Monthly Archives: April, 2016

Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

By. Neil Williamson, President

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

In the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

The closure of the intersection (right turns will still be permitted) will have an impact on businesses in the area.  A little over a year ago the Free Enterprise Forum asked a simple question regarding the business assistance program for US29 Rio Grade Separated Interchange:  US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

In short, VDOT and Albemarle have answered the call to make lemonade out of the challenging construction period.

The get around guide produced by VDOT (and printed locally) is quite good and available at local merchants.

An illustrated map of the Route 29 corridor.

Beyond being a helpful tool, these are not being handed out by a team of interns that do not know how to answer business owner questions.  VDOT Communications Director Lou Hatter is personally delivering these maps to retailers, hoteliers in the impacted footprint.

VDOT also has print, radio and television advertisements running in significant rotation, letting people know that the intersection will be closed but access to all businesses and neighborhoods will be maintained.

Rio 29 logoConcurrent, and coordinated with VDOT’s informational efforts, Albemarle County, working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is running radio, television, and print advertisements focused on the businesses in the Rio and 29 footprint.  The message that Route 29 is “Open for Business” during construction at Rio Road.

To be clear, The Free Enterprise Forum fought the Rio GSI because it is either the addition of a 2 inch pipe on a 1/2 inch line or it is the first step toward an expressway that will divide the community.  We lost that fight.

US29 Rio April 29 2016VDOT is taking a “tear the band aid off” approach to the construction plans for Rio GSI getting as much done as quickly as possible.  The contractor’s current trajectory seems to have the project reopening to daytime traffic on or before August 5 (and earning the contractor a $6.8 Million incentive).

Today, we are appreciative that Albemarle County and VDOT were good to their word in supporting the businesses that are most impacted by the construction.

We still believe there will be significant economic dislocation of some businesses (ie: Better Living), we also believe the combined efforts of VDOT and Albemarle County significant business outreach, advertising and communication efforts may soften the negative impacts.

I like lemonade.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Albemarle PC Chooses to Ignore State Law, Again

By. Neil Williamson, President

go-to-jail-photo-credit-myanimelist.net_.jpgIn tonight’s (4/26) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting the commissioners again voted that their opinion on Cash Proffers was more important than state law (and the staff opinion).  And this wasn’t even the first time this year that they made such a vote (Albemarle Planning Commission Tells Supervisors To Violate State Law)

Add to this “fun house of mirrors” that this very same Planning Commission voted 5 – 0 on a Resolution of Intent to consider amending the Comprehensive Plan by repealing the Cash Proffer Policy.  This issue will come to the Planning Commission as a public hearing on May 10th.

I’d like to be able to explain all of this — but I am at a loss.

As a reminder what is at stake is a reduction of cash proffer of ~$15,000 per single family home in rezoned residential housing.

Here is the justification the Planning Commission made to support their first arrogant state code violating vote in February:

By a vote of 7:0, the Planning Commission recommends denial of ZMA-2015-09 Spring Hill Village Proffer Amendment for the following reasons:

1. Some reduction in cash proffer amounts may be in order based on looking at the school enrollments and capacities; but, the Commission at this point does not know what the reduced amount would be.
2. The recommendation of the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) of this reduced amount has not yet been fully analyzed by the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors; and, the additional information is still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago.
3. A full analysis should be conducted of the actual costs to the county of going forward with this development, and
4. The Board of Supervisors should set a new proffer policy, not use this project to set a precedent, and possibly consider repealing the current cash proffer policy while that is undertaken.

#2 is perhaps the most outlandish of these.  The proffer change was driven by a 2013 change in state code.  A full three years late Albemarle still has not obtained “the additional information still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago”?????  Based on this logic, the applicant is being punished because Albemarle County did not do their job.

In the meeting, the commissioners discussion started with school impacts and Commissioner Mac Lafferty again stated his belief that the action should go directly to the Board rather than the Planning Commission.  The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with Lafferty’s position.

