Category Archives: Albemarle

Albemarle Banning Through Trucks–NIMBY 2.0

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors October 10, 2018

By, Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, you will be considering asking for permission from the Commonwealth Transportation Board to ban through trucks on Owensville and Miller School Roads.

Trucks make up a small fraction of all of the traffic on these roads.  According to the staff report, trucks make up less than 4% of all traffic on Owensville Road and 10.4% of traffic on Miller School Road.  Recognizing some portion of this truck traffic is local, the ban would likely impact less than 5% of the traffic.

This is just the latest in a series of truck bans the county has pursued.  Such bans are NOT supported by the state.  From your packet this evening:

It is the philosophy of the Commonwealth Transportation Board that all vehicles should have access to the roads on which they are legally entitled to travel. Travel by any class of vehicle on any class of highway should be restricted only upon demonstration that it will promote the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth without creating an undue hardship on any of the users of the transportation system. Emphasis added -nw

We believe health, safety and welfare are core government functions but that’s not what we see in action here.  We believe this is an evolution of the Not In My Backyard or NIMBY movement. We call it NIMBY 2.0.

The staff report cites a higher than average crash incidence on Owensville and Miller School Road but it does not answer the larger question. According to the state vehicular crash database, there were 41 crashes on Owensville Road from 2010-2017.  During the same time frame there were 50 crashes on Miller School Road.

Do you know how many of these crashes involved large trucks? 

Staff indicates 3, our research says ZERO

If you accept staff’s numbers then there were 88 vehicle crashes that were not large trucks.  If this is about health, safety and welfare perhaps you should consider banning cars or fixing the road; neither of which are being talked about.2018-10-10 16_05_09-Interactive Public Report

This is not about health, safety or welfare; if this is your interest fixing the road would do the trick.

The data does not support banning through trucks.  These roads were paid for by public dollars and all have a right to use them.

The Free Enterprise Forum asks you to follow the direction of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and affirm the right of all legal vehicles to use public roads.

This is what we will argue to the CTB, or the Commissioner should you choose to recommend this NIMBY 2.0 regulation.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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.

Advertisements

The Hindsight Report Back in the News

The Free Enterprise Forum’s 2017 ‘Hindsight’ Report was mentioned in Allison Wrabel’s  Daily Progress  article this morning. 

For context, we are reposting our original post on the topic.  The Free Enterprise Forum welcomes the community discussion of the agreement.

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.

Proposed Politically Proactive Agenda of Albemarle’s Community Advisory Committees

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentImage result for warner wolf let's go to the videotape

I grew up watching television sports anchor Warner Wolf’s trademark introduction to each evening’s highlights, “Let’s Go To The Videotape”.

I anticipate Wolf would be most appreciative of The Crozet Gazette recording (digitally) the entirety of last week’s Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) meeting.

But I get ahead of myself.  Please let me explain. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has been very critical of Albemarle County’s Community Advisory Committees.  Here are just a few of our posts:

Most of the people serving on these unelected development area committees are sincere residents working to make their community a better place by commenting on development proposals, evaluating traffic reduction measures and discussing community infrastructure investments.  But there are some that seem to believe these CACs, as they are known “represent the majority of the development area residents” and should be empowered to set the political agenda.

At the very end of last week’s CCAC meeting,  Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach clearly outlined his desire for the group to work with the other CACs to develop a Proactive CAC Action Agenda:

Loach said:

Why we should have a dialog with the other CACs [is] because I don’t think their problems are any different than ours … Here every year we have a meeting that the county calls and its all the CACs together…. but nothing gets done, there is no result in it….

…What I would like to see us do is work with the other CACs and start to come up with an agenda, an action agenda, that we can use for all of the CACs for the next year so that when we do that we’re not talking as individual CACs we’re talking essentially as the majority of the residents of the growth areas … I’d rather be proactive than reactive.

…What I am looking for are the global [themes between CACs] that we can focus on as an agenda item to work with the Board [of Supervisors] Emphasis Added-NW

Don’t believe me, thanks to the Crozet Gazette we can [as Warner Wolf would say]  go to the videotape:  https://t.co/PZFK6W60bv

Now to be fair, Loach was seeking to have a larger discussion about this concept at the next CCAC meeting and the last minute proposal was greeted by CCAC members gathering their papers. The topic will be added to the group’s October agenda.

The Free Enterprise Forum has learned this is not the first time this issue has come up.  It was apparently discussed at the CAC Chairs/Vice Chairs meeting earlier this year.  The topic is listed as a 10 minute discussion item on tomorrow night’s Places 29 Rio CAC agenda.

