Category Archives: Albemarle

The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President

 

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Albemarle Mission Creeping Planning Commission

FORUM WATCH EDITORIALcreeping

By. Neil Williamson, President

After a January 2018 determination found that 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors are illegal, the Board of Supervisors has yet to act on a resolution of intent to fix this issue.

In this vacuum, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission decided they don’t need no stinking Architectural Review Board – they can mission creep far beyond their state mandated advisory role and institute architectural demands on projects regardless of their location.

Please let me explain.

First it is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects.  The examples below are used to show a broken process, we do not have an opinion regarding the applications’ individual merit.

Example #1

During the Architectural Review Board review of a project (SP-2017-00016) in the Scottsville District on Avon Street Extended, it was determined that Avon Street Extended is not an arterial roadway (a requirement for an Entrance Corridor designation).  The applicant went through the initial review without this knowledge and after the determination was made, the planning commission was briefed.  Based on the applicant’s testimony at the Planning Commission, it was clear they were never told that they were not under the ARB regulations.  Only late in the public hearing did the Deputy County Attorney mention that the applicant would not need to go back to the ARB for a final review.

Instead, the mission creeping Planning Commission seeking to achieve ARB-type control created a new class of conditions to codify the architecture as a part of a special use permit for a body shop.

b. Additional fenestration or architectural features shall be added along the “02 Left Elevation (South)” façade to provide a pedestrian orientation to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning or his/her designee. Priority should be given to providing additional fenestration or a combination of wall plantings, architectural features and fenestration along this particular elevation. [emphasis in original – nw]

Conditions in a Special Use Permit generally mitigate negative impacts on adjoining property owners, taking this to mean architectural elements is a LARGE LEAP beyond normal review.

Example #2

The following week, the Planning Commission considered a Special Use Permit application  for a new church on Rio Road East (SP201700010).  Rio Road East has never been established as an entrance corridor; it is mentioned as a corridor for possible entrance corridor consideration in the Comprehensive Plan (Page 5.20).

Strategy 8f: Consider additional EC designations as appropriate, or as road classifications change, for roads such as the John Warner Parkway, Route 614 (Sugar Hollow Road), Route 692/712 (Plank Road), and Route 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike).

It is important to note there has been no resolution of intent or any other forward motion on making the John Warner Parkway an Entrance Corridor beyond the notation above in the 2015 guiding planning document.

That mere mention is enough for this activist Planning Commission to mission creep into mandating architectural features as a function of the Special Use Permit process.  In this case now they have precedent, based on the SUP they railroaded the week before (Example #1).  Honestly, the applicant never knew what hit him.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the mission creeping Planning Commission is unchecked in its power grab beyond state code.  As an advisory body, nothing becomes final until accepted by the Board of Supervisors.

When the Board of Supervisors considers these applications later this year, will any Supervisor (or County Counsel) raise the red flag regarding these architectural demands absent a significant community benefit OR a strong legal nexus?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay Tuned,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: Bartblog.bartcop.com

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part V)– The Christopher Columbus Map Award

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the fifth in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a GIS and how does the County collect the GIS data used to calculate utility fees?

Albemarle’s answer:

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It is computer software designed to capture, store, analyze, and present spatial or geographic data. The County has used a GIS for decades to improve operations such as capital planning, emergency response, and development tracking.

Various data has been developed since the late 1990s for a variety of purposes. New data is obtained as land is subdivided and improvements are constructed. For instance, County staff will map the corners of new buildings – during the permitting process – using a highly accurate (sub-meter) GPS device. Older data was originally mapped by County staff and consultants from Mylar tax maps and aerial photography. The County does not rely on automated or computerized processes to map impervious areas. Once buildings, parking lots, and other features are mapped, they are generally not re-mapped unless a permitting process proposing new development is initiated on the property. However, County staff will occasionally compare mapped features to new aerial photography to identify missed features.

The Free Enterprise Forum is the first to acknowledge the power of GIS.  We utilized GIS technologies to calculate our Hindsight Report as well as our Workplace 29 ReportThose reports used GIS to aggregate data rather than provide specific parcel information.  When you drill down on Albemarle County’s GIS to the parcel level you find all kinds of issues – especially if you try to use it to calculate impervious surface.

