Category Archives: Affordability

2018 Forum Watch Top 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

top ten listPerhaps the best thing that can be said about 2018 was it was not 2017.

As our community is still dealing with the very real ramifications of August 2017, 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 complete 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 2018.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2018:

clip_image002#10 Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”  “ …Representatives of the volunteer rescue squad and Fire Departments also addressed the Board of Supervisors. Their message was clear – we are getting “no clear supervision” and it goes back and forth who we are to answer to.

Several other citizens asked that the Supervisors have the courage to back up and revert to how E911 worked since 2012 and then have a committee analyze how best to address E911 services in the future. One of the final public comments was there seems to be “a failure to communicate” in Greene County”

#9 Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model …”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….”

#8 Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”? “…At the end of the meeting, [Brandon] Collins presented a different pers

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Brandon Collins

pective on the reports.  He admonished City Council to think big.  If they are really serious about fixing the housing affordability issue, they should stop depending on developers; they should do it themselves with their existing Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  Collins’ “Marshall Plan” might include $140 million dollar bond issuance dedicated simply to the creation of new affordable units that will stay perpetually affordable. When pressed by Councilor Wes Bellamy how the city might pay for that debt service, Collins admitted he had not figured that out yet but thought it could be resolved.”

#7 Delta Response Team Rescue Headed to Fluvanna …Fluvanna County will start with a new contract ambulance service this upcoming year.Delta Response Team (DRT), headquartered in Appomattox, was selected after a Request for Proposal (RFP) process was completed by the county. It will cost the county $438,000 for 24-hour services. The county budget $600,000 for FY19.  “We are not here to make a career service,” said Susan Walton, president of DRT.

#6 Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction “…This proposal has sped through the County’s approval process faster than any in recent memory.  Their “need for speed” is not clear and an e-mail requesting more information has not been returned.

Throughout this speedy process, there has been significant discussion regarding the impact of this land use change on property values.  In testimony before the Planning Commission several residents suggested the value could drop by up to 90%.  One speaker indicated that a potential real estate contract is in peril because of the proposed ZTA….”

#5 Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability “…So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?…”

See the source image#4 Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout “…The Free Enterprise Forum believes BRT is dramatically better than light rail, but we are not yet convinced that a mere two years after widening North US29, the community is willing to give up a lane on US29 for bus only access.  Since the jury is clearly still out regarding BRT, should we be planning this critical infrastructure piece with the station as the center?

In addition, the long term connectivity plan calls for roads to cut through Fashion Square Mall to connect to a new access road paralleling US29 and a pedestrian/bike bridge over US29 and that’s just the Southeast corner of the plan….”

#3 Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future  “…  Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.  There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.

Please let me explain….”

#2 Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal “…The Free Enterprise Forum has learned that eight of Albemarle County twenty-one Entrance Corridors fail to meet the state requirements for such designation.  Some of these have been in violation since inception in 1990.  This revelation, made by staff, calls into question the legality and enforceability of any ARB conditions placed on properties along the eight illegal entrance corridors….”

and the #1 post for 2019  Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy “…Albemarle’s Stormwater https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/no-rain-tax-logo.jpg?w=175&h=175Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department….Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

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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 2019!

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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Fluvanna Supervisors Hear Property Assessment Results

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Last week, (10/3) the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors were briefed on the latest mass appraisal of real property performed.  The City of Fargo has a concise definition of this process:

Mass appraisal is the systematic appraisal of groups of properties as of a given date using standardized procedures and statistical testing. This differs from single-property appraisal, commonly referred to as “fee” or “bank” appraisal, which normally deals with only a particular property as of a given date.

Pearson’s Appraisal Service performed an appraisal this year, the first by the company in Fluvanna. Overall, the county saw an average increase of 4.7 percent increase across the county limits. However, inside Lake Monticello only increased 3.4 percent.

Representative from Pearson explained all assessment decisions were based on data from sales.

Lake Monticello vacant land had a decrease in assessment by 15 to 20 percent. Because the subdivision is nearly built out, most undeveloped property is not desirable.

The public utility infrastructure was also reassessed and goes effective immediately. The Commissioner of Revenue estimates that will bring in $83,000 of additional revenue. Those funds will increase the FY19 collection.

