Category Archives: Albemarle

Albemarle Economic Development X Files

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

i want to believeAlbemarle County says that it is in favor of economic development.  The former County Executive Tom Foley went so far as to say it is a “new day in Albemarle” regarding being open for business.  A couple of supervisors have even gone on the road attempting to drum up public support for economic vitality.

I find myself thinking of the 1990’s science fiction series the X-files where two FBI agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.

Just as Fox Mulder in the X-Files, I want to believe Albemarle, but the facts keep getting in the way.

Please let me explain.

In big ways and small, Albemarle seems to be losing ground.

Losing Faith, Missing Deadlines

When Economic Development Director Faith McClintic resigned in October 2016, Foley stated:

I am pleased that Faith will continue leading the development of the county’s first economic development strategic plan through the plan’s presentation to the Board in mid-December, and we will work with her during that time to assist in her transition to her new job responsibilities in Richmond.

But that did not happen.

In the same article, McClintic seemingly dissed Albemarle stating:

“I have told the county that I will finish the economic development plan so that if they get the political will to do it, they will have a roadmap,” she said. [emphasis added –nw]

Perhaps because of her comments on her way out the door,  McClintic did not complete the work she started.

We now understand a Richmond based consultant has been engaged to conduct stakeholder interviews and complete the economic development strategic plan with a late May delivery date to the Board of Supervisors.

False Expectations

Interestingly, as Albemarle’s Planning Commission seems to want the opportunity to weigh in on all sorts of issues beyond their direct scope of work, I was heartened when the Chairman wrote in an e-mail to the Free Enterprise Forum in Late July 2016:

 

“Last evening (7/26), under New Business (after your departure) the planning commissioners briefly discussed your comments under “matters from the public.” We wonder if you might expand on your thoughts in a 1-3 page “discussion piece” for our review, reflection and comment at a future meeting.

Thank you.

Best regards,

Tim

J. Timothy Keller – At-Large Commissioner and Chair
Albemarle Co. Planning Commission

Never one to turn away an opportunity to participate, I provided my Economic Development Homework Assignment from Albemarle PC.  In the post I posed a simple question:

The question is not only does Albemarle want to compete – the question is does Albemarle want to win?

Then………crickets.

Despite specifically requesting my input for their “review, reflection and comment” the Planning Commission has yet to take up the six basic concepts we raised in our so called “thought paper”.

Perception is Reality

Last week, Virginia Business ran an article about “Getting on the Radar” regarding Richmond’s economic development efforts.  Writer Paula Squires quoted national site consultant Tom Striger who explained why Austin, Texas is not as hot as it once was:

… he referred to Austin as a cautionary tale. For years, it enjoyed the buzz of being a young, hip, university town, and it drew corporate relocations.

Yet when Austin needed to invest in infrastructure, such as building new roads or expanding its airport, the city balked, Stringer said, out of fear of damaging its charm.

That’s where Austin has gone off the rails. People don’t go to Austin anymore. 

It takes three years for a building permit, and there’s no incentives. You have to live 20 miles from the city or put the facility near San Antonio. ‘It’s a privilege to be in Austin.’ That’s the mindset you have to avoid.”[emphasis added –nw]

Sound familiar?

Back in 2015, during the Deschutes Brewery discussion we wrote about Albemarle’s New Day or Arrogance:

 During my daughter’s accepted seniors college tour we heard two types of pitches from the schools she was considering the first “We are a great school, you are lucky to be considered” vs the college president saying directly “If you hear just one thing today please know, we want you here”.  Guess which school we selected. …

…. Please do not return to the Albemarle Arrogance that says to those who want to operate a business “you’re lucky to be here” and instead say you are “open for business” [emphasis added –nw]

Albemarle could benefit from a good hard look in the mirror.

Yes, there are a couple champions for economic development on the Board of Supervisors, but they are not in the majority.

Five months after McClintic’s departure and with Foley now leading Stafford County, Albemarle is without a County Executive, without an Economic Development Director and without a strategic plan to move economic development forward.I still want to believe

But I still want to believe.

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.

VDOT Panel’s Pocahontas Problem

By. Neil Williamson, President

This Sunday’s (3/12) Daily Progress Editorial discusses “Beginning Anew on Hydraulic” painting a rather optimistic picture of the regulatory and political process planned to design, secure funding and build improvements to the Hydraulic and US29 intersection.

But the Editorial forgot Pocahontas.

