Albemarle ARB Expansion on a Shaky Foundation

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageIf you have limited resources and a house with faulty plumbing, foundation issues, and a leaky roof, would you fix the existing house or expand it?

Indirectly, that is the question before the Albemarle County Planning Commission next week (10/30) as they consider further expanding the number of roads that are considered ‘Entrance Corridors’ and thus subject to additional review by the Architectural Review Board (ARB).

Late in January, we learned that over a third of Albemarle’s twenty-one entrance corridors are illegal.  At first we were encouraged when a Resolution of Intent to remove the impacted roadways appeared on the Board of Supervisors consent agenda, this positive energy was very brief as the item was removed from the agenda and never heard from again.

On top of the illegal roadways, members of the ARB have been discussing the need for a comprehensive update to their guidelines some of which were last revised in 2011.  The fuel pump canopy requirements have not been adjusted since Bill Clinton was president (1998).  The guidelines include specific language directed at “trademark” designs:

State law and County ordinance both require that the ARB approve only those proposals which reflect designs which are compatible with the historically significant architecture of the County of Albemarle and City of Charlottesville.  It is not intended that proposed designs mirror existing historic structures in the area. Replication of historic structures is neither required nor desired. However, developers proposing “trademark” designs can expect that significant modification will be required by the ARB before approval will be granted.

This language was used by one ARB member (in the minority) to advocate a proposed Pantops gas station’s fueling stations should be located in the rear of the building outside of the view of passing traffic (cars).  Correctly, the applicant pushed back that this would be a significant competitive disadvantage considering all the other gas stations on US 250 with pumps in front of their locations.

So into this mess, the Planning Commission wants to expand the purview of the ARB to include Rio Road East/John Warner Parkway.

Back to our house analogy, the problem is varied responsibilities of the three entities involved.

  • The Board of Supervisors, who has the checkbook, has not prioritized fixing the illegal entrance corridors See the source imagechoosing instead to “not enforce” the regulations. Similar to a family not using the hallway bathroom, this merely solves the leaky toilet symptom without fixing the plumbing problem.
  • The Board of Supervisors, via the Community Development Work Plan, has not dedicated resources to improving the Entrance Corridor Guidelines to have them better mesh with market practices and ARB precedents.  In our house analogy, the roof only leaks when it rains and it does not rain all the time, therefore I will not fix the roof.
  • The Planning Commission, empowered by the Board of Supervisors, will race forward with additional regulation the creation and enforcement will further impact limited staff time in order to expand the power of the regulators over additional property.  Let’s expand, rather than repair, this old house.
  • Interestingly it is the members of the ARB who are the semi tragic figures in this epic drama.  Absent Supervisor action, the ARB is impotent to modify the area or the outdated regulations that they are charged with enforcing.

Despite the fact that some of the reforms we advocated for in our 2010 ARB analysis The Eye of The Beholder report have occurred, the dire need to repair the existing ARB jurisdiction and guidelines far exceeds the expansionist desires of the Planning Commission.

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.

Photo Credit Hanna Barbara Scooby Doo

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