Category Archives: albemarle county

VDOT’s ‘Charlie Brown’ Street Trees & ARB’s Double Standard

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

Much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, the young street trees planted as cbrown christmas treepart of the Route 29 Solutions projects may be the very best suited to provide the long term tree canopy desired, but if such trees were a part of a private application (residential, industrial or commercial) they would be summarily rejected – just like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

The public policy question is: Should a tree planted on behalf of a state agency along one of Albemarle County’s 21(!) Entrance Corridors meet the County’s requirements for private businesses locating on said corridor?

In fairness, most would reply yes. Not in Albemarle.

Please let me explain.

Merriam-Webster defines a double standard as:

a set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another;

20171127_112426

US 29 Northbound (just South of Ashwood Boulevard)

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will look back on 2017 in Charlottesville as a year of getting things done.  Working with motivated contractors (and elected officials) the Route 29 Solutions projects were completed with great agility.

As a part of the projects, VDOT contractors planted literally thousands of plants along US 29 and Berkmar Extended.  Each and every one of these plants have a one year guarantee from the contractor.   Therefore it is in the contractor’s best interest to plant trees that meet the VDOT standard and with the highest likelihood for survival.

Very few (if any) of these trees would meet Albemarle’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) trunk requirement of 3 1/2”.

University of Missouri researcher W. Todd Watson, writing in Hortitechnology magazine, found virtually no difference in the eventual height of trees when caliper size was used as a metric for success.  image

Filled with engineers, VDOT is nothing if not specific about their tree planting activity.  The have an arborist on staff to assist in species selection as well as planting details.  Nowhere in VDOT Section 1200 Landscape can we find any information regarding mandated tree caliper size.  Could it be that VDOT prefers to allow the design professionals determine the most efficient and effective landscaping over the life of the roadway?

20171127_113636

Roundabout Berkmar Drive Ext at Hilton Heights Rd

This double standard was brought to the attention of the ARB and was discussed back in September.  The conversation recognized the higher cost and limited availability of 3 1/2” caliper trees and recognized the maintenance of the trees after transplanting had a significant impact on their rate of survival.  In addition, they mentioned one specific proposal that might be reconsidered based on this information and asked for that project to come back the following meeting.

The specific application that prompted the latest discussion was on the agenda on October 2nd but after a two week hiatus, the ARB seemed to have a change of heart regarding the flexibility of the “guidelines”

c. ARB-2017-69: North Pointe Middle Entrance Landscape Plan: Tree size

The ARB viewed the revised landscape plan and considered the applicant’s request to use a smaller planting size for EC street trees. It was the consensus of the ARB that the 3½” planting size requirement should be followed for this application, but staff should present additional information on the planting size issue for continued ARB discussion on a more general basis.

While the Free Enterprise Forum does not have an opinion on this application; we do wish the ARB would revisit their planting size requirement decision.  To do so could lower cost for applicants, perhaps increase tree viability and result with the same tree canopy.

In short, we ask the ARB to follow Linus Van Pelt’s advice regarding installation size and maintenance:charliebrowntree2

I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: United Feature Syndicate in cooperation with Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1965)

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Who Will Decide Election 2017?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBallot Box

One day left.  Mercifully.

Citizens and candidates alike look forward to the end of the election season. As one local incumbent described the process, “There’s two ways to run, unopposed or scared”.

Unfortunately, this election we have many seats running unopposed. This is not an indictment of the candidates running, The Free Enterprise Forum strongly believes contested races make better candidates. Simply put contested elections make candidates explain and defend their positions thus making the public better informed and generates better policy after the election.

johnny RaincloudNot to be ‘Johnny Raincloud’ but the weather report for Election Day 2017 looks pretty gloomy; this generally suppresses voter participation.

By virtue of reading this post, you tend to be one of the more engaged community members.  By now, you likely know who is running for local office in your locality.  Hopefully, you know where they stand on issues that are important to you and you have selected the candidate that best represents your views.

Here in Virginia we like elections so much we hold them every year.  This year is an “off-year” election meaning there are no Federal offices on the ballot but there is a gubernatorial race. By means of contrast the 2016 presidential election year saw 72.05% statewide voter turnout compared with the last “off” year the 2013 Gubernatorial election turnout of 43.0%.

