Category Archives: Affordability

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

 

Albemarle Backdoor Downzoning Proposed

By. Neil Williamson, President

Imagine you woke up one morning and you learned, through no fault of your own, your property was worth 50% less than when you went to bed the night before.

What if you also found housing was less available, less diverse and more expensive?

And what if your neighbors were behind the change?

All of this is possible under a resolution under consideration (but not yet endorsed) by Albemarle County’s Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC).

Thee fundamental question at hand is seeking to redefine the land use calculation from gross density to net density.

In an oversimplification, this moving of the goalposts reduces the density possible on most parcels.

The New Designs for Growth Guidebook correctly identifies the impact of the different planning paradigms:

Density Calculations
The method communities use to calculate density can dramatically impact development patterns.  For instance, while densely arranged homes on one portion of a large parcel would have the same gross density as the same number of homes spread out evenly over the parcel, the two developments have substantially different net densities.  Hence lot size and building arrangement can result in very different residential densities.

When revising ordinances, local jurisdictions should take into consideration the implications inherent with the different methods of calculating density.  Net density produces a more visually recognizable density for the developed portion of the site, while gross density allows for more flexibility in developing sites (e.g., cluster developments, PUDs) as well as projects evaluated in the context of average density of adjacent developments (i.e., a development fitting within a density continuum).

Gross density = Total residential units / total development land area
Net density = Total residential units / total residential land area (excludes roads, open spaces, and other uses)

While accurate, the definition above fails to address the clear concern of property owners the numerator in the calculation. Currently under the gross density concept if you have 10 acres in R-2 zoning in the development areas, you have the by right ability to build 20 homes on the 10 acres.  Under net density, the applicant must discount any land deemed “unbuildable by regulation”.

What would be included as “unbuildable by regulation”?  The City of St. Helena in Oregon has the following considerations:

    • All sensitive land areas:
    • Land within the 100-year floodplain;
    • Land or slopes exceeding 25 percent;
    • Drainageways;
    • Wetlands;
    • Fish and wildlife habitats;
    • Archaeological sites;
    • Federal or state protected areas for listed threatened or endangered species; and
    • Designated open space and open space-design review areas;
    • All land dedicated to the public for park purposes;
      • All land dedicated for public right-of-way:
      • Single-dwelling units: allocate 20 percent of gross acres for public facilities; and
      • Multiple-dwelling units: allocate 15 percent of gross acres for public facilities;
    • All land proposed for private streets;

Considering the topography of the Piedmont, one can easily see the aforementioned 10 acres losing significant portion of its by right density.

But the demand for housing will not go away.

Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan highlights the anticipated need for new units:

As seen in the residential Capacity Analysis discussed in the Development Areas Chapter, projections suggest that by the year 2030, approximately 15,000 additional dwelling units will be needed to accommodate the County’s future population. According to the Development Area Master Plans, the Development Areas can accommodate a range of approximately 13,800 to 29,000 new dwelling units.

Under current zoning, approximately 13,400 to 19,900 new dwelling units can be built.

If Crozet is able to move the goal posts by changing the density calculation, this would result in a less dense community, more expensive delivery of government services and a loss of property value to development area land owners.

Further as fewer homes will be able to be constructed in each development the cost of the infrastructure required for those homes would be spread across fewer units increasing cost to the end user.

As development area lots become more expensive, rural area development will become more economically attractive encouraging sprawl.  When coupled with the dearth of available new units to meet the forecast demand, cost of all housing (rural and development areas) will increase.

But it will reduce the population density allowed in Crozet – could this be the overarching goal?

Regardless of cost?

As usual more questions than answers, stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org.

Albemarle’s Persistently Procrastinating Proffer Policy Process

By. Neil Williamson, President

peanuts-lucy-charlie-brown-football-2One item on tomorrow’s (10/5) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors agenda caught my eye,  Residential Development Impact Work Group Charter. This group is being charged with a very specific task regarding the calculation of cash proffers in light of the new (7/1/16) state code.

The Residential Development Impact Work Group is formed by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to understand recent State Code amendments regarding proffers and to develop and analyze alternative means for determining and addressing the fiscal impact of residential development allowed either by-right or subsequent to a rezoning.