We hope each CAC will push back on the Loach Proactive CAC Action Agenda concept, perhaps by citing Albemarle County’s specific charge of the CAC:

image

Based on the diverse membership of the CCAC and the general level headedness of the other CACs, I do not think the Loach Proactive CAC Action Agenda will see the light of day.

We hope not; such is the work of elected officials who are answerable to all the voters both in and outside of the development areas.

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 Credit: www.networthpost.com

Dissecting A Decade of Data

By. Neil Williamson, President

Did you ever have a question gnaw at you?

Earlier this month, I attended the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® Development Summit.  A panel of area developers were discussing Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s recently released 2018 Jobs Report and attempted to correlate how job creation related to the local housing market.  Absent any specific data, the panel inferred the new jobs in the region clearly were one (not the only) driver of housing demand.

imageMuch like Timothy Hulbert’s inspiration for the first Chamber “Jobs Report” fifteen years ago, I knew this data set could be assembled and I set out to obtain this objective new housing unit data.

Reaching out to each of the localities (two required Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)Requests) we assembled the new housing unit data (2007-2017) and compared it on a locality basis the Jobs report data for the same study period.

We then compiled this data on a regional basis and found (or perhaps did not find) a most interesting correlation and perhaps an impending tipping point.image

As of 2017, the cumulative number of new jobs since 2007 is growing closer to the number of new housing units created in the same study period.

There is a distinct lack of correlation between the number of jobs created and the number of new housing units.  Even when the region was losing jobs in 2009, there were over 900 new housing units created [It was the lowest number of units in the study period].

This line of inquiry led to considering the other significant impacts on the housing industry beyond Jobs.  The enrollment at the University of Virginia for instance increased by 2,408 students from 2007-2017.  Regionally the population increased by 30,633 persons.  Overlaying The Weldon Cooper Center’s population estimates with our other gathered data started to prove the population demand driver.

image

Examining the introduction of the population trend line leads to a number of new questions:

  • In 2007, just prior to the Great Recession, how many excess units existed before our study period?
  • If our regional household size is ~2.4 persons (US Census), then new housing units should equal 41.6% of the population growth.  In those areas with higher than 41.6%, likely have a lower number of persons in the household.
  • Considered on a locality basis, job creation does not have a direct correlation to new housing units.  We anticipate this lack of correlation is related to the relative ease of working in a different locality than you reside. Louisa and Orange Counties seem to have the closest direct correlation between job and housing creation.
  • Anecdotally, we continue to see an increase in the number of retirees relocating to the region.  While retirees are included in the Weldon Cooper population information, we have yet to find an objective metric to track this data separately.

Dissecting this decade of data (2007-2017), we again end up with more questions than answers.

But often, the best questions drive the best community discussion.

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

Affordable Housing Policy Makes Building Affordable Housing Impossible

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Please let me explain.

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

————————————————-

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

Photo Credit: www.missingmiddle.com

Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentSee the source image

In the 1986 blockbuster movie Top Gun, Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was unable to get his head right when he lost his back seater, Goose.  He had to get focused on the future and make peace with the past.  The question when his squadron was in a dog fight, and needed him, would he engage?

I fear this is the same feeling regarding citizens, businesses and landowners in the current small area planning of the Rio/US29 region.

Please let me explain.

Maverick’s question of when to engage is pertinent because while some Rio/29 folks feel as though their perspectives were not taken seriously as the Grade Separated Interchange was pushed through approvals, and they are now hesitant to re-engage in a planning process with what they considered negative results.

Yet, like Maverick, we find ourselves at a juncture that requires us to engage.

This Thursday, August 9th at 6 pm at the Northside library, Albemarle County planners will hold an open house to get the feedback from the community to their long range plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is the time to engage.

Albemarle County explains the small area plan:

A Small Area Plan is a planning tool used to define a detailed plan for urban development and redevelopment in a focused area of strategic importance. The Rio29 Small Area Plan will devise a vision for the area around Route 29 and Rio Road and create a roadmap for implementation. The vision is guided by stakeholders that live, work, and play in and around the area and by the strategic goals adopted by the Board of Supervisors through the Comprehensive Plan, Places29 Master Plan, and Strategic Plan.

The Plan will help incorporate the new Rio Road Grade-Separated Intersection with future land use, transportation and capital projects in the area  Emphasis added-nw

In presenting the small area planning process, there will likely be caveats that this process is “visioning” and nothing is written in stone, or even funded.  The definition calls for the vision to be guided by the stakeholders however, if the public fails to engage, silence may be determined to be consent.

imageThe problem with long term planning is it is about the future and the future is never as we envision. Just twenty four months after the completions of the Rio/US29 Grade Separated Interchange, planners are already scoping out its replacement, the dog bone roundabout with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Station.