Commissioner Bruce Dotson suggested the applicant, who is selling product at $600,000+, can afford the proffer.  The applicant indicated they can afford it but told the commission the previous proffer amount is now in violation of State law. The Free Enterprise Forum believes the fact that a project can afford it is not germane to the argument.

Tonight’s vote was unanimous 7-0 to recommend denial of the cash proffer amendment.

The repetitive arrogance of the Albemarle County Planning Commission to determine they are above the Code of Virginia is astounding.

Remembering the Planning Commission is merely advisory to the Board of Supervisors, the true question is will the current Board of Supervisors also choose to willfully violate state law?

Only time will tell.

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.

TJPDC Discusses Transportation With Greene PC

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Unlike urban areas in Virginia, rural localities do not have federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) instead their long range transportation planning is doTJPDCne via the state’s planning districts working directly with planning commissions and staff.

Wood Hudson, Senior Environmental Planner of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (TJPDC), addressed Greene County’s  Planning Commission at their April meeting. His goal was to inform the Planning Commission on the current Rural Long Range Transportation Planning (RLRTP) activities in Greene and to solicit feedback from the planning commission.

Several years ago, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) partnered with 20 Planning District Commissions to review their rural transportation programs. They developed Long Range Transportation Plans for rural areas to compliment plans in urban areas (MPOs). These included:

  • Identify transportation deficiencies and recommendations
  • Assist with comprehensive plan updates and traffic impact studies
  • Evaluate the effects of land use and development on the surrounding network
  • Establish programming of transportation improvements
  • Provide content and guidance for statewide transportation plans

The RLRTP is in the process of their update every five years to help serve as a valuable tool to attract dwindling transportation funds. Feedback from planning commissions is requested to help identify a county’s needs. The rest of the process should take 6-9 months so Greene’s feedback would be useful in the next month.

TJPDC has been working with local planning staff and VDOT to draft a project list. Much of this work is completed through TJPDC’s Rural Transportation Planning Technical (R-Tech) Committee.  The 2016 Chairman of R-Tech is Bart Svoboda – Greene County’s Planning Director.

Hudson provided a map of the county and project list divided into three categories – 1) new projects, 2) existing current projects and 3) existing projects scheduled in the future and asked that the commission provide feedback on the inclusion or exclusion of each project.

Greene Long Range Trans Plan

The existing project list includes work on US 33 to Rockingham County, US 33 from Route 230 to US 33 Bypass, US 29 from Albemarle County line to US 33 and US 29 at VA 616 – Carpenters Mill Road.

Chairman Jay Willer asked if the list of projects had been prioritized and who would determine the priorities VDOT or Greene County?

Hudson indicated that the projects will be ranked in the future after the list is completed. Hudson also said that the prioritization would be VDOT’s decision but the county can influence that decision based on their requirements.

Willer thanked Mr. Hudson for addressing the planning commission and looks forward to seeing projects completed in the next few years.

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

Spilt Fluvanna BOS Increases Tax Rate

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

It took a while, but the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted to raise real estate taxes for the upcoming year.  It took three motions for the majority of the supervisors to vote to make the real estate tax rate $0.917 per $100 assessed. Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) joined Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) voting in favor of the tax rate and associated budget. Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissented.

While less than requested, the budget that passed includes $1.1 million more for the schools, compared to the FY16 budget. $300,000 of that is slated in the Capital Improvements Plan for technology upgrades.  According to state code, the School Board has the final authority regarding their spending. The FY17 request from the School Board was $1.6 million.

The rest of the county budget increase includes additional funds for new positions on county staff, county staff pay increase and some modest increases for various county departments.

The budget didn’t pass easily. First, the supervisors discussed the tax rates they were individually comfortable passing. O’Brien and Booker advocated for $0.92 per $100 because it included the $1.1 million for the schools.

OBrien2014 photo credit Fluvanna County

Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

O’Brien noted there hasn’t been a large outcry on the advertised budget. He still mentioned the supervisors have to weigh the upcoming years.

“It isn’t going to get easier next year or the year after that. I understand that,” said O’Brien. He concluded if supervisors don’t do as much as they could for the schools this year, it would set deferred programs even further back.

