Category Archives: Charlottesville City

Cville PC Paradox — Build Less & Increase Affordability

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Charlottesville Planning Commission seems to believe it is above the immutable economic law of supply and demand as they draft a Comprehensive Plan revision calling for affordable housing while reducing the ‘by right’ building height (and capacity) across nine of the City’s thirteen zoning districts.

If this draft moves forward, it fundamentally shifts the planning paradigm and will likely cause significant harm not only affordable housing but also the overall economic vitality of the City.

Please let me explain.

A 2016 Comprehensive Housing Analysis study conducted for the City by Robert Charles Lesser & Company (RCLCo) found:

The Charlottesville region should not be a supply-constrained market.  However, two key factors are creating supply challenges within the City limits and in the close-in areas of Albemarle County and will continue to drive up home prices and rents:

  1.  Limited land available for new development within the City and close-in areas, driven both by the City’s small land area and built-out character and Albemarle County’s restrictive growth areas.

  2. A large affluent population that desires city living and can afford to pay higher prices for housing compared to the market today, which will continue to drive up land prices, home values and sales prices.

These two market impacts clearly are pressures on either side of the supply/demand curve.  Finance guru Al Erbam defines supply and demand succinctly:

The law of supply states that the quantity of a good supplied (i.e., the amount owners or producers offer for sale) rises as the market price rises, and falls as the price falls. Conversely, the law of demand says that the quantity of a good demanded falls as the price rises, and vice versa.

Given this reality, if the City wants to address affordable housing it would seem like it would be advocating for an increased supply of housing product in their Comprehensive Plan Update.

Per state code, all Virginia localities must review their mandated comprehensive plans every five years.  The goal of this review is to encourage localities to think beyond the near term and create a twenty year community vision. This document generally includes chapters regarding land use, economic development, population projections, affordable housing and environmental issues. While these chapters often have competing priorities, the goal is to provide the locality a guide for future development.

The 2018 Comprehensive Plan, as drafted, significantly reduces the residential carrying capacity of Charlottesville thus increasing price pressures on both existing and new residential and commercial units.

The Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) recently sent a letter to City Council and the Planning Commission outlining their concerns with the proposed nearly citywide downzoning.

The Planning Commission has not publicly stated the specific goals and planning principles informing their proposed changes in the City’s land use and zoning.  Their work thus far … appears to show a determination to “downzone” our downtown and virtually all of our urban mixed-use corridor areas.  Reducing building height and hence buildable area, would create impediments to addressing the City’s housing and workplace shortages, including the affordable housing shortage.

The CADRe letter included a most helpful chart graphically depicting the reduction in by right and “bonus” height compared to the current zoning regulations.

cville downzoning height chart

One portion of the Comprehensive Plan that we have not yet seen is the capacity analysis for future growth.  It will be interesting to see how this version’s capacity analysis (with these reduced heights) compares with the 2013 Comp Plan which stated:

Adding the by-right calculations together, staff finds that the City’s current zoning could accommodate approximately 10,000 additional residential units, or roughly 25,000 additional residents.

All of this ties into the 2013 Comprehensive Plan goal that stated in goal 5.5

Revise the Future Land Use Map so that it represents the desired vision for the City’s future,  Pay special attention to increasing the supply of affordable housing, increasing employment opportunities for all citizens, and encourage the development of mixed income neighborhoods throughout the City. Emphasis added – nw

The City Planning Commission can’t completely ignore the law of supply and demand.  Given the proposed downzoning, the commission must be transparent that its objective of restricting heights will reduce the city’s residential AND commercial carrying capacity. The economic impact of these proposals must be quantified to understand their import.  We believe these changes will harm the economic vitality of the region and significantly reduce housing affordability across all zoning districts.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes reducing existing regulatory barriers and, at a minimum, maintaining the existing allowable heights is the best path forward to improve housing affordability across all price points.

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: 425business.com

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Authentic Charlottesville Optimism?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Yesterday (1/18) afternoon I (and 3 others) spent four hours watching Charlottesville City Council work through issues related to public engagement [the meeting continued into today].  Expertly facilitated by Allison Linney of Allison Partners, the afternoon discussion was authentic, reflective, emotional, and remarkably raw.  In the end, this government skeptic saw rays of optimism from this contentious conversation.

Please let me explain.

Anytime there is a change in any board or commission, there is a shift in the organizational dynamic.  In the case of Charlottesville City Council, they not only changed two councilors, they also changed the group’s leadership electing the two new members to be Mayor and Vice Mayor (mainly defined as meeting roles).

The five member Council met along with City Senior Staff Leadership at historic Morven Farm in Albemarle County.  Beyond the opportunity to restructure the timing and location of meetings, the topic of “Public Engagement” dominated the afternoon.

