Category Archives: Charlottesville City

2018 Forum Watch Top 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

top ten listPerhaps the best thing that can be said about 2018 was it was not 2017.

As our community is still dealing with the very real ramifications of August 2017, The Free Enterprise Forum remained focused on monitoring local government, reducing regulatory burdens, promoting market based solutions, protecting property rights, and encouraging economic vitality.

None of this could be accomplished without the generous support of our donors and our regular readers. Thank you.  As we complete our fifteenth year of operation, we remain vigilant, and “pleasantly” persistent.

Each year, we select the top ten blog posts for our year in review.  There were many other blog posts that reached honorable mention status.  I would be remiss if I did not thank our Field Officers Brent Wilson (Greene County) and Bryan Rothamel (Fluvanna County) for their significant reportage in 2018.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2018:

clip_image002#10 Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”  “ …Representatives of the volunteer rescue squad and Fire Departments also addressed the Board of Supervisors. Their message was clear – we are getting “no clear supervision” and it goes back and forth who we are to answer to.

Several other citizens asked that the Supervisors have the courage to back up and revert to how E911 worked since 2012 and then have a committee analyze how best to address E911 services in the future. One of the final public comments was there seems to be “a failure to communicate” in Greene County”

#9 Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model …”A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised….”

#8 Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”? “…At the end of the meeting, [Brandon] Collins presented a different pers

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Brandon Collins

pective on the reports.  He admonished City Council to think big.  If they are really serious about fixing the housing affordability issue, they should stop depending on developers; they should do it themselves with their existing Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  Collins’ “Marshall Plan” might include $140 million dollar bond issuance dedicated simply to the creation of new affordable units that will stay perpetually affordable. When pressed by Councilor Wes Bellamy how the city might pay for that debt service, Collins admitted he had not figured that out yet but thought it could be resolved.”

#7 Delta Response Team Rescue Headed to Fluvanna …Fluvanna County will start with a new contract ambulance service this upcoming year.Delta Response Team (DRT), headquartered in Appomattox, was selected after a Request for Proposal (RFP) process was completed by the county. It will cost the county $438,000 for 24-hour services. The county budget $600,000 for FY19.  “We are not here to make a career service,” said Susan Walton, president of DRT.

#6 Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction “…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….”

#5 Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability “…So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?…”

See the source image#4 Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout “…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?

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….”

#3 Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future  “…  Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.  There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.

Please let me explain….”

#2 Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal “…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….”

and the #1 post for 2019  Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy “…Albemarle’s Stormwater https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/no-rain-tax-logo.jpg?w=175&h=175Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department….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.

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But most of all THANK YOU, the readers and supporters of this blog and our work in Central Virginia.  Without your generous support, we would not exist, thank you!

BRING ON 2019!

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.

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Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Local government is poised to cook the golden goose — tourism.

After a series of political moves over several years, local government, not the local tourism industry, is now in charge of marketing our community to the outside world; they honestly don’t know what they don’t know.

And they are about to become more powerful.

Please let me explain.

Imagine if your business was required to calculate, collect and turn over to the government additional taxes purportedly to promote the region and therefore generate more business for you.

That’s how § 58.1-3819. Transient occupancy tax (TOT) works.  This is the taxes paid by those who stay in a particular locality (Hotel, Motel, Campground, AirBnB, etc.) for the privilege of doing so.

So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?

The state code section seems to have an opinion about that specific issue:

….may levy a transient occupancy tax not to exceed five percent, and any excess over two percent shall be designated and spent solely for tourism and travel, marketing of tourism or initiatives that, as determined after consultation with the local tourism industry organizations, including representatives of lodging properties located in the county, attract travelers to the locality, increase occupancy at lodging properties, and generate tourism revenues in the locality. If any locality has enacted an additional transient occupancy tax pursuant to subsection C of § 58.1-3823, then the governing body of the locality shall be deemed to have complied with the requirement that it consult with local tourism industry organizations, including lodging properties.