Incorrect boundary lines If you pull the GIS imagery for Tax Map 14-18 in Southern Albemarle, as an owner you would think that looks like the proper lot lines but when you overlay a physical survey completed for the property you find the GIS map is wrong in material ways.  See the combined image below:

RR Exhibit B

As a reminder, Albemarle’s proposed rain tax calculation will include all rooftops and any impervious surfaces (including gravel) within a 100’ radius of the building.

According to the GIS (blue line), Tax Map 14-18 has a large building on the east side of the parcel.  The physical survey (black line)recognizes not only iron buried but a fence along the property line that places the building (and the related impervious surface) on the neighbor’s property.

On the left side of the map the circle around the northwest out building is not fully captured due to the misplaced property line.The GIS lines are misaligned resulting in a miscalculation of the Rain Tax.

In a different example, also in Southern Albemarle (Exhibit A) Albemarle County’s GIS boundary lines for Tax Map 19-42A both over and undercount the impervious surface radii when compared with the maps available in the courthouse (DB 777 P.359)RR Exhibit A

The County GIS lines (blue) show a boundary that is shorter and wider than the legal data (Red lines) provide.

The resultant Rain Tax Calculation fails to capture the full radii in the southwest corner and over calculates the impervious surface on the north boundary of the property.

Based on this documentation – these two errors may almost cancel each other out – but they are incorrect.

rr gis According to the GIS for Tax map 132-14, three buildings exist on this parcel that are connected by gravel drives.  A drone review shows that there are four 4 buildings on the parcel.

The fourth building (identified as Shed #2) was constructed in 2008 but (as of December 2017) does not appear on the GIS.  As important that the building is not captured in the calculation neither is the 100’ radii.

RR Drone 2Shed #2 represents 1370 sq feet of impervious surface that would not be counted using GIS because according to GIS the shed does not exist.  In addition the gravel surrounding the shed would also not be counted utilizing current GIS data.

Some might suggest these are cherry picked examples and not representative of the County as a whole.  The Free Enterprise Forum has learned of 7 errors within a 5 square mile quadrant of Albemarle County.  We also believe that such errors while existing within the urban ring are likely not as prevalent with more recent developments that utilized global position survey techniques.

One local surveyor estimated that 25% of all parcels in the county would have some form of inaccuracy in their GIS data.  To be clear, not all of the errors are in favor of the landowner, some are to the benefit of the county – no matter – a 25% error rate for data driving the RAIN TAX is unacceptable.

This may be the most erroneous use of mapping software since since Christopher Columbus charted his first voyage to Asia.

We reiterate our call for Albemarle Supervisors to say “NO” to the RAIN TAX AKA Stormwater Utility Fee because it is based bad maps create bad results.

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.

 

 

 

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part IV)–If three of your friends jumped off a bridge …

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: Do other localities use a stormwater utility to fund stormwater programs?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Yes. Stormwater utilities were first established in the US in the early 1970s and in Virginia in the early 1990s. There are currently nearly 1,600 stormwater utilities in the US (source: Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey, 2016). Over 20 Virginia local governments have established stormwater utilities, including Prince William County, Isle of Wight County, Chesterfield County, and the cities of Charlottesville, Richmond, and Waynesboro.

The Free Enterprise Forum would answer the question differently.  While over 20 localities have adopted a stormwater utility fee, most are cities.  We are only aware of three other counties in the Commonwealth who utilize a stormwater utility fee.  Each locality approaches the issue slightly differently.  Let’s look at the three counties and their different approaches to stormwater fee.

Isle of Wright County Virginia is located in the Hampton Roads region directly across the James River from Newport News.  As of the 2010 census, the population was 35,270. Its area: is 363 square miles. In their implementation of the stormwater utility fee they chose to  use a flat fee for all residential property and calculate the impervious surface for businesses and non residential.  From Isle of Wright website:

How Much is The Stormwater Management fee and When is it Due?   All developed residential property owners will be assessed a fee of $54 per year.  The storm water management fee will be added as a separate line item on real estate tax bills.