The Work Group will also provide a recommendation on how to proceed with addressing fiscal impacts of residential development.

Wait a minute, didn’t we just go through a laborious 18 month process similar to this with the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee?

That group provided a report to the Planning Commission who chose to pass it up to the Board of Supervisors who decided not discuss it because their process had taken so long that the state code was changing again.  This collective inaction led to this year’s Groundhog Day post.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so darn typical.  While Albemarle continues to ponder and process “an understanding of recent State Code amendments”, other localities have read the state code as a directive and taken action.  Such action may boost economic activity.

Markus Schmidt of The Richmond Times Dispatch reports on last week’s action in Chesterfield County:

In a move expected to boost revitalization in several areas of the county, the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously approved a policy that lowers a fee developers pay when building homes.

These so-called cash proffers are per-home fees imposed by the county to offset public infrastructure demands that additional families create when developments are built.

The new policy cuts the proffer amount, a maximum of $18,966 per dwelling unit — the highest in the region — roughly in half to a $9,400 maximum.

The board’s decision marks the first time the amount has been lowered since the county adopted its cash proffer policy in 1989.

Board Chairman Steve A. Elswick of the Matoaca District said the policy change will not affect the county’s tax rate.

“There will be no tax rate increase, and this policy will not allow for bad zoning to move forward,” he said.

Why is it that in Albemarle, a county often recognized for its expansive, veteran Community Development staff, state law can’t be followed?

This is far from the first time the Free Enterprise Forum has raised this issue.

Albemarle PC Chooses to Ignore State Law, Again

WarGames and Albemarle’s Proffer Paradox

Albemarle Planning Commission Tells Supervisors To Violate State Law

Albemarle’s Persistent Proffer Procrastination

Albemarle’s Mad Hatter Paradoxical Proffer Policy

lucyandcharliebrownandthefootballConsidering Albemarle’s well staffed legal department, I guess it is a given that they continue to find “legal” ways to ignore state code.  Absent a willing “aggrieved party” to test their tenuous position in court, I anticipate they will continue to hold meetings staff task forces and do nothing to encourage development in the development areas.

Why did I expect anything different?

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: Charles Schultz

‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm as its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea.  Please let me explain.

C-ville writer Samantha Baars found in the last six years significant taxpayer money has poured into Crozet:

“But Kyle Redinger, the developer of Adelaide, a proposed 80-unit neighborhood adjacent to the Cory Farm subdivision on Route 250, disagrees. He notes that Albemarle has invested 40 percent of its capital improvement money, or at least $29 million since 2010, in Crozet, but only 5 percent of the county’s population lives there.”

Despite such investment, some vocal members of the Crozet community continue to believe the growth that is currently contemplated by the comprehensive plan is too dense and too intense.

Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach suggested at a recent Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting that the unelected Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) plans to rewrite their master plan on their own. The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that this “independent citizen activity” may become an illegally constructed defacto Master Plan that all future projects are measured against.

For those unaware, Master Plans are a part of the legally mandated Comprehensive Plan and are generally prepared by professional planners through a deliberate, transparent, public process that includes all stakeholders (i.e. neighbors, businesses, environmental activists, etc.).

It is not surprising that Loach, a longtime CCAC advocate, would be supportive of ignoring the established public process in favor of “snob zoning”.  As a commissioner Loach famously stated that he could not ever see a circumstance where he would vote in favor of a project that the CCAC did not support.  While I recall Loach voting in favor of every Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that included many Crozet items, I cannot recall a single Crozet development project that he supported during his years on the Planning Commission.  Such blind allegiance to an unelected neighborhood association precludes the planning commission process and perpetuates a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone (BANANA) planning philosophy.

It goes far beyond master planning.  Long ago the CCAC (more than any other Citizen Council) unilaterally expanded their charge from being an advisory body to a mandated hurdle for any and all Crozet development proposals.  As this change was strongly supported by the subsequent votes of elected and appointed positions, the body grown further embolden to the point of reinventing elementary school math.

