Monthly Archives: September, 2016

Greene Residents Ask for VDOT Road Relief

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In a shift from previous years, the Greene County Board of Supervisors now starts, rather than ends, their meetings with ‘Matters from the public not on the agenda for public hearing’.  The Free Enterprise Forum endorsed the change as it empowers citizens to bring issues directly to the Board at a predictable, and reasonable, time; prior to board discussion and decision on agenda items.

Tuesday night (9/27/16) nine residents of Golden Hills Subdivision took the ‘Matters from the Public’ speaking opportunity to brief the Board about the inability to have the maintenance of Wood Drive and Haney Road in their residential development taken over by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). While on the agenda as a discussion item, the reordered ‘matters from the public’ period provided important citizen input opportunity.

The issues that the speakers addressed date back to when the development started and the developer sold the lots with the understanding that there would not be a Home Owners Association (HOA) in the development.  In 1990, as a part of the land development,  the developer posted bonds worth $220,000 and those were twice reduced to $50,000 in November, 1991 and further reduced to $20,000 in November, 1993.

golden-hills

The remaining $20,000 bond was called by Greene County in February, 2003.  In an attempt to bring the road up to VDOT standards, between 2004 and 2010 Greene County spent $27,972 for drainage, grading and other work thereby consuming more than the $20,000.

Unfortunately, all the landowners along the road didn’t sign the plat which is one of the requirements to have VDOT take over the road and the developer passed away.

The residents argued that the County shouldn’t have reduced the bond until the work had been completed.  Many of the speakers gave examples of the problems with the roads  including the many potholes.  Speakers suggested that former Board of Supervisors betrayed them, when it snows the potholes can’t be seen and it is very damaging to their vehicles and kids are now required to walk to the end of the road to get on the school bus, since they bus won’t drive down the road for fear of the potholes doing damage to the buses. [School buses are actually legally prohibited from traveling on roads that are not part of the state system – NW]

Other residents feel that their homes have declined in value due to the poor condition of the roads.  One gave a specific example of receiving an offer with a deduction of $10,000 due to the condition of the roads.  Another resident had a severe medical condition and was fearful that had it been in the winter the ambulance would not have been able to reach his home.

Vice-Chairman Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville District) understands that the road building bond process VDOT-logo_thumb.jpghas changed and that now all of the deposit would not be released until the road was taken over by VDOT.  Unfortunately the $20,000 wouldn’t cover the cost (even if it was still available) that it would take to get the road up to current VDOT standards  and that it would probably cost in excess of $100,000 to bring the road up to VDOT standards.

Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardville District) asked Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda who is responsible to get all of the landowners to sign to get the road taken over by VDOT?  Mr. Svoboda explained that it is the developer’s responsibility but that didn’t occur before he passed away.

Martin stated that this situation is unfortunate and that the residents are suffering because the process didn’t work as intended when the development was originally constructed.

Regarding concerns of transparency, he further explained that the Supervisors discussed this issue in closed session when there was a possibility of being sued over the issue.  Martin believes that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were complied with and information was offered even though not accepted.

The Supervisors expressed their understanding of the residents’ frustration but explained that they could not set a precedent of spending public funds on a private road without the risk of other communities making similar requests.

Martin asked for any final comments from County Administrator John Barkley.  Barkley suggested creating an HOA or working with VDOT to see what programs they can offer the homeowners.  Finally, Martin suggested that there might be grant funds available that could help the homeowners.  There was no formal action by the Board of Supervisors since this was strictly a discussion item with the comments coming during the matters from the public portion of 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

Photo Credits: Independent American Communities

Fluvanna Projects $1.6 Million Budget Surplus

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved keeping the pay plan as it passed earlier in the budget season.

Because of state shortfalls the county will cover the $13,421 from the board’s contingency fund. The item was discussed on three separate times, had three motions and recorded two votes. The final approval vote was 3-2 with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) and Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) voting against it.

Also at the September 21 meeting, the supervisors received two items of good news about last year’s budget.

County staff is projecting a $1.6 million surplus as they finish closing out the books. All departments expended 90 percent to 100 percent of their allotted budget.

“I think it is a great reflection of the job you all are doing,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

Weaver suggested next year the county could lower the tax rate because of the surplus. Departments have already requested over $100,000 of carryover items that the supervisors will have to approve.

Also, for the first time in a long time the Fork Union Sanitary District ended the year with a slight surplus, totaling almost $13,000. FUSD even accomplished the task while paying back $18,000 worth of the no interest loan the county gave the water system over the years.

