Monthly Archives: December, 2017

Free Enterprise Forum 2017 Top 10

By. Neil Williamson

top ten listWell, 2017 is the year many in Central Virginia would like to forget.  Beyond the far reaching ramifications of the year when Charlottesville became a verb on the national stage, The Free Enterprise Forum remained focused on monitoring local government, reducing regulatory burdens, promoting market based solutions, protecting property rights, and encouraging economic vitality.

None of this could be accomplished without the generous support of our donors and our regular readers. Thank you.  As we embark on our fifteenth year of operation,we remain vigilant, and “pleasantly” persistent.

Each year, we select the top ten blog posts for our year in review.  There were many other blog posts that reached honorable mention status.  I would be remiss if I did not thank our Field Officers Brent Wilson (Greene County) and Bryan Rothamel (Fluvanna County) for their significant reportage in 2017.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2017:

#10 Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department December 4, 2017

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government with a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million.

 

#9 Charlottesville’s Paid Parking ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ ? March 14, 2017

canary in coal mine photo credit share.america.govWhile it is heartening to see Charlottesville position parking meters as a “pilot” and only a part of the parking solutions considered.. . Available parking is the life’s blood of most small businesses.

… The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the City Council will pay attention when the canary stops singing – local businesses (as well as the jobs and taxes they generate) will be at risk.

#8 The Wizard of Oz and the Rio/29 Small Area Plan March 1, 2017

Scarecrow, tin man, lionOver the years, some have considered the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz to be less than perfect heroes – I beg to differ I find them to be the best kind of heroes – those that must work together to achieve a goal.

Today, (3/1) as the Board of Supervisors considers the innovative Form Based Code land use planning for Rio/29 small area plan I believe this unlikely trio could provide important guidance

#7 Frederick Fleet and Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette Sept. 7, 2017

Frederick Fleet photo credit 123people….Considering the current [Charlottesville] climate, I am reminded of Titanic crewman (and survivor) Frederick Fleet who was on duty when he saw a black mass ahead of the ship. He struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. Though the ship swung out of the way, he watched as an iceberg scraped the starboard side.

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

We fear this ill timed, but worthy, Form Based Charrette exercise will be met with a similar fate.

It is a shame.

#6 Fixing Charlottesville NDS Engine Light February 16, 2017

car-check-engine-lightIf you have ever driven with a “Check Engine” light illuminated, you have an idea of where Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Department has been for some time.

Everyone (land owners, neighborhood associations, developers, etc.) agrees that something is seriously wrong but no one knows specifically what it is or, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it – until now.

#5 Albemarle Economic Development X Files March 29, 2017

i want to believeAlbemarle County says that it is in favor of economic development.  The former County Executive Tom Foley went so far as to say it is a “new day in Albemarle” regarding being open for business.  A couple of supervisors have even gone on the road attempting to drum up public support for economic vitality.

I find myself thinking of the 1990’s science fiction series the X-files where two FBI agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.

Just as Fox Mulder in the X-Files, I want to believe Albemarle, but the facts keep getting in the way.

#4 Changing Charlottesville Philosophy to YIMBY July 25, 2017Image result for yimby

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

I recently reviewed the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) San Francisco platform and I believe there are many parallels to Charlottesville….

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.

#3 Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’ August 1, 2017

…The Hindsight Report indicates that over the study period (2001-2016), Albemarle County received, from the study area, over $277 million in local tax revenue compared with the $212.9 million revenue sharing payments made to the City of Charlottesville (+$64.1 million).

….Had Charlottesville been successful in the annexation and the revenue sharing agreement not been in place, the City would have received $304.7 million in tax revenue from the study area during the study period compared with $212.9 million in revenue sharing payments from Albemarle County (-$91.8 million).

 

#2 A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf  April 5, 2017 and

Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’ April 24, 2017

See the source image

….By our back of the envelope calculations, rural recreation is an economic driver in the community representing nearly 2,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $40 million dollars.  In addition, rural recreation is a part of the fabric of Albemarle County.  The Free Enterprise Forum asks you to abandon this folly and utilize your limited staff resources to meet real needs of the community.

