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.
In 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.
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