Based on early absentee voting and historical averages, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates the 2017 statewide election turnout to hover near 40%.  Locally, the lack of multiple contested races may hinder turnout. We do not believe it will exceed 50%.

virginia voter turnout photo credit Rassmuten

Credit: Rassumsen Reports

It is not a leap to predict roughly half of registered voters likely will not vote this cycle.  Therefore, regardless of the locality, this year’s campaign will come down to which campaign motivates their voters to show up at the polls.

Get Out The Vote, known in the ‘biz’ as “GOTV”, campaigns have been underway by the major parties, and special interest groups, for a number of weeks.  Likely voters are being contacted via mail, phone, and in person by party operatives and candidates.  Historically, this type of “ground game” can make the difference.  Over the years, we have seen the amount of shoe leather candidates put into the campaign can have a higher return than signs and advertising in many of the local races.

Every vote matters as evidenced by several recent close elections.  In the 2013 Samuel Miller District Race in Albemarle County, Liz Palmer on a Board of Supervisors contest by 874 votes. The same year, Jim Frydl  won his Greene County Supervisor race by 33 votes. In 2011, Supervisor Davis Lamb won his Ruckersville seat by just 15 votes (with 41 votes going to a candidate who had dropped out of the race).

Typically turnout elections favor those candidates with well defined and energized constituencies.  While there are a multiplicity of local constituencies with varying levels of organization, the question of election day is which of these constituencies are both motivated and energized.  Put succinctly, what half will show up?Badge

The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization, as such we embrace elections as the political marketplace for ideas.  We sincerely thank ALL the candidates who are making the sacrifice to run for public office.  We strongly encourage everyone to make your voice heard by voting.

The candidates have done their job by running now it is up to you – Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 am to 7 pm.—VOTE

If you do not know where you vote, click here for your polling place.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Photo Credit: http://dracotempest.deviantart.com/art/Johnny-Raincloud-609304000

What Albemarle Can Learn From Amazon’s HQ2 Search

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon, in an alphabet soup of a joint meeting Albemarle County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), Planning Commission (PC), and Board of Supervisors (BOS) discussed Site Readiness from a Site Selectors Prospective in an effort to focus on growing business.

Timmons Group Joe Hines presentation “Are your sites and community prospect ready?” was eye opening to many in the room.  Hines suggested the locality should own or control parcels under consideration and that the locality needs to make infrastructure investment on the parcel to become most attractive in the site selection process.

Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin (in likely her last public presentation prior to retirement) used much of Hines Presentation talking points to present an overview of the Deschutes Brewing competition that Roanoke won.   The discussion was very good and highlighted the areas where Roanoke was better prepared for the opportunity.  (Check out  @Neilswilliamson Twitter feed for more details)

In a seemingly unrelated news event, Business Insider reports on Amazon’s search for a new 2nd North American Headquarters.

The company’s press release lays out a few details of what it’s looking for: metro areas with more than one million people; a “business-friendly” environment; a strong technical workforce; be “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent,” and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”

Ignoring the obvious million people hurdle, how do you think Albemarle, or Charlottesville for that matter stacks up regarding “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options”.

Considering Catlin’s presentation,  one portion that was not mentioned was the “community” response to Deschutes.   Over two years ago, I wrote in Da Lessons from Deschutes.

4.  While the Supervisors recognize the economic reality, the public is notnimby1 yet sold on the concept of increased economic development.  This lack of public support is seen by outsiders as “unwelcoming” and is clearly a competitive disadvantage.   As Lisa Provence reported in C-ville regarding the Planning Commission denial of the CPA, some are not convinced that economic development (AKA Growth) is a good thing:

 

Watching the various states and localities compete for the Amazon 2nd Headquarters, I am amazed by the deftness of their marketing and efforts to show community support:

This challenge is actually an opportunity.  Notice Amazon did not say “governments” who think big and creatively.  They are looking for a community that will not only welcome them but allow them to become one with them.  The communities competing for HQ2 are attempting to present their community as complimentary to the creative class.  Don’t think this is only in big time economic development.  Roanoke’s “Hashtag” campaign was a big part of the Deschutes Decision.

Albemarle Supervisor Rick Randolph thought the presentation corrected a “myth” that Albemarle lost Deschutes – he said instead Roanoke won it.  Sounds like splitting hairs to me but I still have the core question.

Is Albemarle ready to energetically embrace economic development?

Randolph said he was supportive of “smart” economic development where jobs went to Albemarle citizens and no traffic was generated – sounds like a unicorn hunt to me.