#1 Sayonara Shucet March 31, 2017

Shucet - Photo Credit CvillepediaLate yesterday afternoon (3/30), the embattled Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) named former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Philip Shucet as their new Chief Executive Officer.

In our three years of observation, we have grown to appreciate the charming manner in which Shucet manages (some might say manipulates) meetings and their outcomes…. As a facilitator extraordinaire, he has stayed true to the “Shucet Six” we first identified in 2014…. for now we say Sayonara Shucet, we wish you fair winds and following seas.

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But most of all THANK YOU, the readers and supporters of this blog and our work in Central Virginia.  Without your generous support, we would not exist, thank you!

BRING ON 2018!

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.

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Greene Planning Commission Approves 105 Apartments

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

A proposed affordable housing apartment project on US 29 in Ruckersville took a step forward Wednesday night.

The Mark-Dana Corporation came before Greene County’s Planning Commission on December 20th seeking  a two-step approval – 1) rezone a tract of 8 acres in Ruckersville from B-2, Business to R-2 , Residential and 2) a Special Use Permit (SUP) to increase the density to allow 105 apartments to be built on the 8 acres.  The current owners of the property are John and Wanda Melone of the Melone Family Trust.  If the rezoning and SUP of the property are approved, the Melones plan on selling the property to the Mark-Dana Corporation to be developed.

Greene County Planner Stephanie Golon presented the rezoning application identifying the property as just south of the Blue Ridge Café and the Ruckersville Gallery antique store on Route 29 South.  The 8 acres requesting to be rezoned sits to the west of 7 acres, both parcels owned by Melone Family Trust.

Golon mentioned that the parcel is located at the south end of the area identified as mixed use in the Comprehensive Plan.  The feedback from the departments in Greene County did not have any concerns other than the school system – Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh responded that the Ruckersville Elementary School was at capacity already and the addition of 105 apartments would add to the overcrowding.  This is part of the school’s justification for expanding the school system.

The other main issue of the presentation is the Mark-Dana Corporation will be applying for financing through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Progam  which will help provide affordable housing in Greene County.   Under this financing program, units constructed must remain affordable for forty years past the date of occupancy.

David Koogler

David Koogler, chairman of the Mark-Dana Corporation, reviewed the project for the commission stating that the units will have a brick frontage, they will be three stories in height and there will be one, two and three bedroom apartments.  Koogler explained that his parents started the business and they now have 23 properties with 15 of them in Virginia and the balance in Texas.

The hearing then moved to comments from the public which brought up several concerns – the project is barely cash positive with only 30 students estimated, another 2 students would cause the project to be cash negative.  The other issue brought up was the demand on the water supply.   The White Run project won’t be completed for five years after the apartment project is completed (2019 vs. 2024).   However, Simon Fiscus Director of Skyline CAP  spoke in favor of the project as a way to provide more low income housing for the county.

Commissioner Frank Morris brought up the question of how many housing units this parcel would allow by right.  Planning Director Bart Svoboda answered that based on 8 acres it would accommodate 48 units.  Commissioner William Saunders asked if the possible lack of water can be a reason to reject the rezoning request.  Svoboda answered no, since there are EDU’s available.

Chairman Jay Willer brought up the fact that if this rezone to R-2 is approved it would be the first residential rezoning in the growth area of Ruckersville.  The vote was then taken and was approved 4-1 with Commissioner Morris voting against the rezone.

With the rezoning approved, the commission turned to the Special Use Permit request to allow 105 apartment units on the eight acres, up from the 48 units allowed by right in R-2.   Koogler added to Golon’s presentation about the number of new residents in the apartments.  Koogler stated that historically some of the apartments are rented by residents already living within the county the apartments are constructed.  Therefore the net increase which generates a need for additional resources from the county is less than the total number moving into the apartments.

In the SUP public hearing, again, the input from the pubic focused on the pressure on the school system.  Inversely, Fiscus again stated the need for more affordable rental units.  Morris brought up his concern about setting a precedent of going above the “by right” number of units per acre.  McCloskey asked Svoboda if a condition of the SUP could be that it restricted the property to affordable housing.  Svoboda answered that no, under state code, that type of restriction could not be applied to the property.