The Free Enterprise Forum joined with many in the tourism and hospitality industry raising concerns when the elected officials changed the structure of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB) Board from being industry led (a best management practice across the nation) to being led by elected officials and government employees.  The current Executive Board includes a representative from each elected body, as well as Charlottesville’s city manager, Albemarle’s county executive, an economic development staff member from both the city and the county and a representative from the University of Virginia and two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and the county. This means currently two-thirds (66.6%) of the current board is elected or works for the locality.

The localities want this to change, they want MORE POWER.  Next week (12/12) Albemarle County will accept public comment on the proposed changes to the CACVB.

From their proposed proclamation:

WHEREAS, the County and the City desire to amend the Agreement to authorize two members of the Board of Supervisors and two members of the City Council to serve on the CACVB’s Executive Board and to making any corresponding changes to the Agreement as provided in the amended agreement attached hereto as Attachment A (the “First Amended Agreement”).

Regardless of the individuals in the positions, this means that marketing and advertising decisions will be made by a a board where 73% of the members are not directly involved in tourism (either elected officials or work for the locality).  Does this sound like the kind of consultation contemplated under State Code?

The challenge of getting officials to understand marketing outside of their world was made exceedingly clear in the October CACVB advertising pitch.  Allison Wrabel of the Daily Progress has the story

CACVB Interim Executive Director Adam Healey said that the campaign is aimed at 25 to 44 year olds in the Washington, D.C. area and Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, who are looking for short or overnight trips.

“You are not always your customer when you’re doing marketing,” he said…..

…Board member Roger Johnson, Albemarle County economic development director, said he thought the same general concept, but with a regional brand that “wasn’t so Charlottesville centered” would be “better accepted by the folks in Albemarle County who are taxpayers” and the target group….

…Albemarle supervisors Diantha McKeel and Ann Mallek said they hardly saw the county mentioned….“It will be a surprise to no one that it took me seven years to get Albemarle on the logo and I’m not going to give it up,” Mallek said….

Many of the industry representatives on the board supported using “C’ville” in some fashion and said they thought the proposed campaign was a great start.

“In my mind, the C’ville six letters identifies the region,” said George Hodson with Veritas Vineyard & Winery, the county tourism industry representative on the board. “I think we can’t lose sight of the forest through the trees and kind of lead with our own baggage. C’ville identifies this region without saying Charlottesville.”

“Why try to gum up peoples’ mouths with phrases and long things that aren’t going to be marketable?”

The proposal is the groundwork of a good campaign, he said.

With the latest government expansion it is being made abundantly clear that the government, not the practitioners will control the marketing message.  It’s difficult for many to understand, the message that resonates to you (and your voters) may not be the message needed to attract young visitors with disposable income and free time.  If such decisions are left to municipal officials, it may be a very expensive lesson.

We believe this structural error goes against best management principles and is in conflict with the intent of the state code.  We believe the imbalance should be reversed, those who collect tourist tax dollars [and have a vested interest in their success] should have the ability to impact where and how the promotional dollars are spent.

In addition, many of the officials on the CACVB board wants to change the performance metrics away from hotel occupancy rates “Heads in Beds” to something else.  If the funding comes from those “Heads in Beds” shouldn’t that be the promotional focus and evaluation tool?

I really hope we are wrong about the officials’ CACVB marketing blind spots and the localities don’t waste millions of visitor (not residents) tax dollars in poor promotion.

If we are right, unfortunately, it will be the tourism industry that will first feel the pain of a poor, politically palatable, promotion producing pitiful profitability.

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: http://angielskidlakazdego.blox.pl/resource/goldenegg.jpg

Thankful, Hopeful & Skeptical in Charlottesville

By. Neil Williamson, President

In this time of Thanksgiving, I have so much to be thankful for; unexpectedly, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is now on that list.

Please let me explain.

Late in last night’s Planning Commission work session, after hearing the Free Enterprise Forum concerns with the proposed comprehensive plan and the land use map, as it existed prior to Saturday’s meeting, Chair Lisa Green asked that the map and narrative they created be shared with the 4 members of the public in attendance.  Each of us took photographs of the map and narrative with the understanding these are just drafts.