Supervisors Liz Palmer and Brad Sheffield both expressed interest in redevelopment sites.

One positive suggestion came late in the meeting from Planning Commissioner Jennie More.  More thought that economic development should be a part of the community vetted Master Plan process.  This might be a first step in developing the kind of community buy in that can be more than “accepting” of economic development instead can cheer for it.

This meeting was a good first step, but I remain concerned that not everyone is equally energetic about economic development and the community is clearly not yet fully engaged.

If everyone understands the net benefits of economic development and brings positive energy to support the effort, perhaps then Albemarle can be in a position to “Win”.

If not, we may want to ask if Albemarle should be (or is) in the game at all.

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.

Greene Supervisors Hears Five Year Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

It makes good common sense to hope for the best but plan for the worst.  For Virginia localities it is more than common sense, it is mandated by state law.clip_image002

In response to this requirement, Billie Campbell, Senior Program Manager, and Wood Hudson, Planning Manager, of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission  addressed the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their first meeting of October (10/10). They presented a draft of the 2017 Update of the Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan . The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 set out requirements for State and local governments to update their plans every five (5) years.

clip_image005The purpose of plan is prepare for natural disasters before they occur and it covers all jurisdictions in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District – Albemarle County,  the City of Charlottesville, Greene County, Louisa CountyFluvanna County, Nelson County, and the towns of Scottsville, Stanardsville, Louisa and Mineral. The first plan was approved in 2006, then in 2012 and it is now due to be updated by December 17, 2017.

In August a draft of Regional HMP was submitted to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) who will then forward it to FEMA for their review and comments and once they have approved it, each jurisdiction must adopt the plan.

According to the draft plan:

Natural hazards tend to be low-probability, high-impact events. One year could be mild with natural
events scarcely interrupting communities, while the next could be literally disastrous. The purpose of hazard mitigation is to make an effort to minimize the damage and loss of life caused by disasters when they do occur. Hazard mitigation is one component, along with emergency response and post-disaster recovery, to the larger strategy of dealing with the human impacts of natural hazard

With more people living in areas susceptible to natural hazards, the costs associated with such hazards have been steadily increasing over time. The localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (the Counties of Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, and Nelson, the City of Charlottesville, and the Towns of Scottsville, Columbia, Stanardsville, Louisa, and Mineral) are impacted by variety of different hazards. In order to lessen the growing cost of disaster recovery on the localities and minimize the disruption of business during a disaster, there is a growing need to mitigate the impact of known hazards. Through proper planning and the implementation of policies and projects identified in this Hazard Mitigation Plan, the region and the localities can reduce the likelihood that these events will result in costly disasters.

The Hazard Identification and Analysis section of the plan describes natural hazards which pose the greatest threat to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Hazards are profiled in terms of prevalence, intensity, and geographical scope. The section includes a description of the hazard as well as analysis based upon historical and scientific data.

The specific areas of the plan are:

        1. flooding and dam failure
        2. winter weather
        3. wildfire
        4. temperature extremes, drought and landslides, and
        5. tornado and earthquakes.

The plan calculates a risk factor for each event within the TJPDC study area.

Hazard-Mitigation_full_doc

Within each category are specific actions recommended to be taken that include describing the hazard, potential mitigation, lead responsible entity, estimated cost, funding method and the time period of the issue.

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Campbell asked that the Board consider making the resolution supporting the plan. All of the supervisors supported the plan but wanted to wait until the second board meeting of the month to allow time for them to review the proposal. The request was deferred until the October 24, 2017 meeting and it is hoped that the Supervisors will approve the resolution at that time.

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

VDOT’s SmartScale Funding Deadline Accelerates Local Land Use Planning

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.” – English Poet Samuel Johnson

Perhaps in the case of the Route29 Solutions Hydraulic Plan the last word in that phrase should be changed to ‘transportation funding’.  Both The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are preparing to receive, hold public hearings and endorse the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, a forty to fifty year land use plan, over the course of 40 to 50 days.

Why? It’s all about the money.

Please let me explain.

SMART SCALE - Funding the Right Transportation ProjectsWhen the Commonwealth of Virginia changed over to the transportation funding program now known as Smart Scale it was touted as taking the politics out of transportation funding decisions [interestingly, Route29 Solutions was one of the last projects funded under the old system].