Please let me explain.

Regular readers are aware of the Free Enterprise Forum’s position opposing the Rio/US29 grade separated interchange.  Despite that opposition, we have been impressed with the manner the project was completed.  Now the Daily Progress editorial board is comparing the Rio intersection process with Hydraulic:

And the process through which the Rio project was completed did, in fact, contribute to its success. That process can be replicated, regardless of what kind of engineering design it eventually produces.

In fact, it is being replicated. The meeting last week of state and community leaders follows the pattern used in the Rio project: A panel of local elected officials, business owners and citizens is meeting regularly to discuss the Hydraulic venture, provide input and help guide decision-making. Their involvement is aimed at ensuring that local interests are represented in the state’s drive to speed traffic through a congested bottleneck.

disney pocaThis is where Pocahontas lesson comes in:

What I love most about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice – The water’s always changing, always flowing

Just prior to the seating of the so called “29 Solutions” panel, there was significant state and federal dollars allocated and a contract awarded to a project (the western bypass) that had enjoyed (4-2) support from Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors and then Republican Governor Robert McDonnell. In November 2013 elections, the balance of power on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors shifted left and Democratic Governor Terrance McAuliffe was elected.  Then in February 2014, the project was effectively prohibited by a letter from the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Cvillepedia described the situation in the manner:

Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, convened a panel in the spring of 2014 to suggest alternatives for money that had been allocated by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

With the project [Western Bypass] presumed dead, former VDOT commissioner Philip Shucet has recommended alternate uses for at least $200 million that had been allocated to the bypass. The alternatives include $54 million to extend Berkmar Drive across the South Fork Rivanna River, an additional $10 million to further extend Hillsdale Drive Extended to Holiday Lane in Charlottesville, and $81 million to build a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and U.S. 29. The Commonwealth Transportation Board adopted a new six-year improvement program that included the projects at its meeting on June 18, 2014. [17] That meant the Western Bypass project was defunded. [5]

In addition, in a deft politically savvy move, McAuliffe required ALL the Route 29 “solutions” be completed by October 31, 2017 (coincidentally just prior to Election Day 2017).

The Pocahontas lesson that was not lost on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contract facilitator Philip Shucet.  In the first meeting of The Hydraulic Planning Advisory Panel last week, he highlighted that unlike the previous panel which was considering how to spend a pot of money already allocated to the district the project or projects would have to compete for limited transportation dollars via VDOT’s Smart Scale evaluation program in 2018.

Secretary Layne’s charge to the Hydraulic panel includes this concern as well as hinting at the potential political in fighting at an intersection that is 3/4 in the City of Charlottesville and 1/4 in Albemarle County:

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne’s charge to the Panel:

To provide general advice and input to the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board regarding future land use and mobility improvements in the general area near the Hydraulic Road and Rt. 29 intersection.

The Secretary understands that land use decisions are in the hands of the localities, but also emphasizes that decisions to submit a future Smart Scale application for state-funded transportation improvements are also in the hands of the localities.

The multi jurisdictional work (land use, design and funding) of Hydraulic Road will be significantly more involved than the challenges at Rio Road.  While we agree that the process will be informed by the work of Rio, we are also reminded that Pocahontas quote is actually derivative of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Not only is Hydraulic a very different intersection than Rio,the land use work ahead is different and the funding is nowhere near secure.

Yes the facilitator is the same, as are some of the panel members, but this multi-jurisdictional land use and transportation effort will be a VERY different process and the outcomes (and their timing) are far from certain.

Stay tuned.

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 Credits: Disney

The Wizard of Oz and the Rio/29 Small Area Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors March 1, 2017

Scarecrow, tin man, lionOver the years, some have considered the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz to be less than perfect heroes – I beg to differ I find them to be the best kind of heroes – those that must work together to achieve a goal.

Today, (3/1) as the Board of Supervisors considers the innovative Form Based Code land use planning for Rio/29 small area plan I believe this unlikely trio could provide important guidance

Please let me explain.

The Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI) defines form based code this way:

A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.