Notices of new tax values will be mailed to all land owners and Pearson will be available to discuss the new assessment.

Also at the October 3 Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors approved two change orders to complete the E911 radio project. The last two changes needed an additional $26,500.

The county’s animal shelter services are handled by Fluvanna SPCA. Despite the county only contributing for 50 percent of the operational costs, the county’s shelter takes up 75 percent of the FSPCA. To help alleviate some funding issues, supervisors approved a supplement of $35,000.

FSPCA and the county operate on a contract services. In future years, FSPCA will present a budget that supervisors can go over with FSPCA officials during the budget season.

Supervisors approved creating an employee ladder system in the E911 operations center. The FY19 fiscal impact was $10,000. Over the last few years county administration has worked at creating mobility options in the organization chart of departments to allow employees to get promoted. Previously employees would have to either wait to become a department head or leave for a bigger organization with a larger chart to fill.

Supervisors will next meet on October 17 at 7 p.m.

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 Credit:  Fluvanna SPCA

Affordable Housing Policy Makes Building Affordable Housing Impossible

By. Neil Williamson, President

Back in 2005, when Albemarle County instituted its 15% inclusionary housing regulation on all new residential rezonings, Overton McGee, then Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity CEO stated “It was a good first step”.  I was quoted in The Daily Progress “You just made housing less affordable to 85% of new home buyers”.    My larger economic point seemed to be lost on the reported but time has proven this paradoxical prognostication to be correct.

Please let me explain.

Considering the previous Habitat CEO’s position on mandated 15% affordable housing requirements, it is interesting what the current Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity CEO, Dan Rosensweig said at an Albemarle County work session last week.  From my Twitter feed:

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Recent news reports have highlighted the impact of inclusionary zoning.  The Economist Booming Seattle Struggles to Stay Affordable spoke of “the grand bargain”

Seattle’s proposed solution to this deadlock, unveiled in 2015, is known as the “grand bargain”. It would reduce restrictions and unleash building on big patches of city. In exchange, developers would have to reserve a few units for renting below the market rate or pay into an affordable-housing fund. Such schemes, known as “inclusionary zoning”, are increasingly common in progressive American cities. They can lead to more mixed districts and placate left-wing critics. But they are not without problems.

By reducing future earnings, inclusionary zoning acts as a tax on new development. If the affordability requirements are set too high, many new projects will not be built. Bill de Blasio, New York City’s progressive mayor, championed requirements that at least one-fifth of new units should be offered below the prevailing market rate. San Francisco sets the threshold as high as 30% and imposes a clutch of added “impact fees”. Developers complain that these fees suffocate all but the most lucrative projects—which then invite criticism as “luxury high-rises”.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County have heard the cry of building only high end product.  The perverse reality is that the affordable housing fees actually push against housing affordability.

Due to regulatory hurdles and outright prohibitions, there is a lack of price variety (and format) in the new products being constructed.  In Late July, Daniel Herriges of www.StrongTowns.org wrote of the oft mentioned ‘missing middle’ housing in his article “Why Are Developers Only Building Luxury Housing”.

Missing Middle housing—buildings containing anywhere from 2 to 19 units—can be a sweet spot when it comes to construction cost. Duplexes through fourplexes in particular are built in much the same way as single-family homes, but the cost of the land is distributed across multiple households. Even cheaper to build than a duplex or fourplex is an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). It’s no accident that a disproportionate share of America’s existing “naturally occurring” (i.e. without subsidy) affordable housing takes Missing Middle forms.

Unfortunately, we’ve pretty systematically outlawed the Missing Middle in many neighborhoods. Single-family homes are the only thing that can be built on 80% of residentially-zoned land in Seattle, 53% even in renter-friendly San Francisco, and 50% in Philadelphia, to name just a few cities. In suburbs, it’s common for over 90% of land to be zoned for single-family residences exclusively.

Robert Steuteville writing on www.CNU.org highlights the work of Dr. Arthur C. “Chris” Nelson of the University of Arizona regarding the market demand for the ‘Missing Middle’ housing:

This supply and demand mismatch is behind the need for “missing middle” housing, often built by small developers and builders. Meanwhile, the demand for large-lot single-family housing, the mainstay of the US building industry from the 1960s through 2008, is declining. Nelson’s research comes up again and again in discussions with thoughts leaders in small-scale urbanism. . .

