Monthly Archives: May, 2018

Icarus, Municipal Hubris, and Tourism

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When you are traveling outside of Central Virginia, where do you tell people you are from?

Do you say “Free Union”, “Albemarle County” or do you say, “Charlottesville”?

Seemingly an academic question but it is one that is at the heart of the current governmental coup of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB).

According to an April 25th Daily Progress article by Chris Suarez:

In December, former Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Diantha McKeel sent a formal notice to [Then CACVB Executive Director Kurt] Burkhart that said the county intends to terminate an existing organizational agreement on June 30.

The letter says the city and county’s elected officials had been discussing the CACVB’s “limited focus and reluctance” to promote locally owned wineries, breweries and distilleries, history and heritage tourism and ecotourism, as well as specific activities such as bicycling, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.

“We feel destination development is currently lacking,” the letter says. “Although the targets for hotel vacancy rates are important and currently successful, their vacancy rates and other directly related indicators should no longer be the primary driving metrics.”[Emphasis Added-NW]

The friction between CACVB Executive Director Burkhart and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had been simmering for several years.  [Burkhart retired earlier this year]. While Burkhart touted hotel occupancy rate data; focusing on proving the return on investments in tourism using economic models showing $6 or $7 benefit for every dollar invested, supervisors questioned the methodology of these models and noted the large number of hotels in the City.

imageIn addition to Burkhart not filling funded positions quickly and maintaining a large fund balance, the root of much of the concern was focused on the belief that Albemarle was not being promoted enough in the marketing of the region.

This “Municipal Hubris” has been gong on for over a decade.   I recall when the latest logo redesign [left] was competed several years ago, it was a requirement that Albemarle be in the logo and then there was a concern regarding the different size font. Then there was a discussion, I am not making this up, that it was not alphabetical.

See the source imageAccording to www.Merriam-Webster.com

To the [Ancient] Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall. Hubris was a character flaw often seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, including Oedipus and Achilles. The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before a fall” is basically talking about hubris.

So what does Charlottesville City Council think about this internal branding conflict.  We believe the answer can be found between the lines of Councilor Kathy Galvin’s polite answer quoted in the Suarez article:

“What happens next (including whether or not a city/county CACVB committee persists and I remain the city’s liaison with the county) is a matter, in my view, to be decided by the City Council,” Galvin wrote. “I will be raising that question at a City Council meeting in May.”

At the end of the May 21st City Council meeting, they selected Councilors Galvin and Signer to represent Council in the CACVB reorganization work; but there was no further discussion beyond the appointment.

To review, the proposed CACVB Executive Committee would control all aspects of the organization and would consist of  one member from the City Council and the Board of Supervisors; the city manager (or a designee); the county executive (or a designee); a tourism or economic development official from the city and county; a University of Virginia representative; two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and county.  All but three of these members sit on or answer to either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Considering the many conflicts and concerns between the City and the County right now, I anticipate the jointly funded marketing of regional tourism objectives to be an area where the city (and county) end up walking away from the “new deal”.

The result will be duplicative efforts (though they will claim collaboration), inefficiency and a lack of accountability.  Tourism will become a division of each locality’s Economic Development departments and lack the import and independence it enjoys today.  In addition, we see further weakening of the required nexus between tourism and line item expenditures.  Transparency is lost.

Perhaps a brief review of Greek mythology [Daedalus and Icarus] could prove helpful prior to moving forward with the dissolution or dismemberment of the CACVB.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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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 Credit www.frederickmordi.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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Fluvanna Increases Taxes, Reduces Capital Spending and Pulls From Fund Balance to Make FY19 Budget

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Last month, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors passed a FY19 budget that included a real estate tax rate of $0.939, an increase of three cents.

Part of the reason for that increase was health insurance was slated to increase $435,000. After some renegotiation, staff got a final figure of an increase of $228,000. However, the budget was already built with the larger figure.

Supervisors have decided to keep the budget as is and at the completion of the year will return that money to the fund balance, the county’s savings.

The budget included $127,000 operational cut, including $14,000 from nonprofits. Supervisors were presented with options to restore some of the cuts or at least make the nonprofits whole. Instead, the majority of the board decided to proceed with the cuts and if the departments needed to, the department head can come to the board to ask for additional money.

“Your (department) budgets are tight already. It is detrimental,” said Steve Nichols, county administrator. He noted the budgets were already very lean.

Nonprofits won’t get that opportunity because the county will send in pledges and some of those nonprofits will be part of the $14,000 cut. These cuts are reducing the amount the county will pledge to the individual nonprofits.

At the May 16 meeting, the supervisors will finalize which nonprofits will be cut.

The FY19 budget does include pulling $403,000 from the fund balance to balance the budget. The supervisors also took another $1.3 million for the capital improvement plan.

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Steve Nichols

“Frankly, if we can save some money, it would be great to put it back into the fund balance,” said Nichols.

The projected FY20 budget needs about $2.3 million, or 7.7 real estate tax cents, to balance.

The tax rate will get some relief next year because the county is doing a reassessment and property values are increasing. Whenever that happens, the tax rate adjusts inversely. But still, the need for additional tax revenue will be there for next year.