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/image2.png?w=208&h=310

Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan Map Draft Before Saturday (11/17) Planning Commission Matinee Meeting

comp plan photo 2

Revisions to Charlottesville Draft Comprehensive Plan Map from Post Planning Commission Saturday Matinee Meeting (11/17)

Comparing the two images, I see hope for increased intensity, AKA density, in many nodes.

Green expressed a desire for folks to read the narrative- something I refer to as the “Intensity Spectrum”.  Staff attempted to type in new language on the fly during Saturday’s meeting – that is the image below – it will undoubtedly change but we like the direction it is headed.

We again see hope in the draft language that was captured includes the verbiage “Missing Middle Housing”.  The previous version went from high to low with very little room for middle housing.

Comp Plan Photo 4

It is our understanding that the Planning Commission will see staff’s rendition of the changes at their regular December 11th meeting but the documents will have already been submitted for the December 17th City Council meeting.  The Planning Commission will deliver an incomplete update of the Comprehensive Plan, the Community Engagement chapter is not yet drafted and the Land Use chapter is not yet complete.

Council will provide their comments on the draft and it will return to the Planning Commission for further meetings and refinements (and completion of the two unfinished chapters).

While I remain a healthy skeptic waiting to see the devil in the details, I sincerely appreciate the direction and conversations about making the CITY of Charlottesville a “Welcoming urban environment for all people”.

So I am thankful for the Charlottesville Planning Commission for listening to the public AND sharing the draft output from their Saturday matinee session.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

The Countdown — Time to Think About 2019

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recognizing today is the ‘Morning After’ Election Day 2018, it may seem premature to start talking about 2019.  It’s not.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the vast majority of the candidates for the 2019 races will make their decisions in the next 60 days.

That’s right, by the time you watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, who will be on the ballot in November (and the primaries) will likely already be determined.

Wait, we just had an election.

Yes, this is Virginia, we love elections so much we vote EVERY year.  What are we voting for in 2019?  So glad you asked — from Virginia’s Board of Elections:image

Some might look at that list (on the left) and believe this is not that important an election, we think otherwise.

While the Federal and statewide offices get a significant amount of publicity (and paid advertising), it is the local races that bring government home.  These are the elected officials you run into at the grocery store AND who control your property taxes, school spending as well as the majority of your land use decisions.

Who is up?

In addition to the House of Delegates, Virginia Senate, School Boards and Constitutional officers, here is the list for Board of Supervisors and City Council –

Albemarle County: Board of Supervisors Ann Mallek, White Hall; Rick Randolph, Scottsville; Norman Dill, Rivanna

Charlottesville:  Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer [important note Primary Date is June 11th]

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors Mozell Booker, Fork Union; Patricia Eager, Palmyra

Greene County Board of Supervisors David Cox, Monroe;  Michelle Flynn, Ruckersville; Dale Herring, At Large

Louisa County Board of Supervisors Willie Gentry, Cuckoo; Troy Wade, Louisa; Toni Williams, Jackson;

Nelson County Board of Supervisors  Thomas Bruguiere, Jr, West; Larry Saunders, South

Without question local (and state) government impacts your life.

The question is who will step up to fill these important leadership positions.

  • Will the current incumbents run again?
  • Will they have any opposition?
  • Who will step up?
  • Will there be a primary challenge?
  • Do you know someone who should run?
  • Should you run for office?

Once again we have more questions than answers but this much we do know – the candidates (and their families) will likely decide by NYE 2019.

The Free Enterprise Forum maintains an open door policy to talk with anyone regarding running for local office and what is required to serve.

As a non-partisan organization, we do not endorse candidates but we do support contested elections.  We believe uncontested elections make untested officials.

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.

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.

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.

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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

What Is the Most Important Question in the C-ville Survey?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentSee the source image

The Charlottesville Planning Commission is, once again, seeking public engagement regarding their drafting of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan.  This time the engagement methodology is an  online survey instrument.

While many folks will focus on the specific questions that are asked in the survey.  The most important question in any such survey is who will take the time (5-8 minutes) to complete the survey.