From their website:

Virginia’s SMART SCALE (§33.2-214.1) is about picking the right transportation projects for funding and ensuring the best use of limited tax dollars.  It is the method of scoring planned projects included in VTrans that are funded by HB 1887. Transportation projects are scored based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers. Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.

An important part of the funding decision rests on the position of local government on the project and how the project relates to the municipality’s Comprehensive Plan.  In the case of Hydraulic, this involves two governments and two different Comprehensive Plans.

In determining the timing for the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, it was determined that the land use plan should inform the transportation plan, rather than the other way around (which was done at Rio/29).

Due to the number of projects submitted and the intensity of the objective review, VDOT  determined that the Smart Scale process will only open every other year and then only for about 90 days.  Here is where the timing issue arises.

Diagram 1

When, at the request of the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne advanced the funding for the panel to develop the land use plan AND the transportation plan, it was done to explicitly facilitate the Smart Scale intake dates.

From the January 2017 Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) media release:

The study schedule anticipates having the small area land use plan complete and any recommendations for transportation improvements finalized in the summer of 2018. That timetable will allow the localities to prepare applications for the next round of Smart Scale project scoring in September 2018.

So here we are.  Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission will hold 5 joint public hearings the evening of October 10th.  Which one is last?  You guessed it The Hydraulic Small Area Plan.

Conceptual Land Use Map Oct 2017 P71

Albemarle County will hold their Planning Commission Public Hearing on October 17th.

In an interesting piece of bicameral political theater, both the Planning Commissions [as well as City Council and Board of Supervisors] will be pushed to approve the Small Area Plan without making significant changes for fear the funding schedule will be lost.

It is hard to believe that many folks [perhaps even planning commissioners] will have taken the time to read the entire document.  But never fear, the decisions are not being made from the top.  Again from the January VDOT media release:

“It is important to emphasize,” Secretary Layne continued, “that Aubrey-Layne-photo-credit-VDOT.jpgthe land use decisions will be made by the city, county and the MPO. There are no preconceived solutions or presumptions here. We are kicking off a process at the MPO’s request; the outcome of that process remains to be seen.”

How involved with the Planning Commissions and elected officials get with this small area plan knowing VDOT is building the transportation plan based upon these assumptions?

Is 120 days a good measure for reviewing a 50 plan?

Is creating a sense of urgency a bad thing in these planning exercises?

Will the public be fully engaged?

Will the elected officials?

Once again we have more questions than answers.

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: Route29Solutions.com

Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

Charlottesville, VA – As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2019 budget process, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically. The “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum, is based on an independent locality-specific local government spending index (LGSI). The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2016, identified Nelson County as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI with Albemarle County a close second.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “The goal of the LGSI is to inform and promote dialog. The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions. Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the elections and budget season”.

The LGSI is based on self-reported data required to be provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts. The numbers focus exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. This number will not include capital expenditures thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.

It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment. While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:

Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 152% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 55% and 36% respectively.

clip_image004City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2016), Charlottesville experienced a population increase of almost 23%, the second smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative growth in school enrollment of just over 1%. In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased over 80% during the study period.

It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities.

In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities. During the study period, four localities had roughly 50% increase in per capita spending, while two, Albemarle and Nelson, increased per capita spending by over 60%.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization dedicated to individual economic freedom. The entire report, and supporting documentation, can be accessed under Reports Tab at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

The Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Often the most enlightening questions start with, “What if?”

Working with co-author Derek Bedarf, we looked at developing empirical data to answer the question, “What if Charlottesville’s annexation was successful compared with the results of the negotiated Revenue Sharing Agreement?”

After significant research and deliberation, it was determined that this information was available but not assembled in a manner that made such calculations easy. Utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) technology for the real estate assessment data and 15 years of Albemarle County budget documents for the other taxes (sales taxes, consumer utility taxes, business taxes, motor vehicle licenses  and prepared food and beverage taxes.  Other taxes excluded from this study, for a variety of reasons, include utility consumption tax, short term rental tax, clerk fees, transient occupancy tax, penalties  interest, and audit revenues), The Free Enterprise Forum calculated the tax revenue generating power of the study area.

The resulting “Hindsight Report” examines the tax generating power of the proposed annexation area as it compares with the revenue sharing payments.

  •  The Hindsight Report indicates that over the study period (2001-2016), Albemarle County received, from the study area, over $277 million in local tax revenue compared with the $212.9 million revenue sharing payments made to the City of Charlottesville (+$64.1 million).

