Category Archives: Community Involvement

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

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What Albemarle Can Learn From Amazon’s HQ2 Search

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon, in an alphabet soup of a joint meeting Albemarle County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), Planning Commission (PC), and Board of Supervisors (BOS) discussed Site Readiness from a Site Selectors Prospective in an effort to focus on growing business.

Timmons Group Joe Hines presentation “Are your sites and community prospect ready?” was eye opening to many in the room.  Hines suggested the locality should own or control parcels under consideration and that the locality needs to make infrastructure investment on the parcel to become most attractive in the site selection process.

Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin (in likely her last public presentation prior to retirement) used much of Hines Presentation talking points to present an overview of the Deschutes Brewing competition that Roanoke won.   The discussion was very good and highlighted the areas where Roanoke was better prepared for the opportunity.  (Check out  @Neilswilliamson Twitter feed for more details)

In a seemingly unrelated news event, Business Insider reports on Amazon’s search for a new 2nd North American Headquarters.

The company’s press release lays out a few details of what it’s looking for: metro areas with more than one million people; a “business-friendly” environment; a strong technical workforce; be “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent,” and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”

Ignoring the obvious million people hurdle, how do you think Albemarle, or Charlottesville for that matter stacks up regarding “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options”.

Considering Catlin’s presentation,  one portion that was not mentioned was the “community” response to Deschutes.   Over two years ago, I wrote in Da Lessons from Deschutes.

4.  While the Supervisors recognize the economic reality, the public is notnimby1 yet sold on the concept of increased economic development.  This lack of public support is seen by outsiders as “unwelcoming” and is clearly a competitive disadvantage.   As Lisa Provence reported in C-ville regarding the Planning Commission denial of the CPA, some are not convinced that economic development (AKA Growth) is a good thing:

 

Watching the various states and localities compete for the Amazon 2nd Headquarters, I am amazed by the deftness of their marketing and efforts to show community support:

This challenge is actually an opportunity.  Notice Amazon did not say “governments” who think big and creatively.  They are looking for a community that will not only welcome them but allow them to become one with them.  The communities competing for HQ2 are attempting to present their community as complimentary to the creative class.  Don’t think this is only in big time economic development.  Roanoke’s “Hashtag” campaign was a big part of the Deschutes Decision.

Albemarle Supervisor Rick Randolph thought the presentation corrected a “myth” that Albemarle lost Deschutes – he said instead Roanoke won it.  Sounds like splitting hairs to me but I still have the core question.

Is Albemarle ready to energetically embrace economic development?

Randolph said he was supportive of “smart” economic development where jobs went to Albemarle citizens and no traffic was generated – sounds like a unicorn hunt to me.

Supervisors Liz Palmer and Brad Sheffield both expressed interest in redevelopment sites.

One positive suggestion came late in the meeting from Planning Commissioner Jennie More.  More thought that economic development should be a part of the community vetted Master Plan process.  This might be a first step in developing the kind of community buy in that can be more than “accepting” of economic development instead can cheer for it.

This meeting was a good first step, but I remain concerned that not everyone is equally energetic about economic development and the community is clearly not yet fully engaged.

If everyone understands the net benefits of economic development and brings positive energy to support the effort, perhaps then Albemarle can be in a position to “Win”.

If not, we may want to ask if Albemarle should be (or is) in the game at all.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

VDOT’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

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.

Charlottesville’s Engagement Problem

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Man-proposing-ring-woman-e1434128981263One person can’t get engaged – it takes two.

Engagement, like all communication, requires all parties to fully participate; listening and responding.  This was not the case in last night’s (6/27) Charlottesville planning commission meeting – where the banner of public engagement is waved proudly; but despite the efforts of two special interest groups, their zoning code concerns were not addressed in the discussion.

Please let me explain.

In last night’s Planning Commission code audit work session, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson related to the Commission that she had several conversations with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and received a copy of the letter written by the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe).

Rather than taking the bull by the horns and including these organizations’ concerns in the presentation, Robertson said that CADRe’s letter was written to the Planning Commission and City Council and was not staff’s position to reply.  Robertson said she thought the comments of both groups might inform discussion of the panel but not once in the two hour work session did she raise a specific concern from either of the organizations.  Considering the level of technical detail in the CADRe letter, one would have anticipated planning staff providing some context to the legal discussion – there was none.

The Free Enterprise Forum has reviewed CADRe’s 16 page letter, sent to the Planning Commission in advance of their first work session (5/29).  The respectful tone and constructive criticism was well drafted and encouraged public discussion of the various points.  Those questions went unanswered.

