Category Archives: Community Involvement

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

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps it depends on your definition of Social Justice.

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

The Pachamama Alliance provides a concise background on Social Justice:

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

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

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

Prior highlighted how activist planning philosophy impacted 1970s planning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

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Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction

imageBy. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

But such community supportive land uses are now in jeopardy.

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if it is legal is it right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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: Earlysville General Store Facebook Page

Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model

By, Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

Almost thirty years ago,  Albemarle County decided to attempt to focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area.  On a philosophical level this policy makes perfect sense, put the population where it is most efficient to deliver government services. The promise was for a 5% bustling urban core surrounded by 95% natural beauty of (privately held) rural areas.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Albemarle Development Vision from Places29

Conceptually, the 5% development area was to develop with concurrent amenities and investments along with the development.  The idea is for the smaller more compact home have access to amenities, employment and green space to make the development area home more attractive than a home on a couple of acres in the country.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chronicled in a front page story in The Daily Progress this morning (5/1/18), Albemarle County has failed to build the infrastructure required to make the development area work.  Further, they have done a poor job explaining to residents the need for development in the development area.

Sean Tubbs reports on two developments planned for the Pantops area that went before the Pantops Community Advisory Council:

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

At one time there was some momentum for appropriate concurrent infrastructure spending along side private sector investment.

From December 8, 2004 staff report:

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat in October 2003, the Board identified the County’s growth and urbanization as a critical issue and established a new strategic planning goal related to urbanization. At this year’s retreat, the Board continued its focus on growth and urbanization by providing direction to staff regarding the desire to pursue an “Urbanizing County” level of service for the County’s transportation and streetscape needs. For transportation needs, this level of service focuses on providing “essential link” transportation projects, minimizing the use of private streets, and continuing to rely on VDOT for street maintenance. For streetscape needs, it includes the County becoming more involved in the construction and maintenance of streetscape in development areas, as determined by master plans.  For streetscape outside master planned areas, construction would be considered through the CIP process, based on the availability of funds.  In both transportation and streetscape, the County would continue to expect development to provide a significant portion of the initial infrastructure.  Emphasis added – nw

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

In November 2014, then Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley acknowledged the lack of planned transportation infrastructure investment:

Mr. Foley stated that the Board has set up specific funding in the Capital improvement Program (CIP) for master planned areas but that was for new developments. He stated that there was some money designated for interconnecting streets, but there has not been a focus on infrastructure funding for sidewalks and things in existing neighborhoods. Mr. Foley noted that the County never even got to the new areas due to limited capital funding

The vision of the Neighborhood Model was to have a variety of housing types and sizes as well as owned and rented properties intermingled to promote diversity.  Interestingly, the residents don’t seem to be interested in this diversity of housing types.

Again from Sean Tubbs article:

“It’s [the proposed development] a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet. . .

…“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’.  In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.

This is just the latest example of how Albemarle’s growth management (growth restrictive) policy is undermined by existing neighborhoods (often recently built) who oppose new development via the rezoning process. Most often the rationale for the opposition is the failure of Albemarle to meet existing resident expectations for services.  The lack of political will to stand up for the concepts and aspiring density rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan is disappointing.

Tipping Point? An interesting byproduct of the Growth Management Plan and Magisterial design – about the same time the development area was designated, the magisterial districts were redrawn so that every supervisor had a portion of the growth area in their district.  With the level of development most districts are now population dominated by development area residents – mathematically speaking if you win Mill Creek and Glenmore neighborhoods, you win the Scottsville District.  Will this new electoral reality result in super representation of the development area concerns stated above?  Should it?

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the current development area reality comes close to the aspirational vision that was endorsed by the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) or DISC II (AKA son of DISC).

Despite significant private sector investment in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, parks, sidewalks, etc.), Albemarle County has failed to create the connective linkages between developments (and in existing neighborhoods) to make the community vision a reality.

Based on the comments from Pantops, it soon might be too late to ever catch up.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

When the Greene County Board of Supervisors placed on their agenda “Matters from the public” for their February 13th meeting, they may not of anticipated the significant turnout. The Greene citizens responded with an overflow crowd at the County Administration building including two local television stations.

In this era of disrupting meetings, Greene citizens are to be commended as how they addressed the Supervisors – at the beginning of the meeting. The main issue brought up by over 20 speakers was concern about spending funds for a new E911 system when major expenditures for a dam and school expansion have been committed. The general understanding of those in attendance was that the E911 center was going to be moved at a significant cost and the former administrator was retained by the county and works in the County Administration building.

Representatives of the volunteer rescue squad and Fire Departments also addressed the Board of Supervisors. Their message was clear – we are getting “no clear supervision” and it goes back and forth who we are to answer to.

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

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After the public comment – Chairperson Michelle Flynn restated what was in the press release from the Board, no decision has been made to move the E911 center. And that the intent of tonight’s public comments is to gather information to provide a safe E911 program for the citizens of Greene County.

Vice Chairperson, Bill Martin, said that since he was Chairperson 18 months ago when the E911 system became an issue, he wanted to recap what has transpired. He began stressing that there is no “plot” and no decision has been made. The Board has two concerns related to E911 – safety of the citizens of Greene and providing a cost effective solution.