So we are planning for a BRT while we have not yet determined that we want/need this infrastructure investment.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy defines a true BRT system:

See the source imageBus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities. It does this through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations typically aligned to the center of the road, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations. 

Because BRT contains features similar to a light rail or metro system, it is much more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus services. With the right features, BRT is able to avoid the causes of delay that typically slow regular bus services, like being stuck in traffic and queuing to pay on board. emphasis added – nw

 

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

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

The long term vision will require significant amounts of private property to be acquired, perhaps via eminent domain. Interestingly, the plan calls for roads to run through commercial development but deftly avoids any residential areas (where voters live).image

The Rio29 Design Concepts – Final Draft Open House also includes a number of Transformative Projects.  Broken down into three categories (Short, Mid and Long term) we have not yet seen any cost projections for the projects but we fully anticipate they will be costly.

In announcing the Open House, Albemarle County was very clear in their intent:

Each topic will have its own station where attendees can provide feedback on the designs. Feedback will be shared with the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission as they consider incorporating these final draft designs into the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

The design concepts were developed with feedback from the community over the past 2 years. If endorsed by the Board, these concepts will be incorporated into Small Area Plan document that will be adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan

 

Much like the climatic dogfight in Top Gun, The Free Enterprise Forum is pleading with the citizens, businesses and property owners to re-engage in the small are planning process.  Absent all voices, the plan that moves fSee the source imageorward may not be the “community vision” for the future.

On August 9th, despite the fact that many will be focused on the upcoming anniversary, I hope the ENTIRE Rio/29 Community will re-engage, only then as a community can we move the shared vision forward.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

———————————————————————-

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: Albemarle County, minnesota.cbslocal.com, Paramount Pictures

Usurping Authority – Crozet Community Committee Resolution Recognition Request

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission July 17, 2018See the source image

Good evening.  Tonight, under new business, you have been asked to formally recognize a resolution from the Crozet Community Advisory Committee.

This would be a mistake.

Beyond being a very close vote (8-5) of an unelected advisory body, this type of mission creep is exactly what the Free Enterprise Forum warned about as the power of the Community Advisory Committees has expanded.

In 2015 we told the Albemarle Board of Supervisors:

While these entities may have been well intentioned at their formation, they have become an unelected mandated review sieve that provides planning commissioners and members of the Board of supervisors more than just a sounding board – they have become gatekeepers and defacto political cover for the Board of Supervisors.

The resolution provided to you, without your specific input seems to cite specific survey data and Master Plan sections but such items can not be taken in the abstract but should be considered in the context of the entire master plan to provide planning guidance not prescriptive or eliminate consideration of important economic development opportunities.

From the resolution:

WHEREAS, a combination of the current Crozet Master Plan (CMP), the recent survey results, and the opinion of the CCAC support this vision and these principles;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the CCAC requests that the Board of Supervisors schedule the update to the CMP as soon as possible, given the continued rapid growth in the Crozet area.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the CCAC requests that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors formally affirm the following principles in the CMP to provide direction and guidance in future decisions until the CMP Update is completed and adopted. As the prevailing vision of the CMP is to preserve Crozet’s “small town feel,” even while the area experiences further significant development, the following guiding principles support this vision:
1. Do not alter nor expand the current Crozet Growth Area Boundary [CMP pg.5, 32;survey slides 17,18].
2. Ensure that Downtown Crozet is the center of development for the Growth Area and a priority area for the focus of public capital investment and resource allocation [CMP pgs.21,24,54;survey slides 20, 21, 22];
3. Limit development along Route 250 West, west of Crozet Avenue [CMP pgs. 30, 37; survey slides 24, 25].
4. Recognize that Route 250 West is a State Scenic Byway containing aesthetic and cultural value and honor its status when making land development decisions [CMP pg.18; survey slide 24, 25]
5. Do not approve any rezoning for development of the I-64 and Route 250 interchange area (Fringe Areas and the Route 250 West Corridor) [CMP pgs. 32, 33; survey slide 26].
6. Expand transportation options in the Crozet Growth Area, and ensure that necessary infrastructure improvements keep pace with new development. [CMP pg. 41; survey slide 29] Priorities should include:
a. Library Avenue extended to Parkside Village [CMP pg. 39]
b. Bus and Shuttle services to the area [CMP pgs 40-41; survey slide 29];
c. Bike and Pedestrian pathways and improvements along Routes 240 and 250 [CMP pgs. 37, 38; survey slide 29];

Albemarle County is a large county with many demands, to elevate Development Area Citizen Advisory Councils as drafting resolutions to limit development fails to fully recognize the primary import of the Development areas to the Comprehensive Plan goals: to provide an area to develop!