How will businesses and other nonresidential properties be charged? Businesses and other nonresidential properties will be charged the Stormwater Management Fee based on the ratio of impervious area on site to the impervious area of 1 ERU.  For example a nonresidential property that has 32,000 SF of impervious area would be accessed an ERU of 10 which equates to a yearly Stormwater Management Fee of $540.00.

Prince William County, Virginia is located directly on the Potomac River South of Washington, DC.  On 1 July 2015, the population was estimated to be 451,721, making it Virginia’s second-most populous county. Their geographic footprint is 348 square miles. Prince William also bills a flat fee for residential and looks for agricultural users to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.  Prince William’s website explains:

  • Residential and nonresidential owners of developed property pay based on the amount of impervious area (rooftops paved areas etc.) on their property. Impervious areas contribute to an increase in storm water runoff that adds to our drainage requirements for flood control and water protection.
  • Residents will pay their fee on the bi-annual real estate bill.  This means the total annual fee is split between the two bills.
    • $39.36 total annual fee for detached singe-family homes
    • $29.55 total annual fee for townhome, mobile home and condominium owners
  • Nonresidential property owners will pay a total annual fee of $19.12 per 1000 square feet of impervious area. Fee adjustments or credits may be available if a storm water management system is already in place. This fee is billed on the bi-annual real estate bills.
  • Owners of agricultural croplands and undeveloped properties are not charged a fee. Agricultural properties are currently required to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Farm Bill.

Chesterfield County, Virginia is located just south of Richmond.  The county is bordered on the North by the James River and on the South by the Appomattox River. In 2016, the estimated population was 339,009 in their area of 437 Square miles.  Chesterfield also chose to implement a flat fee for residential properties.  Chesterfield outlines its fee on their website:

How much will I pay (fee rates)?
  • Residential property owners pay $25 per year (one ERU) for single family detached homes.
  • Townhome and condominium owners pay $7.50 per year (30% of one ERU).
  • Commercial properties (e.g., nonresidential and rental multifamily properties) are charged based on the total amount of impervious area on the site and the resulting ERUs, at a rate of $25 per ERU per year.
  • Commercial properties that drain to stormwater management facilities or participate in pollution reduction programs receive a partial credit in the stormwater utility fee as outlined in the credit policy.
  • Exempt properties include
    • Federal, state, local and public entities that hold a permit to discharge stormwater
    • Undeveloped properties

The truth in fee award goes to Chesterfield County who called out that they are charging property owners for a service that they do not receive (see our post about “utility”)

I live in a subdivision with stormwater BMPs and drainage infrastructure. Why do I have to pay the stormwater utility fee?

Neighborhoods with existing stormwater conveyance and retention or detention ponds still contribute runoff and pollution to the overall drainage system. The program’s costs are distributed to all county property owners because stormwater management is a countywide service.

Beyond the recognition that development today handles the vast majority of stormwater on-site – This is the crux of the Fee/Tax discussion.  If as Chesterfield states, stormwater management is a countywide service and “program costs are distributed to all county property owners” – it is independent of the property’s direct impact on stormwater – it is a tax.

PrintThe reality we see is only three counties in Virginia have enacted this “fee”.  We are not convinced these are “peer communities” based on their different geographic conditions and population densities.

I can hear my Mother’s voice as I type, I don’t care what the other counties are doing, it is not right for you.

The Rain Tax is Wrong for Albemarle.

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.

Albemarle’s Rain Tax Answers (Part III)– Utility?

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a stormwater utility?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Utilities are funding mechanisms that charge a fee for services provided. A stormwater utility supports stormwater management and other programs related to water resource protection. While property taxes are based on the value of the property, a stormwater fee must be related to each property’s contribution to the problems being address by the programs, namely through discharges of stormwater runoff and pollution. Fees are typically based on property characteristics having a strong relation to runoff and pollutants, such as impervious area. A utility is not a tax and revenues generated from fees must only be used to support water resources programs. (emphasis added-nw)

While Albemarle’s definition of utility seems entirely reasonable, it also does not accurately describe the proposed rain tax.  Examining the image below, I can see the paved and gravel grace episcopalareas around the church that would create runoff, however from this perspective I anticipate the majority of the stormwater would be absorbed long before it reached a stormwater conveyance or even a stream – what utility is being provided?

