Category Archives: albemarle county

Albemarle Passes The Bucks ($1.4 Million) To Unelected CACs

By Neil Williamson, President

piggy-bankIn Wednesday’s (2/1) meeting, without so much as a formal public hearing, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors plans to send a $1.4 million dollar piggy bank to the unelected Citizen Advisory Councils so that the elected officials don’t have to make the hard budget choices.

Nothing they are doing is illegal, it’s just not right.  Please let me explain.

Albemarle’s annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget is laborious and involves significant number of staff hours to determine the staff priority for Capital projects such as vehicles, buildings and renovations.

Over the last 13 years the Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the level of detail and careful consideration the CIP committee (including citizen representation and 2 elected BOS members) have put into these discussions.  There have been times when one geographic portion of the development areas had CIP projects that garnered higher scores by the committee and these were funded rather than less urgent projects.

The new “Neighborhood Funding Initiative” would siphon off $1.4 million of the annual CIP budget and allocate it geographically and by population.  The staff has proposed a formula to accomplish this task:

17-155 - Proposed Allocation of Funding - View

Staff has simply developed this Board driven concept.  In fact, the staff report hints at a better manner to utilize citizen involvement along with the elected officials within the current CIP process.

staff has conducted best practices research which is summarized as Attachment A that revealed that the majority of these types of community focused improvement funding programs fall into three basic categories:  neighborhood matching grants; formal citizen involvement in capital planning; and citizen-driven Capital Improvement Programs. After hearing the Board’s discussion, staff thinks that the third category may most clearly align with the Board’s preferences, so the program has been designed along those lines.  If the Board would like this program to be more closely incorporated in the already existing CIP review, evaluation and ranking process that would be another viable approach.

The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a critic of the unelected CACs.

In 2009 we wrote:

The Free Enterprise Forum believes citizen groups (including us) should have the ability to be active participants in the workings of local government.  That being said, we are increasingly concerned that the leadership function of some Boards and Commissions may be inappropriately delegating to community organizations.

With the proposed policy change, beyond effective regulatory veto power over development projects that would advance the community vetted comprehensive plan, Albemarle now seems poised to give these unelected “mission creeping” Citizen Advisory Councils the county purse strings as well.

As the Supervisors continue to delegate, I wonder what will be left for them to do … besides run for reelection.

As we said in 2009:

In the end, elected leaders must lead, not delegate, if citizens don’t like the direction they should replace the leaders.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Stay tuned.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

2016 – A Year of Exits (Executive and Grade Separated)

By. Neil Williamson, President

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/top-ten-list.jpg?w=179&h=161At this time each year, I take time to look in the rearview and see what issues we have covered that have garnered the most attention.  As usual, I am amazed, and thankful, for the large number of people who read and financially support our work.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2016 Shaking My Head (SMH) Moments

#10 Is Charlottesville the $17.86 Million Court Jester?

Imagine you are a mayor or a City Manager, if a major employer and economic driver in your city was poised to leave, how would you respond?Image result for Court Jester

Perhaps its just me, but I would likely fight like heck to keep them in the city.  It is much easier to retain a major employer than to attract one.

But what if the employer is actually an arm of a neighboring government, should that matter? …

If Albemarle decides to bring $17.86 million of ‘County’ economic activity back to Albemarle, Charlottesville may end up looking as wise as the Court Jester this Halloween.

 

#9 Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map

Imagine being in the banana business — and you have no way to obtain fruit.Image result for Albemarle county development area

That is Albemarle County’s current economic development sales position: “Yes, we have no bananas.”

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

#8 Greene Supervisors Approve Overspending FY17 Budget

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In just the second month of the new budget cycle, the Greene County Board of Supervisors discussed clip_image002two issues last night (8/23) that would allow the county to spend nearly $33,000 over the approved FY17 budget.

The first issue that County Administrator John Barkley explained was that several positions are needed to be brought up to market value. He further explained that supplemental funds are being requested to fund the $27,250 for the reclassification of positions. Surplus funds from the FY16 budget will allow the county to be able to fund this request.