Weaver and Eager advocated for no tax increase. Eager suggested there is no outcry because there is a sentiment that supervisors aren’t listening.

“I think a lot of people have given up,” said Eager.

Sheridan ended the discussion saying he heard residents say they understand the rate will rise but wanted a modest increase. He suggested $0.914 per $100. That would give schools $1 million.

O’Brien made a motion for Sheridan’s suggested $0.914. Booker slowly seconded the motion to bring it to a vote. It failed 3-2 with Booker joining Eager and Weaver voting against it.

Booker2014

Fluvanna Supervisor Mozell Booker

Booker viewed that extra $100,000 for schools as very important because it provided the opportunity to hire additional staff such as a psychologist.

Booker then moved a $0.92 rate with O’Brien seconding. That restored the $100,000 for the schools, added increases for county departments and included a small capital depreciation fund that would offset future replacement costs of buildings.

That motion failed on a 3-2 vote with Sheridan, Eager and Weaver voting against it.

O’Brien moved a $0.917 tax rate. The budget for $0.917 was the same as $0.92 but removed the capital depreciation fund. It also took $13,000 from the $1.1 million the schools were to receive so total county revenue would equal expenditures.

After calling for a vote, Booker and O’Brien voted in favor with Eager and Weaver voting against it. Sheridan announced it passed with the chairman voting in favor.

The CIP was unanimously approved. Included on it were $6 million of water projects and first priority projects around the county.

The vote on the budget was witnessed by many of the same people who watched the budget work sessions. Missing was general county residents. It was largely a process watched by interested parties such as county staff, constitutional officers, volunteer organizational leaders, volunteers on county boards and media. Most meetings were watched by less than a handful of people outside of those groups.

Also at the April 20 meeting, the supervisors unanimously approved a small home industry to operate on Bybee’s Church Road. Two home businesses related to natural healing.

The meeting ended with a discussion on scheduling who will be the chairperson on a rotating basis. Booker raised the point as a way to have the chairperson role rotate through the board.

Both Booker and O’Brien were concerned about the process of selecting a chairman this past year. Weaver said he had no issue with the way it worked.

State code requires local boards to elect a chairperson unless a chairperson is voted by the constituency. There could be an agreement how the chair will rotate, but it would still have to be voted on regularly.

The supervisors didn’t have any resolution on the item after discussion.  The next Board of Supervisors meeting is May 4 at 4 p.m.

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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

Fixing Albemarle ED — Step 1 Get Out Of The Way

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to The Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors April 19, 2016

Tonight, at your request, you have heard three presentations regarding local government’s role in economic development.

  • Planners want to “Create Centers for Livability and Economic Development”.
  • Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) explained their plans to address transitioning workforce needs
  • Albemarle’s own Director of Economic Development, Faith McClintic, described Economic Eco-systems as more than just buildings.

UnknownAfter all that, I have a simple question that actually dates back to the 1992 vice presidential debate, the Admiral Stockdale question – Why are we here?

What purpose does the Planning Commission have investigating the topic of Economic Development?

In what world, should the appointed planning commission, which is advisory to the Board of Supervisors on land use matters, be examining how we train the workforce – don’t we have an elected school board, and 4 members on the PVCC Board for this function.

Backdoor becomes front door 2Perhaps rather than having staff spend time preparing a PowerPoint about how they think “Centers for Livability and Economic Development” should be designed, perhaps they could be directed to proactively remove overly prescriptive zoning regulations that make it illegal to park customer cars in front of a business.  Current code philosophy is we don’t mind your business it’s your customers that are the problem (relegated parking).

Rather than asking what you can do to help PVCC train our workforce or helping the Economic Development Director to focus on the right businesses to come to Albemarle County, the Planning Commission (and Board of Supervisors) should DO THEIR JOB and focus on removing unnecessary regulatory barriers and streamlining the time (and money) consuming approval processes that doom many economic development projects before they even start.