Recently the CCAC opposed a development project (the above mentioned Adelaide) based on its non-conformity to the Comprehensive Plan density.  A review of the Mater Plan showed the area as 3-6 units per acre and the Adelaide proposal called for 5.5 units an acre.  I am not sure how the CCAC can find that 5.5 is not between 3 and 6.  To be clear the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this particular project but we do wonder in what universe 5.5 is not between three and six.

In an Adelaide meeting earlier this year, one planning commissioner stated that Crozet neighbors had voiced concerns about their children playing with those children from attached housing.  If this is starting to sound like class warfare (or discrimination), it should.

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgIn her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations. Prevost reports such NIMBYism clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were. [emphasis added-nw]

The question then becomes if Crozet wants to preserve its small town charm and restrict population growth – when (and how) will they pay Albemarle County back for the $29 million taxpayer dollars expended over the last six years to make it a desirable development area?

Or might they embrace the change that has been vetted by the community and work to make the anticipated population growth work well with the existing community?

Or perhaps Albemarle will rollover to the vocal NIMBY mentality and choose to recognize an illegally developed Master Plan that fails to balance the many competing priorities of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

As usual we are left with more questions than answers.

Only time (and politics) will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

 

Where Is Albemarle’s Economic Development Headed?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Much like turning an aircraft carrier, Albemarle County Economic Development Strategic Planning Process is very slowly moving forward while some involved are busy paddling in very different directions. The reality is there is not only a need to change direction, there is a dire need for the crew to work together to change the many adverse elements surrounding the ship.

Last night’s (7/26) joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Authority showcases how each member of this crew has a different perspective on not only the current reality but also regarding the eventual destination of this cruise.

Albemarle Economic Development Director, Faith McClintic shared a couple of stunning facts regarding how the county must respond to business inquiries (including expansion of existing businesses):

If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway they tell them “we have nothing for you”

Prospect businesses are looking to move within 3 – 6 months if they are not looking to build. We have no product “ready to go today”

Several members of the joint meeting questioned some of the statistics presented and suggested the focus of the economic development strategic plan might be redirected.  Board of Supervisors Chair Liz Palmer mentioned that she thought this process was about bringing more business into the county to generate new tax revenue.

Planning Commission Chair Tim Keller also raised the concept of the types of jobs the plan was seeking to target suggesting the breakeven point [when the taxes = the services demand] for residential is $600K+ questions if we should be seeking to grow lower pay jobs.

Supervisor Ann Mallek took a different approach highlighting that the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Orange Dot report identified her district as having 440 families lack basic self-sufficiency.  She is thinking of them when she is thinking about economic vitality.

Supervisor Rick Randolph took exception to the concept of looking toward advanced manufacturing as the sector focus.  Aaron Richardson of Charlottesville Tomorrow reports:

Of those in the workforce, the report showed, more than 26 percent of Albemarle residents hold some form of advanced degree, but only 7.8 percent of available jobs require more than a bachelor’s degree.

Those numbers, said Supervisor Rick Randolph, do not support staff’s assertion about the need for more manufacturing jobs.

“I am feeling a disconnect between the need for manufacturing, when what we really need to focus on is the underemployment situation,” he said. “I am looking at a target sector for employment that is missing our biggest need.”

Over the last five years, Albemarle has been focused on several target business sectors for growing and expanding business.  The numbers indicate they have actually lost 324 jobs in those segments that have been the focus.  We agree based on these results a re-tuning of the targets may be appropriate.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates all of these different perspectives on the types of jobs needed but we continue to believe all the navel gazing in the world will not promote a new Albemarle paradigm where land is readily available and businesses are welcomed by the community rather than being seen as a threat to their way of life.

Until significant structural (proactive zoning, streamline approval process, etc.) and cultural changes are made Albemarle will continue to lose new job opportunities and existing businesses who chose to locate in localities who have embraced the prospect of new business.