The budget has two factors that are not decreasing: employees (salary and benefits) and debt service. Debt service will stay level but employee salary and benefits will continue to rise.

While the county is aggressively trying to attract new businesses to help alleviate the tax burden on rooftops, any business coming will not have immediate impact.

The next meeting is May 16 at 7 p.m. with a proceeding 6 p.m. session.

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.

Albemarle Rural Special Use Permits For Not So Special Uses

By. Neil Williamson, President

rural outpostTonight (May 8th), the Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing what is and is not a by-right use on commercially zoned property not served by public water or a central system.  The problem is there are 80 parcels in the rural area zoned as commercial and the powers that be want to significantly limit commercial activity in the rural areas (95% of Albemarle County).

This is how the regulators are seeking to deal with “stale” zoning, create a process that is nearly impossible to gain approval and thus remove the ability for so called ‘noxious’ uses without conducting a controversial and legally challenging downzoning.

We think there is an alternative.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that objective metrics could be established to have some of the ‘Special Uses’ be by right uses with independently verified performance standards.

Please let me explain.

In zoning parlance, there are three types of uses on a property:

  • By Right (that which you can do without additional government approval)
  • Special use (that which the government may allow you to do on your property) and
  • Prohibited use (that which the government indicates you can’t do on your property)

The fact that the land in question here is currently zoned commercial means that at one time a planner somewhere thought it would be a good idea to have commercial activity in this vicinity.  This more flexible planning philosophy has given way to a much more restrictive vision limiting commercial activity in the rural areas.

Under the new proposal, if  any of the ‘special uses’ [including sporting goods (bait shops?), drug store, food/grocery stores, and many more] proposed on commercial zoned property without water service would be measured against the following Comprehensive Plan criteria:

Criteria for Review of New Uses

As new uses are proposed in the Rural Area,it is essential that they be able to meet the following standards.  New uses should:

relate directly to the Rural Area and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful, (e.g., a farm winery has to be located in the Rural Area and would be unlikely to succeed in the Development Areas);

be compatible with, and have a negligible impact, on natural, cultural, and historic resources;

not conflict with nearby agricultural and forestal uses;

reflect a size and scale that complements the character of the area in which they will be located;

be reversible so that the land can easily return to farming, forestry, conservation, or other preferred rural uses;

be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns;

generate little demand for fire and rescue and police service;

be able to operate without the need for public water and sewer;

be sustainable with available groundwater; and

be consistent with other Rural Area policies.

Can you think of any proposal that could make it through this subjective labyrinth of approval?

Even if a staff recommendation could be acquired, do we anticipate any planning Commission making findings of any activity meeting all of these “standards”?

There has to be a better way.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the performance standard models we have reviewed where objective metrics were developed to verify the data points rather than subjectivity reflected above.

The Comprehensive Plan even speaks of creating such performance standards on the same page as this review criteria:

Performance standards will be needed for any new uses to ensure that the size, scale, and location of the new commercial uses recommended for the Rural Area are appropriate.

It is of prime importance that the appearance and function of new uses blend and not detract from the key features of the Rural Area.

New uses should not overwhelm an area in terms of their function or visibility.

We fear this proposal may indirectly and unintentionally create food and gas deserts in the rural areas that will put rural residents even further away from the services they require.

Considering this proposal impacts only 80 properties, we believe this would be an excellent candidate for developing objective performance metrics.  Such an innovative program would protect the rural area AND Rural Property Rights – now would that be a good idea?

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: Commonplacemagazine.org

 

No Increase for Greene County Real Estate Tax Rates

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In the next to final step in their FY2019 budget process, The Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to maintain the same real estate tax rate forclip_image001 the coming fiscal year – $.775/$100 of the assessed value.

 

County Administrator John Barkley presented an overview of the budget process that started last July, 2017 and will conclude with at the May 8, 2018 Supervisor meeting when the budget is voted upon. The process included three workshops, advertising the rates, tonight’s presentation and the May 8th vote on the final budget.

Barkley highlighted that the county is investing in training of county personnel but, other than the school system, there are no increases in headcount. In addition, the county is focused on improved technology for improved services. The budget has 16 departments that are reflecting reductions in spending.

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John Barkley

Barkley then showed that Greene County’s Real Estate Tax Rate ($.775/$100) is in the middle of the surrounding counties – higher than Madison ($.680/$100) , but lower than Albemarle ($.839/$100) and Orange ($.804/$100).

The proposed budget does have an increase from $61,281K to $63,592K, an increase of over $2 million. The rate is able to stay the same since there is a significant increase in the number of houses in Greene County which is the primary contributor to increased local funding of over $1.5 million from real estate taxes.

Two other reductions that stand out is a 12% reduction in Greene County’s share of the funding of the Central Virginia Regional jail. The other significant reduction is over $400,000 reduction in debt service as borrowings are being fully paid off. The budget for capital expenditures is approximately $750,000 ($550,000 for all departments except the school system and $200,000 for the schools) even though there are significant projects in the near future – such as interconnectivity of the Sheriff, Rescue Squad and Fire Departments, the water impoundment project and the school renovation project.