Utilizing a state grant, Albemarle has completed Phase I of Rio/29 Small Area Plan. Stage II is much more difficult and may move in many directions.  According to the staff report:

Phase II, expected to begin in March 2017, will further address the following issues identified in Phase I:  Transportation challenges posed by increasing development & economic activity in the area. Further analyzing market factors affecting development potential, such as demographic change influences (for example, “aging up” millennials and baby boomers, and increasing income and purchasing power)

Incorporating Economic Development Strategic Plan influences into the area plan With a focus on developing the following:

  • Detailed design of node(s)
  • Transportation strategy for this vision
  • Form-based Code/zoning, infrastructure, and other implementation strategies needed to accomplish the vision

When Dorothy first stumbles on the Scarecrow (covered in crows), her mission lacks specificscarecrow-wizard-of-oz direction. In seeking her way, the Scarecrow provides contrarian advice

Dorothy: That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.”

As the story goes the scarecrow joins Dorothy to assist on her quest to find the wizard and so he might be granted his wish for a brain.  Interestingly the Tin Man’s tin-mandesire for a heart is in direct contrast with the Scarecrow’s request for a brain; just as these two colorful fictional characters provide dramatic tension, similar tensions will be evident as Albemarle moves from a Euclidian (traditional use based) zoning process to Form-Based Code.

At last week’s Legal Aid Justice Center/NAACP sponsored workshop in Charlottesville, concerns regarding Form Based Codes taking away citizen’s right to oppose projects and promoting gentrification of neighborhoods were voiced by speakers and attendees.  The handout provided, written by Legal Aid Attorney Kim Rolla highlighted four problems identified with FBC:

Less Affordable Housing

Higher Property Values

Less Flexibility

Faster Development

As the last traveler to join the quartet, the Lion was expected to be brave and fierce, a leader but he seemed to lack the trappings of power. As one reads the novel, the lion exhibits bravery throughout the story – he just lacked confidence.

Just as the Wizard of Oz gave our unlikely trio gifts recognizing their skills, the Free Enterprise Forum is asking the Board of Supervisors today to give planners the confidence and direction to move boldly forward with Form Based Code in their “Transformational” small area planning.

We are asking the Supervisors to provide direction in two specific areas: Removing Architectural Review Board Jurisdiction and Protecting Existing Property Rights.

In reviewing the staff report on Phase II, it is clear that the Architectural Review Board will have representation on the stakeholder group. It is not clear if the eventual buildings that follow the painstakingly developed design guidelines in the form based code will also be required to submit to ARB review.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the ARB should weigh in on the code as it is developed and then step away. No project under the FBC should be subject to ARB review. To submit a form based code application to additional ARB review would be counter to the goals of the form based code.

We believe the land uses proposed within the new Rio/29 district must be of equal or higher density than is currently permitted. Height restrictions must be carefully considered especially when attempting to create mixed use buildings. In addition, we ask Albemarle consider utilizing the Form-Based Code as an optional overlay. As FBCI reported Arlington County found in their 2003 FBC overlay worked well:

Virginia is a strong property-rights state, and the county avoided some legal and political issues by keeping the “by-right” zoning in place and overlaying the FBC as an option. Developers can choose to use either the conventional zoning or the form-based code for proposed projects, although effectively, few projects “pencil out” if the conventional code is used. As a result, since the FBC was adopted for the centers in 2003, it has fostered the construction of 10 mixed-use development projects, including more than 1,500 homes, more than 280,000 square feet of retail and office space, a new community center and a new public plaza. The transformation envisioned by the community is well underway.

“The fact that the code has continued to work well for Columbia Pike over more than a decade, even as the economy has gone through a major recession, shows that the vision was realistic and the FBC provided a sound framework for private reinvestment.” said [Mary]Madden.

The Free Enterprise Forum asks Albemarle Board of Supervisors today to boldly embrace this direction, establish the community endorsed form based code AND have the courage to both eliminate ARB review and make the FBC an optional overlay.

As logical as this tact seems it will not be easy.32735-cowardly_lion

As Dorothy told the Lion:

“Don’t you know the Wizard’s going to give you some courage?”

Cowardly Lion said “I’d be too scared to ask him for it.”

Rio/29 Form-Based Code will take courage, heart and firm direction from the Board of Supervisors.

Will you give such bold direction today?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

————————————

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: MGM, Classicphotos.com, imgardcade.com, michaelcerio.com

March Madness–Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Oregon_St_Utah_Basketball.JPG_t1140Imagine you are a college basketball player and in the final tournament game, the officials change the rules – calling fouls that usually would be ignored and ignoring others that would usually be called.

In addition, the basket automatically changes height dependent on which player is shooting and from where. There was no change at the rules committee, there was no open discussion amongst coaches – those charged with making the decisions just changed how they judged things – this is Albemarle County planning philosophy today.