Will you?

You see when a respondent has to perform an action, such as visit a website or call in to answer, this is known as a self selection survey.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) cautions that results of surveys based on respondents who self-select may not be reliable. The characteristics of people who choose to participate in this type of survey may be different than those who do not in ways that bias the final results. These polls may sometimes be accurate, but it is very hard to evaluate whether they are accurate simply because of good luck or because they were able to capture good information about the population they were trying to represent. AAPOR has not yet made a final judgment about the reliability of opt-in samples, but warns that this type of sample is not based on the full target population.

Based on prior experience with self selection surveys, we anticipate the sample set will be over represented by a subset of the entire Charlottesville population who are more engaged with the planning process.  It is not that the survey seeks to exclude those currently unengaged, it simply is not built to achieve this goal.  With the Planning Commission looking to wrap their work by November, this is one of the last (but not the last) opportunities to weigh in on the proposed plan.

In the end, this survey document is one of many efforts the Charlottesville Planning Commission has made to engage the public.  The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the results will be used in their proper context and strongly encourages participation in this survey.The information collected will be considered when finalizing the Comprehensive Plan.

If you care about Charlottesville’s future, please encourage complete the survey by Thurs., Oct. 4th.

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 http://deskofbrian.com

A New Charlottesville Parking Chapter?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Back in January, we spoke out regarding the long term parking problem the City of Charlottesville is choosing to ignore.

Currently, the existing garages are effectively full, with greater than 350 potential parkers on waiting lists for the opportunity to buy a monthly parking pass.

Commercial development activity continues in downtown with four prominent parking demanding projects currently in the pipeline. Conservative estimates place the new parking deficit [parking demand less parking provided] created by these developments to be 844 spaces [(386) Charlottesville Technology Center, (213) West 2nd Street, (160) Dewberry Hotel, (85) Vault Virginia].

Then this past week, Charlottesville cut a settlement with Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown to operate both downtown garages for 16 years.  The Daily Progress Editorial this morning (7/31) suggests “Parking Deal Buys Relief at Least for Now

As a matter of public policy — that is, providing parking for those who visit or work in Charlottesville and ending the uncertainty over whether parking would be reasonably available — the settlement has merit.

So the question is parking “a matter of public policy” and does the City have a responsibility to provide parking for those who work or live downtown?

Charlottesville enacted a parking action plan (January 2017-January 2020) that may remain as current policy but has been largely ignored by City Council.

image

Currently, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is considering their long term (20 year) comprehensive plan for the development of the City.  Other than the inclusion of the Parking Action Plan internal to the 2016 Economic Development report, the draft comprehensive plan is silent about parking. 

A portion of the Bonus Height/Affordable Housing Financial Analysis prepared by the Form Based Codes Institute and Partners for Economic Solutions was presented to City Council earlier this summer and included specific parking construction costs.

Parking is a major cost factor, averaging $5,000 per surface space, $20,000 per space in an above-ground parking structure and $32,000 per space in a below-ground structure. Surface parking is the least expensive option, by far, but it consumes a great deal of land

If we accept that there is not land space available for an 844 space surface parking lot in Charlottesville, the we can project the cost for “solving” the projected parking shortfall will be between $16.8 million and $27 million dollars.

imageThe long term parking shortfall, and Charlottesville’s ostrich like response to it, creates at least two likely outcomes:

1.  The City does nothing and the parking shortfall results in development projects (or existing businesses) failing due to lack of parking for employees or customers.

2.  The City recognizes the need for significant parking investment and dedicates significant resources to it.  How they might pay for such an expenditure is unclear.

One thing is clear, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

An idea that has been discussed is to require by code that any business with more than 25 employees has to submit a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan annually.  This is a written plan on how the business would mitigate their effect on parking and traffic congestion.  It might include employee incentives to use transit, carpool or bike to work.

Planning for the future parking needs, the Planning Commission is uniquely positioned to aid in this endeavor as it seeks to revise the City’s Comprehensive Plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the Planning Commission to draft a new chapter on Parking ad clearly state if the city is accepting the responsibility for providing parking or not.  This document is the clearest place to state this critical public policy.

