Albemarle as Princess Elsa

By. Neil Williamson, President

frozen_elsa-wideJust as in the 2013 Disney smash movie, last night the Albemarle Supervisors in a couple of split votes  have effectively “Frozen” new residential development.

The end result will, in due course, significantly increase housing costs and pressure on the rural area and by right projects.  Chasing the elusive cash proffer, Albemarle may lose the intent of its  community vision as expressed in the Comprehensive Plan. And all of this could have been avoided.

Please let me explain.

All of this is in response to a new state law (effective July 1, 2016) that was created to make proffers better reflect the specific impacts of a proposed residential development.  The goal of the legislation is to make cash proffers fair.

Unlike the 2013 state proffer reform that Albemarle County adroitly avoided via years of Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) meetings (18) followed by no action, the 2016 law put Albemarle into a flurry of activity ending with the repeal of their cash proffer policy but not the elimination of cash proffers.

It is becoming clear this strategic repeal of the soon to be illegal proffer policy was designed and timed not to facilitate new development but instead to provide Albemarle questionable legal leverage to reject cash proffer amendments filed prior to July.

As a result of this legal slight of hand, Albemarle seems to be eager to delay or deny any application that might set precedent due to any  cash proffers.

Further there are indications that Albemarle will seek to impose new higher fees to capture the staff time required to assess and calculate the exacting amount of financial impact of a development on the four permitted areas: education, transportation, public safety and parks.

This untimely chill on new residential development comes the same day as the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) market report (pdf) is released indicating:

Inventories are now one-third lower than the peak levels of 2010, when there were 2,812 active listings at mid-year and home prices were still searching for a bottom. At that point, there were 13.1 months of supply in the region and prices still had a few years left before bottoming out. Currently, the 1,836 active listings represent 7.3 months of supply given the average sales pace of the last twelve months. Still a buyer’s market, but trending towards balance compared to the 9.4 months of supply available last year.

If inventory is tightening and the supply of new homes is being “frozen” what does market economics predict regarding future housing affordability?

Absent proactive rezoning, such dramatically increasing development fees and dubious prospects for future rezonings will force many developers to either develop using stale zoning with in the development areas or build in the rural areas.

As we stated in our 2013 White Paper – Contradictory Consequences(pdf):

In addition cash proffers are an unreliable way to fund infrastructure spending.  Forecasting cash proffer revenue is much like predicting snow in Central Virginia, localities do not know when it is coming, how much they are actually going to get or when it will stop. Cash proffers rarely, if ever, total the amounts localities are banking on.

Based on this research, we believe local governments are starting to recognize the negative impacts of cash proffers. Localities are finding that just because the state legislature may empower the ability to collect cash proffers in may not be in the localities best interest to collect them.

The elimination of cash proffers will promote better community design and encourage new home construction invigorating the economic vitality of all localities

Cash proffers have produced a plethora of Contradictory Consequences without achieving significant benefit. Now is the time to repeal this rezoning ransom.

Albemarle is not alone reprising the role of Princess Elsa in this sad, cold, housing limiting  drama.  We have heard reports of similar “Freeze Everything” response to the new proffer reform from local governments across the Commonwealth.

While there are undoubtedly some who welcome this result, the Free Enterprise Forum believes that in time, just as in the movie, someone will come along and fix this problem, likely via a lawsuit forcing the Supervisors to do what they should have done with cash proffers in the first place:

Image result for let it go frozen

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Neil 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: Disney, memecrunch.com

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