“This is really a time to celebrate,” said Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

The water rates were increased over a year ago. Last fiscal year was the first full year of the increased rates. Staff also discouraged customers of continually accumulating late fees by shutting off water service sooner. The issue with continual late fees is the bill becomes insurmountable.

The supervisors did approve a timber management plan for 94 acres behind the Fork Union Community Center and 96 acres at the old landfill.

The county will sell the timber. Both tracts were previously harvested and replanted. After being clear cut, there will be another replant of the loblolly pines. In about 15 years the county could thin the forest to help it grow. In 30 years the land will be ready for another full harvest.

During unfinished business, the supervisors waived their attorney-client privilege in regards to the lawyers used for the Davenport case. In 2015 lawyers, including county attorney Fred Payne, were sued by Davenport. The county waived the privilege for 35 specific questions.

The next Board of Supervisors is October 5 at 4 p.m.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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

‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm as its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea.  Please let me explain.

C-ville writer Samantha Baars found in the last six years significant taxpayer money has poured into Crozet:

“But Kyle Redinger, the developer of Adelaide, a proposed 80-unit neighborhood adjacent to the Cory Farm subdivision on Route 250, disagrees. He notes that Albemarle has invested 40 percent of its capital improvement money, or at least $29 million since 2010, in Crozet, but only 5 percent of the county’s population lives there.”

Despite such investment, some vocal members of the Crozet community continue to believe the growth that is currently contemplated by the comprehensive plan is too dense and too intense.

Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach suggested at a recent Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting that the unelected Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) plans to rewrite their master plan on their own. The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that this “independent citizen activity” may become an illegally constructed defacto Master Plan that all future projects are measured against.

For those unaware, Master Plans are a part of the legally mandated Comprehensive Plan and are generally prepared by professional planners through a deliberate, transparent, public process that includes all stakeholders (i.e. neighbors, businesses, environmental activists, etc.).

It is not surprising that Loach, a longtime CCAC advocate, would be supportive of ignoring the established public process in favor of “snob zoning”.  As a commissioner Loach famously stated that he could not ever see a circumstance where he would vote in favor of a project that the CCAC did not support.  While I recall Loach voting in favor of every Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that included many Crozet items, I cannot recall a single Crozet development project that he supported during his years on the Planning Commission.  Such blind allegiance to an unelected neighborhood association precludes the planning commission process and perpetuates a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone (BANANA) planning philosophy.

It goes far beyond master planning.  Long ago the CCAC (more than any other Citizen Council) unilaterally expanded their charge from being an advisory body to a mandated hurdle for any and all Crozet development proposals.  As this change was strongly supported by the subsequent votes of elected and appointed positions, the body grown further embolden to the point of reinventing elementary school math.

Recently the CCAC opposed a development project (the above mentioned Adelaide) based on its non-conformity to the Comprehensive Plan density.  A review of the Mater Plan showed the area as 3-6 units per acre and the Adelaide proposal called for 5.5 units an acre.  I am not sure how the CCAC can find that 5.5 is not between 3 and 6.  To be clear the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this particular project but we do wonder in what universe 5.5 is not between three and six.

In an Adelaide meeting earlier this year, one planning commissioner stated that Crozet neighbors had voiced concerns about their children playing with those children from attached housing.  If this is starting to sound like class warfare (or discrimination), it should.

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgIn her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations. Prevost reports such NIMBYism clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were. [emphasis added-nw]

The question then becomes if Crozet wants to preserve its small town charm and restrict population growth – when (and how) will they pay Albemarle County back for the $29 million taxpayer dollars expended over the last six years to make it a desirable development area?

Or might they embrace the change that has been vetted by the community and work to make the anticipated population growth work well with the existing community?

Or perhaps Albemarle will rollover to the vocal NIMBY mentality and choose to recognize an illegally developed Master Plan that fails to balance the many competing priorities of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

As usual we are left with more questions than answers.

Only time (and politics) will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

 

Greene Planning Reviews Capital Improvement Plan Process

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Jay Willer, Chairman of the Greene County Planning Commission, has been leading a team to develop a more effective Capital Improvement Plan for the county. This week (9/20) the Planning Commission met to review the updated format and the answers to the questions that the Board of Supervisors asked several months ago.

Virginia localities are required by state code to develop a long range Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP is one of the most significant planning processes as it identifies the capital needs of the community over a specified period of time. This plan not only identifies the immediate needs but also seeks to capture long-term capital needs.

The CIP typically includes major investments in parks, libraries, transportation, community centers, facilities, technology, water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure – along with other areas that support the community.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Willer asked the commission if there were any questions for Planning Director Bart Svoboda. Commissioner Frank Morris questioned why the Economic Development Authority (EDA) would have a project of widening of road lanes for $2 million.

