously served as the second precinct in the Rivanna District until 2010 when the redistricting eliminated the second precinct and shrunk the district size.

An interesting note, the LMVFS is located outside of the Rivanna District and is in the Cunningham District. While the voting districts are close in population, the Rivanna District is so small geographically because it mainly includes only area inside Jefferson Drive at Lake Monticello. The district is almost completely residential except for the Lake Monticello Clubhouse and Lake Monticello Marina.

The county ordinance (2-2-3) states, “Precincts shall be known by their respective polling places and shall be coterminous with the respective electoral districts.”

The state code (24.2-310) allows polling stations to be outside the precinct if within one mile of the boundary.

The Rivanna District boundary is less than half a mile from the proposed location.

The other options considered were Effort Baptist Church and Lake Christian Church. Both are also located in the Cunningham District and both are within a mile of the boundary lines.

Questions to the Registrar’s Office regarding the county ordinance went unanswered as Joyce Pace, the registrar, is out on vacation for a week.

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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

Lessons from Snoopy

By. Neil Williamson, President

This holiday season, perhaps more than most, I am reminded how lucky we are to live in this particular place at this particular time.  Thanks to the generous support of the community the Free Enterprise Forum is celebrating twelve years of making a difference in Central Virginia.

Regular readers of this space are well aware of the many meetings the Free Enterprise Forum covers, often as one of the only members of the public in the room.

This year there were several meetings that were standing room only as Albemarle County considered an expansion of their development area for a brewery prospect.  In this meeting, there were many speakers including Former Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas who suggested the Planning Commission was being “bullied” into accepting this economic development prospect.  Our friend, Jeff Werner from Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), also spoke questioning the due diligence of the County.

Route 29 Solutions logoThis year we also saw the start of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) construction of the subtlety named “Route 29 Solutions” projects including the one of the newer words in the local lexicon “Rio GSI” for the grade separated intersection being constructed at Rio Road and U.S. 29.  The issues surrounding these projects have provided significant activity over the last forty months.

Last night (12/21) the Charlottesville City Council opted to table the Down Zoning of West Main Street – We have argued in opposition to this affront to property rights while our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have, somewhat counter intuitively, jumped on the reduced density in the neighborhood. Another friend John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Chapter of the Sierra Club provided comments in favor of lowering the heights thus reducing the environmental impacts.

Yes, there are important issues and emotions that can divide the community.  With limited exception,  the Central Virginia community has a great deal of respect for those who disagree with them.  This is not true across the Commonwealth.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has, and will continue to, question the logic, strategies and tactics of those opposed to regulatory reform and economic development, we do not question their motivations.  We believe they are working toward their vision of a better community.  We welcome their involvement and, lest anyone think I have been hitting the egg nog, we will still often adamantly disagree.

However this holiday, thinking of the spirited alphabet soup of Free Enterprise Forum opponents (ASAP, PEC, SELC, VDOT,  Etc.)  I am reminded of the 1967 hit from The Royal GuardsmanSnoopy Christmas – Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes all of Central Virginia, especially those who disagree with us, a blessed holiday season.

 

The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn’t shoot, well, we’ll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, “Merry Christmas, my friend”

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they’d meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:  Charles Shultz,  Charlottesville Tomorrow

Fluvanna Supervisors Wrap 2015

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors got in its last minute items in a long meeting on December 16.

Three residents spoke during public comments regarding the Special Use Permits of the James River Water Authority (JRWA)  intake and a Louisa County owned water line that failed to pass. In an unusual move, chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) wanted to immediately address the comments.

One issue was raised because the supervisors had on their agenda to vote to ‘ratify’ the November 20 vote on the addendum to the interjurisdictional agreement. That controversial vote was 2-1 with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) not present and Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) recused.

Fred Payne, the county attorney, felt a vote on December 16 was not necessary to ratify the previous action. His reasoning is all parties to the contract had agreed to the addendum so Fluvanna was bound to it regardless of if the ratification occurred.

Booker  said the decision to include it was to show the public the supervisors felt it was a correct action because some residents questioned if the vote was legal.

“[Ratifying the vote] would eliminate one possible argument,” Payne agreed.

Ullenbruch2014Vice chairman Ullenbruch wanted to vote on ratification because he felt he lost something by the November 20 vote.

“I thought my voice was taken away by that,” said Ullenbruch. He said had he known it would be on the agenda, it would’ve been a different situation.