While we concur with the Crozet community’s frustration at Albemarle’s failure to provide concurrent infrastructure, but we balance that concern with the reality of significant infrastructure infrastructure that has been focused in Crozet.

At best this is unnecessarily usurping the authority of those properly elected to serve Albemarle County, at worst it can be seen as a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) statement from a designated growth area that has seen significant infrastructure investment.

Please do not endorse, accept, or recognize this unbalanced resolution.

It is another step down a very slippery slope.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: be-hockey.com

Egotistical Entrance Corridor Expansion Effort

By. Neil Williamson, President

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are times when local public policy fails to follow logic.

When we learned in January the 1/3 Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors (EC) are Illegal, the Free Enterprise Forum was convinced Albemarle County supervisors would do the right thing to correct this code by reducing the number of roads designated as “Entrance Corridors”.  Imagine our shock to learn that this week, the Supervisors have a Resolution of Intent (on the consent agenda) to ADD a twenty-second road to the bloated EC list.

Please let me explain.

Late last year, according to a member of county staff, during a routine preapplication meeting, a question came up regarding the posted speed limit on the entrance corridor.  Staff researched the issue and determined both the speed limit and that the roadway was not an “arterial street”.

Virginia Code §15.2-2306 enables localities to establish entrance corridor districts encompassing parcels contiguous to arterial streets and highways found to be significant routes of tourist access to the county and to designated historic landmarks, structures, or districts within the county

This revelation, led staff to research each of the current twenty-one entrance corridor designated roadways and found eight did not meet the state “arterial” requirement.

To their credit, staff prepared a resolution of intent for the Board of Supervisors to consider in their February 7th meeting.  The purpose of this resolution is to revise the Entrance Corridor Ordinance removing those roadways that do not qualify as arterials.

In the first action of the February 7th meeting, Board Chair Ann Mallek asked that the Resolution of Intent be removed from the consent agenda:

so some technical items can be worked out before it is brought back for further discussion.

Despite multiple requests of staff and supervisors, we have not received any update regarding these “technical issues”.

As of last month, the staff indicates they are not enforcing entrance corridor regulations on those roads that do not meet the state definition of “arterial” roads.  This is not a fix, it is a band aid.

Meanwhile in February, the Planning Commission was flummoxed by its inability to mandate architectural review on proposed changes to City Church on West Rio Road.  Therefore they passed a resolution of Intent to bring West Rio Road/John Warner Parkway as the twenty second road on the bloated list of “Entrance Corridors”.  This is the true origin of the Resolution of Intent the Supervisors have on their consent agenda this week.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes any changes to the Entrance Corridors MUST FIRST fix the illegal Entrance Corridors – If not, we are left to ask

How long will Albemarle choose to ignore the law?

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 Credit: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction

imageBy. Neil Williamson, President

Do commercial uses fit in Albemarle County’s rural areas?

Looking at the photo to the right of Earlysville General Store, I would say not only do they fit, such uses (and the owners, employees and patrons) are the very fabric of the community for generations.

But such community supportive land uses are now in jeopardy.

Please let me explain.

On Wednesday night (6/13), the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will be considering a zoning text amendment (ZTA201800002) that would significantly reduce the number of uses allowed on property that is zoned commercial in the rural areas.

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

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

The concept of “takings” was discussed at the Planning Commission.  In the meeting minutes Deputy County Attorney John Blair explained the issue:

image

Anecdotally, we have seen property values diminish with reduction in rights but it was not until we read a 2006 paper by Oregon State University professor William K Jaeger that we found empirical evidence of such property value deimmunization.  Jaeger’s research is very careful to paint a broad brush regarding property values but provides an interesting window on the comparison between regulated and unregulated land costs.

image

In explaining this issue, Jaeger mentions the significant externalities involved in any real estate valuation:

Given the possibility of a price effect for both regulated and unregulated land due to the land-use regulation, it would be presumptuous to attribute the entire price differential between the two markets to a reduction in property values for the regulated lands. To use an analogy, if you tie your boat to a coastal pier and then, after a period of hours, notice that the level of the boat is now below the level of the pier, you are unlikely to ask: Did the pier move up or did the boat move down? You will immediately understand that piers don’t move up, but that an outgoing tide could have easily caused the boat to fall.

Considering the significant number of variables in any real estate transaction, and the Supreme Court’s decision regarding loss of up to 90% dictating a taking, I believe this loss of property rights would not meet the legal definition of a taking.