Svoboda explained that the EDA believes many county wide projects will help the economic development of the county – such as widening of roads, fiber optic cable, etc. The Board of Supervisors will prioritize the projects relative to how much funding is available – especially with the reservoir funding requirements.

With no comments from the public,  Willer explained that the current presentation is that of a Capital Improvement Inventory, not a Capital Improvement Plan . He explained that many of the items should be included in department expense budgets and larger items that benefit the county such as schools should be included in the CIP. In addition, definitely new items should be in the CIP and possibly items that provide new function should also be in the CIP.

One of Willer’s suggestions was to include the impact on the tax rate to pay for each expenditure to help give a sense of impact to the citizens of Greene County since over $150 million is to be provided from county funds over the five year period of the Captial Improvement Inventory. Vice Chairman Vic Schaff thought this was a good inventory of needs of the county but that the CIP should include projects that the county would need to raise additional funds to pay for, such as the water impoundment project  and possible school expansion.

It was brought up that the timing of the process is key so that the Capital Improvement Inventory could be separated into expense vs. CIP projects so that the expense items could be included in the departments budgets. The next issue discussed was how much detail should be gathered at the CIP level. Svoboda stated that the intent of the CIP is to raise issues that need action by the Board of Supervisors.

Willer asked the commissioners if they should stay with the format but that the Planning Commission is not tasked with providing priorities. He suggested that the Planning Commission provide a cover letter to the CIP report to encourage certain projects to the BOS. Also, Commissioner Saunders suggested that the items in the CIP be linked to areas in the Comprehensive Plan knowing that one item in the CIP may link to more than one area of the Comprehensive Plan.

Svoboda said that the Planning Commission should plan to finalize the CIP by November and in order to meet that date each department should submit their projects by October. If a department does not make a submission, then the prior year information should be used by just moving out each project one year.

Finally, Svoboda said that the Planning Commission needed to defer the CIP to a date in the future since it was approved as is. This was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission.

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

Fluvanna Supervisors Deadlocked On Staff Raises

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors are still undecided about a staff pay plan for the current fiscal year.

Before the previously reported land use action [Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks] on September 7 occurred, the short handed board was tied up (2-2) figuring out how to deal with the void of state funding for a staff pay raise.  The supervisors agreed during the FY2017 budget calendar to a sliding pay increase for staff. The scale was based on getting staff members who are currently paid below comparable market value closer to market value in an effort to stop the continual turnover. The vast majority of staff are at market value and were scheduled to receive a two percent increase.

The pay increase was built with money coming from the state government. When the state had less revenue then projected, the money the county is dependent on will not be given.

To keep the plan as was originally passed, the county would need to chip in $13,740 or 0.16 percent of the total budget. The county’s budget for $78.3 million includes a $50,000 personnel contingency fund and a $150,000 supervisor contingency fund.

Eager2016Cropped

Patricia Eager

“It’s not a lot of money coming out but it is cumulative,” said Patricia Eager (Palmyra District).

Eager and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) would not budge past what the county originally allocated for the pay plan.

Staff gave an alternative that decreased the raise by 0.25 percent across the board but the county would have to contribute $6,034. If the raise is decreased by 0.5 percent the county would not have to contribute anything additional.

“It is not [the staff’s] fault the state had less revenue. Why penalize them?” said Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) said, “I want our employees to feel appreciated.”ger said, “I think it will take more than $13,000 to make them feel appreciated.”

Sheridan made an effort to compromise at the $6,034 contribution but Eager and Weaver would not add any funding.

“I’m sorry, staff. I’m really sorry that we don’t care enough about you,” said Booker.

Booker made a motion to contribute the $13,740 to keep the plan as originally agreed to but it failed to gain a second.

Eager moved for no additional contribution and Weaver seconded. The motion failed on a 2-2 vote.

The pay increase is scheduled to be discussed again September 21. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) arrived to the meeting after the item was discussed. The pay raise for County Administrator Steve Nichols was also deferred.

In other business, supervisors also agreed to lease a spot on the NCT tower slated to be built at the VFW site in the Cunningham District. The tower was originally to be 199 feet. The county needs it to be 250 feet.

NCT will build the tower at the height needed and own it for a lease of $18,000 a year. The county gets a discount of $250 per month for each of the first two cellular carriers. It passed 5-0. The supervisors waived county fees to adjust the tower SUP for the new height.

Supervisors also agreed to buy a new ambulance and re-chassis another ambulance to help the Fluvanna County Rescue Squad reliable ambulances.