#7 C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

#6 Albemarle’s Executive Exodus x 2

Albemarle Executive Foley Finds Greener Pastures

Thomas FoleyWith rumors flying around Albemarle County (and Social Media) all day, a 4 pm Stafford County announcement made it official; County Executive Tom Foley is leaving Albemarle County to take up the same post in Stafford County.  In the announcement Stafford highlighted Foley’s service and temperament as key qualities they were looking for in their new administrator:

Albemarle is Losing Faith

leavingyourjobAs anticipated as the sun rising in the east, it is with absolutely no surprise that Albemarle County’s first Economic Development Director, Faith McClintic, will be leaving her position later this year.  In her short  18 month tenure, McClintic often found herself at odds with Planning Commissioners, some members of the public, this writer, and some elected officials.  In addition, she found herself without product as she said in August of this year:

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

#5 Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

rio gsiIn the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

#4 SOMEONE’s Shameful Sensationalism

Over the last dozen years, I have read literally hundreds of Albemarle County staff reports.  I tend to find the reports to be professional, concise, factually correct and devoid of generalizations or editorial commentary – until last week when I determined that SOMEONE  improperly and sensationally  used a tragedy to further an advocacy position in what was presented as an impartial staff analysis.

In an attempt to sensationalize the need for closing of Earlysville Road to truck traffic, SOMEONE has stooped so low as to cite a terrible teenage 2002 drunk driving accident as justification to overrule the technical analysis of professional traffic engineers.

#3 ‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgas 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….

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.

In her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations

#2 Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

OBrien2014-photo-credit-Fluvanna-County_thumb.jpg

“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien. . .

O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.

Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Supervisor Don Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Supervisor Mozell Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.

Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.

Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.

O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.

Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.

Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.

O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”

#1 $52.5 Million Dollar Indecent Proposal – Albemarle Backs Off Threat to Wedding Industry

Last Tuesday evening, a rare joint meeting of the Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors heard a great deal from both wedding venues and the vendors that support them.  Albemarle staff had prepared a proposed ordinance that, among other things, would limit the ability of wineries, breweries and distilleries to 24 events a year.  In the end the supervisors backed away from the most restrictive portion of the ‘indecent proposal’.

The testimony Tuesday was insightful and passionate.    Wedding Photographer Jen Fariello asked pointedly “Why are weddings being attacked?”  Wedding planner Adam Donovan-Groves [name correction 9:01 6/20 nw] told of one recent wedding whose local fiscal impact exceeded $250,000 musicians, gift packs, invitations, transportation, jewelry, photographer, etc.

Yes, 2016 has been a year of executive exits, speedy construction and threats of overregulation.  Through it all the Free Enterprise Forum continues to blog, tweet (@neilswilliamson) and Facebook about local issues of significant importance.

The year ahead is filled with promise: the promise of a national search for a new Albemarle County Executive, the promise of so called “Solutions” 29 being completed earlier than scheduled (looks like June), the promise of new form based code development in Charlottesville, as well as the promise of elections across all localities.

seats available2016 will also bring us the opportunity and privilege of attending and participating in  many more government meetings where important policy decisions are made and #SeatsAvailable.

Thank you for your support!

 

Happy New Year

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.

Accelerating Albemarle’s Anemic Economic Development

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Wednesday night (12/21), Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will hold a joint public hearing regarding a rezoning in Crozet for Perrone Robotics.  According to Albemarle staff, the intention is to have both government bodies vote on the application that evening.

Josh Mandell of Charlottesville Tomorrow reported on the Crozet Citizens Advisory Committee (CCAC) endorsement of the proposal last week:

Advisory committee member Leslie Burns said she was excited that Perrone Robotics could bring dozens of high-paying jobs to downtown Crozet. “This is not just a new gift store,” she said.

Crozet resident Brian Day said he also would welcome Perrone Robotics’ move to the Barnes Lumber property.

“It’s exactly what we need to ground the future of our downtown,” he said. “The old industry that was there, you could hear it two and a half miles away. We are talking about something that is quiet, safe and high-tech.”

While the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects we do applaud the speed in which the County has moved forward this economic development opportunity.

But we have to ask, why is this news?

Why couldn’t Albemarle move all of their applications forward faster?