  • Had Charlottesville been successful in the annexation and the revenue sharing agreement not been in place, the City would have received $304.7 million in tax revenue from the study area during the study period compared with $212.9 million in revenue sharing payments from Albemarle County (-$91.8 million).

 

  • During the study period, study area property owners paid $72 million less in real estate taxes by being in Albemarle instead of the City of Charlottesville. This “Non-Annexation” Dividend averaged saved (Albemarle) property owners between $3 million and $4 million annually topping out at $6 million in 2007.

The question the data does not answer is whether the Revenue Sharing Agreement was a good deal for all involved.  This is a subjective question that can only be answered in context.

At the time, the historical record suggests annexation was a very real threat and revenue sharing negotiations were heated.

The historical public record also shows many citizens at the public hearing raising some of the same questions regarding equity and fairness that remain part of the discussion today.

Was it a good deal?

Hopefully this data will help you decide.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the Revenue Sharing agreement during their second August meeting on Wednesday August 9th.

Founded in 2003, The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization focused on Central Virginia’s local governments.

The entire Hindsight Report can be accessed at www.freeenterprisefoum.org under the reports tab.

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.

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.

Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’

By. Neil Williamson, President

What does Albemarle want for the rural areas (95%+) of the county?

On this and other issues, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is putting the fun back into dysfunctional.

Earlier this month, the Supervisors enacted two Rural Area Resolutions of Intent that are as similar as a ten pound bag of gold and a ten pound bag of manure.  Both weigh ten pounds but one is more valuable than the other because the supervisors like it better.

Please let me explain.

First up on April 5th, buried on their consent agenda as attachment “T”, the supervisors decided they don’t like golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas:

WHEREAS, it is desired to implement the Rural Area Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan by removing “swim, golf, tennis, or similar athletic facilities” as a use permitted by special use permit in the Rural Areas zoning district because those uses are no longer consistent with the County’s policies and objectives for the Rural Area

During the Comprehensive Plan discussion (which reads such regulation should be considered) many of the folks opposed to such recreational activities in the rural area have suggested they generate too much traffic and take up too much land mass.  Interestingly, this would effectively ban new golf courses in Albemarle County as we wrote in a piece earlier this month (A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf).

So imagine our surprise when the same Board of Supervisors later on the same day used climate change as the justification for changing their regulations regarding rural solar farms.

To be cost effective, these farms will take a large amount of acreage and require significant additional infrastructure.

The sunny view on solar is different than that of swim, golf and tennis clubs.

WHEREAS, the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”), Chapter Four, Natural Resources, Objective Eight states the County shall, “Recognize changes occurring to the earth’s climate to anticipate and mitigate impacts to the County.”; and

WHEREAS, the County, the City of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia formed the Local Climate Action Planning Process Steering Committee (hereinafter “LCAPP Committee”) in 2010, which recommended that all three entities integrate the role of energy and carbon emissions in projects and planning and that the entities identify and promote actions that enable the community to reap the health, economic and environmental benefits that accompany sound energy-based decisions; and

WHEREAS, the Board accepted the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations on September 7, 2011; and

WHEREAS, the Plan, Chapter Twelve, Community Facilities, Objective Ten, Strategy 10(a) provides that the County will, “Continue to ensure the adequate provision of electricity, telephone, fiber optics, and natural gas services to support existing and anticipated development in the County through coordination with utility companies”; and

WHEREAS, permitting the siting, development, construction, operation, integration, and decommissioning of large-scale solar energy systems may assist the County’s efforts to achieve the aforementioned objectives in the Plan as well as the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT for purposes of public necessity, convenience, general welfare, and good zoning practices, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors hereby adopts a resolution of intent to consider amending the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance to achieve the purposes described herein;

So, despite the Comprehensive Plan’s discouragement of commercial activity in the rural areas, it is OK if they like your product or service provided.  As property rights advocates, we believe both uses should be permitted in the rural areas. 

We even agree that a special use permit is an appropriate route to make sure swim golf and tennis clubs as well as solar farms have adequate protections in place to remain harmonious with the surrounding rural areas.

We do not understand how the Board of Supervisors can call for a ban on rural area recreation the same day as they endorse the concept of a commercial field of glass that will require regular maintenance, transmission lines and have equal if not greater significant neighborhood impacts.

Perhaps there are some politics involved in such in-congruent decisions.

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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Sigora Solar via Facebook