. . .Nelson has been saying much the same thing for more than 10 years—yes, even before the housing crash—and he has been right so far. His numbers are based on demographics, demographic trends, market trends, and housing supply and construction data.

 

If we accept that the majority of the land available for development is designated to single family residential, and that there is a market demand for a different, more intense form of development, can regulations be relaxed to allow such increased density and perhaps increase the supply of missing middle (affordable) housing?

Over the last few years we have seen significantly more multifamily housing units come into Albemarle County Development Area housing mix:

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According to Adam Beltz of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis is now considering fourplexes as part of their affordable housing solution:

In a cityscape dominated by single-family homes, a proposal to allow four-unit residential buildings virtually everywhere in Minneapolis is stirring strong and conflicting feelings among neighborhood leaders.

A draft of the city’s updated comprehensive plan won’t be published until March 22 or completed until December, but the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey were recently briefed on the high-level concepts, one of which is a historic rewriting of the zoning rules that would allow property owners to build fourplexes on any residential property in the city.

Middle Housing www.missingmiddle.com describes the fourplex as a medium structure that consists of four units typically two on the ground floor and two above with shared entry.  Typical unit size is between 500 – 1,200 square feet with a net density of between 15 to 35 dwelling units per acre.

How might such a proposal be received in the City of Charlottesville or Albemarle’s development areas?

  • How could reducing the regulatory requirements increase housing affordability?
  • Would increasing the developable area of Albemarle positively impact affordability?
  • Would relaxing Charlottesville’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations assist in providing a bulwark against gentrification and revenue for the existing homeowner?

We find ourselves agree with Albemarle Planning Commissioner Pam Reilly who last week said, “We are lacking an affordable housing policy to guide our decision making”.

If the community wants to address the market need for affordable, accessible housing, policies and regulations should permit, but not require, the market to respond to consumer demand for denser development AND redevelopment without mandated affordable units.

Ironically, getting rid of the affordable housing mandate will make housing more affordable.

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.missingmiddle.com

Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”?

By Neil Williamson, President

Former Charlottesville City Council candidate and Public Housing Advocate Brandon Collins is energetic and passionate, but he is rarely described as optimistic or even jubilant.

Late in Monday night’s (6/18) City Council meeting he was both as he called for Charlottesville to give up on developer incentives that produce precious few affordable housing units and instead launch a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing to meet the current shortfall of 3,318 units.

Please let me explain.

Council received two important, somewhat disconcerting,  housing reports.  Prepared by Partners for Economic Solutions, the housing needs assessment was blunt in its analysis of current and projected market conditions.  It concluded that the city had a current need for 3,318 affordable units, growing to 4,020 units in 2040. The reasons for these conditions were summarized:

The forces creating this affordability crisis and impeding fair and affordable housing include:

• The city’s constrained supply of developable land supply limits the potential for new residential construction.

• More than 200 year-round housing units have been diverted to short-term transient rentals through Airbnb and other leasing services.

• High land and development costs limit the market’s ability to build new units that could rent at levels affordable to households at less than 60 to 80 percent of AMI.

• Federal funding for construction of new affordable housing and for Housing Choice Vouchers has not kept pace with the growing need. Public housing funding to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority includes almost no support for renovating existing public housing.

• Zoning policies such as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, setback requirements and maximum residential densities can prevent more intensive development of the city’s limited land resources. Community resistance to change leads to policies that prioritize preserving existing single-family neighborhoods over the development of new affordable housing.

• The lack of predictability in the City’s development approval process has a chilling effect on developers considering projects that require City Council and Planning Commission approval. A last-minute decision can scuttle or significantly delay projects in which the developer has proceeded in good faith, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

• The approval process is expensive and time-consuming, adding directly to the total development costs and ultimate housing prices.

• The tight housing market allows landlords to discriminate against low-income households with limited financial resources, spotty or no credit histories, arrest records, children, housing choice vouchers or other perceived risk factors.

• Housing affordability for many households is an income problem. Low levels of education, limited skills training, inadequate public transit and difficulty finding quality affordable child care can prevent individuals ability to reach financial self-sufficiency.