I am sure this question is on the mind of the folks at The Clifton Inn.

clifton-main-houseIn September 2015, the County received an application for a zoning text amendment (ZTA) related to historic buildings and sites from the owners of Clifton Inn.

This prompted the county to reexamine its zoning code for historic inns and taverns in rural areas.

The application for this historic property has already languished  in the byzantine bureaucracy for well over a year – why?

Just because it has been successful and now seeks to EXPAND its existing business and add JOBS in the rural area (95% of Albemarle is Rural Areas).

A major milestone was reached earlier this month when ordinance changes were approved – but that only allows the Clifton project to apply for consideration under the new ordinance – It is likely the applicant will have to wait well over two years before being permitted to EXPAND their existing business and add JOBS.

Albemarle can do better.

Beyond simply holding Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors joint public hearings which would speed up the process slightly, the true answer for economic development is proactive rezoning.  Earlier this year in the Daily Progress we quoted then Economic Development Director Faith McClintic in our editorial about Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map.

Image result for Albemarle county development area

 

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

What if the uses defined in the community vetted comprehensive plan actually agreed with the zoning that controls the land?

Today if a business wants to come in where the Comprehensive Plan suggests but the zoning does not agree, there is a year-long Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) process before a site plan can be submitted.

Imagine if a prospective business could identify a property already zoned and shovel ready, would that make Albemarle more attractive for economic development arena.

If (and this is am important if) Albemarle wants to grow jobs in the new year, reducing regulatory barriers via proactive rezoning would be a great New Year’s resolution.

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

Photo Credits: Trip Advisor

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 Executive Foley Finds Greener Pastures

By. Neil Williamson, President

Thomas FoleyWith rumors flying around Albemarle County (and Social Media) all day, a 4 pm Stafford County announcement made it official; County Executive Tom Foley is leaving Albemarle County to take up the same post in Stafford County.  In the announcement Stafford highlighted Foley’s service and temperament as key qualities they were looking for in their new administrator:

Stafford County proudly announces the appointment of Thomas C. Foley to the position of County Administrator. Thomas Foley comes to Stafford from Albemarle County where he has served as County Executive. He will take over the reins from Interim County Administrator C. Douglas Barnes on February 1, 2017.

“Stafford County is moving in a fantastic direction on so many fronts – strong economic development, more diverse and innovative educational opportunities, enhanced and better-equipped public safety, forward-thinking improvements to our infrastructure, combining school and government functions to be more efficient and fully utilizing the awesome potential of our employees,” said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Bob Thomas, George Washington District. “We think Tom Foley is the perfect fit for moving forward with the Board’s vision during this very dynamic time in Stafford County. We are confident that his budgeting acumen, his emphasis on developing employees and his ability to implement strategic plans are strengths that will fully optimize Stafford’s full potential.”

According to the Albemarle County Website:

Thomas C. Foley (Tom) received a Business Administration degree from Marshall University in 1985 and his Masters in Public Administration in 1993 from Virginia Commonwealth University. Tom began his local government career with the Virginia Association of Counties and, in May of 1991, he was named Cumberland County’s first Chief Administrative Officer. In 1994, he was appointed the County Administrator of Caroline County. From 1999 through the end of 2010, Tom served as the Assistant County Executive for Albemarle County and, in January 2011, he was appointed County Executive by the Board of Supervisors.

Tom is a graduate of Virginia Tech’s Institute for Economic Development (1993) and the Certified Planning Commissioners’ Program also from Virginia Tech (1992). In addition to membership in ICMA, he is a member of the Virginia Local Government Manager’s Association (VLGMA).

Tom serves on the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, the Charlottesville/Albemarle Airport Authority, the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, and the Planning and Coordination Council (in conjunction with Charlottesville and University of Virginia Officials).

Where does Foley’s departure leave Albemarle?

Many of the ongoing projects have been lead by Foley but he has a very competent staff to try and keep this process moving forward.

Unfortunately, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the high level strategic work with the Board of Supervisors will grind slowly to a halt and perhaps most importantly, the loss of the man who said “It’s a new day in Albemarle” related to economic development puts the county’s commitment to economic vitality into question.  In addition, Albemarle’s high number of high level executive departures is a cause for concern.