Even if one of the few green infrastructure/open channel maintenance projects (8% of the FY19 program budget) is being completed in the area – the direct utility is extremely limited.  pepe-le-pew-warner-brothers

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a rain tax, collected from all property owners (including churches) to pay for a community good – stormwater infrastructure.

We agree the proposed rain tax does create revenues that are restricted to only support water resources programs.  We don’t think this an unchecked dedicated revenue source is a good idea but we agree this is what is planned.

Calling the proposed rain tax a stormwater utility fee does not make it any less offensive than calling a skunk a cat.

Call it what it is a rain tax and yes it stinks.

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: Google (accessed 3/20/18), Warner Brothers/Loony Tunes

Albemarle Answers Rain Tax Questions (Part II)

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the second in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Why has a stormwater utility been recommended as the funding mechanism?’

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility has the following advantages:

· Fairness – A utility fee based on a property’s impervious area more closely relates to the demand a property places on the stormwater system and on water resource protection efforts than its real estate property value. For that reason, a utility is considered a fairer way to allocate total program costs to individual properties.

· Stability – A utility will result in a dependable and steady revenue stream that grows with the community; this stability will allow for long-term program development and planning for capital investments.

· Regulatory preference – A dedicated funding source is preferred by federal and state regulators and would create advantages for the County when being audited or applying for grants.

· Wider funding base – Government- and tax-exempt- properties – charged under a utility but not charged taxes – contribute to the stormwater and pollution burden.

So we have four advantages to unpack: Fairness, Stability, Regulatory Preference and a wider funding base.

Fairness is a bit difficult to measure but let’s fist look at the current funding mchanism.  Today, all county taxpayers contribute $.007 of the property tax rate is dedicated to stormwater.

This cost allocation system is the same for schools, public safety, and most other government functions.  Suggesting a user fee is a very different concept.  Imagine if this was how we funded schools, the couple across the street do not have any children, why should they pay for schools?

Is the current funding mechanism ‘fair’?

Albemarle’s FAQs suggest that the proposed rain tax impervious surface calculation more closely relates to the demands placed on the system is a challenge as well.  Nothing in the calculation considers property context.

Consider the Google maps captures below:

White hall google map sugar hollow rdRolkin Road Google maps

The capture on the left is in the White Hall District in Sugar Hollow surrounded by forested lands, the photo on the right is Rolkin Road on Pantops, ignoring the variation in the amount of impervious surface in each photo, does using the same billing unit for these two instances the same make logical sense?   Which photo has more impact on Albemarle County’s stormwater infrastructure?  The home in the rural countryside or the urban ring townhouse?

Albemarle County FAQs indicate the proposed rain tax will result in a steady revenue stream that grows with the community.  The only thing stopping this from happening under the existing funding system is political will of 4 supervisors (the number needed for action).  Such political will has existed in recent years, evidenced by the $.007 dedicated to storm water in the current budget.

Albemarle FAQs suggest the proposed rain tax was selected because of a “Regulatory Preference” and that the proposed rain tax will ‘create advantages when audited or applying for grants’.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes to be perfectly clear – the proposed rain tax is NOT mandated by any governmental agency.  Among regulators some preference may exist but the regulation relates to the projects not how the projects are funded. Albemarle can say “no” to the proposed rain tax and have a very successful stormwater program.

The last bullet ‘wider funding base’ is perhaps the most jarring. Government and tax exempt properties may be charged under the proposed rain tax but not charged taxes.  This means Albemarle County will have to pay the proposed rain tax on all of their properties (including schools), these funds will come out of the general fund creating a need for more tax dollars to pay for those costs.

In addition, rural churches, often with impervious gravel parking lots will need to spend hundreds of dollars annually either through higher contributions or by cutting ministries in the community.

PrintThe proposed rain tax is not a fair allocation of costs as it does not consider parcel context in its calculations.  Stormwater management is not a utility it is a public service.  The costs should be shared via the general fund not the proposed rain tax.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credits: Google (accessed 3/19/18)

 

 

 

 

 

Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there were some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the first in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’ 

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility will not result in the creation of a separate organization or a new County department. Revenues from the utility will be used to support existing staff and mandated programs related to stormwater management and water resource protection, as well as some program enhancements to better achieve County needs and goals [link to below “New Programs”]. Administration of the utility is expected to require the equivalent of about one-half additional staff. [Emphasis added-nw]

To be fair, like a good politician, Albemarle did not answer the yes/no question posed.  Perhaps we have a different definition of bureaucracy.  Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

image

In the answer above,  Albemarle references the revenues will be used to “support existing staff”; true but not complete.  The program budget projects staff INCREASES from the current  ~16.5 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) to 23.4 staff in FY28 (nearly a 42% increase).  But note there is not a new department.

