Monthly Archives: June, 2016

July 1, 2016 – Unleashing Community’s Economic Power?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Today’s most radical ideas, may be commonsensical tomorrow.

RADICAL IDEA 1 – What if our zoning agreed with the community vetted Comprehensive Plan?

RADICAL IDEA 2 – What if local businesses looking to expand could do so without a year+ rezoning process?

RADICAL IDEA 3 – What if such an increasing commercial development increased the community’s job opportunities and tax base?

Each of these three “RADICAL” ideas could be made possible, perhaps even probable after July 1, 2016.

Please let me explain.

As many Forum Watch readers know, several new laws  go into effect on July 1st.  Perhaps the most significant to the work of the Free Enterprise Forum is proffer reform.  The hard fought reforms require “voluntary” proffers to have a specific, direct and material benefit to the residents who indirectly pay them.

Localities across the Commonwealth are wrestling with how to best meet the fairness demanded by the new code.  Albemarle County has repealed its cash proffer policy and has indicated it will no longer seek to mandate 15% of all new housing units be “affordable”.

While we opposed all cash proffers and affordable housing proffers since their inception, we choose today not to just celebrate this important victory but to also contemplate how the removal of this new home buyer punishment might actually free the community vetted comprehensive plan and increase economic vitality.

Image result for proactive As we have quietly discussed these ideas, there are some in local governments that are starting to recognize how removing the yoke of proffers makes PROACTIVE REZONING much more palatable.

Proactive rezoning is when a locality (with owner consent) takes the initiative and rezones land to match their comprehensive plan designation.  In practice, it makes it easier to develop to the uses and densities expressed in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

Proactive rezoning requires political will and in smaller cases (ie: Downtown Crozet District) often comes with flexible form based zoning regulations that dictate the shape of future development while preserving owners ability to utilize the code flexibly.  The  code is very clear:

The purpose of the Downtown Crozet District (hereinafter referred to as the “DCD”) is to establish a district in which traditional downtown development, as described for the CT6 Urban Core and CT5 Urban Center transects in the Crozet master plan, will occur.

To these ends, the DCD provides for flexibility and variety of development for retail, service, and civic uses with light industrial and residential uses as secondary uses. The regulations for the DCD are intended to promote a development form and character that is different from typical suburban development allowed by conventional zoning, and are also intended to: (i) promote the economic and social vitality and diversity of downtown Crozet; (ii) implement the Crozet master plan for the downtown area of Crozet so that it may serve as the commercial hub of Crozet and its environs; (iii) provide a greater mix of uses in downtown Crozet, including increased employment; (iv) facilitate infill and redevelopment; (v) increase the utility of the land; (vi) retain the uniquely diverse character of Crozet; and (vii) promote a pedestrian-friendly environment.

These regulations are intended to provide maximum flexibility in establishing uses and structures in order to implement the relevant policies of the Crozet master plan. [emphasis added-nw]

Prior to July 1, opponents of proactive rezoning used the incorrectImage result for ALbemarle rezoning rationale that landowners, through the extortion like proffer process, would fund the infrastructure needs of the entire community in order to get the rezoning they needed – the reality is that this has never been the case.

If proffers are taken off the table and a landowner still must meet all local, state and federal regulations prior to site plan approval, why then shouldn’t our zoning match our Comprehensive Plan?

Could it be that retaining the current subjective legislative review allows those opposed to specific projects (regardless of their accordance with the Comprehensive Plan) an opportunity to scuttle the community vision for the future?

Do citizens actively fight the implementation of the community approved Comprehensive Plan?  — You bet.

According to the Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) minutes (February 2017) regarding a project that met the targeted population density in the Master Plan and is in the designated development area:

Leslie said that she thought the development is not at the right place. There would be too much traffic and at some point the CCAC needs to recommend that traffic and other infrastructure issues be dealt with before there is more growth.  Phil said that he opposes the project on the basis of density, and John Savage said that it is inconsistent with other uses along Route 250 there. [emphasis added-nw]

Wait a minute – I thought this was the group charged with implementing the Master Plan for increase density not opposing it?

While we take no position on this specific rezoning, this type of  obstructionism prevents the vision of the comprehensive plan from becoming a reality.

Proactively rezoning land for the density and uses determined in the comprehensive plan will significantly reduce the time it takes for a project to be approved without sacrificing existing protection for the community.

The time has come to make the zoning code match the aspirational ideals of the Comprehensive Plan.  Proactive Rezoning would significantly reduce the barriers to develop in the development areas and would unleash the economic power of the Community’s Vision.

Will any locality seize this powerful economic opportunity?

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: Albemarle County, Charlottesville Tomorrowhttp://wrightoncomputers.com.au

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Fluvanna Increases E-911 Coverage

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted on June 15 to improve the E-911 radio project by building a tall tower and eliminating two smaller towers.

The change includes building a 300-foot tower on the property of old Columbia School. This new tower will match the lattice towers at the Sheriff’s Office and the Dominion Bremo power plant. This latest change will also increase the coverage of the radio project.

