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

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