Albemarle’s Stormwater Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department.

The program budget approved by the Board of Supervisors included two line items that we think of as bureaucratic (absent the fee they are not needed):  Program Management/Administration and Regulation and Enforcement.

Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

2018-03-15 14_00_44-Rain Tax Figures - Excel

Let’s the question for the class; ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’

PrintYES!  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the RAIN TAX will create a new bureaucracy (but not a new department).  The storm water mitigation credits allowed by the RAIN TAX will need to be verified at installation and regularly inspected to ensure proper compliance.  In addition, the mapping services required to make parcel corrections and other adjustments will be most significant in the first five years.  While we can understand some considering this work a part of the stormwater protection, we contend this specific, bureaucratic work would not be required if this funding mechanism was not used.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “A bureaucracy by any other name would smell as sweet”

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

Albemarle’s Prophylactic Proffer Policy

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from Comments to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors March 7, 2018

Good afternoon, my name is Neil Williamson with the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded Public Policy organization focused on local government in Central Virginia.

This afternoon you will receive a detailed report from your Residential Development Impact Work Group regarding the Proffer reform legislation that became effective in July of 2016. The bulk of their recommendation is to pursue enabling legislation for impact fees at the General Assembly.

For the last thirty six months or so, Albemarle (and many other localities across the Commonwealth) have had a Prophylactic Proffer Policy that prevented the types of rezonings envisioned in your Comprehensive Plan from moving forward.

In a related development, all of this year’s proffer legislation in the General Assembly has been set aside for this session with the promise of a “Proffer Party” this summer to discuss solutions with all stakeholders.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been concerned about proffers (also known as a ‘Welcome Stranger’ tax) for a very long time. I have provided each of you a copy of our 2013 Contradictory Consequences report. It is interesting that the three case studies internal to the report are now entering the market.

As you contemplate your advocacy for residential impact fees that will drive up the cost of housing, we have a few questions:

  • How would you grade Albemarle’s efforts to fund the infrastructure promised in your own Comprehensive Plan?
  • Considering the unintended consequences of getting the very type of development you don’t want, are proffers or impact fees worth it?
  • With the community growing at a predictable (and sustainable) rate of about 2% annually, how has Albemarle’s infrastructure spending properly prepared for this growth?

It is clear the siren’s song of cash proffers and impact fees is very strong for elected officials. The idea of generating revenue from new home buyers (who are not yet voters) to “pay their way” is too good to be true.

The negative impacts of cash proffers and impact fees as documented in our report include tearing up the community vision as expressed in the Comprehensive Plan. Cash Proffers and Impact Fees produce a plethora of contradictory consequences without achieving significant community benefit.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Business Vitality Sustains Better Communities

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In recent weeks, we have heard several calls to slow economic development and advancement in our community.  Many of these calls are accompanied by concerns of gentrification, income inequality and economic fairness. These calls have manifested themselves in vocal opposition to pro-business policies.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes a flourishing business sector is mission critical to creating a vibrant community; beyond the financial benefit a diverse, successful business community generates a positive, accepting, thriving community.  image

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released the 2017 Sales tax data.  This empirical data does not capture all local economic activity but provides an objective metric to the overall health of the economy.

The reality is, using a ten year lens, all of our localities have increased their sales tax base.  The percent increase is largest in those areas which previously had very little retail but all localities see growth in the last decade.

It is into this context, that I read this morning’s Washington Post opinion piece by economic writer Robert SamuelsonThe political consequences of slower growth”.  In his piece, Samuelson defines the import of economic growth:

The role of economic growth in advanced democracies is not mainly the accumulation of more material goods. By any historical norm, even today’s poor are staggeringly wealthy. Economic growth plays a more subtle role. It gives people a sense that they are getting ahead and are in control of their lives. It serves as the social glue that holds us together and counteracts — to some extent — the influences of race, class, religion, ethnicity and geography, which drive us apart. emphasis added-nw

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the same socioeconomic theory works on the local level and has a correlated counter theory.See the source image  The higher the citizen confidence in their local economy regarding opportunity as well as job growth, tensions between often competing factions are reduced.