Or they can choose to remain silent on the issue – either way it is a choice.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credits: City of Charlottesville, Community. curiosity.com

Charlottesville Needs Strong Voters

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

imageThe current question floating around Charlottesville City Hall centers around the concept of a strong mayor or a weak mayor form of governance.  While a majority of Council is seemingly disposed NOT to deal with this question now, the discussion is continuing.  In 2010, The Free Enterprise Forum advocated for such a discussion [Does Charlottesville Want To Elect A Strong Mayor?].  Today, we continue to believe the mayor discussion is healthy and useful, but it must also include the idea of a strong voter.

Please let me explain.

Today, each Charlottesville City Councilor is elected At-Large and then the Council votes amongst itself who will serve as the Weak Mayor. Rather than focusing the question of mayoral power, what if we instead focused on increasing the power of the individual voter.   The time has come for ward representation on City Council.

imageChanging from an at-large to a ward system is not a new idea.  In the late 1970’s there was an unsuccessful effort led by the NAACP.  Republican City Councilor (now radio host) Rob Schilling pursued such a change in the mid 2000s.  In 2006, several different maps of potential wards concepts were created by the City.

Local blogger Blair Hawkins who has  tracked this issue for many years links at-large elections to dilution of minority representation on council:

By itself At-Large is not enough to oppress blacks if blacks are 52% of the population. You need Annexation of white suburbs to dilute black power. Since the late 1800s black population has been fairly steady in the old town, called the inner city today. Under the Ward system, annexations would not matter much because the inner city would still have a representative on Council. Under At-Large the 80% whites determine all decisions and all discussion.

In February, Charlottesville Tomorrow hosted a panel discussion regarding the future of Charlottesville governance.  Joan MacCallum, the first woman elected to the Lynchburg City Council in 1978, spoke about their shift to the ward system:

“Until 1976, all seven members were elected at-large,” said MacCallum, “In that year, Lynchburg doubled its area by adding portions of Campbell and Bedford Counties. Both of these areas were overwhelmingly white, and it was recognized that this action diluted the black vote in Lynchburg.”

Lynchburg switched to a ward system to ensure there would be at least one African-American on Council.

MacCallum said the combined system has served Lynchburg well.

“We recognize that we do have a large black population, and it was necessary for them to be recognized,” MacCallum said.

To be clear, we do not believe the ward system is a panacea to all that currently ails Charlottesville.  We understand that many localities that have ward systems often complain about the number (and expertise) of candidates.  We are well aware of the turf battles that such representation can create.  In addition, we recognize the significant legal obstacles that exist to making this change.

The Free Enterprise Forum still believes you can have an elected Mayor AND Strong Voters (ward system).

We suggest an even number of ward elected councilors (4,6,8) and an at large elected mayor, who is also a member of Council.  We tend to believe neither extreme (Strong or Weak) is the exact fit for Charlottesville and a hybrid will likely develop.  Over the next few months, we hope the discussion will focus on how to get all of the citizens reconnected with Charlottesville and reengaged in the political process.

A good first step would be putting the elections more directly back into the hands of the governed.

Strong voters make strong cities.

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 Credits: City of Charlottesville, Blair Hawkins, Politicalpolicy.net

Does ‘Social Justice’ Fit in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageLast Tuesday (6/26), the Charlottesville Planning Commission heard from a large number of citizens calling for their Comprehensive Plan process to have more public engagement, to be informed by the recently released housing needs assessment, to directly address racial inequity and to include ‘Social Justice’ throughout the document.

From my Twitter (https://twitter.com/NeilSWilliamson ) notes:

Andrea Massie tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission she supports additional community engagement asks for the comprehensive plan to focus on race. “The planning maps were drawn in the 1950s to segregate our community. There must be an intentional effort to undo this”

Annie Stump tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of her support for additional Comprehensive Plan Community Engagement. Housing Needs Assessment is a great first step. Calls out racial inequity in housing. We should be judged by how we serve our most marginalized.