Please let me explain.

Albemarle, in big ways and small, is changing the way they look at property where the Rural Areas and Development Area boundaries meet. The Comprehensive Plan, which is only a guideline, calls for density up to the edge of the development area (see below) but recent actions see that philosophical pillar being eroded.

On the development area side, the Adelaide proposed subdivision  on the edge of the Crozet development area provides one example of eroding, or perhaps evolving, planning philosophy.

In the Crozet master plan the land was designated for “3-6 dwelling units an acre” – the Adelaide proposal came in at 5.5 units an acre. (editor’s note the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects only policy thus had no position on this or any other application).

In her defense of her vote in opposition, Supervisor Ann Mallek wrote to the Crozet Gazette:

I stand behind my vote to deny Adelaide to uphold important features of the Crozet master plan … .The primary reasons for my vote were stated in the resolution I read as part of my motion to deny. Three supervisors thought the density was acceptable at the high end of the range. Three thought the density should be at the low end of the range. A 3-3 tie results in denial of the application.

Additional reasons for my vote:

  • New density on the edge of the growth area, surrounded by forest and rural uses, should be at the low end of the range suggested in the comprehensive plan and master plan for Crozet. …
  • The highest density buildings were placed at the highway, further encroaching on the rural nature of the State Scenic byway. Emphasis added – nw

Regarding the rural side of the line, earlier this year during a discussion of Farm Winery, Brewery and Distillery events, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said:

We’re looking at, in my district, on Hydraulic Road, in the middle of the urban ring.. an event center [winery] essentially an event center surrounded by 25,000 homes. It is in the rural area but in the urban ring.  The folks that live in the area are very patient with music from Albemarle High School, they love the band on Friday night – but to have something that brings in this type of traffic and noise and impacts without some restrictions is unnerving and I get that it is a little unusual place.

To prevent having rural enterprises adjacent to the development areas Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested:

Perhaps none of the edges of the winery parcel can be outside of the rural area.

Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kamptner informed Randolph such a provision would be in violation of state law.

All of this discussion took place despite the explicit direction of Albemarle’s Comprehensive plan that calls for clear edges between development and rural areas.  Interestingly the very neighborhood McKeel discussed was called out in the plan

8.26 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

Strategy 2r: Promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas. Part of Albemarle’s beauty and attractiveness for residents and visitors is their ability to clearly see and appreciate the features of both the Rural Area and Development Areas. Discerning the boundary between the designated Rural Area and the Development Areas is important because it affects where and how new development should take place.. . .

Visual clues are also helpful in identifying the Development Areas-Rural Area interface. Land use on Rural Area Edgeboth sides of the boundary should be so distinct that residents and visitors know they are in the Development Areas or the Rural Area. Theses visual differences help to define expectations and appreciation for the different areas. Figure 20 clearly shows that the left side of Rio Road is in the Rural Area and the right side is in the Development Areas. . .

Transitions of large-lot subdivisions at the boundary are discouraged, as they are neither rural nor urban.They are too small for agricultural uses and muddy the edge. Emphasis added – nw

One easy solution would be to expand the development areas to encompass what McKeel calls the urban ring.  Dependent on the size of the expansion it could create, for a time, a buffer area of non conforming uses.

The larger core question revolves around the duality of two comprehensive plan land types, Development and Rural. A plurality of planners today see the world in a less binary reality.  The most popular planning philosophy of the day deals with the concept of “Transects” which is taken from the environmental sciences.

The Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) Explains transects this way:

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

transect

 

A similar picture appears in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.  Interesting question – where would you say the development area starts in the image above?  T-3?  T-4?

Based on recent actions, it is difficult to say where the Supervisors believe the Development areas begin and the rural areas end.

  • The question is how does this now shaky planning philosophy pillar impact the community vetted master plans and how does the rural area gain a voice in the discussion since by design they are outside of the master plan areas?
  • Should Albemarle consider abandoning its density dogma across the entire development area and seek to create a new comprehensive plan category?
  • A further question would be if Albemarle should consider proactively rezoning all the development areas land to make the community supported densities occur rather than the adversarial nature of the current rezoning process.

Once again we have more questions than answers, let March Madness begin.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: Denver Post, Albemarle County, Center for Applied Transect Studies

Albemarle Prefers Pigs over Pinot

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has a large number of wineries and vineyards as a part of its agricultural economy.  The Monticello Wine Trail, which includes all of Albemarle, produces roughly 1/2 of all the wine produced in the Commonwealth.