The Board next meets on September 21. Besides discussing the pay increase plan again, they are also scheduled to have a public hearing on vehicle license fees.

Supervisors will start the 21st with a work session on “ordinances, policies, procedures, revenue enhancement, and expense reduction discussion.” The fun starts at 4 p.m.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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

Greene Discusses Legislative Priorities

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

As a part of their mission, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has a Legislative Liaison who represents the interests and positions of the region’s localities before the state legislature and other state policymakers. Much of this effort occurs at the General Assembly during January-March of each year as well as, during the off season, attending legislative study committee meetings and other meetings of interest to local governments.

david-blount-photo-credit-charlottesville-tommorow

David Blount

David Blount serves as the TJPDC Legislative Liaison (serving Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and the City of Charlottesville).  In this role, he annually prepares and presents the TJPDC legislative agenda proposal to local elected officials and requests their input and in time their endorsement.   Tuesday night it was Greene County Board of Supervisors opportunity for review.

Surveys have been collected from all the counties and Charlottesville to help develop the legislative priorities for 2017.  Blount plans on getting information in real time as opposed to reporting at the end of the process. He also wanted to review the 2016 legislative plan since there are two new Supervisors on the board since he last met with the Greene Board of Supervisors.

The Top Priorities of the 2016 TJPDC Legislative Plan were:

1) public education funding

2) equalized revenue authority

3) state mandate and funding obligations

Related to public education funding, Blount commented that the General Assembly had raised funding back to 2009 levels and he hoped the state would protect that investment. The main issue for the 3rd item was that the state should not impose unfunded mandates and shift costs to localities.

Blount will present each of the member localities an updated draft program in October and requested that they respond to him by November.

He addressed several issues that will impact next year such as the state revenue gap of $1.2 billion. His understanding is that the budgeted 2% pay raises will be delayed along with dipping into the “rainy day fund” to help close the shortfall. clip_image002

In addition, Blount addressed the Airbnb bill , wireless infrastructure (cell towers), standard of qualities in education and the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The VRS rate of return the past year (of 7%) is actually above the past two years rates. Chairman Bill Martin agreed with the three priorities and committed to working with Blount’s schedule.

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

Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The past few months, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors have discussed how the land use program works and information regarding it. On September 7, the supervisors voted to keep the program as is. The vote was contentious at 3-2 with Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) and Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) voting against it.

The program helps keep the county rural by reducing real estate taxes for property owners who use the land for agricultural, horticultural or forestry uses. The fourth section of the land use program is called open space.

Last month, the supervisors had a work session regarding the program but didn’t vote on it. On September 7th in the regular session the supervisors returned to the subject during unfinished business.

As soon as the item came up, Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) immediately moved to reaffirm the program as it currently is stated. Don Weaver (Fork Union District) seconded the motion. O’Brien then requested the item be discussed.

OBrien2014-photo-credit-Fluvanna-County_thumb.jpg

Tony O’Brien

“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien said he wanted the item to be tabled until he could get answers to 17 questions he had sent to Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan. Mel Sheridan was not at the meeting.

O’Brien requested the supervisors hire a third party to investigate if residents utilizing land use are complying with the rules of the program. The third party could rule if residents qualify.

From there the residents could make amends to become compliant, change to a section of the program they do comply with or just pay full taxes and no longer be in the program.

Booker said she had no problem having an audit performed by a third party saying residents might not know they aren’t in compliance, herself included.

“We want land use. This county wants to be rural,” said Booker.

O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.

Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.

Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.

Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.

O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.

Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.

Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.

O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”

Following the vote O’Brien made a motion to put the full rules of the land use program on the county’s website.

Payne then gave a legal opinion the motion was out of order because the issue was already voted on. Mike Sheridan then ruled the motion out of order thus not allowing it. O’Brien asked for a clarification of the opinion.

Payne said the motion was continuing an item that was discussed and voted on therefore a second vote was not necessary. The original vote was to ‘reaffirm and retain current Fluvanna County Land Use Program ordinances, policies, and procedures.’

O’Brien then asked the county administrator Steve Nichols who makes decisions regarding information on the website. Nichols said staff does not make decisions on content on the portions regarding the constitutional officers. Commissioner of Revenue is a constitutional officer.

As checked on the evening of Sept. 7, the Commissioner of Revenue’s portion of the website has a land use program section. There is a brief description of the program and another PDF page of instructions of the program.

As part of the PDF, there is citation of the exact county ordinance regarding land use and told to look for the ordinance on the county’s website. The PDF also says residents can call the commissioner’s office for further information.

Mel Sheridan was unavailable for comment regarding the Board of Supervisors meeting.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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