Councilor Mike Signer was brutally honest in his assessment of how he (and the previous Council) attempted to enforce the February 2016 Council Meeting Procedures.  He outlined the rationale that generated the rules in the first place and indicated he found enforcing the rules to be difficult.

council2018-2

Heather Hill

Councilor Wes Bellamy spoke passionately about Council wanting to have people come to the meetings and then when they do come and they don’t speak a  certain way or act a certain way we don’t like it.  He indicated that in the coming year they will be dealing with difficult issues.  He said there are racial undertones in the ‘civility’ campaign and the proponents are really looking to squelch voices that make people uncomfortable.  He also indicated that when you tell folks how to act you come off as being better than them.

Equally passionate was Vice Mayor Heather Hill who wanted to discuss the toxic environment that has been created at Council meetings that is resulting in people not willing to attend the meetings.  In addition, she mentioned a desire for councilors to come to each others defense when they are being verbally attacked.

Bellamy suggested that the public reactions to council are an expression of years of citizen frustration with the City and that the City needs to change.

Councilor Kathy Galvin took exception to the idea that a raucous City meeting was a good thing.  She was forcefully adamant in  her opinion that all people should have the opportunity to speak and be heard and if the audience is booing when a speaker (whether it is a councilor or a member of the public) it is a violation of the First Amendment.

council2018-5

Nikuyah Walker

Newly elected Mayor Nikuyah Walker framed the discussions differently.  She indicated the issue was ‘Public Engagement’ and asked poignantly which is more important public or our engagement.  She wanted the focus to be more on what the public wants to say and less on how council responds.

Reading back over my meeting notes it is hard to say why the conversation left me optimistic.  I anticipate my optimism is rooted in the fact that it is very clear this very different City Council is going to do things differently.  I believe the raw, authentic dialog that I witnessed between Councilors is far better than ignoring deep interpersonal issues and philosophical differences.  In the end, I think the meeting changes discussed likely will increase public interaction. The fact that they are committed to revisiting this decision in sixty to ninety days is equally refreshing.

Yes, this is a different Council with different meeting rules.  It is way too early to say if the proposed changes will make for better meetings; but this cynical observer sees value in Council’s diverse philosophical positions, their passion, and their willingness to challenge established norms.

Only time will tell if this optimism is well founded.  Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: City of Charlottesville

Free Enterprise Forum 2017 Top 10

By. Neil Williamson

top ten listWell, 2017 is the year many in Central Virginia would like to forget.  Beyond the far reaching ramifications of the year when Charlottesville became a verb on the national stage, 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 embark on 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 2017.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2017:

#10 Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department December 4, 2017

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government with a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million.

 

#9 Charlottesville’s Paid Parking ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ ? March 14, 2017

canary in coal mine photo credit share.america.govWhile it is heartening to see Charlottesville position parking meters as a “pilot” and only a part of the parking solutions considered.. . Available parking is the life’s blood of most small businesses.

… The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the City Council will pay attention when the canary stops singing – local businesses (as well as the jobs and taxes they generate) will be at risk.

#8 The Wizard of Oz and the Rio/29 Small Area Plan March 1, 2017

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

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

#7 Frederick Fleet and Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette Sept. 7, 2017

Frederick Fleet photo credit 123people….Considering the current [Charlottesville] climate, I am reminded of Titanic crewman (and survivor) Frederick Fleet who was on duty when he saw a black mass ahead of the ship. He struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. Though the ship swung out of the way, he watched as an iceberg scraped the starboard side.

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

We fear this ill timed, but worthy, Form Based Charrette exercise will be met with a similar fate.

It is a shame.

#6 Fixing Charlottesville NDS Engine Light February 16, 2017

car-check-engine-lightIf you have ever driven with a “Check Engine” light illuminated, you have an idea of where Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Department has been for some time.

Everyone (land owners, neighborhood associations, developers, etc.) agrees that something is seriously wrong but no one knows specifically what it is or, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it – until now.

#5 Albemarle Economic Development X Files March 29, 2017

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

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

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

#4 Changing Charlottesville Philosophy to YIMBY July 25, 2017Image result for yimby

…This is not a development problem, it is a political problem, and it exists nationwide.

I recently reviewed the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) San Francisco platform and I believe there are many parallels to Charlottesville….

We believe that San Francisco has always been, and should continue to be, an innovative and forward-looking city of immigrants from around the U.S. and the world. San Francisco is not full, and the Bay Area is definitely not full. Ours is an inclusive vision of welcoming all new and potential residents. Anyone who wants to should be able to afford housing in the Bay Area.

#3 Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’ August 1, 2017

…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).

 

#2 A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf  April 5, 2017 and

Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’ April 24, 2017

See the source image

….By our back of the envelope calculations, rural recreation is an economic driver in the community representing nearly 2,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $40 million dollars.  In addition, rural recreation is a part of the fabric of Albemarle County.  The Free Enterprise Forum asks you to abandon this folly and utilize your limited staff resources to meet real needs of the community.