Even if it is legal is it right?

Albemarle County’s Rural Chapter of its comprehensive plan recognizes the need for commerce in the rural areas.  Specifically calling for such communities to develop:

Crossroads communities that provide support services and opportunities to engage in community life;

Why then are these ~80 rural properties being effectively downzoned so quickly?

We do not know specifically but here is what we do know:

1.  Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors closed meeting earlier this summer one topic announced to be discussed was a Zoning Text Amendment and ongoing litigation.

2.  According to several sources, Albemarle has a court case on June 22nd regarding a rural area land use decision

3.  The Planning Commission was clearly pushed by the Supervisors to have this ready for the June 13th BOS meeting

4.  An e-mail asking the direct question of Albemarle County staff went unanswered last week.

If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors is pushing this agenda due to a specific court case, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the public has a right to know.

It’s a shame a bad law (400 gallons of water use per acre per day) is now being replaced by one that is even worse.

We continue to believe a thoughtful discussion of performance standards could produce a significantly improved ordinance that could more properly balance property rights and the community goals.

But that would take time, something seemingly the Supervisors don’t have.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

————————————————-

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: Earlysville General Store Facebook Page

Icarus, Municipal Hubris, and Tourism

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When you are traveling outside of Central Virginia, where do you tell people you are from?

Do you say “Free Union”, “Albemarle County” or do you say, “Charlottesville”?

Seemingly an academic question but it is one that is at the heart of the current governmental coup of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB).

According to an April 25th Daily Progress article by Chris Suarez:

In December, former Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Diantha McKeel sent a formal notice to [Then CACVB Executive Director Kurt] Burkhart that said the county intends to terminate an existing organizational agreement on June 30.

The letter says the city and county’s elected officials had been discussing the CACVB’s “limited focus and reluctance” to promote locally owned wineries, breweries and distilleries, history and heritage tourism and ecotourism, as well as specific activities such as bicycling, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.

“We feel destination development is currently lacking,” the letter says. “Although the targets for hotel vacancy rates are important and currently successful, their vacancy rates and other directly related indicators should no longer be the primary driving metrics.”[Emphasis Added-NW]

The friction between CACVB Executive Director Burkhart and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had been simmering for several years.  [Burkhart retired earlier this year]. While Burkhart touted hotel occupancy rate data; focusing on proving the return on investments in tourism using economic models showing $6 or $7 benefit for every dollar invested, supervisors questioned the methodology of these models and noted the large number of hotels in the City.

imageIn addition to Burkhart not filling funded positions quickly and maintaining a large fund balance, the root of much of the concern was focused on the belief that Albemarle was not being promoted enough in the marketing of the region.

This “Municipal Hubris” has been gong on for over a decade.   I recall when the latest logo redesign [left] was competed several years ago, it was a requirement that Albemarle be in the logo and then there was a concern regarding the different size font. Then there was a discussion, I am not making this up, that it was not alphabetical.

See the source imageAccording to www.Merriam-Webster.com

To the [Ancient] Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall. Hubris was a character flaw often seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, including Oedipus and Achilles. The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before a fall” is basically talking about hubris.

So what does Charlottesville City Council think about this internal branding conflict.  We believe the answer can be found between the lines of Councilor Kathy Galvin’s polite answer quoted in the Suarez article:

“What happens next (including whether or not a city/county CACVB committee persists and I remain the city’s liaison with the county) is a matter, in my view, to be decided by the City Council,” Galvin wrote. “I will be raising that question at a City Council meeting in May.”

At the end of the May 21st City Council meeting, they selected Councilors Galvin and Signer to represent Council in the CACVB reorganization work; but there was no further discussion beyond the appointment.

To review, the proposed CACVB Executive Committee would control all aspects of the organization and would consist of  one member from the City Council and the Board of Supervisors; the city manager (or a designee); the county executive (or a designee); a tourism or economic development official from the city and county; a University of Virginia representative; two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and county.  All but three of these members sit on or answer to either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Considering the many conflicts and concerns between the City and the County right now, I anticipate the jointly funded marketing of regional tourism objectives to be an area where the city (and county) end up walking away from the “new deal”.

The result will be duplicative efforts (though they will claim collaboration), inefficiency and a lack of accountability.  Tourism will become a division of each locality’s Economic Development departments and lack the import and independence it enjoys today.  In addition, we see further weakening of the required nexus between tourism and line item expenditures.  Transparency is lost.

Perhaps a brief review of Greek mythology [Daedalus and Icarus] could prove helpful prior to moving forward with the dissolution or dismemberment of the CACVB.

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 Credit www.frederickmordi.wordpress.com