Over the last four years, we have seen the accountability factor for our elected officials obfuscated by Citizen Councils and Planning Commission actions.  We continue to believe these unelected bodies have too much power in the approval process and should be disbanded.  Why not streamline the approval process for any project that already agrees with the community vetted Comprehensive Plan and send those proposals directly to the Board of Supervisors for action.

We have heard several horror stories of projects where businesses have walked away from Albemarle County after calculating the time and expense required to see an application from start to finish.

Albemarle SP_Review_Process_Flowchart.pdf

The Free Enterprise Forum understands it is human nature to want to do “something” about a perceived problem.  Perhaps the best way to examine the problem is to recognize your role in the problem and heal thyself.

The best way for Albemarle County to increase economic development is to follow rule number 1 and get out of the way.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, Free Enterprise Forum, Getty Images

Changing Albemarle’s Obstructionist Culture

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBronco photo credit UVA media relations

Late last year when the University of Virginia hired Bronco Mendenhall as their new football coach from Brigham Young University, he brought with him great expectations and a promise of culture change.

In four short months, he  has made his point clear according to an Andrew Ramspacher article in the Daily Progress:

“There will be no numbers on the jerseys in the spring,” Mendenhall said Monday. “Nothing on the helmets, other than their names on the front.” …Welcome to the Mendenhall era in Charlottesville, where everything is earned.

While Virginia Football has yet to win (or even play) a single game under Mendenhall, his passionate attention to detailed accountability has made a significant impact on the culture of the football organization.

Albemarle County may be in the same place as Virginia Football was in late December as they are in the process of replacing a significant portion of its senior staff.  County Attorney, Chief of Police, County Engineer, County Clerk, Planning Director and County Assessor are all in the midst of transitioning.

Does Albemarle senior staff matter as much as Virginia’s Head Football Coach?

The short answer is yes.

While most elected supervisors may last four, eight or perhaps twelve years, the majority of Albemarle’s well compensated senior staff has 20+ years of service.

As the Board of Supervisors and County Executive contemplate the replacement of long tenured staff, what is the goal of these critical hires?

The Free Enterprise Forum has long compared the ideal staff role in the government approval process to be analogous to a mortgage broker – yes the process is daunting but staff’s job is to see you through it.

Today, too often, staff’s answer seems to be “no one ever got fired for saying no to a new project”.

Considering Albemarle’s newly  found economic development passion, should the County Executive and Board of Supervisors look for an outsider, Mendenhall-like, Senior staff change to lead the paradigm shift and finally alter Albemarle’s well known culture of obstructionism?

If Albemarle suddenly became a place where deals get done in rapid pace how might that impact quality development in the development areas?

Alternatively, might Newton’s first law of inertia prove to be too strong to attract a top notch change agent?

Is Albemarle really ready to embrace the change they need to be truly competitive in the economic development arena?

If Albemarle is willing to make a cultural shift welcoming new business activity (and jobs) to the development area – they should look beyond the County office building for candidates for senior staff.  The most innovative candidates will likely come from other successful local governments and the private sector.

This really leaves four key questions:

Does the County Executive and the Board of Supervisors have a vision for a new, economically vibrant, job rich Albemarle County?

Can these senior staff hires significantly advance such a vision?

Will Albemarle reform the well documented obstructionist culture?  Does it want to?

Once again only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: UVA Media Relations

Greene Unveils New Web Presence

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County Administrator John Barkley gave his report to the Board of Supervisor’s at their first April meeting. The highlight of his report was the new County website . The website is much more user friendly and allows more transactions to be performed on line than in the past. In addition, it is much better organized and a separate tab on “how do I….” to help users find information they are seeking.

A major enhancement to financial information to the public is the link to three financial reports – 1) March Financial Reports, 2) YTD Expenditure Summary and 3) AP 4-12-16.  The one comment from the public was thanking the Board of Supervisors for making this data available on the county website.

image

In addition to the website, Barkley updated the Board on several other issues. He announced that the new budget and tax rate (which has a 2.5 cent increase) has been advertised and there will be a public hearing on April 26th starting at 6:30 pm at the William Monroe High School auditorium.  .