According to the Washington Post:

Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in the number of wineries — with more than 255 — and is the nation’s fifth-largest wine grape producer, officials said. According to a 2011 economic impact study, the wine industry contributes almost $750 million to the state’s economy on an annual basis.

More than 1.6 million tourists visited Virginia wineries in 2013.

Albemarle County’s official website includes a page to “Discover your Albemarle Crush”

pigsWhy then is Albemarle now proposing new regulations that prefer swine over wine?

If the proposed regulations are adopted, a landowner may have a pig pen directly on the property line but a tasting room, parking lot or even a tent for a winery event must be set back 125’.

Rather than valuing the viticultural operations and allowing these rural farms to operate most efficiently (including events), Albemarle is seeking to dictate many of the business decisions including, tent setbacks, hours of operation and even how they bottle their product.

But this is FAR beyond the Supervisors original intent.

Please let me explain.

Last March, the Board of Supervisors determined that they wanted to create a more direct linkage between Albemarle County agricultural use and the ability to hold events at farm wineries, farm breweries, and farm distilleries (FWBDs).

The 1979 Virginia state law, which was designed to promote viticulture in the state, allows farm wineries to utilize leased vineyards anywhere in the state.  Albemarle, seeing to promote viticulture in Albemarle and prevent “faux” farm wineries from becoming by right event spaces in the rural areas, asked staff to address this concern in new event regulations.

WHEREAS, conducting such activities and events on lands designated Rural Area in the Comprehensive Plan and on lands zoned Rural Areas where there is little or no connection to agriculture is contrary to the policies in the Rural Area section of the Comprehensive Plan and the purposes of the Rural Areas zoning district; and

WHEREAS, in order to address these concerns, it is desired to conduct a new study of the relationship between activities and events at FWBDs, their agricultural nature, whether the activities and events are usual and customary as agricultural activities and events, whether and under what circumstances the activities and events are creating adverse impacts on other properties, and the economic impact of any such regulations that may be considered to address these concerns; and

WHEREAS, if the study so warrants, it is desired to consider amending the zoning regulations by strengthening the requisite relationship between agriculture and the activities and events at FWBDs, reasonably addressing any adverse impacts by performance standards or other means identified in the study in order to protect the public health, safety or general welfare, and to address any other issue identified in the study deemed to be necessary and appropriate. Emphasis Added – nw

Staff used the last line in the last Whereas to be a blank check to impact the very business operations of the FWBDs.

While the Free Enterprise Forum is understanding of mandating 5 acres of on site planted acreage to hold events, therby tying agriculture to the events,  the balance of the proposed ordinance goes too far:

1.  Increasing setbacks from 75’ front/25’ side/35’ rear to 125’ from property line.

This relatively arbitrary increase seems to be directed at mitigating impact on the neighbors.  Proper enforcement of existing regulations would seem to be a better less property rights limiting manner to achieve the same result.

In addition, when queries via email regarding agricultural setbacks the Zoning Administrator:

There is no Albemarle County zoning setback for those things [livestock].  We also don’t have setbacks for fencing in general.

Clearly, if enacted as drafted the setbacks portion of this code would significantly favor slopping hogs over sipping hops near the property line.

2. Mandating and not defining “regular hours open to the public”

The concept behind this suggestion is good; any winery seeking to hold events should have enough wine to sell to the public regularly.  Unfortunately, the concept does not hold up to close examination.  Today there are nearly 300 Napa Valley (CA) wineries operating on a ‘By Appointment only’ including such industry stalwarts such as Opus One and Duckhorn Vineyards.  There are a number of high end wineries with significant production in Virginia operating under a similar business model (RDV, Boxwood Estate, etc.).  One local winery (Mountfair Winery) is now closed to the public selling the majority of their production via their wine club.  From their website:

Mountfair Vineyards A private club winery! Mountfair Vineyards, nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge near Charlottesville, is a family owned and operated Club Winery serving our club members through appointment and special events. Mountfair is no longer open for regular tasting room hours.

Considering the reduced neighbor impact of an appointment only winery, why should Montfair (or other properties like them) be excluded from holding events?

This market reality raises the question why Albemarle would seek to require wineries that need not be open to make their business model work open their doors to hold events.