Supervisors passed the ratification 3-1 with Weaver  still dissenting. Sheridan is currently not at board meetings for health reasons.

Weaver protested even having the vote because it found it odd the supervisors would vote on something they already voted on. He said it was confusing. He did agree the addendum was favorable for the county and commended Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) for working on it.

“You got more consideration than we would have had if we just approved [the previous agreement],” Weaver said to O’Brien.

Supervisors also approved more ordinance changes that brought county laws into agreement with state and federal changes. One was the sign ordinance.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Reed v. Town of Gilbert that government couldn’t restrict signs based on content without strict scrutiny. Fluvanna had restricted political signs differently than other temporary signs.

The new changes to the ordinance now eliminate the political signs subset and all temporary signs are held to the same standard. Temporary signs can only be displayed 60 days prior to the event and 10 days after.

This change actually does not extend the limit on political signs but on temporary signs. In Fluvanna, political signs had 60 days but temporary signs only had 30 days prior to the event. They both had 10 days after the event.

Also, in seemingly direct violation of the Reed decision,  the state passed a law requiring the localities to issue permits for ‘going out of business sales.’ The reasoning was the permitting eliminated businesses to have ‘going out of business sales’ repetitively. The state wants only businesses really closing to have such sales.

The county has to issue permits for these sales now and never previously had an ordinance addressing it. The fee for permit is $50. It was proposed at $65.

Supervisors also received the FY2015 comprehensive annual financial report. The audit gave the highest marks possible.

Ullenbruch was honored for his service on the board the past four years. His familiar line of ‘do your job’ was listed on his going away cake. At the start of the meeting he received a plaque. He said it would be hard to walk away.

“I say a lot of stuff and you know I don’t mean 97 percent of it. I love you all,” Ullenbruch said directly to county staff. He said over the last four years the staff has made the county better.

The next supervisor meeting is January 6 at 4 p.m. It will be the first meeting for supervisor-elect Patricia Eager. She fills Ullenbruch’s Palmyra seat. At the first meeting of the year, supervisors will elect a chairperson, vice chairperson and set meeting dates and times.

2016 will mark the first time in four years Ullenbruch will not be the vice chairman.

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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 Credit: Fluvanna County

Restrictions in Charlottesville’s West Main Down Zoning May Further Gentrify the Neighborhood

By Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will hold their last meeting of the year and have the first reading of the West Main Street Downzoning.  This will be the final meeting for DedeHujaMayor Satyendra Huja and Vice Mayor Dede Smith.

There have been rumors that this Council may dispense of a second reading and enact the ordinance – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that would be a huge mistake and remains hopeful that the new council will have the opportunity to vote down this ordinance in the name of affordable housing.

Please let me explain.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading a great deal about rental housing economics.  A recent Harvard study showed that the homeownership rates dropping while the renter households increased.  The media has been very interested in the increase in the cost of rental units and its impact on the middle class.  Considering the proposed downzoning on Charlottesville’s West Main Street, one only needs to look to the larger cities to see how land use restrictions can impact the fabric of the community.

image

Interestingly, the Harvard study did not go into the reasons for the increases in rental costs.  Fortunately, The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote recently about Why it’s so hard to afford a rental even if you make a decent salary

This chart, from a report on America’s rental housing from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies published today, illustrates that only about 10 percent of our recently added rental apartments would be affordable to the nearly half of renter households in America who make less than $35,000 a year:


Note: Rents based on 30% of income affordability standard. Sources: US Census Bureau, 2015 Survey of Market Absorption, 2015 CPS. Harvard JCHS.

Badger’s article, unlike the Harvard study does speak to the reasons the rent for new apartment housing is increasing:

The number of renter households in the top 10th of the income spectrum rose 61 percent over that decade, more than for any other group. So developers are not simply building luxe apartments no one wants to rent.

But they’re also responding to the worrisome dynamic that we’ve made it very, very difficult in many cities to construct market-rate housing that would be affordable to the middle class or modest renters. It’s economically challenging for developers to create new apartments the median renter could afford — at about $875 a month — while covering the costs of constructing them.

Height limits, parking requirements and zoning restrictions all push up the cost of construction. So do lengthy design reviews and legal battles with neighborhoods opposed to new development. Developers must also build at the densities communities allow, and in the limited places where they allow higher density. And if a given parcel of land is only zoned for about five stories of apartments, those apartments may have to command $2,500 a month each to make the project profitable. Emphasis added-nw

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s New York Times column entitled  “Inequality in the City” also identifies New York’s land use regulations as a major factor in increasing rents.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

The good news is that this is an issue over which local governments have a lot of influence. New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else. And its current mayor understands that.