With this report in hand, the folks at Partners for Economic Solutions examined the height bonuses currently under consideration in both the Strategic Investment Area and the Comprehensive Plan.  The concept explored was how many units could be provided and at what level of affordability.

The very detailed report included carrying costs, a 7% profit margin as well as other development costs.  This profit margin was explained as necessary or the project would not gain investors – they would instead put their money into other projects with a better return on investment.

Development costs are impacted by several factors, but most significant are the style of construction and the type of parking. Height has a direct impact on costs with lower-cost wood-frame construction limited to four stories. A fifth story can be added if the first floor is constructed in concrete rather than wood. Above five stories, most apartment buildings are constructed on concrete or steel and concrete at a much higher cost per square foot.

Parking is a major cost factor, averaging $5,000 per surface space, $20,000 per space in an above-ground parking structure and $32,000 per space in a below-ground structure. Surface parking is the least expensive option, by far, but it consumes a great deal of land.

The model assumed up to four stories of development would be served by surface parking with taller buildings requiring structured parking.

The analysis also suggests a limited ability for height bonuses to secure committed affordable housing units. Generally speaking, Charlottesville rents do not support the construction of mid-to high-rise residential buildings with the exception of student housing adjacent to the University of Virginia grounds, high-end condominiums and possible niche products such as luxury senior housing. Five-story structures are feasible only at the higher rents achievable in Downtown neighborhoods.

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In conclusion, the report found that if density is the only incentive, based on market conditions, it does not work.   Providing perhaps 15% of the incremental increase in units @ 60% AMI or 10% of the incremental increase @ 50% AMI.   The consultant went so far as to say, “some of the Planning Commission concepts have no value to the developer; it is NOT an incentive”.

After this well presented and documented report was presented, Councilor Kathy Galvin said,

This would depress a hyena

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said, “This is bad”, and continued to express concern that the economic analysis included a profit margin for the developer.  She contended that until we change that conversation we are never going to fix this.  She said that if you are willing to house just a few people at a time – that’s not a direction I support.

Councilor Mike Signer called out Albemarle County’s role in the housing affordability issue.  He indicated the politics of increasing density is very tough highlighting his affirmative vote in the 3-2 decision to rezone 10th and Jefferson.  He also pushed back on the contention that a profit margin did not matter.

Vice Mayor Heather Hill called out the Air BnB taking up some of the Accessory Dwelling Units are being pulled out of affordable housing stock.

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Brandon Collins

At the end of the meeting, Collins presented a different perspective on the reports.  He admonished City Council to think big.  If they are really serious about fixing the housing affordability issue, they should stop depending on developers; they should do it themselves with their existing Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  Collins’ “Marshall Plan” might include $140 million dollar bond issuance dedicated simply to the creation of new affordable units that will stay perpetually affordable. When pressed by Councilor Wes Bellamy how the city might pay for that debt service, Collins admitted he had not figured that out yet but thought it could be resolved.

Beyond the ironic title “Marshall Plan”, the Free Enterprise Forum has several questions.

  • If providing significant affordable units was not economically feasible with a 7% profit margin does the loss of that 7% make the economics work?
  • Considering the current political climate in Charlottesville, could a $140 million bond be supported by the citizens?
  • Would this council support the tax increases needed to service the debt issuance?
  • Does addressing Affordable Housing head on start to address some of the other socioeconomic challenges in the City?
  • Could this program actually increase the demand for affordable housing?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.  Stay tuned.

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: TV10

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

Groundhog Day in Fluvanna?

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors’ budget calendar begins in earnest when the calendar flips to February. The county administrator will present a budget proposal that will kick off the vast majority of discussion the supervisors will have regarding the fiscal year 2019 budget.

groundhog day gobblers knobPredictions of actions by this, or any, governmental body can be as reliable as Punxsutawney Phil, but there are times that early session decisions truly foreshadow future votes.

The last few years the board has been able to hold the Real Estate tax rate steady. This year the supervisors had a budget work session in December to help steer staff as Steve Nichols, the county administrator, prepares his budget proposal.

Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District), the two left leaning supervisors, told Nichols they were ok with a slight raise in the tax rate if necessary. Booker even saying a $0.92 per $100 assessed real property rate was ok. Currently the rate is $0.907.