Two other changes were approved on June 15: erosion and sentiment control at the Sheriff’s Office tower location and upgrades to the communication center.

On June 1 the supervisors approved the first change order to build two county owned towers, eliminating the need to rent space on Carter Mountain. One tower will be in the Lake Monticello area and the other will be on the county owned old landfill. Both towers will be lattice towers.

These change orders have increased the project by $1.4 million. The biggest bulk, approximately $1.2 million, has been the building of the three towers.

Owning the towers does decrease the annual costs of the radio system because the county does not have to lease tower space. The county also could start selling space on its towers to cellular service providers.

Fluvanna entered into a lease agreement to pay for the original $6.5 million E-911 radio project even though the county savings had cash on hand. Staff feels it could issue a bond that includes the $6.5 million plus all of the change orders for a lower interest rate than the lease.

Also on June 15 the supervisors approved an elevator maintenance contract with a cost of $6,900 per year. This past year the county spent over $19,000 on items that will now be covered in the contract.

Supervisors approved making a part-time position in Social Services full time. The state is partially funding the benefit programs specialist.

The public works director informed the supervisors the county had incorrectly billing the 25 customers on the Palmyra sewage plant. Customers were under billed approximately $7.65 each month since July 2008.

The county will not try to correct past bills but will start charging correctly this July. The estimated increase in collections from the 25 customers will be approximately $1,850. Most of the sewer system is used by public entities.

The only non-unanimous action of the night was reimbursement of $6,750 to a resident of Taylor Ridge. At the previous meeting the supervisors approved taking the Taylor Ridge roads into the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) system, making them public roads.

VDOT charged an acceptance fee that the Hutcherson family paid outright to finally get the roads approved. Don Weaver (Cunningham District) voted against reimbursing the Hutchersons because he felt it was an expense the county shouldn’t bear. It passed 4-1.

The next supervisor meeting date is a doubleheader. July will have just one meeting date. On July 6 supervisors will have a regular 4 p.m. session that will then be followed by a 7 p.m. regular session. There will be no second meeting date in July.

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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

$52.5 Million Dollar Indecent Proposal – Albemarle Backs Off Threat to Wedding Industry

By. Neil Williamson, President

Weddings should be celebrated.  Regardless of the ceremony or the participants weddings are a joyful time that from a public policy perspective generate significant economic activity absent the demand for significant public services (school, fire, police).  Last week, Albemarle County considered an “Indecent Proposal” that would have drastically limiting the frequency of events on rural lands (95% of the county).

Please let me explain.

Last Tuesday evening, a rare joint meeting of the Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors heard a great deal from both wedding venues and the vendors that support them.  Albemarle staff had prepared a proposed ordinance that, among other things, would limit the ability of wineries, breweries and distilleries to 24 events a year.  In the end the supervisors backed away from the most restrictive portion of the ‘indecent proposal’.

The testimony Tuesday was insightful and passionate.    Wedding Photographer Jen Fariello asked pointedly “Why are weddings being attacked?”  Wedding planner Adam Donovan-Groves [name correction 9:01 6/20 nw] told of one recent wedding whose local fiscal impact exceeded $250,000 musicians, gift packs, invitations, transportation, jewelry, photographer, etc.

During the discussion, I unscientifically developed a simple back of the envelope calculation regarding local wedding annual economic impact:

$10,000 wedding cost (likely low)

50% of 200 guests are from out of town 1 hotel night stay ($150) + meals ($100)

$10,000+[(200/2)*$250] = $35,000

If we factor in 20 Saturdays in wedding season and 75 wedding venues a VERY conservative wedding economic impact is $52,500,000

Anna Quillen of a transportation company explained the impact was significantly larger than just the venues;  her job (and her employee) are interdependent on the wedding industry.  Charlotte Shelton of Albemarle Ciderworks expressed her concern that  small enterprises need event revenue to be economically viable.  Sarah Henley of Henley Orchards explained that events help keep farms sustainable and in family ownership.

There were also a number of rural landowners who were concerned with the potential proliferation of event venues across the rural landscape.  One Free Union resident suggested “Don’t overlook the economic value of the family farm in this community”.

After about an hour and a half of testimony the issue came back to the joint work session for discussion.

Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested creating an objective sliding scale  grading system for scoring a potential event venue for evaluation.  Commissioner ‘Mac’ Lafferty suggested requiring such a scale might create “a chilling effect” on the expansion of wedding venues in Albemarle County.

Supervisor Norman Dill indicated his concern that “So many of these rules will limit creativity”.  Dill also said setting a cap for the number of events for only new entrants is unfair.

The group also discussed the concern worried about unintended consequences of mandating paved roads in rural areas where neighbors don’t want their roads paved.

Supervisor Brad Sheffield asked directly if the wineries are doing such a good job self policing, is this a solution in search of a problem.

