Monthly Archives: July, 2017

Greene Supervisors Endorse Schools Project Fund Application

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Last night (7/25), the Greene County School Board presented their Phase I proposal for updating the Greene Schools facilities to the Board of Supervisors. The School Board requested the Supervisors endorse the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) application for funding for the project . VPSA offers options for market financing with competitive interest rates.

clip_image004Greene County Schools Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh addressed the Board and summarized the process that began 31 months ago with the formation of a community committee to review all the school facilities in the county and make recommendations. The total recommendation is broken down into three phases with Phase I currently being requested for funding.

Kristie Spencer, Director of Business and Facilities added the retirements by year to her previous financial presentation. And then she showed the impact of consuming the $2.81 million excess capital funds that have been accumulated by underspending schools budgets in the past few years.

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Kristie Spencer

Spencer also pointed out that the first payment would not have to be made until July, 2018, which will allow for more debt to be paid down. Per Spencer, there are several options on how to structure the debt repayment that VPSA may allow. The length can be 25 or 30 years, the debt could be back loaded, etc. Greene County can make suggestions but the final decision is made by VPSA.clip_image008

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked Spencer why would the school board not use the excess capital funds to reduce the higher debt in the beginning of the repayment schedule?

Spencer stated that there may be other capital projects to use the funds. Martin suggested using the $2.81 million excess capital funds for the school project since it would have a large financial impact at the beginning of the repayment schedule, until more debt is paid off.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) thanked Spencer for the detailed planning with all of the options presented in a format easy to understand. Supervisor Martin complimented Frydl on his idea several years ago to accumulate unspent funds for future capital projects.

Jim Frydl

Frydl asked Whitmarsh if the Supervisors agreed to endorse the VPSA application could the project be put out to bid? Robert Moje, one of the principals of VMDO, the architects working on the project – agreed that it is important to move forward quickly to minimize cost increases and raising interest rates. However, funds must be available in order to enter into contracts.

Spencer indicated that there are still several steps to occur and that it would be November, 2017 before the bonds would be sold and the costs finalized.  Moje clarified that this should be accomplished by November 6th.

Frydl asked Moje how long he expected the request for bids to be out. Moje said that it typically takes a month with the goal to have the funding and the quotes come in at the same time. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) asked Moje if he expected any problems in getting bids for the project. Moje anticipated that the project should get multiple bids.

Chairman Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) stated that Greene County doesn’t have other separate facilities – and therefore the school buildings are very important assets beyond their primary function of providing classrooms to the students. The Board unanimously agreed to approve the request of the School Board to endorse the VPSA application.

Finally, as Moje was departing the meeting, he addressed the Board and said that it is rare that a community works as well together as Greene County did on this project.

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

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Changing Charlottesville Philosophy to YIMBY

Adapted from testimony to The City of Charlottesville Planning Commission, July 25, 2017

By. Neil Williamson, President

As you conduct the “legal” review of Charlottesville’s Zoning Ordinance, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that you may be actually, perhaps unintentionally, working against some of the comprehensive plan goals.  Decreasing heights, densities and intensity of development may seem to be reflecting the opinions of some vocal opponents to economic expansion but how does it impact the City’s goals for a vibrant community with affordable housing and economic opportunities for all.

This is not a development problem, it is a political problem, and it exists nationwide.

Image result for yimby I recently reviewed the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) San Francisco platform and I believe there are many parallels to Charlottesville.  If you insert Charlottesville instead of San Francisco to their preamble, I believe it could be endorsed across the political spectrum:

We believe that San Francisco has always been, and should continue to be, an innovative and forward-looking city of immigrants from around the U.S. and the world. San Francisco is not full, and the Bay Area is definitely not full. Ours is an inclusive vision of welcoming all new and potential residents. Anyone who wants to should be able to afford housing in the Bay Area.

Quartz Media’s Dan Kopf recently wrote an article about the YIMBY movement:

[Sonja] Trauss and fellow San Francisco YIMBY Party members, a group that now includes more than 500 people, believe that the only way to solve San Francisco’s housing problem is by building a hell of a lot more houses. To advocate for this, YIMBYs, many of whom are millennials tired of skyrocketing rents, have aligned themselves with private developers and against long-settled locals who see new housing as an intrusion on their lifestyle and, more importantly, a threat to the value of their homes. YIMBY groups have also emerged in New York, Seattle, and Boston, among other places, challenging the much more prevalent NIMBYs (“not in my back yarders”) who favor keeping things as they are.