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) and Don Weaver (Cunningham District), the two right leaning supervisors, advocated for low as possible. Eager even suggesting a decrease in tax rate.

A decrease in the real property rate will be difficult because the county will begin paying for the Zions Crossroad water project and trying to decrease business related taxes to help jump start development in the ZXR area.

The past four years, Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) has been the one to bridge the gap between the two sides. Last year during a work session Sheridan even suggested the $0.907 tax rate where the supervisors ended up.

In an interesting sign during the 2018 organizational meeting, when nominations for chairman started, Booker quickly nominated Sheridan with a second from O’Brien. Booker has advocated multiple times for a roving chairship after she lost the gavel two years ago.

Sheridan, abstaining from the vote, was unanimously elected chairman. Then Eager quickly nominated Booker for vice chair with Weaver seconding. She was elected unanimously, Booker abstaining from the vote.

Such unanimity could be a sign of further cooperation or it could be a sign of lines being drawn with a budget season just ahead.

Nichols will present his budget on February 7 at 7 p.m.

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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: Onwardstate.com

 

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

Bad ‘Housekeeping’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Image result for alice brady bunchGrowing up in the 1970s, the only ‘housekeeper’ I knew was Alice from the Brady Bunch.  She was an important part of the family who helped out getting everything accomplished for a busy family with six children.  She was well respected by the children, the community and her employers.

Now, in separate, equally disturbing, actions both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are giving Alice a bad name.

Please let me explain.

Under the auspices of literally “Housekeeping” AlbemarlePC Legal notice plans, by my count, nearly 30 code revisions.  The legal ad for the June 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing (right) was dense, even by Albemarle standards.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds some of the changes proposed, we remain concerned that other items are clearly being pushed through for political expediency and are being “hidden in plain sight”.

Yesterday, I literally took out my magnifying glass to read the small print.  Policy wonks may read the legal ads this closely but by putting thirty largely unrelated code revisions into Zoning Text Amendment, the opportunity for obfuscation is great.

In a municipal game of “Where’s Waldo” see if you can find the second amend statement in the ad above.  If you were able to find it, you would find this innocuous legalese:

Amend Section 18-32.6 to clarify that specifications for recreational facilities comply with Sections 18-4.16-4.16.3;

Reading the text above, Alice (and pretty much everyone else) might think this is just “cleaning up” some legal stuff to make it comply with some other legal stuff.  But in reality, these twelve words eliminate special use permits for golf and swim clubs in the rural areas, effectively banning new golf courses in Albemarle County.  [correction June 13 10:46 am  this language is to clean up the ordinance, a separate SUP (and public engagement plan) will be submitted to eliminate golf courses in the rural area – per e-mail from Albemarle’s Bill Fritz- the Free Enterprise Forum regrets this error – nw] This is just one of the “housekeeping” items buried in the proposed Zoning Text Amendment

Albemarle is not alone in burying changes in “housekeeping” activities.  Charlottesville Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson took City Council’s charge of a “Legal Review” to mean anything her office wanted to change should be a part of the review.

Luckily, the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) took a long look at the “Legal Review”. As CADRe stated in their May 23rd letter to the Planning Commission:

In the case where a revision represents a substantive change that we feel is inappropriate for the Legal Review and better served by potential Amendments following the update to the Comprehensive Plan, we have noted as Substantive Change. [emphasis added-nw]

Much more than just “Housekeeping” CADRe’s letter outlined 16 pages of Substantive Changes; including the elimination of non residential uses in residential districts:

Also, what about all the other non-residential uses that are currently permitted in residential districts per the residential matrix? Is there a proposed replacement matrix that maintains these uses?

Examples: Houses of worship, temporary outdoor churches, cemetery, Health clinic, private clubs, wireless facilities (antennas, attached facilities, etc.), day care facility, schools (elementary, high school, college) funeral home, library, municipal govt. offices, property management, parking garage/lot, indoor health/sports clubs, parks, utility facilities, utility lines, consumer service business.
If these uses are eliminated from the residential districts this too is a SIGNIFICANT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE

Regardless of your position on the issues buried in these Zoning Text Amendments, it is difficult for us to understand how one would find these changes as “Housekeeping”.  Instead, we see it as an attempt, albeit a legal attempt, to circumvent the normal process and implement significant changes without proper public engagement.