The result of the work session was to move forward with an ordinance that more directly ties the event space to the agricultural use on the property but would not limit the number of events a parcel could hold.  Additional consideration regarding amplified music and set backs will also be a part of the draft ordinance.  Staff hopes to bring such an ordinance to stakeholders late this summer and the Planning Commission in early fall.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this long (4 hour) work session format was helpful.  Absent the Supervisors’ direct input, we believe the event control portion of the indecent staff proposal would have moved forward.

We are hopefully optimistic that the latest controls being discussed don’t hinder this vibrant rural economic engine that is helping to keep rural Albemarle economically and environmentally sustainable.

The revised proposal has been made, however the key  question remains — will Albemarle say “I do”  — that’s the $52.5 million dollar question.

Stay tuned.

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: Aaron Watson Photography,  Keswick Vineyards, Albemarle Ciderworks, Celestial Sights Photography, Jack Looney Photography.

Greene Supervisors Hear From Blue Ridge Heritage Project

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Nearly ninety years after the Virginia state [not federal] (correction 6/17 nw) government utilized eminent domain to create the Shenandoah National Park, local efforts are  memorializing the men, women, children, churches, and businesses who were literally pushed off the mountain.

The Blue Ridge Heritage Project (BRHP) is a grassroots campaign to erect memorial stone chimneys in the eight counties surrounding the Shenandoah National Park to commemorate the sacrifices made by families forced to move from their homes when the park was created

Jim Lawson, co-chair of the local steering committee of the BRHP, addressed the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their June 14 meeting.

The Stanardsville Town Council already provided their support for the memorial. The presentation to the Supervisors tried to explain why the BRH wants to honor the people that were displaced and also want to educate the public of what took place.

The total Greene County displacement was made up of 56 families, 123 landowners, 4image schools, 4 churches and many businesses such as stores and mills. In addition, 6 individuals were granted lifetime rights due to their age. No one sold their property voluntarily in Greene. The symbol chosen for the exhibit is a chimney since that is the only part of any structure that still exists from that time.

The proposed plaque would list the names of the 56 families and would be placed at the county administrative building in Stanardsville. In addition, there would be kiosks in the county that would exhibit educational display panels. The cost the project to Greene County would be nothing – the BRH will finance the total cost of the project and currently has about 25% raised along with pledges already made. image

Lawson presented a petition with 250 signatures that have been gathered in the past two weeks to the Supervisors asking them for their support. Chairman Bill Martin asked what BRH would like the supervisors to do.

Lawson just asked that the county work with them to have the Planning Department identify a proper location for the plaque and the kiosks and finally asked that the Supervisors pass a resolution to approve the placing of the memorials at a future meeting.

No action was taken on this issue at the June 15 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

Albemarle BOS Playing Fast and Loose with Earlysville Road

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentDont close Earlysville Road

With less than 60 days of experience of reduced tuck speeds on Earlysville Road and ignoring an $7,900 study to the contrary, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors again seems poised to close a portion of the road to trucks.

This clearly reminds me of Yogi Berra’s “Deja Vu all over again”

Please let me explain.

We wrote extensively about this issue the week of the March 2016 public hearing [Ignoring  Earlysville Evidence].  Minutes prior to the required public hearing on this issue, Supervisor Brad Sheffield suggested the lower speed limit as a compromise and asked speakers to address this option.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs’ article on the Supervisors meeting clearly outlined the issues –

About 20 people spoke during a public hearing Wednesday, with the majority arguing against the ban on through trucks between Woodlands and Dickerson roads.
“The reality is that Route 743 is a major north-south artery built with state and federal dollars,” said Blair Williamson, owner of the S.L. Williamson asphalt paving company.
More than 120 people who live on the road had signed a petition asking the county to request permission from state officials to enact the ban. …
As part of the staff analysis, the firm EPR was paid $7,900 to conduct a study of the road last spring.
The review counted traffic and analyzed Virginia Department of Transportation crash data for a three-year period. The counts showed that vehicles with more than three axles ranged between 0.19 and 1.49 percent of daily traffic during the week and that trucks with two axles ranged between 12.72 percent and 16.81 percent.
There were 60 vehicular wrecks between 2012 and 2015 but only one of these involved a truck. [Emphasis Added – NW]

At the end of the public hearing, after the board discussion made it clear the request for restriction did not have the support of the majority of the Board members, Supervisor Ann Mallek indicated that she preferred to defer the agenda item to see how the reduced speed concept worked and then they would not have to be bothered with another public hearing.

This was a rather shrewd political move — mollify the people who took time out to their evening to speak in opposition (or in support) then put it on an agenda in the early summer when folks are less likely to return to express their opinions.  Why would they be less likely — because there is NOT a public hearing required prior to action.

Considering the incredible hoops that this community has been put through regarding a public process for transportation projects, I must say I am disappointed by this fast and loose (but legal) political maneuvering.

Based on the material available to the public there is not significantly new data coming before the board regarding the impact of the speed restrictions.  It seems like the only thing that will be different on June 8th from March 8th is there will be no public hearing and likely not much public input.

Perhaps that was the idea all along.

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.