But will that understanding lead to any action? That’s a subject I’ll have to return to another day. For now, let’s just say that in this age of gentrification, housing policy has become much more important than most people realize.

For all the lip service paid to affordable housing, it will be most interesting if this last meeting of this Charlottesville City Council will addresses this question before they exacerbate the situation with even more costly regulations.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:  City of CharlottesvilleCharlottesville Tomorrow

John Lennon and Albemarle Affordable Housing

By Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from testimony given to the Albemarle County Planning Commission December 15, 2015

While I appreciate this Lame Duck Planning Commission’s interest in focusing on affordable housing, I am concerned that this discussion is misplaced; it should be the focus of the elected Board of Supervisors.  Many of the tougher questions are far outside the mission of the Planning Commission.

Thirty-five years ago this month we lost a generational poet and talent, John Lennon, who asked us to “Imagine”.

Opening the affordable housing lens far beyond the scope of the Planning Commission, I too am asking you to use your imagination.

Imagine if Albemarle County actually followed State Law and reduced their cash proffer policy from more than $20K per unit to under $5K, or better yet eliminated this unreliable, unfair “welcome stranger” tax – how would that impact housing affordability?

Imagine if Albemarle County considered affordable rental units, apartments, condos and homes as a part of their affordable housing stock – how might this reflect the reality of affordable housing (not home ownership)?

Imagine if Albemarle County, perhaps working with Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, invested in keeping the existing affordable housing stock in good repair – how might this small investment impact the amount of affordable housing?

Imagine if Albemarle County loosened their restrictive grip on 95% of their land mass and expanded their development area and increased the supply of buildable lots – how would that impact the cost of lots?

Imagine if Albemarle County encouraged transitional areas on the edges of the development areas for modular housing – how would this impact affordable housing supply?

TJCLTImagine if Albemarle County invested in Community Land Trusts that keep housing stock affordable for generations rather than the current unsustainable inclusionary zoning model makes 85% of new homes less affordable.  This misguided policy rewards the affordable housing proffer lottery winner with all of the appreciation gains. How would this change in strategy impact how long a home stays affordable?

Imagine if Albemarle County reduced the bureaucratic red tape and regulatory hurdles to streamline rezoning approvals.  If a project could be approved in 6 months instead of 24, thus reducing the carrying costs – how might that impact affordable housing?

Imagine if Albemarle County had a large amount of appropriately located and designated Light Industrial Land that could provide good paying career ladder jobs – how might that impact the demand for affordable housing?

Yes, there are imaginative ways to improve Albemarle County’s situation.  Regulatory reform and proffer elimination are within the scope of the planning commission purview.

Larger issues of increased economic vitality and job creation are better suited for the new Albemarle County Board of Supervisors sworn in earlier today.

I must admit I remain cautiously pessimistic that an aggressive economic development plan is a major plank of the new Board’s agenda.  I can’t tell you how much I hope I am wrong.

Perhaps, I am the one who needs a little more imagination.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:  pixgood.com,  sodahead.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Greene BOS Hears From TJ Area Community Criminal Justice Board

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

CVRJ patchIn the interest of fostering better communication with localities, Neil Goodloe, Criminal Justice Planner for the Thomas Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board, addressed the Greene County  Board of Supervisors at their December 8, 2015 meeting.

The purpose of the TJA-CCJB is to oversee the operation of the Community Diversion Incentive Program that is funded by the State to divert non-violent felons to community service/treatment and away from prison.  The participating localities include Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Orange, and Nelson Counties.

Goodloe, who has spent most of his career as a parole officer, started with TJA-CCJB in January 2015 is in the process of meeting each of the counties in the area that belong to the Central Virginia Regional Board Authority.

Greene County contributes nearly $1 million to the running of the Central Virginia Regional Jail. Goodloe presented an inmate population entry data analysis with the intent of reducing operating costs and improving public safety.

  • The first category is those being held that are unable to raise bond and pose no risk. This was represents nearly half of the inmate population in the past two years.
  • The second category is state prisoners being held locally and the state only provides $12/day – a fraction of the actual cost.
  • The third category is federal prisoners.

One of Goodloe’s objectives with this new communication strategy from the TJA-CCJB is to keep local Boards of Supervisors apprised of the CVRJ operational issues going forward. His main focus is to help localities understand mental health issues and is concerned that as a community, we may not be identifying everyone who needs assistance.