Alice would indeed be disappointed in this shaming of the word “Housekeeping”.

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: WJBQ.com

Sprawl Wars–One Rouge

By. Neil Williamson, President

Reminding me of the old Don Imus bit “Which Doesn’t Belong and Why”, this Thursday evening I will be joining Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin and Piedmont Environmental Council’s Charlottesville-Albemarle Land Use Officer Jeff Werner on a panel discussing “How Zoning and Land Use Shape The World Around Us”.  This FREE event is a non-partisan project of The Democratic Road Forward PAC.

At the outset, I must complement the other panelists both of whom are well respected in their professional and political fields.  I have known Werner and Galvin for many years; we disagree strongly about some things, but we have always had interesting, positive conversations/debates.  I anticipate Thursday will be equally interesting.

While the Free Enterprise Form is pleased to be invited to the panel, some of the promotion for the event already has me scratching my head. Rather than focusing on the more cerebral zoning and land use, the organizers are touting “URBAN SPRAWL” Here is the blurb from the website:

2017UGsession6_4

“Decades of unplanned and carelessly applied zoning gave rise to urban sprawl”, I have to disagree.

Sure the zoning regulations and their enforcement had an impact on neighborhood expansion, but market demand, improved mobility, automobile affordability, as well as the advancement of women in the workplace were significant contributors to sprawling neighborhoods.

Blaming the previous planning is evidence of the arrogant planner’s paradox — if only the community planned better we would be a better community – planning is good but product must have a market or it does not get built.  The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe most planners have a wide enough world view when it comes to planning alternatives.

In his paper, Urban Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Deliberative Democracy, David B. Resnik, JD, PhD wrote:

Urban sprawl in the United States has its origins in the flight to the suburbs that began in the 1950s. People wanted to live outside of city centers to avoid traffic, noise, crime, and other problems, and to have homes with more square footage and yard space. As suburban areas developed, cities expanded in geographic size faster than they grew in population. This trend has produced large metropolitan areas with low population densities, interconnected by roads. Residents of sprawling cities tend to live in single-family homes and commute to work, school, or other activities by automobile.

The concept of living in a suburban neighborhood has been a dream for many American families.  The advent of affordable automobiles and gasoline provided America the greatest independent mobility in the world.  People could choose to live out in the country and still make it into the urban areas to work.  Today, environmental groups and academics have successfully attached a negative connotation to the “American Dream” of owning a house with a yard by using the term ‘sprawl’.

“Sprawl features rapid geographic expansion of metropolitan areas in a “leapfrog,” low density pattern, segregation of distinct land uses, heavy dependence on automobile travel with extensive road construction, architectural and social homogeneity, shift of capital investment and economic opportunity from the city center the the periphery, and relatively weak regional planning.”
Rollins School of Public Heath, Emory University

“Sprawl is irresponsible, often poorly-planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic and air pollution, crowds schools, and drives up taxes.” –The Sierra Club

Local and State Governments have joined in the anti-sprawl movement mainly for economic reasons – it is significantly more efficient to deliver government services (Schools, Police, Fire, Etc.) to a densely populated area rather than geographically dispersed.

In a fascinating piece of creative lexicon, the term ‘Smart Growth’ worked its way into the planning sphere in the 1990s.  Like ‘Clean Water’ these positive terms, work subliminally to support their own cause i.e.: if you are opposed to ‘smart growth’ you must favor ‘dumb growth’.  Recently many of  ‘smart growth’ proponents have shifted lexicon to be supportive of “Form Based Zoning”, “Sustainable Cities” and of course Charlottesville’s  “Streets that Work”.

One of the premier new urbanist evangelists is Andrés Duany, whose firm DPZ was hired by Charlottesville last year to develop their Form Based Code.  Duany has co-authored five books: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, The New Civic Art, “The Smart Growth Manual”, “Garden Cities” and “Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents”.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes there is a market for Form Based Codes and New Urbanism; but there is also a market for old urbanism and suburbanism.  Just as we were supportive of Albemarle’s neighborhood model as ONE model not THE model, we believe zoning should not be crafted to prevent the last bad thing from happening again it should be built to allow the next great place to be built.  Neither sprawl or the automobile should be seen as planners’ enemy.