Further, a lack of definition of “regular hours” allows the zoning administrator (and her successors) significant latitude in their interpretation of the code.

3.  Punishing the Sunday Bride – Curfew on amplified music.

Currently there is no curfew on amplified music beyond the noise ordinance.  Staff heard loud and clear (pun intended) in the Joint Board of Supervisors/Planning Commission meeting that current practice is to stop all amplified music at 11 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  Rather than accepting a self imposed industry practice and adopting it as code staff selected 10 pm on Sunday night to be the cut off.

One winery, who has been commended for their noise cancelling practices, indicated 20% of their wedding business is Sunday weddings.  If we assume the wedding season runs from May – October (6 months), allowing an 11 pm Sunday cutoff would amount to 24 additional hours of operation (if all dates were booked).  Why not accept the market reality and be done with this – enforce the noise ordinance without punishing the Sunday bride.

Albemarle wineries and cideries (more than breweries and distilleries) have a long history of being good neighbors and benefiting the local economy with their events.  Albemarle can tie the event ordinance to the land but should step away from the mission creep of dictating the business activities on the land.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credit: http://www.droid-life.com/2014/08/13/t-mobile-identifies-data-hogs-p2p/

 

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.

Service District SuperTax – A Tax By Any Other Name

By. Neil Williamson, President

A-rose-by

Increasingly a number of Central Virginia localities are finding that so called ‘Service Districts’ may provide a new revenue generation mechanism that is less politically repugnant than simple property taxes.  While both options are based on property value, 2017 may be the year of the Service District due to several interesting new taxation possibilities and complexities – please let me explain.

Albemarle County has been rather transparent in their pursuit of new service districts dating as far back to the discussion of a regional transit authority in the early 2000s.  The Free Enterprise Forum was a little surprised to find a suggestion of a service district buried deep in Greene County Administrator John Barkley’s December report:

Initiatives on the Horizon for 2017 – As the new year approaches, staff will continue working to improve the County’s financial reporting capabilities . . .  New initiatives will include addressing blight and the process and legalities associated with blight abatement, consideration of special assessment districts aimed at targeted infrastructure improvements, and conducting a full structural assessment of County facilities. Emphasis Added – nw

In their December 7th “Balanced Two Year Fiscal Plan” discussion the Albemarle Board of Supervisors were provided an illustration of the SuperTax Service Districts:

Eastern Ave – Phase 1 – Rt. 250 to Westhall, including Lickinghole Creek Bridge (Crozet)

This is a conceptual illustration of a specific project in Master Plan/CNA

Assumptions:

Project cost, $10.5 M (2022 $s for assumed year of construction–ends in 20 years)

Service District boundary = Crozet Development Area boundary

project funded with 60% state funds, 40% service district generated funding

Scenario 1 Crozet “Service District” provides 100% of Local Contribution – Annual cost to an increase of 2.8 cents on tax rate beginning in 2022

Scenario 2 County contributes $2M Crozet “Service District” provides remainder of Local Contribution – Annual cost equivalent to an increase of 1.6 cents on tax rate starting in 2022

Illustration: For a house assessed at $350,000, an increase of 2.8 cents on the tax rate would equate to an annual increase of $98.00; a 1.6 cent increase on the tax rate would equate to an annual increase of $56.00.

Logically this specific example raised a number of concerns.  Supervisor Ann Mallek mentioned her belief that this Eastern Connector had been promised to Crozet as a part of the concurrency of infrastructure that was the County’s responsibility under the Neighborhood Model.

This failure was identified as early as 2006 when the neighborhood model was still in it’s infancy.  In an October 4, 2006 staff report, when the Neighborhood Model was still in its infancy and the great recession had not yet hit) staff highlighted the hypocrisy of demanding developer infrastructure improvements while not holding up Albemarle’s end of the bargain:

The Comprehensive Plan has also established what public facilities are necessary at what locations to support development of the Development Areas and has anticipated developer provision of facilities along with VDOT and the County’s CIP.  However, the ability of developer and VDOT funding and the County’s CIP to adequately pay for the cost of public infrastructure to support the Development Areas as the priority areas for new development, public services and public infrastructure has become increasingly difficult.  Because this investment in infrastructure is critical to achieving the quality of life necessary to make Development Areas what is envisioned in the Neighborhood Model, the timing of infrastructure development associated with the rezoning of property within the Development Areas may need further consideration.