Willer asked Mr. Koogler one last question – how long does the restriction of the property last?.  Koogler answered that the restriction lasts 40 years and stays even if the property is sold.

At that point the commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the Special Use Permit 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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Ponders Proactive Rezoning for Economic Development Prospect

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors will hear an application to rezone a property in the Zion Crossroads area at the December 20 meeting.  The rezoning was initiated by the Board of Supervisors in hopes of attracting a specific company looking to invest over $8 million in a new facility that would employ 30 to 40 people. The company’s name is not disclosed at this time.

The property is located along Memory Lane (State Route 698), approximately 0.35 miles south of the intersection of Richmond Road (U.S. Route 250). The parcel is within the Rural Residential Planning Area and is adjacent to AG Dillard and near the rear portion of the women’s correctional facility. It used to be part of the Cosner salvage yard.

The Cosner salvage yard use of the property was nonconforming to the zoning of A-1. For the property to become a salvage yard again, it would need to be I-2 plus get a special use permit.

The unnamed company would have to initiate a Special Use Permit (SUP), if the zoning change is approved. At that time, additional details would be released. The I-2 zoning does not allow a salvage yard by right but is a permitted use with SUP.

A county official declined to release any other information on the company other than the pictures that were part of the presentation slated for the meeting.  The pictures depict a much different salvage yard than how Cosner operated. The pictures show a cemented yard of cars and a large warehouse.Recycled-green-auto-parts-info-graphic-3

The new term of art for salvage yards is “Automotive Recycling” [See infographic to the right]. The car recycling Industry is the 16th largest in the United States, contributing $25 billion per year to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The US automotive recycling industry employs around 100,000 people and earns around $25 billion a year. Nationally, there are around 7,000 vehicle recycling facilities.

During the Planning Commission meeting, officials said the company brings in cars through the warehouse for inspection then stores the cars in the parking area. Spare parts are shipped to interested buyers and there could be some local buyers. The company would pay taxes including machinery and tools.

The Planning Commission recommended denial of the rezoning on a 3-1-1 after two failed motions. First, the PC had a motion to approve that failed to get a second. Then, there was a motion to defer that did not get a second. A motion to recommend denial received a second but failed on a 2-2-1 vote. Shortly there after a motion to reconsider.

The Planning Commission had issues with the I-2 zoning in the rural planning area. The property is next to the community planning area and next to I-1 zoned property.

PC members at first started considering the economic development portion of the rezoning but then retreated to only considering the question, “Should this property be zoned I-2 on its own merits?”

One suggestion was rezoning on the possibility the zoning reverts back to A-1 if the interested company backs out of the arrangement. County officials said without the rezoning, the business would move on. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District), the Board of Supervisors liaison to the commission, said there is little concern about the company’s intentions.

The Board of Supervisors will take up the issue at the 7 p.m. session on December 20.

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The 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 Credits: Automotive Recyclers Association

Rudolph the Form Based Code

Testimony to Albemarle County Planning Commission December 18, 2017

Created by Robert Lewis May;  Adapted by Neil Williamson, President

rudolph the form based code

Rudolph the Form Based Code

You know Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Mixed Use,

Urban and Rural and Multi-Family and Historic

But do you recall?

The most hyped up zoning code of all?

 

Rudolph the Form Based Code

Had a most prescriptive, aesthetic design

And if ANYONE ever fully understood it,

They might even say it shinedSee the source image

 

All of the other zoning codes 

Used to laugh and call him names;

They never let poor Rudolph 

Join in any Euclidian Land Use GamesSee the source image

 

After a long, contentious, municipal meeting,

The tired elected official came to say

Rudolph with your building forms and street standards so tight

Won’t you spark our anemic economic development tonight

 

Then how the other codes despised him,

As they shouted out with mock glee

Rudolph the Form Based Code

“The rest of us are history”.