In his reporting for Charlottesville Tomorrow, Sean Tubbs included the CADRe concerns as a part of his coverage of the meeting in this morning’s Daily Progress. If it was important enough to be in the article, shouldn’t it be part of the Planning Commission discussion?

The goal of the Planning Commission work sessions was to vet the proposed zoning changes and the impacts they might have on property owners.  CADRe which works with several prominent property owners raised many significant concerns regarding building heights.  Staff failed to mention (let alone address) these concerns in their presentation; therefore the discussion was significantly less robust than it could have been.

Late in the meeting Planning Commission Chair Kurt Keeseker suggested the commission should be made aware understand the types of comments that are coming in and the citizens should receive a response.  He related the manner in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is answering inquiries and the reporting back to the Hydraulic Advisory Panel.  This less than perfect engagement concept was brought forward in good faith, but it was dismissed.

This process is being done under the auspices of a ‘legal review’ and thus the Deputy City Attorney is the lead staff.  As mentioned above, one would anticipate that the planning staff who work with the zoning code day in and day out would have a great deal to offer regarding the code revisions.  Silently sitting a row behind the Deputy City Attorney, Alex Ikefuna Charlottesville’s Director of Planning spoke not one word during the 2 hour+ meeting.  His silence spoke volumes.

When the four Planning Commissioners present pushed back on staff asking for more engagement with  SELC,  CADRe, and other interested citizens, staff indicated that could not be accomplished under the stated work plan that City Council adopted.

In summary, at least two special interest groups provided substantial information to the staff and staff choose not to include the concerns in the presentation because the letter was addressed to the Planning Commission and the City Council. When the Commission pushed for more community engagement, they folded under staff’s threat of jeopardizing City Council’s calendar.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the zoning code rewrite process is being railroaded.

We believe in true engagement.  Failing to directly address the concerns of the SELC and CADRe at the Planning Commission work session level will lead to increase delay in zoning code implementation and a lack of respect for the entire “engagement” process.  These issues will not “go away” they will return at the public hearings.

Simply putting documents on a website “for all to see” is not engagement – engagement is involved, engagement can be messy, engagement requires significant work and engagement takes time.  It seems the City is placing their calendar over their citizens.

Charlottesville deserves better.

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: Hiphealthy.com

Bad ‘Housekeeping’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Image result for alice brady bunchGrowing up in the 1970s, the only ‘housekeeper’ I knew was Alice from the Brady Bunch.  She was an important part of the family who helped out getting everything accomplished for a busy family with six children.  She was well respected by the children, the community and her employers.

Now, in separate, equally disturbing, actions both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are giving Alice a bad name.

Please let me explain.

Under the auspices of literally “Housekeeping” AlbemarlePC Legal notice plans, by my count, nearly 30 code revisions.  The legal ad for the June 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing (right) was dense, even by Albemarle standards.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds some of the changes proposed, we remain concerned that other items are clearly being pushed through for political expediency and are being “hidden in plain sight”.

Yesterday, I literally took out my magnifying glass to read the small print.  Policy wonks may read the legal ads this closely but by putting thirty largely unrelated code revisions into Zoning Text Amendment, the opportunity for obfuscation is great.

In a municipal game of “Where’s Waldo” see if you can find the second amend statement in the ad above.  If you were able to find it, you would find this innocuous legalese:

Amend Section 18-32.6 to clarify that specifications for recreational facilities comply with Sections 18-4.16-4.16.3;

Reading the text above, Alice (and pretty much everyone else) might think this is just “cleaning up” some legal stuff to make it comply with some other legal stuff.  But in reality, these twelve words eliminate special use permits for golf and swim clubs in the rural areas, effectively banning new golf courses in Albemarle County.  [correction June 13 10:46 am  this language is to clean up the ordinance, a separate SUP (and public engagement plan) will be submitted to eliminate golf courses in the rural area – per e-mail from Albemarle’s Bill Fritz- the Free Enterprise Forum regrets this error – nw] This is just one of the “housekeeping” items buried in the proposed Zoning Text Amendment

Albemarle is not alone in burying changes in “housekeeping” activities.  Charlottesville Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson took City Council’s charge of a “Legal Review” to mean anything her office wanted to change should be a part of the review.

Luckily, the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) took a long look at the “Legal Review”. As CADRe stated in their May 23rd letter to the Planning Commission:

In the case where a revision represents a substantive change that we feel is inappropriate for the Legal Review and better served by potential Amendments following the update to the Comprehensive Plan, we have noted as Substantive Change. [emphasis added-nw]

Much more than just “Housekeeping” CADRe’s letter outlined 16 pages of Substantive Changes; including the elimination of non residential uses in residential districts:

Also, what about all the other non-residential uses that are currently permitted in residential districts per the residential matrix? Is there a proposed replacement matrix that maintains these uses?