Further, the search for a new County Executive will demand a great deal of Supervisors time and will likely postpone significant advancement of their strategic goals. To be clear, while we are sorry to see Tom leave our community, we have worked with him on a number of projects and found him to be a most agile thinker and strategist, we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Respectfully Submitted

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit Albemarle County

Is The Jury Still Out on Albemarle Courts Relocation?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tonight (10/24) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will take “public input” regarding the albemarle-courthousepossible relocation of their courts system.  Of the five options on the table, all but one keeps the courts in the City of Charlottesville. While the Free Enterprise Forum would like to have a favored option, we do not believe the case has been made for any option — considering how far along the process is, we are astonished at the basic questions that remain unanswered.

To review here are the five options:

OPTION 1: DOWNTOWN/LEVY EXPANSION
OPTION 2: RELOCATE COUNTY & CITY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 3: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 4: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 5: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY SITE

As we examine the decision matrix provided by the county, we have many more questions than answers.

Here are our top ten inquiries:

  1. Has the city offered any economic incentives to support any of the City based options? (see last week’s blog post)
  2. Why does option 1 (stay downtown) cost $12,500,000 more than building in option 5?
  3. Why does it cost $18,000,000 to put the General District Court at the County office building when it appears that most of the infrastructure is already there?
  4. If you build a new county admin facility, where will it be located and, how much does it cost?  Where is that cost shown?
  5. Do options 2-5 factor in the lost property tax revenue for whatever parcel is acquired?
  6. The matrix seems to indicate that options 2-5 strongly support the County’s strategic redevelopment/urban place making priorities.   Doesn’t that really depend on where the County offices are built and how?  It could eat up a bunch of property in the urban area and create little long term value.
  7. Will option 5 allow a mix of uses on their site?  What of creating affordable housing over top of the new county offices?
  8. It seems that you are assuming any new construction by the County in the County has high economic development value.  Why?  What assumptions have been made to draw that conclusion?
  9. Is taking urban county property off the tax rolls good for economic development? Will the development area be expanded to replace this lost land?
  10. Why is the construction risk higher for option 1 than any of the other options?

The public input offered can only be as good as the information provided to them to base that input.  We forwarded these questions to Albemarle County early last week and they indicated they hoped to have answers in their presentation tonight. If that is the case, the public will have limited time to process the information before the public input session closes.

Regardless, these questions need answers before anyone should make a decision on the future location of the court.

The jury is not “still out” — the full argument has yet to be presented.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

_____________

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Albemarle County

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

 

Albemarle Economy Weathers the US29/Rio GSI Storm?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The early economic indicators are in.  While there are limitations in the initial data set, it looks like the significant efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) may have worked as designed.

Please let me explain our logic.

Back in 2007, Free Enterprise Forum Research Associate Natasha Sienitsky authored the Workplace 29 report that found:

The Workplace 29 study area:
• supports more than 20,000 jobs, conservatively providing more than $800 million ($874,216,408) alone in direct salaries each year.
• generates 35% of taxes by all non-residential uses in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville; approximately $ 33,019,354 in total tax revenue paid to Albemarle County and Charlottesville City in 2006.
• provides per acre tax revenue of $24,700 for non-residential uses, compared to the entire county average of $335 per acre.
•produces approximately 45% of the county’s total tax revenue in 2006.

In addition to the above economic impacts it was determined that the Workplace29 study area generated 57% of all of Albemarle’s sales tax income.  Considering this was prior to the construction of Stonefield, Costco, and several other retail establishments it is not a reach to suggest that number has remained steady.

The conclusion of Workplace 29 stated:

Non-residential uses in Workplace 29 generate significant jobs and taxes for Albemarle County. The master planning process must continue to engage owners of these properties as the economic vitality and level of government service in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City have a close relationship to revenues generated by non-residential properties in the Workplace 29 area. The current Places 29 plan calls for a reconfiguration of the road network which will cause significant business disruptions along US Route 29 during an extended construction period. Neither the extent nor time frame of disruptions has been addressed.