#1 Sayonara Shucet March 31, 2017

Shucet - Photo Credit CvillepediaLate yesterday afternoon (3/30), the embattled Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) named former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Philip Shucet as their new Chief Executive Officer.

In our three years of observation, we have grown to appreciate the charming manner in which Shucet manages (some might say manipulates) meetings and their outcomes…. As a facilitator extraordinaire, he has stayed true to the “Shucet Six” we first identified in 2014…. for now we say Sayonara Shucet, we wish you fair winds and following seas.

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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 2018!

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.

Rudolph the Form Based Code

Testimony to Albemarle County Planning Commission December 18, 2017

Created by Robert Lewis May;  Adapted by Neil Williamson, President

rudolph the form based code

Rudolph the Form Based Code

You know Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Mixed Use,

Urban and Rural and Multi-Family and Historic

But do you recall?

The most hyped up zoning code of all?

 

Rudolph the Form Based Code

Had a most prescriptive, aesthetic design

And if ANYONE ever fully understood it,

They might even say it shinedSee the source image

 

All of the other zoning codes 

Used to laugh and call him names;

They never let poor Rudolph 

Join in any Euclidian Land Use GamesSee the source image

 

After a long, contentious, municipal meeting,

The tired elected official came to say

Rudolph with your building forms and street standards so tight

Won’t you spark our anemic economic development tonight

 

Then how the other codes despised him,

As they shouted out with mock glee

Rudolph the Form Based Code

“The rest of us are history”.

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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: Mass.gov, Placemakers.com,

Who Will Decide Election 2017?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBallot Box

One day left.  Mercifully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

virginia voter turnout photo credit Rassmuten

Credit: Rassumsen Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

 

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

Greene Supervisors Hears Five Year Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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

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

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

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

According to the draft plan:

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

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

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

The specific areas of the plan are:

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

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

Hazard-Mitigation_full_doc

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

clip_image006

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

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

VDOT’s SmartScale Funding Deadline Accelerates Local Land Use Planning

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

Why? It’s all about the money.

Please let me explain.

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

From their website:

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

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

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

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

Diagram 1

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

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

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

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

Conceptual Land Use Map Oct 2017 P71

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the public be fully engaged?

Will the elected officials?

Once again we have more questions than answers.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Route29Solutions.com

Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlottesville Resolution: Ignore Public Comments

By. Neil Williamson, President

Woody-Allen Photo Credit Evening Standard.Getty ImagesWoody Allen once said “Eighty Percent of Success is showing up”  Charlottesville Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson is taking it one step further to 100 percent and on time or your voice does not matter.

Please let me explain.

On tomorrow night’s (9/12/17) Charlottesville Planning Commission Consent Agenda is a resolution to amend the zoning code [Page 145 of 266 page agenda download]. 

This resolution contains the most anti engagement language I have ever seen in my thirteen years of public policy work; the resolution directs staff to ignore public comments received after the middle of June:

Amendments set forth within the “Legal Audit” draft dated February 28, 2017 (other than those referenced in (1)-(6), above) as to which no objections were received from the public as of 5/24/2017; for these text amendments, the proposed ordinance shall incorporate items noted in the “Questions and Corrections” document updated through 6/13/2017

In the last three Planning Commission work sessions on this issue, there have been less that ten citizens in attendance.  The Free Enterprise Forum has provided input after the May 24th date.  Why should our comments on July 25th or anyone else’s be ignored by staff?  Was that meeting not a work session on the zoning code amendment?

Equally troubling is the roundabout manner in which the staff seems to want the discussion of building height to go away.  Even as the City’s own PLACE Design Task Force is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on a preferred solution this Thursday.  This resolution, if passed on Tuesday, would likely circumvent some of the discussion by proactively eliminating code language:

Deletion of the following words from the definition of “building height” set forth within sec. 34-1200 of Article X (Definitions): “This distance is calculated by measuring separately the average height of each building wall, then averaging them together.” Also: delete the diagram included in 34-1200 as part of the definition of “building height.”

The charge of the PLACE Design Task Force:

To guide the community in making decisions about place making, livability, and community engagement.  Act as an advisory body to the Planning Commission and City Council in matters pertaining to urban design and place making.

Yet Charlottesville’s legal staff feels empowered to push forward this amendment before the design professionals have an opportunity to formally weigh in on its impacts.

Make no mistake, staff is embolden to keep this moving forward on their terms but the Planning Commission does not have to accept the language in the proposed resolution. 

A courageous Planning Commissioner could, and SHOULD, step up and suggest that the item be removed from the consent agenda and the language be revised by the commission.

But will anyone step up?