He presented violent crime data that show that Greene County has the largest reduction of all counties in the surrounding area – 59.3%. In addition, Greene County has the largest reduction in domestic violence crime – 33.3%.

He further explained that Greene County is the only county that does not financially support his position. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked what would the cost be for Greene County and Goodloe directed him to his supervisor – Pat Smith .

Goodloe was complimentary of CVRJ’s re-entry wing currently under construction. He questioned what would be the best use of the facility and provide the greatest return to the taxpayers funding the jail.

Supervisor Jim Frydl questioned why when the crime rate is dropping with inmate population is increasing.  Goodloe speculated that law enforcement is more efficient in solving crime and therefore more go to prison.

Chairman David Cox thanked  Goodloe for coming to address the Board of Supervisors and asked that he come to update them on the future.

 

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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Albemarle’s Persistent Proffer Procrastination

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from “Comments from the Public” December 9, 2015

While I would like to simply join in the holiday chorus of speakers thanking Supervisors Ken Boyd and Jane Dittmar for their service to the community, I must use my three minutes this evening to again request that the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors do their elected duty and follow state code to modify their cash proffer policy in accordance with state law changes enacted in 2014.

When I raised this issue in November, I was told by one Supervisor “Don’t worry staff assures me this will be on our  December agenda”.  Pardon me for feeling like Charlie Brown as Lucy pulls the football away because yes it is on your agenda tonight, as an informational item indicating the Planning Commission may hold public hearing in the 1st quarter of 2016.

Last week when I said Albemarle County’s current cash proffer policy was operating in violation of state code, County Attorney Larry Davis told the Board of Supervisors it was not.

I am not an attorney but I understand the spirit of the General Assembly’s action TWO YEARS AGO:

Virginia Code 15.2-2303.2: Proffered cash payments and expenditures D. Notwithstanding any provision of this section or any other provision of law, general or special, no cash payment proffered pursuant to § 15.2-2298, 15.2-2303, or 15.2-2303.1 shall be used for any capital improvement to an existing facility, such as a renovation or technology upgrade, that does not expand the capacity of such facility or for any operating expense of any existing facility such as ordinary maintenance or repair.

Following the passage of this code change the Board of Supervisors charged a select group of community leaders known as the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee to meet and adjust the calculation.  In September, they presented their results.

Building Type Current Proposed
Single Family Detached $20,987 $4,918
Single Family Attached $14,271 $3,845
Multifamily $14,871 $5,262

The reality is the County’s current cash proffer policy calculation includes renovations and technological upgrades and thus does NOT agree with State Law.

According to tonight’s informational staff report rather than immediately fixing this egregious error that overcharges cash proffers by 426% than allowed by law, staff has again and again deferred and delayed action on this proposal for the financial gain of the County.

I hope the new Board of Supervisors will stop this “Rope-a-dope” of delays and deferments and legalisms and instead demand staff act on the spirit of the State Code changes.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak, thank you for your service and Happy Holidays.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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: Charles Schultz, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Louisa County Responds To Fluvanna Water Denial

water-bib.jpgEditors note: The following is a media release from Louisa County – NW

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors expressed dismay regarding the County of Fluvanna’s denial of the James River Water Project Special Use permits. The project, intended to bring a sustainable supply of water to both counties, had been an ongoing effort between the two counties before Fluvanna’s Board denied the permits at its meeting last night.

“I’m disappointed, to say the least,” said Chairman Tommy Barlow. “Louisa has maintained an open, willing, and transparent effort to complete this project with Fluvanna as set forth in the agreements between our jurisdictions over the past few years. It’s unfortunate that Fluvanna’s Board did not honor their commitment to the project.”

Louisa’s vision with regard to economic development has been successful in the Zion Crossroads growth area, largely due to early investment in water and sewer infrastructure.

“Regionalized efforts to develop infrastructure are crucial to business development today,” said Economic Development Director Andy Wade. “We understand that, and this project would have given our neighbors in the region the opportunity to benefit from the same kind of growth Louisa has enjoyed at Zion Crossroads.”

The prospect of legal recourse remains on the table according to Mike Lockaby, who serves as Louisa’s attorney for the project. “Fluvanna’s attorney counseled the Board in open session that the agreement between the two counties obligated the Fluvanna Board to approve the permits. If financing or water needs were the basis for their concerns, those should have been addressed prior to their entering in the agreement. Those concerns have no bearing on the issuance of these permits.”

