FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
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?
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.
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.
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 Credits: Kolzmen.kz, CBS Television Distributor