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: Evening Standard/Getty images

Frederick Fleet and Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Frederick Fleet photo credit 123peopleI fear we may be at a Frederick Fleet moment with next week’s impending Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette.

Please let me explain.

The technological marvel super ship the Titanic had its maiden voyage delayed by several months due to shipyard repairs to her sister ship.  The voyage was postponed until April 1912.  Four days into the journey, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg immediately ahead of Titanic and alerted the bridge.  The First Officer ordered the ship to be steered around the obstacle and the engines to be stopped, but it was too late.

It has been suggested if the Titanic sailed on its original schedule, it never would have encountered the iceberg.

Next week, Charlottesville (and their consultant team) are embarking on a design charrette process that, may have a similar timing issue and may be destined for a Titanic style conclusion.

The Charrette process is an intense design exercise; the word is derived from the French word for “little cart” and refers to the intense work of architects before a deadline.

Charlottesville’s consultant firm DPZ website explains the charrette process:

In a one- to two-week work session, the charrette assembles key decision-makers to collaborate with the DPZ team in information sharing, iterative design proposals, feedback and revisions, organizing a complex project quickly. Professionals and stakeholders identify options that are rapidly prototyped and judged, enabling informed decisions and saving months of sequential coordination.

For projects requiring public participation, the charrette is effective in managing a large audience, encouraging input and producing valuable political and market feedback. The dynamic and inclusive process, with frequent presentations, is a fast method of identifying and overcoming obstacles. The shared experience helps vest interest in the design and build support for the vision. A number of DPZ charrettes have concluded with a final presentation during a city council voting to approve the plan!

In my limited experience, charrettes are fast paced, deadline driven and can feel a touch rushed even with the buy in from all stakeholders.  That hardly describes the current Charlottesville environment.

In recent months, even prior to the August 12th events, Charlottesville’s efforts to create a Form Based Code for the Strategic Investment Area (SIA) has been met with significant community concerns regarding gentrification and affordable housing.  In a meeting last week, one resident said,

You can’t ask a room full of white people to make zoning changes in low income neighborhoods

In an April affordable housing community meeting at Mt. Zion First African American Baptist Church, an attendee raised concerns about the SIA plan and the plan’s lack of commitment to the existing community.  One resident stated,

The City Council has knives in all the Charlottesville citizens back.

In last week’s meeting, a leader in the affordable housing community questioned whether the SIA plan was a valid starting point and questioned the City position that it was developed with significant community input.  He also questioned the “power structure” within the charrette process as well as the ability of residents to attend meetings held during the day.

Into this tense environment, a team of Form Based Code experts and consultants are arriving in town on Monday.  Tasked with producing a community supported set of Form Based Code concepts in a week’s time, the consultant Form Based Code Institute will be operating in an “open door” studio in the IX Art Park Event Space (522 2nd St SE).

Specific meetings are scheduled throughout the week

Specific Focus Groups:

Zoning—Mon. September 11 4:00 pm

Housing—Tues. September 12 10:00 am

Property Owners—Tues. September 12, 1:30 pm

Public Works—Wed. September 13, 11:30 am

Planning Commission—Wed. September 13,  4:00 pm

Presentations:

Opening Presentation—Tues, September 12 6:00 pm

Final Presentation—Thurs. September 14 @ 6:00 pm

Beyond definitions of Form Based Codes, two affordable housing concepts were discussed at last week’s meeting: additional height in exchange for affordable housing units or expedited development proposal review for reaching a certain percentage of affordable housing.  One resident suggested that form based code’s goal is to make review process easier.  The consultant replied, we would never make the approval process so easy that it could not be expedited.

Another idea to reduce the cost of building in the SIA was to reduce parking requirements by providing city owned structured parking in support of residential uses.  Considering structured parking is mandated in the SIA, this might be a concept that could save upwards of $20,000 a unit.

The reality is Charlottesville needs more housing, across all price points. We continue to believe one of the key hurdles to creating more housing (affordable and otherwise) is the oppressive regulatory environment; we believe a well crafted Form Based Code coupled with public investment and financial incentives could jump start development in the SIA.

While the Free Enterprise Forum believes that Form Based Code has great potential to provide predictability of outcomes and allow some use flexibility, we are very concerned that the years of work that has brought the project this far may be thwarted due to the current political environment.

To that end I am reminded of a comment from another resident in the April Mt. Zion meeting,

You’re going to come here from somewhere else, and tell us what to do

Anything that comes out of the charrette process will still need to go through the Planning Commission and City Council approval process.

Considering the current climate, I am reminded of Titanic crewman (and survivor) Frederick Fleet who was on duty when he saw a black mass ahead of the ship. He struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. Though the ship swung out of the way, he watched as an iceberg scraped the starboard side.

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

We fear this ill timed, but worthy, Form Based Charrette exercise will be met with a similar fate.

It is a shame.

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.