The reservoir project continues forward with two more properties needed to be acquired to complete the purchase of land required. Financing scenarios are being reviewed and comparing those to neighboring counties and should be presented to the Board in May or June.

The last major issue that Mr. Barkley covered was that the county is reviewing several vendors to provide live streaming video of the Board of Supervisor meetings so that citizens can view the meeting without physically attending to the meeting.

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

Double Standard Allows Albemarle To Flex Power Over Property Rights

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last week, without so much as a public input session – Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors empowered themselves to stomp on property rights – make repairs or even demolish homes they  determine to be “blighted”.

All of this is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t make it right – and the public has no idea it is going on – there have been no community meetings or outreach efforts.

Please let me explain.

From the staff report:

Virginia Code § 36-49.1:1 enables localities to identify and remedy “spot blight.” Virginia Code § 36-3 defines “blighted property” as:
“[A]ny individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that endangers the public’s health , safety, or welfare because the structure or improvement upon the property is dilapidated, deteriorated, or violates minimum health or safety standards, or any structure or improvement previously designated as blighted pursuant to § 36-49.1:1, under the process for determination of ‘spot blight.’”

This enabling authority authorizes a locality’s chief executive (or designee) to determine that a property is blighted, and require the owner to develop an abatement plan within 30 days. If the owner fails to respond within 30 days with an acceptable abatement plan, the chief executive may request that the Board adopt a specific uncodified ordinance declaring the property as blighted.

Once the owner has been provided written notice of the ordinance and the locality’s abatement plan, the locality may carry out the approved plan to repair or acquire and dispose of the property. If the ordinance is adopted by the Board, the locality shall have a lien on the property to recover its costs of repairing or acquiring property under an approved spot blight abatement plan. Emphasis Added – nw

spot blight flyerThe Free Enterprise Forum was made aware of several instances of so called “blighted properties” in Albemarle County (image left). 

Despite photos showing trees growing through homes, we remain very concerned at the potential abuse of this “blight” provision.  

But even more astounding than the trampling of landowners’ property rights, is the lack of public engagement by the Board.  If a commercial property owner wants to make a change in their site plan (move a bus stop, etc.) – it requires a vast series of public meetings.

Albemarle prides itself on their high level of citizen engagement required for development applications (see flow chart below).  We have raised concerns that these meetings are no more than political cover for the elected officials.

Albemarle SP_Review_Process_Flowchart.pdf

Community meetings, Community Council meetings, public hears at both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are all part of the development review process.

The stated goal of this process is to provide citizens the opportunity to know about proposed changes in their community that may impact their property.

Why was this process not followed for the blight discussion?

Could it be that the Supervisors only use the “community process” when it conveniently slows the process?

If the Supervisors find this whole public engagement thing too inconvenient for their “important” issues, well that clearly is Albemarle’s double standard.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Chairman Sheridan Wields Tax Rate Swing Vote

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors budget season is winding down and guesses where the vote will end are still speculating.

Throughout all the work sessions and discussion, there are still obvious divisions on where the supervisors sit on the issue.

Conservatives Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) are standing pat at not raising taxes. The current real estate tax rate is $0.899 per $100 of assessed value. The personal property tax rate is $4.35 per $100 of assessed value.

"You just can’t continually raise rates every year," said Weaver at the April 6 board meeting. "You can’t do that."

Eager added, "I think [raising rates] is a bad precedent…There’s no end."

Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) have been quite open to a $0.92 real estate tax rate.

A tax increase of 2.1 pennies would fund new positions in the Sheriff’s Office, E-911, Convenience Center, Social Services and Library. It would include a pay increase for staff, establish a capital depreciation fund, matching grand funding for a commercial kitchen, increase fire and rescue funding and allow more legal advertising of county functions.

Under the $0.92 tax rate, schools would get $700,000 additional funding over last year’s base and $300,000 for technology upgrades will go into the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

No raise in tax rates means all of the above does not happen. Schools would only get $400,000 over last year’s funding and the $300,000 for technology would still stay in the CIP.

There is still $170,000 in the staff’s proposed allocation of a flat tax rate budget to move some things around.