Absent such changes Albemarle’s Economic Development Program will not be compared to a well coordinated warship but more to the S.S. Minnow of Gilligan’s Island fame.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: United Artist Television

 

 

Albemarle New Tax Targets Small Businesses

By. Neil Williamson, President

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

Dear Supervisors,

Thanks to restrictive land use decisions and other cost factors, many of the small businesses that service Albemarle County are located outside of the county limits. These enterprises are important players in our regional economy and, perhaps unknowingly, via your agenda item #23 you are about to stick it to them by requiring increased accounting and a new local tax all for a gain of just over $10,000 a year in revenue.

Please let me explain.

Currently any business located outside of Albemarle County with Albemarle gross receipts greater than $100,000 has to report that income and pay Business and Professional Occupational License (BPOL) Tax to Albemarle. The proposed ordinance drops the gross receipts threshold to $25,000.

Sec. 8-603 Contractors, developers, electricians, plumbers, steamfitters and speculative builders.

Each person engaged as a contractor, developer, electrician, plumber, steamfitter or speculative builder shall be subject to a license tax, and other provisions, as set forth herein:

A. Each contractor, developer, electrician, plumber, steamfitter or speculative builder contractor speculative builder or developer shall be subject to a license tax of sixteen cents ($0.16) for each one hundred dollars ($100.00) of gross receipts from the business conducted during the preceding fiscal or calendar year.

B. Each person engaged in the business of a contractor shall include in his gross receipts all work done, whether such work is done by contract, subcontract, day labor or time and material.

C. Each contractor who has paid a local license tax to another locality in which his principal office or branch office is located shall be exempt from obtaining a license and from paying a license tax to this county for conducting any such business within this county unless the amount of business done by any such person in this county is equal to or greater than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00) twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00). The amount of business done in the other locality in which the license tax is paid may be deducted by the person from the gross receipts reported to this county.

Nothing being proposed is illegal but just because you can does not mean you should.

Beyond the problematic issue of double taxation (will the entity continue to pay for ALL their gross receipts in their home locality), the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned about fairness to small business.

Consider the small family owned HVAC repair company located in Greene County. They do the majority of their work in Greene but from time to time they do work in Albemarle. Because this ordinance is based on gross receipts all of the pass through costs are included, if HVAC install is between $5,000 and $15,000 this company could only take on less than 5 such jobs a year or it has to file for business taxes in Albemarle.

The choice is for the small business to either not offer service to Albemarle or to increase its accounting costs and tax payment planning. Any increase in pricing will be passed along directly to the end user.

And what is the anticipated benefit to Albemarle?

From Albemarle Finance Director Betty Burrell’s staff report:

•  Sec. 8-603(C) – License Tax — threshold for out-of-County contractors – projected $10,250 revenue gain per year. Staff does not anticipate a significant budgetary impact from the other proposed revisions. [Emphasis added nw]

I understand state law has changed that will allow you to do this.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this lower threshold will inadvertently increase administrative cost for already financially strapped small contractors and in the end harm Albemarle citizens with increased costs, reduced services or both.

Please retain the $100,000 threshold.  Thank you for your service to the community.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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.

Greene Approves Budget, Sets New Tax Rate

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Historically when the Greene County Board of Supervisors meet to discuss the new budget and tax rates, it draws a large turnout and the meeting is moved to the Performing Arts Center at the high school. It starts an hour early and goes late into the night. This year the plan was the same for the meeting on April 26th, except only one speaker addressed the Board.

Greene had advertised a personal property tax rate of $.775/$100 of assessed value – an increase of $.025/$100 or 3.3%. Chairman Bill Martin asked County Administrator John Barkley to outline the process that brought them to the $.775 rate

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John Barkley

Barkley indicated that revenues for the current year are on target and there is a healthy reserve fund balance. He was complimentary of the county departments since 21 departments presented reduced budget requests. The increase of $.025/$100 will generate additional revenue of $460,000. In terms of the impact to a homeowner – a home assessed at $200,000 would require $50 in additional property taxes. All other tax rates will stay the same in the county.

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Sharon Mack

The meeting then shifted to comments from the public. The only person to sign up was Greene County School Board Chair Sharon Mack. She thanked the Board for their support and explained why the school’s requested near a 3% increase. She indicated that the main driver is that teachers have been budgeted a 3% increase and a 5% increase for has been budgeted for teacher assistants in order to remain competitive in attracting and keeping good teachers and their assistants. In closing, she appreciated that the Board of Supervisors fully funded the schools request.