Louisa County’s Long Range Water Supply Plan estimates a peak water demand of nearly 8 million gallons per day by 2050, and the County is considering alternative sources of supply.  This amount, along with Fluvanna’s peak demand, supported the withdrawal permit approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’ll continue to evaluate options,” said County Administrator Christian Goodwin. “Our Board intends to capitalize on the proven capability of infrastructure investment to foster economic growth and create jobs. There is a strong potential for both counties to reap these benefits from the James River Water Project, but last night’s vote indicates that some in Fluvanna may not share this vision.”

Fluvanna Supervisors Split on Future Community Water Supply

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors ended two water related votes in a tie on Dec. 2.

The supervisors had only four members because Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) is taking a leave of absence at the direction of his doctor due to a medical condition. He hopes to return by March 2016, if not sooner.

The first measure was for the James River Water Authority (JRWA) to construct a water intake facility on the Point of Fork, near Columbia. The Point of Fork is where the Rivanna River connects into the James River. The JRWA is a joint endeavor with Louisa County.

Fluvanna entered into an inter-jurisdictional agreement with Louisa in 2013. A condition of that agreement was Fluvanna would pass the necessary zoning requirements to see the intake was able to be constructed. The cost of the intake to the county is estimated at the high end to be $5 million, $10 million total between the counties.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) moved to approve the special use permit to allow construction of the intake facility. Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) seconded. The vote was tied 2-2 with chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) joining O’Brien to approve the permit, and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting with Ullenbruch.

A motion to deny was never offered.

The public hearing for the JRWA permit was at times heated. In total, 21 people spoke with 11 urging the board to deny it. Seven people spoke for approval and three offered no position either way.

Bobbi Seay, an resident who’s property will house the facility, gave a passionate speech on the history of the Point of Fork. She ended, “You’ll never put it back to the way it was [once construction starts].”

Katy Clossin said in favor of the permit, “We are so close [to passing it]. I’d hate to see it fail at this point.”

The supervisors also had heated discussion, especially from O’Brien who asked many questions to the county’s staff to help his cause for the permit passing.

“If you want to condemn this county to no growth, to less services, let’s vote no on this,” said O’Brien.

The county’s economic director, Bobby Popowicz, told the board the county could have applied for 14 projects over the past two years. One included a brewery that was looking for raw land. He said even the 75,000 gallon treated water from the Department of Corrections would have allowed him to seek that project.

Weaver was not sold on more debt that the county would be on the hook for after approving the facility. “It’s not my money. I should be frugal with it,” said Weaver.

Booker looked at the project as a step towards greater economic development of the county. “Now we have an opportunity to move forward,” said the chairperson.

O’Brien asked county attorney Fred Payne if the inter-jurisdictional agreement the county approved in 2013 left Louisa with any legal remedies if Fluvanna did not approve the permit.

“Do we have an obligation? In my opinion, we do have an obligation,” said Payne.

He later continued, “When you entered into this contract, that ship left the harbor.”

The second permit, one for Louisa County Water Authority to build a raw water line from the JRWA facility to Ferncliff suffered the same fate as the first SUP. However, that vote came after a motion failed to get a second. O’Brien called for a vote without a second because Ullenbruch and Weaver wouldn’t second his motion to approve.

The board had little discussion after 10 residents spoke at the public hearing, six in favor, three against and one took no position.

O’Brien did say before his motion, “We have no grounds to deny this motion.”

Now the special use permits sit in limbo. One explanation of the state of the SUPs was the Board of Supervisors, and only the board, could bring the motions up for reconsideration if it chooses.

That would then be similar to how the Aqua deal was passed in 2013. That item was never denied and later was approved when it was brought back up for a vote during unfinished business at a subsequent meeting. The Aqua deal later never materialized as Aqua and Fluvanna could never agree on a final deal.

The supervisors last scheduled meeting of the year is Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. It will be Ullenbruch’s last meeting. In 2016 he will be replaced by Patricia Eager.

Eager currently serves on the Planning Commission, representing the Palmyra District. She was the only commissioner to recommend denial of both permits. They both were recommended on a 4-1 vote.

Sheridan could return from his leave and vote for the JRWA SUP but he has recused himself from the LCWA discussion. The LCWA pipeline runs through his land and he would financially gain from its approval. After counsel with the county attorney, he recused.

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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