The YIMBY solution is different than many others advocating for affordable housing.  Rather than seeking government mandates for subsidized housing or funds to be placed into a “housing affordability trust fund”, YIMBY platform seeks to impact the supply/demand curve by increasing the supply:

We strongly support building new housing. We have a severe housing shortage. Increasing supply will lower prices for all and expand the number of people who can live in the Bay Area.

We should build more housing in every neighborhood — especially high-income neighborhoods.

High density housing goes with high-quality public transit and walkability. However, housing can be built before or in anticipation of the construction of future transit improvements.

The people most hurt by a housing shortage are those with the least means.

So many of the conversations at the Planning Commission and City Council are focused on the topic of density.  In 1982, when Charlottesville and Albemarle reached their revenue sharing agreement, the City’s borders were set, no growth via annexation.  Somewhere in the late 1990s and early 2000s, population densification become a negative rallying cry of those opposed to increased development of the city.  Perhaps as a tip of the hat to these concerns, the SF-YIMBY platform boldly declares “Density is good”:

We are unapologetic urbanists who believe in the virtues of cities. More people living in close proximity to each other can improve their lives and the lives of those far beyond city limits.

  1. Density is sustainability: it reduces urban sprawl, reduces water usage, uses energy more efficiently, and creates a smaller carbon footprint.
  2. Density is accessibility: it encourages walking and biking, makes transit more efficient, reduces social isolation, and increases residents’ access to diverse cultural products and to each other.
  3. Density is opportunity: it increases access to jobs, supports diverse businesses, promotes innovation, and enables people to be more productive.
  4. The Bay Area is a particularly efficient place to build housing because of its moderate climate.
  5. People should be free to choose to live in places that are urban, compact and walkable, low-density and car-centric, or rural. Not everyone wants to live in a dense city. However, current policies restrict the supply of urban housing, leaving suburban life as the only affordable option for many.

Kopf’s article included an interview with Sonja Trauss regarding her definition of a YIMBY:

What exactly does it mean to be a YIMBY?

It means you are an advocate for housing. It means you believe that not having enough housing to accommodate newcomers is terrible public policy that leads to displacement.

YIMBYs want there to be neighborhoods of all varying levels of affordability close to job centers, so people can participate in the city’s economy. What ever your your situation is, we think you should be able to live in the city center if you want to.

The thing about housing is that, in many places, decisions about it are made in a distributed way. In California, no city can just decide to build 10,000 houses, though sometimes mayors will say that. The reality is that the decision is made almost building by building.

If you are in a growing metro area, like San Francisco, there will be times when housing development is proposed in your neighborhood. Being a YIMBY means piping up and supporting that development at neighborhood meetings, or by emails to the government.

No platform is complete without policy recommendations and while we in Virginia can not speak to the need for California Environmental Quality Act reform ,we can endorse the majority of the SF-YIMBY policy prescriptions.  It is interesting how many of these topics have been raised in Charlottesville over the last few years.

We believe in long-term planning. Once a citywide or neighborhood plan is made, the process for building should be streamlined, well-defined and predictable. It should not impose significant delays on or add significant costs to a project, nor should individual property owners or neighborhood associations have the power to hijack it.

  1. As-of-Right building: development plans approved at the departmental level if the project is within existing zoning.
  2. Mandate or incentivize cities to follow regional master plans and statewide housing policies or mandates.
  3. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reform.
  4. Raise height limits.
  5. Form-based zoning.
  6. Mixed-use zoning.
  7. Complete streets.

The Free Enterprise Forum strongly requests that you look at all the consequences (perhaps unintended) in your so called legal review.  Consider how these changes balance against the YIMBY platform.  We believe the impacts of many of the changes currently proposed are far beyond a simple legal review, and worse, are counter to the community goals for housing supply, economic vitality, and quality of life.

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 Credit: Yimby Toronto

Ruckersville’s Zoning Evolution

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In the not so distant past, the Ruckersville corner (US 29 intersection with Route 33) of Greene County was best known for a cluster of small antique shops, restaurants, and a couple of gas stations.  The 2010 opening of The Gateway Center, the success of several mom and pop businesses, and infrastructure investment in water and sewer have fundamentally changed the potential economic opportunity of the area.

Many of the existing zoning designations reflect the intersection’s former self.  This zoning disconnect was the issue before the July Planning Commission meeting.

Applicant John Silke, who owns several Ruckersville properties, requested to rezone (RZ#17-002clip_image002) a 1.59 acre parcel on Route 29 South, north of Route 33 – roughly midway between Wal-mart and Lowes. The parcel (60-(A)-20A) was zoned from A-1 to B-2 with some proffers nearly 20 years ago when water and sewer was not available. With those services now available, there is no need to exclude those items via proffers.