Although changes in the character of US Route 29 may have long term economic benefits, short term disruptions, through extended construction periods, most likely would negatively impact business and as a result the revenue stream for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the impact of master plan formulation and implementation on business.

Our 2007 hypothesis does not hold up based on recently released 2016 economic data.

Book1The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce regularly reports regional sales tax data.  Their reports provide both updates as well as historical sales tax data.

The report last week, for all of Albemarle County, indicated sales tax revenue for the first half of 2016 was up over 2015 by greater than $495,000 (+7.25%).

Considering the significant disruption to the corridor including the closure of the intersection from May 23 – July 18, 2016 [opening date corrected 12:50 8/29-nw], one must conclude the intense marketing efforts, signage and business assistance efforts had an impact.

Back in March [in our Lemonade Post], we mentioned our appreciation for the marketing efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) as well as Albemarle County.

With these early returns, it seems their mitigation efforts, which continue today, are having the intended results.  While we continue to witness economic dislocation (Better Living, PJ Networks, Sultan Kabob), much of this dislocation may have occurred with or without the new GSI.

As Albemarle prepares to produce a small area plan for the US29/Rio area, they would be wise to attempt to capture intersection specific economic data to confirm our conclusions based on county wide data.

We have not yet seen the July numbers but considering the trend for the first six months, I anticipate they will continue to be slightly ahead of 2015.

Absent a more detailed metric, I believe it would be appropriate to congratulate all the businesses involved for weathering a difficult storm; and to congratulate the speedy construction, all of the marketing and business outreach teams for a job well done.

As for our failed 2007 hypothesis, I am happy to have been wrong but one might wonder what the numbers would look like with a longer construction period and absent the unprecedented outreach efforts.

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

 

Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map

This article first appeared in the August 21, 2016 Daily Progress

By Neil Williamson

Imagine being in the banana business — and you have no way to obtain fruit.Image result for Albemarle county development area

That is Albemarle County’s current economic development sales position: “Yes, we have no bananas.”

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

The “product” Albemarle is lacking is available, properly zoned land. McClintic’s comments to a joint meeting of Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority paint a very dark picture for Albemarle County’s economic future.

During the Fiscal Year 2017 budget cycle, the county budget summary stated:

“Other communities for a larger commercial tax base have been able to keep their real property tax rates more stable over the past several years.”

Despite the great recession, other Virginia localities with more vibrant business sectors have not been forced to raise property taxes to balances their budgets.

Currently 80 percent of Albemarle’s local tax revenue is from property taxes; only 20 percent is from business taxes. Other communities are closer to a 70/30 ratio.

If there was one lesson the community learned from losing the Deschutes Brewery opportunity (regardless of whether we were ever really in the game), it was that this community is ill prepared for the very economic development that the Comprehensive Plan envisions.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Over the years, Albemarle has spent millions of dollars setting aside parkland and open space to make sure nothing happens on selected properties. Isn’t it time Albemarle invests in making something happen in economic development?

Solving Albemarle’s economic development problem is not about the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors holding a plethora of focus groups and multiple public work sessions to determine the types of jobs (and salaries) they would like to see. The elected and appointed bodies should instead focus on what they do control: the regulatory environment (planning, zoning and procedures).

Albemarle does not have enough land properly located and zoned for new business development or business expansion. The fundamental problem is that Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan map and zoning maps do not agree.

Absent new land for development, Albemarle’s annual projected property tax increases are only just beginning. As the tax rates grow, businesses will stop expanding here, choosing instead more businesgreece-diagrams-friendly (and lower-tax-burdensome) localities. Fleeing commercial tax revenue exacerbates the situation, further increasing reliance on the property taxes.

There is a simple answer: Make more.

The two ways to “make more” are to expand the development areas (currently around 5 percent of land mass) and/or proactively rezoning development area land.

Proactive rezoning

Proactive rezoning is when a locality (with owner consent) takes the initiative and rezones land to match its Comprehensive Plan designation. In practice, this makes it easier to develop to the uses and the specific densities expressed in the community-vetted Comprehensive Plan. Since the locality is the applicant, misnamed “voluntary” proffers are eliminated.