If however, the political environment highlights the divisions between groups and accentuates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, then despite economic positives, citizen confidence generally drops and a drop in economic vitality soon follows.

Earlier this month, Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy was quoted by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chiding an applicant about a requested density increase in the West2nd rezoning:

“Some would say you have made a lot of money in this city and because you have already made so much, maybe you could give one back to us,” Bellamy said.

Later in the month, in a presentation to the Charlottesville’s Housing Summit City Principal Planner Brian Haluska provided an inadvertent counter to Bellamy’s Anti-Profit position:

A developer that does not make a profit is a developer that won’t be around for long

Profit has a place in our economic growth engine.  Absent the opportunity to add value, why would investors put their resources at risk.  Absent cooperation from the localities, market demanded projects (residential and commercial) will be financed and developed ‘by right’ making the well funded vision of localities comprehensive plans nothing but a mirage.

Samuelson’s piece concluded by projecting the influence a declining rate of economic growth has on society:

We should also remember the larger role played by the economy in shaping the nation’s political and social climate. Unless we are able to raise the rate of economic growth — a task whose inherent difficulty ought to be obvious by now — we face an increasingly contentious and politically strained future.

We can expect intensifying competition among Americans (the rich and the poor, the young and the old, cities and states, businesses and governments) for ever-larger shares of the nation’s slow-growing income. We’ll also miss the muffling effect that higher economic growth has on the nation’s other conflicts and grievances.

While I may differ regarding the verbiage “muffling effect”, the sentiment is clear; a community that has economic growth tends to be more cohesive, collaborative, congenial, and accepting.  The community that lacks such economic vitality tends to be more combative, restrictive and protectionist.

The question for our communities is do we want to spend resources fighting for “our” slice of the pie or should we work together to increase the size of the community pie?

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: housedems.ct.gov

Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal

By. Neil Williamson, President

On January 16th, 2018, both the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Planning Commission went into to closed sessions “to be briefed by legal counsel related to a zoning overlay district”  — we now know what that was about.

The Free Enterprise Forum has learned that eight of Albemarle County twenty-one Entrance Corridors fail to meet the state requirements for such designation.  Some of these have been in violation since inception in 1990.  This revelation, made by staff, calls into question the legality and enforceability of any ARB conditions placed on properties along the eight illegal entrance corridors.

First a little background:

On October 3, 1990 Albemarle County held a public hearing on the proposed Entrance Corridor Guidelines [and the Architectural Review Board].  In that hearing, Mr. Andrew Dracopoli raised concerns about the proposed ordinance:

“is concerned that the ordinance has “sprouted wings”.  It seems like almost every road in the County has become a part of this ordinance whereas when it originally came up, it had only five or six roads.  He would like to see it scaled back to just major roads.”

Today, almost 28 years later, Mr. Dracopoli is proven correct.

According to 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 has prepared a resolution of intent the Board of Supervisors will 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.  The following roadways will no longer be under ARB jurisdiction (nor ever should have been)

Non-Arterial Corridors: Avon St Ext (Rt.742), Barracks Rd (Rt.654), Irish Rd (Rt. 6), Thomas Jefferson Parkway (Rt.53)

Corridors with mixed classifications:5th St and Old Lynchburg Rd (RT. 631), Louisa Rd (Rt.22), Richmond Rd (Rt.250), Stoney Point Rd (Rt. 20)

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about overreach at the ARB – including our 27 page report:  Eye of the Beholder – Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board’s Mission Creep. While we understand the goals and objectives of the ARB and the Entrance Corridors, we believe Albemarle has, since 1990, vastly exceeded the intentions of the enabling legislation.

Today we see many positive signs as Albemarle staff is looking to do the right thing by repealing the illegal designations.  Perhaps now, as a community, we can look to limiting ARB purview to the five or six roads Mr. Dracopoli mentioned in his 1990 testimony.

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: vancouver.mediacoop.ca