Examples: Houses of worship, temporary outdoor churches, cemetery, Health clinic, private clubs, wireless facilities (antennas, attached facilities, etc.), day care facility, schools (elementary, high school, college) funeral home, library, municipal govt. offices, property management, parking garage/lot, indoor health/sports clubs, parks, utility facilities, utility lines, consumer service business.
If these uses are eliminated from the residential districts this too is a SIGNIFICANT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE

Regardless of your position on the issues buried in these Zoning Text Amendments, it is difficult for us to understand how one would find these changes as “Housekeeping”.  Instead, we see it as an attempt, albeit a legal attempt, to circumvent the normal process and implement significant changes without proper public engagement.

Alice would indeed be disappointed in this shaming of the word “Housekeeping”.

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: WJBQ.com

Good Signs Are Good For Business

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board April 17, 2017

Your agenda today includes a work session on sign regulations.  In the years I have been following issues in Albemarle, two specific localities always come up in signage conversations: Hilton Head, South Carolina and Route 3 in Fredericksburg.  Neither is appropriate to the discussion of Albemarle.

5th street station credit NBC29It is also important to note as you discuss the size, number and proportion of signs that you also consider their purpose – to help customers find businesses.

The Free Enterprise Forum is aware of at least one planning commissioner who believes we will have no signs in the future as our autonomous cars and GPS tracking will make them obsolete; we do not share that view.

In fact we want to share some relatively recent sign statistics from two surveys in 2015.  The first was commissioned by FedEx Office, measured the importance of signage to business operations and consumer decision making.  The second by the Economic Center, University of Cincinnati, measured the impact on business owners in different industries.

The surveys found that:

  • Nearly 76% of consumers (8 in 10) said they had entered a store or business they had never visited before based simply on its signs. (FedEx)
  • Nearly 75% indicated that they had told others about a business simply based on its signage. (FedEx)
  • About 68% of consumers believe that a business’ signage reflects the quality of its products or services. (FedEx)
  • About 67% of the consumers surveyed said they had purchased a product or service because a sign caught their eye. (FedEx)
  • Nearly 60% of consumers said that the absence of signs deters them from entering a store or business. (FedEx)
  • Roughly 60% of businesses reported that changing the design or enhancing the visibility of their signage had a positive impact on sales, number of transactions and profits, with an average increase of about 10%. (UC)
  • Over 50% of survey respondents indicated that poor signage (e.g., poor quality, misspelled words) deters them from entering a place of business. (FedEx)
  • 38% of large companies with multiple locations identified branding/image as the most important purpose of effective signage, while small firms and single establishments perceived signs to be most important for making their business stand out and for helping customers find their location. (UC)
  • Legibility was chosen by both consumers and businesses as the most important characteristic of signs. (UC)

open for businessWhile we know that the ARB is seeking to make our community great (to coin a phrase).  It is important to remember that the tax paying businesses in Albemarle’s 20+ Entrance Corridors NEED signage to attract and retain customers.

Albemarle is currently outsourcing their economic development strategic plan to a Richmond based consultant.  When we talk about being business friendly, changing the corporate brand colors (ARB trivia – who changed the red in Red Lobster) might not be the best first impression.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo credit:  NBC29

Fluvanna Budget Increases Without Public Comment

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

With the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors considering a budget of $75 million, no one spoke during the public hearings on April 5 for the budget or tax rates.

The supervisors advertised a budget with a real estate tax rate of $0.907 per $100 assessed. The equalized rate for last year was $0.882 per $100.

The supervisors advertised no change to the personal property rate of $4.35 per $100. The business related personal property is proposed to lower from $4.35 to $2.90 and a machinery and tools from $2 to $1.90.

The budget is much of the same from the previous year. The schools were bumped up $320,000. The county is starting to pay the lease for the emergency radio project this year.

Before opening the public hearing the supervisors were updated by staff regarding changes since their last meeting. The slight changes could let the supervisors lower the real estate tax rate or fund items that were previously not funded.

Previously the board tried to find other cuts including an attempt to go line item by line item led by Patricia Eager (Palmyra District). After going through two line items, it proved to be more time consuming than ability to find cuts.

“About three years ago when we were on hard times, we went through the budgets,” chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) said during that work session.