In 2012, the E911 system was consolidated with the Sheriff’s office to be cost effective. In August, 2016, Sheriff Steve Smith “terminated” the E911 Supervisor. However, this person is employed by Greene County, not the Sheriff and therefore she could not be terminated by the Sheriff. But, she was refused admittance to the E911 center (within the Sheriff’s office) even though she was never fired by the county. The Sheriff effectively prevented her from doing the core functions of her job.

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Sheriff Steve Smith

Supervisor Martin continued, stating that there were no negative comments in her personnel file. She was provided office space in the County Administration building and fulfilled the rest of the duties assigned to her.

Sheriff Smith then requested $77,000 additional funding to the budget to fund the hiring of a replacement. This request was denied by the Board. Smith then filed a lawsuit against the county.

Pat Fitzgerald’s article in the February 7th Greene County Record picks up the story:

In October, a judge ruled in favor of the county.

“That case is still pending even though the county says otherwise,” Smith stated last Friday.

The county’s news release issued that week, however, stated: “On December 19, the County Administrator, with the full support of the Board of Supervisors, sent a memo again clarifying that the county-owned E911 center is under the management and direction of the county Emergency Services Coordinator. The notification did not suggest a separation or relocation of any E911 dispatch services and, in fact, the Board maintains that it changed nothing about the structure.

“The Sheriff continues to maintain the fully trained and qualified Emergency Services Coordinator will not be permitted in the county E911 dispatch center to provide management supervision,” the county stated. “He also asserts that the Sheriff must have full authority to determine who enters and is employed in the county-owned dispatch center because it is located in the same building the county provides for the Sheriff’s department….

Smith, however, said Friday “the statement that was put out by Chairman Michelle Flynn is inflammatory and mostly untrue.”

Martin requested that we get all of the stakeholders at the table and find a solution that provides a safe county at no additional cost.

In the end, it was agreed that a meeting with all the stakeholders, including Flynn, Board liaison Supervisor David Cox, Smith, the three fire chiefs in the county and the rescue squad be held. Sheriff Smith stated that his lawsuit would be dropped if an agreement could be reached.

Obviously personnel matters are confidential but many in the community hope that this power struggle between the Supervisors and the Sheriff can be resolved.  Some have suggested the following:

1) The Supervisors would review the information that Sheriff Smith used to justify the termination of the E911 supervisor

2) If the Supervisors agreed with the data then the employee should be terminated and a new employee hired to work at the Sheriff’s Office

3) If the Supervisors disagreed that the employee should be fired then they should try to work out a solution with Sheriff Smith to have the supervisor return to work at the Sheriff’s office

4) If an agreement cannot be reached, either: the employee should be reassigned to other duties outside of the Sheriff’s office and a new E911 supervisor be hired or a new independent E911 center should be created outside of the Sheriff’s office.

5) The Sheriff and the fire chiefs need to discuss the several instances where the E911 response dispatched did not follow accepted procedures.  Both parties must agree to a response protocol that protects citizens.

6) If such an agreement can not be reached, E911 must be removed from the Sheriff’s office and an independent E911 facility must be established outside the Sheriff’s office building.

Any needed changes need to happen quickly as an effective and efficient E911 system is critical the the health and safety of Greene County citizens.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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.

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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.

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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,

Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department

By. Neil Williamson, President

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government by over Twenty new full time employees and a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million. [corrected 12/5 9:44]

Please let me explain.

In 2013, Albemarle County thought it needed a Rain Tax (a fee paid by all land owners based on the percentage of impervious surface) in order to meet state mandated Chesapeake Bay regulations for pollutants.

In late 2014, staff projected the costs to be nearly $2.5 Million a year.  During the preparation of Albemarle County’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL  Action Plan they found they would receive credits for the many stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – both private and public – that were already built. Albemarle’s Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper Harper explains:

While the County is required to achieve 5% of its long-term required pollutant reductions by July 1, 2018, the current status of reductions is as follows:

pollutant reductions achieved as percent of total, long-term requirement

phosphorus  68%

nitrogen 99%

sediment 137%

All (100%) reductions must be achieved by 2028. As you can see, we are theoretically complete with required nitrogen and sediment reductions and two-thirds complete with phosphorus reductions. [emphasis added-nw].

When it was determined that Albemarle was well on its way to meeting those requirements, the Free Enterprise Forum wrongfully thought this would be the end of the discussion of a rain tax [see Singing in the Rain].

Instead, gifted with this “fee” authority from the General Assembly, Albemarle tasked staff to come up with a plan to spend the money to address the county’s greying stormwater infrastructure – .

image

Make no mistake this is the beginning of an Albemarle County Public Works Department with Twenty new full time employees  (corrected 12/5 9:44 am) and an annual budget of roughly $5 million absent any check on its further expansion based on a dedicated revenue source

While the Free Enterprise Forum is not questioning the need for many of these infrastructure improvements, we believe these projects should compete with other capital projects in the biannual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  Such project competition breeds efficiency and promotes transparency just as a dedicated revenue source reduces sunlight, breeds complacency and presents the opportunity for mismanagement and malfeasance.

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: giphy.com, Albemarle County

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

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.