Community involvement and education are key in any proactive rezoning. The idea that the community can weigh in on the concept of the rezoning rather than seeking specific site-plan information for a potential applicant keeps the discussion on the macro rather than micro level.

Political will and an understanding of development desires are required for proactive rezoning to be successful. Such rezoning can’t be significantly restricted by onerous form-based zoning codes.

Albemarle has proactively rezoned one region, the Downtown Crozet District (DCD). Due to the highly  restrictive form-based code that accompanied this proactive rezoning, thus far only one new private businesses has located in the DCD zone.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes strongly in property rights; therefore, the concept of owner consent to any proactive rezoning is critical. Such consent can easily be established with an opt-out provision prior to the final zoning change enactment.

If a countywide, comprehensive, proactive rezoning is not possible, perhaps Albemarle can look at those areas it has already determined to be the so-called “priority” development areas and start there. Pantops and the new Berkmar Extended both seem ripe for consideration.

Development area expansion

Due to the political work in Richmond of those who came before us, Albemarle has Interstate 64 cutting through the county. Later political activity produced the 1979 development area boundaries Image result for Albemarle county development area(approximately 5 percent for development, approximately 95 to remain rural). Because of the 1979 decision (and little adjustment to it), Albemarle County is woefully behind other communities in land designated for growth.

Based on new environmental restrictions (protecting stream buffers, preserving slopes) and the creation of Biscuit Run State Park (where development once had been approved), the 5 percent land mass of the development areas has been shrinking for more than a decade.

In addition, drinking the “new urbanist” growth control Kool-Aid, Albemarle choose not to maximize its highway frontage and disco-fashion-bradysto restrict development at highway interchanges.

Let’s face it: 1979 had a number of bad ideas (pet rocks, disco, Ford Pinto, etc.). It is far past time to reconsider this nonsensical notion about growth and, at a minimum, open economic development near interchanges to both commercial and industrial opportunities.

Expecting less than 5 percent of your land mass to generate enough positive business revenue to pay for increasing service demands from residents is not feasible. Albemarle will never catch up to its so-called “peer” communities if it does not dedicate, designate and zone more land to jobs.

Fractured board vision

A secondary but equally important problem is a lack of unity within a one-party-dominated Board of Supervisors regarding economic development goals. While Chairman Liz Palmer has stated that her desire for new business is to increase tax revenue, White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek is concerned about the lack of job opportunities for the 440 families in her district living below self-sustainability (according to the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Orange Dot Report).

Planning Commission Chairman Tim Keller raised the idea of seeking jobs that paid enough for residents to afford homes costing $600,000-plus.  Such price points generate “breakeven” property taxes [when the taxes generated equal the cost of services demanded]. He questioned the fiscal responsibility of seeking to grow lower-paying jobs.

Supervisor Rick Randolph took exception to the concept of looking toward advanced manufacturing as the job sector on which to focus. Charlottesville Tomorrow quoted Randolph as saying:

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

Over the past five years working with the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, Albemarle has identified and focused on four target industry sectors for growing and expanding business [ bioscience and medical devices, business and financial services, information technology/defense and security, and agribusiness].

Despite this concerted effort, the results have not followed. The most recent job statistics indicate a loss of 324 jobs in those segments that have been their focus. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that either we need to realign the targets or rework the opportunities we are presenting to the targets.

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 paradigm in Albemarle where land is readily available and businesses are welcomed by the community rather than being seen as a threat to our way of life.

Who will champion the Albemarle Board of Supervisors coming together to lead the charge for improving the business climate?

Until significant changes are made in the county government’s staff culture and development structure (initiating proactive zoning, expanded development areas, and streamlined approval process, etc.), Albemarle will continue to lose new job opportunities, as well as losing existing businesses that chose to move to more welcoming localities.

When a new or existing business calls the county wanting to expand Albemarle’s employment opportunities and the business tax base, there should be a better answer than “Yes, we have no bananas.”

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 freeenterpriseforum.org.

Photo Credits: http://www.livemaguk.com, Albemarle County, http://www.whyoffashion.com