Cattails Creek  was the most recent commercial tenant for the property. That business has now vacated the property and Silke is looking to rezone to B-3 to allow for more tenant business options.

Planning Director Bart Svoboda reviewed the request pointing out that all the surrounding parcels, including those on the northbound US 29, are zoned B-3. There is currently an intersection of US 29 and Enterprise Drive with only a right hand turn in and out. There is a crossover to Route 29 northbound at Stoneridge Drive, just south of Silke’s property.

Svoboda also pointed out that the county’s Comprehensive Plan supports economic development in this section of the county.

Staff recommended approval of the rezone but he pointed out that the proffers currently in effect would no longer be in effect with the rezone to B-3.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Svoboda about roadways near the property. Svoboda said “Interconnectivity to the parcel located to the north will be required during the site development plan review. Staff will work with the applicant, the adjacent property owner, and project engineers to ensure the interconnectivity access is planned to provide the optimal ingress/egress for all individuals.”

Commissioner Bill Saunders asked about the proffers back in 1999. Svoboda indicated that in 1999 the property was solely used as a private residence and, therefore, some of the proffers restricted uses that a private residence wouldn’t need. But now this property has a rental unit upstairs and the lower level has had other commercial entities and the B-3 classification is logical.

Commissioner John McCloskey encouraged Silke to find a new business for the first floor. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the SUP request and will forward this request to the Board of Supervisors.

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

Greene Supervisors Get School Project Update

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

At the July 11th  Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting, three residents spoke in favor of the proposed school facility study. The third speaker used the military term, FUBAR, to describe the current traffic patterns at the Stanardsville campus.

As background, School Board President Leah Paladino outlined the 31 month process to date. A committee was selected to oversee the process and the company VMDO https://www.vmdo.com/ from Charlottesville has been contracted by the School Board to study and make recommendations for the project.

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Leah Paladino

Paladino indicated that VMDO prioritized the project with 1) safety / security, 2) increase capacity for the 7th fastest growing county in Virginia, 3) adaptability and 4) space for the community to use.

Paladino then introduced Bryce Powell from VMDO to go over the detail of the project.  The plan concept is to tie the school project in with the Main Street project and reduce traffic conflicts on the school campus.  The plan is iterative with each step in the project builds toward the next phase.

Per Powell, the total presentation is a forward look 15-20 years into the future with the “dark blue” section being the first phase that is being discussed tonight. The emphasis is on safer cross walks, improved outdoor dining, having all the buses go to the back of the high school for drop off and pick up of students and the front to be used for parent dropping off students. The pedestrian crossings may have a raised, colored surface to highlight these areas to drivers to ensure safety.

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As the Greene County is the 7th fastest growing county in the state, the plan is to expand the high school and the middle school to be able to hold an additional 200 students each – more than the current demand. At the high school the dining room congestion is a primary focus. The middle school also needs the kitchen and cafeteria enlarged. The space to enlarge the middle school will come from pushing Monroe Drive farther away from the school to allow for an expansion at the front of the building.

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Powell discussed the cost of the project vs. what had been projected last fall. While the plan has become more focused in the past 8 months, construction costs have risen significantly this spring – 15-20%. He attributed this to contractors from Charlottesville to Harrisonburg having a large volume of work that enables them to raise prices in addition to a skilled labor shortage that drives up their costs. The Free Enterprise Forum has seen this trend in many municipal projects in recent months.

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked Powell what he expects will happen to operating costs. Powell indicated with upgrades to the HVAC systems and improved lighting he expected the energy costs to decline. In addition, he indicated that there are relatively small increases in square footage (approximately 3,000 square feet at the high school and middle school each) and it was mainly a reconfiguration of the existing footprint.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) asked Powell how firm the costs were. Powell indicated that they were at the high end. For example, the increased space for 200 students at both the high school and middle school might only require seating for 320 to start. It wouldn’t be the maximum day one as the plan has room for growth.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) stated the presentation while detailed was excellent. It was well thought out and presented well.

Perhaps in a measure of full transparency, the School Board prepared an amortization schedule for the project. The project must be sent out to bid before the Board of Supervisors approves the final expenditure (and determines the financing mechanisms).

The financial pages of the presentation were addressed by Kristie Spencer, Greene County Schools Director of Business and Facilities.

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Kristie Spencer

The first page she presented was the retiring of current schools debt, by year and cumulatively. The reductions  started at $230k going into 2018. The next three years show the largest reductions 2018 = $103K, 2019 = $183K and 2020 = $312K so that the cumulative amount by 2020 grows to $828K. The next seven years range from increases of $12K to $57K and then spike back up to $298K in 2028 and $463K in 2029. By 2029 the cumulative amount of retired debt reaches $1,765K.