With the public hearing closed, the discussion then shifted back to the Board members. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) said that in addition to the 21 departments reducing costs, 16 had no increase and some had less than $1,000 increase. The budget addresses current and future needs, especially the water impoundment.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) agreed with Herring and expanded on the school situation. In the past 4-5 years there has been an increase of 14% in number of students with fewer teachers rather than adding teachers. His other main comment was that Greene doesn’t act like D.C. – in Greene we invest in key functions especially for the long term, such as water and sewer and water impoundment.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) has seen Greene grow over the years and he stated that the school system is the future of Greene County and it is playing catch up. We have major issues to address in the water impoundment and the fact that the schools don’t have enough capacity for the growth we’ve experienced. imageHe also highlighted the poor emergency communication capability where a firefighter was in a burning building a year ago and he couldn’t talk to people 200 feet away. It almost cost him his life.

Vice Chair Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville)  indicated that during her orientation she heard of counties raising their personal property tax rates more than $.10/$100. She was glad that Greene could hold to only a $.025 tax increase.

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Bill Martin

Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) believes that the table is set for Greene County. The county has a great school system but we need more commercial expansion to increase our tax base. The water impoundment is the lynch pin to the county’s progress. However, the budget incrementally adds over $680,000 in new expenditures (the largest component being $170,000 for the regional jail) but only has new revenue of $460,000. The additional $120,000 would equate to an additional tax rate increase of $.012/$100 or a total tax rate of $.037/$100 of assessed value. This imbalance caused Martin to not support the budget.

Cox made a motion to approve the budget and the tax rate Frydl seconded the motion which passed of 4-1 (Martin opposed). At the first Board of Supervisors meeting in May, the Board will vote to appropriate funds for fiscal year 2017.

However, several questions came out of the budget process……..

1) how much Reserve Fund is left vs. the balance the auditors recommend having?

2) does the county have enough cash on hand going forward to get through the low periods right before the semiannual personal property tax payments?

3) should there be a “cash only” minimum balance in order to be able to pay the bills every month?

4) how should Greene look to finance the large, looming expenditures such as the water impoundment and school expansion?

Finance Director/Deputy County Administrator, Tracy Morris provided what the Reserve Balance has been the past four years (calculated at September 30th, the end of the fiscal year):

Fiscal Year Balance

% Decline

% Cumulative Decline

2012 $19,633,000

2013 $17,446,000

11.1%

11.1%

2014 $15,731,000

9.8%

19.9%

2015 $14,412,000

8.4%

26.6%

In the FY2017 budget included a $2,850,000 decline in the Reserve Balance to balance the budget. The FY2016 budget projected a decline in the Reserve Balance of $3,067,000 and with these amounts being used the 2016 and 2017 estimated Reserved Balance would be:

Projected Balance

% Decline

% Cumulative Decline (since 2012)

FY2016

15.6%

42.2%

FY2017

14.5%

56.7%

Two keys to remember are that the Reserve Balance is not all Cash. It is made up of all Balance Sheet accounts – both cash and non-cash. Morris also indicated that all investments of cash have been liquidated. In addition, Board Policy indicates a goal of maintaining a minimum reserve Balance of 15% of income plus 1 month of expense  which seems to be in jeopardy.

There has been discussion that an additional benchmark might be provided to operate the county on a sound financial basis and that would be to have a “cash only” minimum balance. This lead to ask how much cash does the county have which Morris directed to the County Treasurer, Stephanie Deal.

Deal provided the following detail of the cash balance by year in the two months (June and December) before personal property taxes are collected.

FY2012 FY2013 FY2014 FY2015 FY2016
April $8,855 $9,925 $6,873 $7,712 TBD
May $10,851 $13,951 $11,746 $12,050 TBD
October $8,999 $10,758 $8,389 $8,777 $7,794
November $10,869 $13,878 $11,026 $11,461 $10,829

(All numbers in thousands) *Fiscal Year ends 9/30

The trend shows a steady decline in the cash balance after peaking in 2013, similar, but not as steep as the decline in the Reserve Balance over the same period. May and November showing increases in the cash balance indicate that a large portion of the county pays their personal property taxes in the month before they are due.