The meeting shifted to comments from the public with four citizens speaking. Keith Bourne again brought up the elimination of 2 additional officers from the Sheriff’s budget. He suggested, as he has in past meetings, that the source for funding these positions could be by eliminating the $250,000 deficit incurred by the Solid Waste Facility by raising the tipping fees.

Current Tipping Fees for Greene County Landfill

30 Gallon Single (household garbage) $1.00
50 Gallon Single (household garbage) $2.00
90 Gallon Single (household garbage) $3.00

Tammy Durrer continued this discussion stating that the citizens of Greene County should not be required to subsidize the Solid Waste Facility. Her research came up with a fact that is unique to Greene County vs. neighboring counties. Greene County allows citizens from other counties to dispose their trash with no premium being charged. Albemarle County for example charges an additional $10 for people outside their county.

Mallory Lamb presented information related to how understaffed Greene County is in the Sheriff’s Department. She presented data from Page County (14,000 citizens) and Patrick County (18,000) vs. Greene County’s population of 19,000 (counties that have similar population to Greene County). Here is how the number of reports, total deputies and deputies funded by the county compare (as presented by Lamb).

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Steve Smith

According to these figures, Greene County generates more reports with significantly fewer deputies. Lamb also suggested that eliminating the subsidizing of the Solid Waste Facility by raising rates and charging a premium for citizens from outside Greene County would fund two additional positions – the budget that Sheriff Smith presented. Per the chart above, the number of citizens per deputy in Greene County is more than twice that of Page and Patrick County’s.

The final adoption of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget is scheduled for May 8, 2018.

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

Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model

By, Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

Almost thirty years ago,  Albemarle County decided to attempt to focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area.  On a philosophical level this policy makes perfect sense, put the population where it is most efficient to deliver government services. The promise was for a 5% bustling urban core surrounded by 95% natural beauty of (privately held) rural areas.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Albemarle Development Vision from Places29

Conceptually, the 5% development area was to develop with concurrent amenities and investments along with the development.  The idea is for the smaller more compact home have access to amenities, employment and green space to make the development area home more attractive than a home on a couple of acres in the country.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chronicled in a front page story in The Daily Progress this morning (5/1/18), Albemarle County has failed to build the infrastructure required to make the development area work.  Further, they have done a poor job explaining to residents the need for development in the development area.

Sean Tubbs reports on two developments planned for the Pantops area that went before the Pantops Community Advisory Council:

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

At one time there was some momentum for appropriate concurrent infrastructure spending along side private sector investment.

From December 8, 2004 staff report:

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat in October 2003, the Board identified the County’s growth and urbanization as a critical issue and established a new strategic planning goal related to urbanization. At this year’s retreat, the Board continued its focus on growth and urbanization by providing direction to staff regarding the desire to pursue an “Urbanizing County” level of service for the County’s transportation and streetscape needs. For transportation needs, this level of service focuses on providing “essential link” transportation projects, minimizing the use of private streets, and continuing to rely on VDOT for street maintenance. For streetscape needs, it includes the County becoming more involved in the construction and maintenance of streetscape in development areas, as determined by master plans.  For streetscape outside master planned areas, construction would be considered through the CIP process, based on the availability of funds.  In both transportation and streetscape, the County would continue to expect development to provide a significant portion of the initial infrastructure.  Emphasis added – nw

A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised.

In November 2014, then Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley acknowledged the lack of planned transportation infrastructure investment:

Mr. Foley stated that the Board has set up specific funding in the Capital improvement Program (CIP) for master planned areas but that was for new developments. He stated that there was some money designated for interconnecting streets, but there has not been a focus on infrastructure funding for sidewalks and things in existing neighborhoods. Mr. Foley noted that the County never even got to the new areas due to limited capital funding

The vision of the Neighborhood Model was to have a variety of housing types and sizes as well as owned and rented properties intermingled to promote diversity.  Interestingly, the residents don’t seem to be interested in this diversity of housing types.

Again from Sean Tubbs article:

“It’s [the proposed development] a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet. . .

…“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’.  In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.

This is just the latest example of how Albemarle’s growth management (growth restrictive) policy is undermined by existing neighborhoods (often recently built) who oppose new development via the rezoning process. Most often the rationale for the opposition is the failure of Albemarle to meet existing resident expectations for services.  The lack of political will to stand up for the concepts and aspiring density rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan is disappointing.

Tipping Point? An interesting byproduct of the Growth Management Plan and Magisterial design – about the same time the development area was designated, the magisterial districts were redrawn so that every supervisor had a portion of the growth area in their district.  With the level of development most districts are now population dominated by development area residents – mathematically speaking if you win Mill Creek and Glenmore neighborhoods, you win the Scottsville District.  Will this new electoral reality result in super representation of the development area concerns stated above?  Should it?

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the current development area reality comes close to the aspirational vision that was endorsed by the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) or DISC II (AKA son of DISC).

Despite significant private sector investment in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, parks, sidewalks, etc.), Albemarle County has failed to create the connective linkages between developments (and in existing neighborhoods) to make the community vision a reality.

Based on the comments from Pantops, it soon might be too late to ever catch up.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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.