The Neighborhood Model has redefined how the Development Areas should develop to provide an active, vibrant urban place that will be perceived as a more desirable place to live than the Rural Areas.  It puts a greater reliance on public facilities and urban services in the Development Areas to achieve the urban form. It continues to anticipate developer provision of facilities along with VDOT and the County’s CIP providing a greater emphasis on concurrency with development.  It emphasizes Master Planning of areas within the Development Areas to best define how the Neighborhood Model can be achieved in these areas. . .

. . .Without the infrastructure needed to address the impact of the up-zoned property, concerns regarding the quality of life in the Development Areas will need to be considered.

Emphasis added-nw

Albemarle staff also presented the concept of using the Service District Supertax to fund sidewalks in the urban areas, small area planning, as well as city/county cooperative ventures.

Interestingly, the staff did not mention one VERY attractive part of Service District SuperTax funding – Local government gets all the money – unlike a tax increase where by Board policy Albemarle splits increased revenue 60%/40% with the schools this would be all local government money.  To get the same level of funding for capital projects the tax increase would need to be 60% higher than the Service District SuperTax.

While we appreciate and understand the demands placed on localities to fund the needed infrastructure, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the Service District SuperTax is a flawed model that may create a balkanization of any locality utilizing it.  Further we have significant issues with an existing Board of Supervisors sitting in 2016 approving a Service District SuperTax that does not go into effect until 2022.  While this may be legal, it does not seem right.

Concurrent funding of infrastructure to support locality’s comprehensive plan is the locality responsibility.  If there is a problem with the Board policy of sharing new revenue with the schools, change that policy rather than creating a new Service District SuperTax to work your way around it.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: www.planetofquotes.com

An Albemarle Planning Christmas

First presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on December 13, 2016

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Twas two weeks before Christmas and all through Albemarle County

Folks were shopping and buying their family holiday bounty

The neighborhood meetings were held, public hearings advertised with care

In hopes that applicant’s final approvals might soon be theirs.

 

With Tubbs in his head seat and me off and tweeting

The regulars were in position for a long Planning Commission meeting

When up in the foyer there arose such a clatter

Sharon phoned maintenance to get to the bottom of the matter.

 

Away to the back doors, I flew up the row

With Sean, Jeff, and Morgan behind me, albeit quite slow

As I reached the ACOB back doors, of course located in front

I mumbled about relegated parking and pushed them open with a grunt

 

Florescent lights spilling out to the front staircase mountain

Gave brightness to the beautiful but empty decorative fountain

When what to my skeptical eyes should appear

but a BMW Mini and eight tiny reindeer

 

With a tall bearded driver, so sly and so tame

I knew in a moment it must be old Wayne

More rapid than zoning violations his courses they came

And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name

“Now Graham, now Gast-Bray, now Fritz and Newberry!

On Echols! On Weaver! On Benish and Sherry!

To the top of the properly stepped retaining wall!

Now dash away dash away dash away all!’

 

As the mud on a critical but managed slope after a summer rain flows,

when they meet with an obstacle from the ground that grows

So up to the green roof of the ACOB the coursers they flew,

With a sleigh, full of applications and Wayne Cilimberg too.

 

And then in a twinkling, I heard tapping noise somewhat fleeting

I thought Kilroy was updating citizens with her tweeting

As I gathered myself and turned to speak with the guys

The former Planning Director jumped off the elevator with surprise

 

He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and well pressed slacks

And his clothes smelled of suntan oil and perhaps the dog track

A bundle of approvals, he had slung on his back

He looked like a lost Shenandoah hiker just opening his pack

 

His eyes — how they twinkled, not application weary

His mind now so rested, his face rather cheeryskinny santa

He had a slight build but fit from the gym;

Tanned rested and ready, retired but slim.

Retirement clearly suited this jolly tall elf,

And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself;

 

A wink of his eye and his now graying mane

Soon gave me to know I need not fear from Wayne.

He spoke not a word but had an aggressive comprehensive plan

Stamping applications “approved”, saying “yes, yes you can”

And pressing the button with his red sharpie stained hand

The elevator swept him away to the upper floors of ACOB land.

 

He sprang to top of the building on McIntyre

And away he flew like his pants were on fire

He shouted above the din of his fine steed

“Approve applications, economic development we need.”

I heard him exclaim as ere he drove out of sight

“Merry Christmas to all — Retirement is All right!”

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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: Gifs.cc

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.