Brendon Hassler #Albemarle resident tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of marginalized, historically oppressed communities that have a severe lack of trust with the government regarding Comprehensive plan outreach

Lena Seville asks for housing policy to address a long history of discrimination in the #Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan

Anna from #Albemarle bemoans the lack of organization. Suggests that the Comprehensive Plan is designed to be difficult for normal folks to read so developers can push mixed use instead of #AffordableHousing

Virginia code § 15.2-2223 clearly delineates that each locality’s Planning Commission shall draft a comprehensive plan:

making a comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The code provides a non exclusive list of plan elements including:

D. The comprehensive plan shall include the designation of areas and implementation of measures for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of affordable housing, which is sufficient to meet the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income in the locality while considering the current and future needs of the planning district within which the locality is situated.

‘Social Justice” is not a required element, but does it belong in the plan?

Perhaps it depends on your definition of Social Justice.

  • The equitable distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society?
  • The proportional distribution of advantages and disadvantages as it relates to effort?
  • The redistribution of resources from those who “unjustly” gained them?
  • The equal distribution of opportunity?
  • A virtue?

The Pachamama Alliance provides a concise background on Social Justice:

Social Justice as a concept arose in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and subsequent civil revolutions throughout Europe, which aimed to create more egalitarian societies and remedy capitalistic exploitation of human labor. Because of the stark stratifications between wealthy and the poor during this time, early social justice advocates focused primarily on capital, property, and the distribution of wealth.

By the mid-20th century, social justice had expanded from being primarily concerned with economics to include other spheres of social life to include the environment, race, gender, and other causes and manifestations of inequality. Concurrently, the measure of social justice expanded from being measured and enacted only by the nation-state (or government) to include a universal human dimension. For example, governments (still today) measure income inequality among people who share citizenship in common.

In 2015, Ashland Virginia’s Senior Planner Garet Prior penned a thoughtful post “Planning’s Role in Social Justice” calling for the industry reconsider their role and recognize their ethical responsibility to advocate for social justice.

Prior highlighted how activist planning philosophy impacted 1970s planning:

History teaches us the necessity of taking intentional steps to define our role in public service, or else we allow the entrenched powers to direct our purpose, thus making us a tool in continuing the status quo.

During the feverous pitch of the last Civil Rights Movement, in 1965, planning professor Paul Davidoff — who coined the term “advocacy planning” — instructed that “Planning action cannot be prescribed from a position of value neutrality.” Norman Krumholtz illustrated this concept as planning director for Cleveland in 1975 when he set the department’s overriding goal as “providing a wide range of choices for those Cleveland residents who have few, if any, choices.”

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the concept of developing a wide range of choices as long as those choices continue to respect property owner rights.  Prior’s argument goes further to suggest planning departments should be philosophically charged with advocating for specific outcomes rather than “opportunities”.

In his argument, Prior used the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) code of ethics for direction:

“We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs” (emphasis added).

If we are in a true pursuit of equitable outcomes for racially and economically disadvantaged groups, then history informs us that advocacy — more than an urge — will be required.

To fulfill this ethical call to advocacy, we need to better understand how change occurs. We should begin with a process of self-identification to be aware of our values, beliefs, and biases. In working with others, we need to understand that trust is necessary and will only be acquired through time. We need to get out of the office and form intentional relationships with underserved populations. . .

. . .As tensions around social inequities mount, now more than ever planners need to fulfill our ethical values by taking intentional action to advocate for equitable justice solutions. Inaction will only aid in continuing these broken systems because, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

This is a significantly higher level of advocacy than we see as appropriate from staff – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that the elected and appointed positions should be moving their planning philosophy forward and the professional staff should be following their lead.

We completely agree there is a responsibility on the part of planning commissioners and elected officials to actively seek out the opinions of those who are often under represented/underheard in our community.  This information, combined with all the other data that has been collected, should be considered.

Considering all of the above and the state mandated goals of the Comprehensive Plan document, The Free Enterprise Forum believes that while ‘Social Justice’ is an important element to our community conversation but should not be a separate chapter in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan.

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