As a reminder to the supervisors, Spencer stated the current unspent Capital Fund Balance which has accumulated to a balance of $2,815,000.As the supervisors had not decided to use these accrued funds, Spencer did not show using these funds to pay for the project even though these funds could pay for the first two and one half years.

The next two pages showed four scenarios, two with 25 year loans one at 3% and another at 3.5%. The other two scenarios used 30 year financing with 3% and 3.5%. The gross annual cost with the 25 year and 3% scenario is $1,630,000.

However, each year as more existing debt is paid off (see two paragraphs above) thus reducing the net payment for the project to where in 2029 there is actually a reduction below the current level of debt service.

 

Year Net Increase in Thousands Tax Rate Impact Less Capital Fund Balance in Thousands
2018  $1,297  0 0
2019  $1,115  0 0
2020  $803  0.02  $399.00 
2021  $786  0.04
2022  $774  0.04
2023  $762  0.04
2024  $749  0.04
2025  $696  0.04
2026  $639  0.03
2027  $627  0.03
2028  $328  0.02
2029  $(135) -0.01
2030  $(135) -0.01
2031  $(135) -0.01
2032  $(136) -0.01
2033  $(138) -0.01
2034  $(136) -0.01
2035  $(135) -0.01
2036  $(135) -0.01
2037-42  $(135) -0.01

Average Tax Rate Impact = $.02/Year

Average Tax Rate Impact less Capital Fund Balance = $.01/Year

The current projected cost of the project of $28 million would cost nearly $41 million ($1.63 million x 25 years) with interest at 3% over 25 years, the net additional cost accumulated over 25 years would equal approximately $7 million in total above current levels. Plus the accumulated Capital Fund Balance of $2.814 million represents excess tax revenue that taxpayers have paid in previous years.

While there are many infrastructure demands on the Capital Fund Balance, we ask that Supervisors consider using this dedicated fund prior to increasing the tax rate.

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 May Cut Rural Regulatory Red Tape

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”- Thomas Jefferson

Considering Albemarle County is 95% rural areas, it is perhaps appropriate that the Comprehensive Plan’s Rural Area Chapter has as Objective 1 “Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy”.

It seems completely counter intuitive the hoops farmers must go through to sell their agricultural products in Albemarle.  In 2010, the Board of Supervisors made Farmer’s Markets a Special Use Permit (SUP) AND required a site plan.  This is a most involved process.

On Tuesday (7/11) evening the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss what, if any, regulatory reforms they wish to recommend to the Board of Supervisors.

For those unfamiliar with the SUP process it is as bureaucratic as it sounds.

From the staff report:

Currently, the applicant must submit a site plan. This plan may propose to contain less detailed information then required by the site plan chapter.  When the plan is submitted it is referred to the Site Review Committee. The members of the Committee may request additional information or they may recommend approval. The plan is then processed along with the special use permit and presented to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors must then act on the site plan to authorize the reduced level of detail. . .

. . . the current ordinance requires the plan to be distributed to the full site plan committee. This means that the Albemarle County Service Authority and Architectural Review Board receive the plan even if their review is not required. The Health Department also receives the plan twice, once during the plan review and again prior to clearance. This double review is not necessary as the Health Department’s only comment during the plan review is that it will need to review the site plan prior to issuance of a clearance.

Virgina had 90 farmers markets in 2005, has 250 in 2017Is it any wonder that there have only been four applications for farmer’s markets since 2010.  This is in direct opposition to the statewide trend.

Staff is right in recommending a so called ‘Sketch Plan’ be sufficient for this use.  The Free Enterprise Forum was surprised when the North Garden Farmer’s market came before the Board of Supervisors, an engineer had volunteered to assist with the application.  Absent that professional support, it is not clear the application would have reached the Board.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds the lower regulatory hurdle of the ‘sketch’ plan over the site plan – the larger question is shouldn’t this be a “By Right” use.

For over thirty years, Albemarle’s comprehensive plan has discussed supporting agricultural enterprises – are these just words?  From the Comprehensive Plan:

Strategy 1d: Continue to assist Rural Area property owners to diversify agricultural activities, including helping to connect local farms with local consumers

We respectfully request Farmer’s Markets become a by right use that requires a zoning clearance (>$100) that can be processed administratively.

Only then will Albemarle be living up to their Comprehensive Plan goal:

Objective 1: Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy.

Please join me in asking the Albemarle County Planning Commission to cut the red tape and make Farmers’ Markets a by right use in the rural areas.

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 Credit: Virginia Farm Bureau