The Fluvanna budget is is hard to maneuver much. The advertised budget includes 13.8 percent of the expenditures going towards debt service. The rest of the budget is heavily affected by salaries.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) estimated at the last work session that 80 percent of the budget is staffing.

“It is very difficult to cut 20 percent,” said Weaver at the time.

The public hearing on April 5 was only attended by three members of the public, three media members and various county staff and constitutional officers.

The Board of Supervisors will meet to debate and possibly adopt the budget on April 12 at 7 p.m. in the Circuit Courtroom. The board can postpone a vote until April 19 without effecting the operations of the Treasurer’s office to get tax bills mailed.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credit: Fluvanna County

Sayonara Shucet

By. Neil Williamson, President

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.

Shucet has most recently served as a consultant to VDOT as a facilitator and problem solver for challenging projects including the Route 29 Solutions panels.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said in the ERC News Release:

I know Philip personally and am confident he is the right man for the job.

It does not appear everyone in the Transportation Department was as prepared for Shucet’s sayonara as Secretary Layne.  According to VDOT’s Lou Hatter:

The Route 29 Solutions project team will work through VDOT Commissioner Kilpatrick’s office to develop a plan going forward.

While appreciative of the professionalism and speed of Route 29 solutions project management, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of the meeting tactics and lack of true public engagement offered by Shucet’s panel process.  In our 2014 post Shucet’s Charade – A Public Participation Illusion:

The Route 29 Advisory Panel is, perhaps unwittingly, playing a part in a masterfully orchestrated and expertly conducted illusion of public participation where the questions, concerns and opinions of panel members are being denied or actively dismissed. No votes are taken nor consensus measured. All the while the facilitator is complementing the panel for its incredible positive forward momentum.

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.  His pioneering (for VDOT) of video streaming meetings promotes transparency but not participation.  By reviewing e-mails and phone calls received, Shucet can color the manner in which the complaint was made and how VDOT, or the contractor handled it.

As a facilitator extraordinaire, he has stayed true to the “Shucet Six” we first identified in 2014:

  1. Control who is in the group. The number of participants and their representative groups selected to provide appearance of balance of perspectives
  2. Control Content, Agenda and Release of Data Controlling when and where data is released allows the facilitator the opportunity to build “proper context”
  3. Reduce/Eliminate Outside Influences. By removing public comment from the meetings and accepting it only online, Shucet insulates the panel’s meetings from being distracted by a boisterous critic [AKA Citizen]
  4. Demurely Dominate Conversation. Shucet’s down home drawl, overzealous compliments and genteel demeanor seem to engage the entire panel in discussion while his voice is most often heard directing the conversation. In addition, strictly limiting the group meeting time to two hours also helps this technique succeed.
  5. Limit Decision Options. While the Route 29 Advisory Panel was supposedly provided nine options to consider in their first meeting, Shucet brought forward just four options to the second meeting as possibly moving forward based on the “Professional Judgment” [note the word opinion was not used] and screening of the Technical Team.
  6. No Voting and Don’t Ask for Consensus. After three years, how many votes have been taken? None. How many times has consensus been “tested”? Never. The closest is when Shucet indicated he saw a number of heads nodding.

None of this is news and it does not change the fact that Shucet has served in this role well.  Personally and professionally I consider Shucet to be an excellent public servant.  That being said, I also believe he and I see the role of the so called “advisory” panels differently.

This morning blogger Jim Bacon applauded Philip Shucet, Transportation’s First Responder:

Bacon’s bottom line: Most people working the interstices between the public and private sectors are usually looking to line their pockets by trading on their relationships. Philip Shucet is a different breed. Not to say that he hasn’t done well for himself as a businessman and consultant in recent years, but he could work anywhere in the country he chooses and probably make a lot more money. Fortunately for the commonwealth, Shucet, who lives in Virginia Beach, has chosen to dedicate much of his career to public service and tackling some of the biggest, stickiest transportation problems. We’re lucky to have him.

Recently, in a conversation with VDOT officials someone asked me if I believe the blue tourism oriented destination signs, that were offered to impacted US29 businesses made a difference during the Rio/US29 interchange construction.

I indicated that while the signs likely did not change anything significant, they were an important step to let the local businesses know VDOT was aware (and listening) to their very real concerns – perhaps such tepid tranquility is the overall goal of these panels as well.

How and who will replace Shucet in the facilitator role is the challenge for the future, for now we say Sayonara Shucet, we wish you fair winds and following seas.

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: Cvillepedia

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

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less Affordable Housing

Higher Property Values

Less Flexibility

Faster Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Dorothy told the Lion:

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

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

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

Will you give such bold direction today?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

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