As for Frydl’s comment that Greene County is not like Washington, D.C. he is currently correct – Greene got out of borrowing that plagued the county in the past. There is concern that there are major projects on the horizon – the water impoundment project for over $40,000,000 and the study currently being conducted on the physical needs of the school system – price to be determined.

The “good news” about the schools teaching more students with fewer teachers while on the surface sounds good but it is a concern whether it is sustainable. Cuts have been made to administrative staff causing teachers to take on more “non-teaching” tasks with growing classrooms. The combination of these issues raises concerns whether Greene County schools will keep their good teachers and help attract businesses to the county.

Lastly, the 2017 budget includes $2,836,000 of Debt Service. The “real” good news is that this amount declines annually the next nine years (2018 to 2026). Absent any new debt being acquired, starting in 2027 the annual decline jumps to $1,952,000 (in one year) and gets bigger the next 10 years to $2,224,000 in 2036. The total decline for the 11 year period is $19,288,000 and for the total 20 year period the total reduction will be nearly $27 million.

The chart below shows the trend line going down – significantly in the out years providing a source of revenue within the existing debt structure.

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Will this reduction in existing debt service be enough to fund all the projects needed to be done in Greene? Probably not, but it is a good start for the future.

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

Photo Credits: Greene County, Greene County Record, Martin Campaign

Albemarle PC Chooses to Ignore State Law, Again

By. Neil Williamson, President

go-to-jail-photo-credit-myanimelist.net_.jpgIn tonight’s (4/26) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting the commissioners again voted that their opinion on Cash Proffers was more important than state law (and the staff opinion).  And this wasn’t even the first time this year that they made such a vote (Albemarle Planning Commission Tells Supervisors To Violate State Law)

Add to this “fun house of mirrors” that this very same Planning Commission voted 5 – 0 on a Resolution of Intent to consider amending the Comprehensive Plan by repealing the Cash Proffer Policy.  This issue will come to the Planning Commission as a public hearing on May 10th.

I’d like to be able to explain all of this — but I am at a loss.

As a reminder what is at stake is a reduction of cash proffer of ~$15,000 per single family home in rezoned residential housing.

Here is the justification the Planning Commission made to support their first arrogant state code violating vote in February:

By a vote of 7:0, the Planning Commission recommends denial of ZMA-2015-09 Spring Hill Village Proffer Amendment for the following reasons:

1. Some reduction in cash proffer amounts may be in order based on looking at the school enrollments and capacities; but, the Commission at this point does not know what the reduced amount would be.
2. The recommendation of the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) of this reduced amount has not yet been fully analyzed by the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors; and, the additional information is still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago.
3. A full analysis should be conducted of the actual costs to the county of going forward with this development, and
4. The Board of Supervisors should set a new proffer policy, not use this project to set a precedent, and possibly consider repealing the current cash proffer policy while that is undertaken.

#2 is perhaps the most outlandish of these.  The proffer change was driven by a 2013 change in state code.  A full three years late Albemarle still has not obtained “the additional information still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago”?????  Based on this logic, the applicant is being punished because Albemarle County did not do their job.

In the meeting, the commissioners discussion started with school impacts and Commissioner Mac Lafferty again stated his belief that the action should go directly to the Board rather than the Planning Commission.  The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with Lafferty’s position.

Commissioner Bruce Dotson suggested the applicant, who is selling product at $600,000+, can afford the proffer.  The applicant indicated they can afford it but told the commission the previous proffer amount is now in violation of State law. The Free Enterprise Forum believes the fact that a project can afford it is not germane to the argument.

Tonight’s vote was unanimous 7-0 to recommend denial of the cash proffer amendment.

The repetitive arrogance of the Albemarle County Planning Commission to determine they are above the Code of Virginia is astounding.

Remembering the Planning Commission is merely advisory to the Board of Supervisors, the true question is will the current Board of Supervisors also choose to willfully violate state law?

Only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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.