It seems Eager and Weaver are tied together as Booker and O’Brien are.

Sheridan2014That leaves Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) as the tie breaking vote. The biggest issue? Last month he asked to see a budget with a $0.91 tax rate.

Staff has recommended a tax rate of either $0.914 or $0.92. The difference between the two are $171,000.

The supervisors spent a lot of time on the budget only to be in the predictable position of Eager/Weaver and Booker/O’Brien pairing together.

The board will meet on April 13 at 7 p.m. for a public hearing on the budget and CIP. On April 20 the supervisors are slated to vote on the budget.

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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

“Missed It By That Much” – Albemarle Neuters A Good Idea

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

maxwellsmart_missed_it_by_that_much

It only took only ninety days to neuter a good idea.

Back on January 6th – in their very first meeting as a newly constituted board, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution of intent that promised to reform and streamline changes to rezoning applications.

The resolution was eminently clear:

WHEREAS, in order to improve the efficiency of applications that do not affect use or density, it may be desirable to amend the regulations in Albemarle County Code 18-33.4 and 18-35.1 pertaining to the application and procedural requirements as well as the fees for such rezonings.

The Free Enterprise Forum saw this as a huge step forward.

If there were adjustments to a rezoning that did not affect use or density a streamlined process could accelerate projects and in term foster positive economic development.  We believed that the state mandated revisions to cash proffers (both 2013 and 2016) clearly fell into this category.

This would mean their would be a fair and efficient manner to amend existing rezonings to fit current state law regarding cash proffers – that’s a good thing right?

Imagine our surprise when staff much more narrowly interpreted the Supervisors’ action and came out with a gauntlet of conditions to be applied to applicants seeking a simplified review:

To be consistent and objective in determining whether to grant a request that is eligible for a simplified application process, the Board will consider the following factors relevant to the proposed proffer amendment:

o Was the proffer as originally provided material to the approval of the original rezoning?

o Does the proposed proffer amendment have a potential impact on adjacent properties not anticipated with the original rezoning?

o Has development already occurred within the rezoned area for which current residents/businesses would have relied on the proffer or for which an amendment to the proffer would materially affect them?

o Is there a general public interest in the proffer as originally accepted that would be materially affected by the requested amendment?

Surely, by this ridiculously high standard, the staff must not think many applications would meet this standard?

Nope.

In public testimony to the Planning Commission, staff indicated they thought this might be used twice a year.  Specifically, Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner stated Cash Proffer amendments would not be recommended by staff for the more efficient review.

As the only member of the public to speak on this issue at the Planning Commission last month, I was dumbfounded by staff’s limitations on what seemed like a really good idea.  Quite honestly, it is like building a car and leaving off the wheels.Car-Without-Wheels-013

Rather than streamlining the onerous and cumbersome rezoning amendment process, staff’s interpretation discourages use of the expedited review AND further encourages the use of the Planning Commission (and the Community Councils) as political cover for the Board of Supervisors.

Further, such a preponderance of public hearings on state mandated proffer amendments, creates a false citizen expectation as Albemarle is restricted by state law on their cash proffer calculation.  But the Planning Commission will hear from citizens that the rezonings, that are an actualization of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan, do not pay for themselves and should be rejected.

The Planning Commission, if past is prologue, will ignore the law and send an improper (and potentially illegal if acted upon) recommendation for denial to the Board of Supervisors. (See Spring Hill)

But all is not lost.

At the public hearing Wednesday night, the Board could see the error in the staff interpretation and request all proffer amendments regularly be sent directly for Board action?

This would certainly streamline getting to the Board but would not guarantee a decision.

Based on this Board’s proclivity for Planning Commission input (and political cover), the realist in me anticipates few if any amendments would be approved but would rather be referred back to the Planning Commission for their consideration – thus neutering the entire streamlining idea.  “Missed it by that much” as Maxwell smart used to say.

Perhaps making it easier to build in the development areas wasn’t such a good idea after all – of course by right rural area residential parcels have no such regulatory barriers.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Kolzmen.kz, CBS Television Distributor