In his seminal book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Myths, Randal O’Toole wrote:

Sprawl is one of those invented problems. Low-density suburbanization–which is what people usually mean when they say “sprawl”–not only is not responsible for most of the problems that its critics charge, it is the solution to many of the problems that sprawl opponents claim they want to solve.

The war on sprawl is really a war on American lifestyles. It combines a war on the suburbs that house half of all Americans with a war on the automobiles that carry Americans four out of every five miles they travel. Yet the suburbs provide an ideal medium between rural open spaces and crowded cities while occupying just 2 percent of the nation’s land. Meanwhile, for most urban-length trips, the automobile is the fastest, most convenient, and most economical form of personal transportation ever devised.

Americans live in a wide range of possible lifestyles. A fourth of all U.S. residents live in rural areas away from any cities or towns. Another 10 percent live in small towns that are far from major urban areas. While 65 percent of Americans live in urbanized areas of 50,000 people or more, just a third of those live in the central cities such as New York, Seattle, or Dallas. Urbanized lifestyles range from low-density suburbs through medium-density edge cities to high-density city centers. All of these are valid lifestyle choices and they work for the people who live there.

To be clear, any land use regulation worth of the name is a restriction of property rights.  Interestingly, those same regulations provide a level of protection for the property rights (and property values) of others.  The question is how intensely you regulate.

  • Should local government determine where you should put your dumpster?
  • Should local government determine what color red should be in the Red Lobster sign?
  • Should local government mandate expansive sidewalks, bike lanes and street trees?
  • Should local government encourage economic development by reducing regulation?
  • How much power should neighbors have directing development nearby?
  • How does zoning impact neighborhood ethnic and income diversity?  Should it?

These are the type of questions I hope we get to discuss on Thursday night.  The answers will shape how our community chooses to prosper and grow, or not.

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.

Charlottesville Mistaken & Mistimed Mandate

Adapted from comments to the Charlottesville Planning Commission May 9, 2017

By.  Neil Williamson, President

unintended-consequencesThe Free Enterprise Forum often speaks of unintended consequences of proposed legislation. We believe staff’s current recommendation regarding regulations around forgiving developer fees heads Charlottesville in the wrong direction.

Please let me explain.

In 2003, fourteen years ago, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development said:

Most housing professionals agree that concentrating assisted-housing for low- and very low-income Americans in dense, urban areas is not an effective use of scarce affordable housing resources. Over the past decade, professionals in the affordable housing industry have turned increasingly to mixed-income housing as an alternative to traditional assisted-housing initiatives. Mixed-income housing is an attractive option because, in addition to creating housing units for occupancy by low-income households, it also contributes to the diversity and stability of American communities.

There have been numerous successful mixed-income developments nationwide. State and local governments have developed incentive programs and initiatives to promote mixed-income housing. In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided support for public housing authorities to de-concentrate traditional public housing in favor of the development of mixed-income housing. In addition, HUD funding from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program can also be a valuable resource for states and local jurisdictions to finance mixed-income housing initiatives, or to develop, design and implement new mixed-income housing programs that address local housing needs. HOME funds are specifically designed to be flexible in order to meet local housing needs.

In practice, I have seen Charlottesville intentionally moving toward more mixed income neighborhoods as a tapestry of price points for the communities being developed.

Why then would staff recommend the following:

To ensure the affordable units are actually provided in new developments, staff recommends no Certificates of Occupancy be issued until the City confirms the affordable units have been developed and the developer has entered into an agreement with the City that these units will remain affordable for a specified period of time.

While this may look good on paper, the reality is that by DEMANDING the developer build the affordable units prior to receiving certificates of occupancy for the market rate units virtually guarantees the affordable units will not be mixed with market rate rather will be concentrated in one portion of the project. Further, by positioning the affordable units first in the pipeline this well intentioned requirement would create significant financing challenges for the development project as a whole.

If the Planning Commission is committed to mixed income communities that are truly mixed, the Free Enterprise Forum requests that you strike this language and move forward with the concept of development fee forgiveness as a small step to address the larger housing affordability crisis in our region.

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: http://theadvocates.org/tag/liberator-online-2