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

Photo Credits: Mass.gov, Placemakers.com,

Greene County Revises Water/Sewer Connection Payment Timing

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In 2008, Greene County developed a policy to sell Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDU’s) for water and sewer connections.  At the time, concerns were raised regarding the allowance of the speculative purchase of EDU’s, prior to the actual need.  As the cost of EDU’s increased (currently $10,000 for water and $10,000 for sewer) the timing of the EDU’s purchase has become an issue, especially for smaller builders.

At the only December meeting for the Greene Supervisors, Planning Director, Bart Svoboda, explained, numerous conversations with builders that have highlighted the cash flow problem this policy creates. So an alternative policy of charging for the EDU’s as a requirement for issuing a Certificate of Occupancy was proposed for Board consideration. However, the contractor runs the risk of EDU’s not being available if he waits until the project is ready to be occupied.

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked if a builder could opt to buy the EDU’s the way they have up until now? Svoboda answered that yes, the contractor effectively would have the option as to when to buy the EDU. He could buy the EDU like the current policy provides and, therefore, he is sure he has the water and sewer connection before the project is started. Or he could wait until the project is ready for occupancy and then purchase the EDU with no guaranty that water and sewer will be available.

clip_image001

Jim Frydl

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) commented that the risk of water and sewer not being available is small.

The argument for delaying payment is that paying for the EDU closer to when the property can be occupied allows for the revenue stream of the business/residence to begin and provide the funds to pay for the EDU connections.

Some other Virginia localities do not allow the purchase of EDU’s until the building permit is issued for a specific parcel.  Such a policy significantly impacts the ability to “speculatively” purchase EDU’s at a a lower rate than the cost of such EDU’s at redemption.   This potential reform was not discussed on Tuesday.

At this point County Administrator, John Barkley, clarified that any changes to the EDU policy must first be approved by Greene’s Supervisors and then it can be approved by RSA.

Supervisor Bill Martin commented that the current reservoir project will relieve the limitation of water in Greene County. At that point Chairperson Michelle Flynn proposed that the option to pay when connected be approved and that motion was unanimously approved.

image

Marie Durrer

Frydl Farewell

The last action taken at the final 2017 meeting was to thank Frydl who completed his second term. Frydl was defeated in his bid for a third term by Marie Durrer, former Clerk of the Circuit Court in Greene County.  Durrer will be sworn in in January.

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’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department

By. Neil Williamson, President

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government by over Twenty new full time employees and a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million. [corrected 12/5 9:44]

Please let me explain.

In 2013, Albemarle County thought it needed a Rain Tax (a fee paid by all land owners based on the percentage of impervious surface) in order to meet state mandated Chesapeake Bay regulations for pollutants.

In late 2014, staff projected the costs to be nearly $2.5 Million a year.  During the preparation of Albemarle County’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL  Action Plan they found they would receive credits for the many stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – both private and public – that were already built. Albemarle’s Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper Harper explains:

While the County is required to achieve 5% of its long-term required pollutant reductions by July 1, 2018, the current status of reductions is as follows:

pollutant reductions achieved as percent of total, long-term requirement

phosphorus  68%

nitrogen 99%

sediment 137%

All (100%) reductions must be achieved by 2028. As you can see, we are theoretically complete with required nitrogen and sediment reductions and two-thirds complete with phosphorus reductions. [emphasis added-nw].

When it was determined that Albemarle was well on its way to meeting those requirements, the Free Enterprise Forum wrongfully thought this would be the end of the discussion of a rain tax [see Singing in the Rain].

Instead, gifted with this “fee” authority from the General Assembly, Albemarle tasked staff to come up with a plan to spend the money to address the county’s greying stormwater infrastructure – .

image

Make no mistake this is the beginning of an Albemarle County Public Works Department with Twenty new full time employees  (corrected 12/5 9:44 am) and an annual budget of roughly $5 million absent any check on its further expansion based on a dedicated revenue source

While the Free Enterprise Forum is not questioning the need for many of these infrastructure improvements, we believe these projects should compete with other capital projects in the biannual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  Such project competition breeds efficiency and promotes transparency just as a dedicated revenue source reduces sunlight, breeds complacency and presents the opportunity for mismanagement and malfeasance.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

Photo Credits: giphy.com, Albemarle County