Category Archives: Development Policies

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

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

First a little background:

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

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

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

According to county staff, during a routine preapplication meeting, a question came up regarding the posted speed limit on the entrance corridor.  Staff researched the issue and determined both the speed limit and that the roadway was not an “arterial street”.

Virginia Code §15.2-2306 enables localities to establish entrance corridor districts encompassing parcels contiguous to arterial streets and highways found to be significant routes of tourist access to the county and to designated historic landmarks, structures, or districts within the county

This revelation, led staff to research each of the current twenty-one entrance corridor designated roadways and found eight did not meet the state “arterial” requirement.

To their credit, staff has prepared a resolution of intent the Board of Supervisors will consider in their February 7th meeting.  The purpose of this resolution is to revise the Entrance Corridor Ordinance removing those roadways that do not qualify as arterials.  The following roadways will no longer be under ARB jurisdiction (nor ever should have been)

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

 

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Cville PC Paradox — Build Less & Increase Affordability

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cville downzoning height chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: 425business.com

Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source image

Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center

Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.

There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.

Please let me explain.

The City’s recent decision to abandon their parking meter “pilot program” makes good sense in the short term but the long term issues surrounding parking are significantly larger than a few on street meters.  Currently, the existing garages are effectively full, with greater than 350 potential parkers on waiting lists for the opportunity to buy a monthly parking pass.

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

If there is a future parking deficit exceeding 800 spaces based on projected demand, what would be the cost of building a parking deck to meet that need? It is widely accepted that structured parking costs roughly $25,000 a space to build (absent land costs). Thus, just the construction cost for an 850-space garage would be $21.25 million (absent land costs).

Last week, I had an over simplistic epiphany regarding the future of transportation. With the advent of self-driving cars (which will be a reality sooner than we realize), “park and ride” parking lots will be replaced by more efficient and less land demanding “ride and park” lots surrounding more walkable business and commercial districts. The car will drop you at your destinatSee the source imageion and drive to a nearby, but not too close, parking area.

This no longer science fiction and will completely rework the highest and best use of the land within the business district and increase the value of parcels currently too distant to serve as parking alternatives.

The average life of a parking deck is 50 years; with this pending innovation of self driving cars, the need for close in parking is reduced so how should Charlottesville deal with the next 33 years of market parking demand exceeding supply. The easy answer is build more parking but make the building flexible for reuse.

Progressive parking experts are now contemplating designing parking buildings with the clear vision of conversion to mixed use buildings later in their useful lifetime. By designing parking decks with higher ceilings, roughed in plumbing mains and central elevators (rather than on the corners). The infrastructure investment is higher than building a standard deck but it serves as insurance that the investment is not lost as demand shifts from parking storage to office/residential space.

If we accept that there is a parking deficit (for the next 30 years), what should be the role of the City in remedying this situation?

Option 1 – Charlottesville City Council could choose to do nothing.  Parking availability could go from bad to worse as downtown employees and customers are forced into mass transit (if available) or parking further from employment centers.

Option 2 – The City could build a lot on the recently acquired Guadalajara/Lucky 7 lot.  Based on the current political reality, I fail to see Charlottesville City Council showing the leadership vision necessary to spend $21+ million to address this clear and present danger to downtown economic vitality.

Option 3 – Charlottesville could enter into a Public Private Partnership (3P or PPP) on the Guadalajara/Lucky 7 lot.  The PPP Knowledge Lab defines Public Private Partnerships as:

a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service, in which the private party bears significant risk and management responsibility, and remuneration is linked to performance. PPPs typically do not include service contracts or turnkey construction contracts, which are categorized as public procurement projects, or the privatization of utilities where there is a limited ongoing role for the public sector.

The PPP option would require a challenging, lengthy process (likely 3+ years) to seek and identify appropriate partners, develop mutually beneficial agreements including financing options all prior to construction.

Back to our prediction:

If the Charlottesville selects the ostrich method of Option 1, the downward economic spiral that was exacerbated by the events of August 12th will continue.  Enterprises see the City failing to address the paring infrastructure issue and flee the City to locations in Albemarle County (Shops at Stonefield, Fifth Street Station, Reimagined Albemarle Square, Peter Jefferson Place, etc.) or elsewhere with ample free parking. This exodus would significantly reduce Charlottesville’s vitality, as well as its real estate and sales tax revenue.

The loss of revenue creates a reduction in City provided services; resulting in a citizen revolt and resignation of City staff and City Council.  After a special election, a new City Manager is hired and recommends (and council agrees) to sell off the City’s real estate assets (City Hall and Market Street Parking Garage) to raise much needed revenue.  The buyer gets the property for a song, demolishes the existing structures and builds a 15 story hotel and conference center (with parking deck).

or, in an alternative reality

https://i0.wp.com/www.savannah.com/wp-content/uploads/Aloft-Savannah-Hotel-Rendering.jpg

Savannah Aloft Hotel

Charlottesville chooses either Option 2 or Option 3, as well as other investments in the community. Enterprises and neighborhoods thrive, tax revenue continues to climb as the City’s business and residential density increases; autonomous cars and an enhanced transit service reduce the need for structured parking downtown.  As an economic development catalyst, Charlottesville chooses to move City Hall to the Strategic Investment Area (SIA).

The City enters into a Public Private Partnership with a developer to raze the Market Street Garage and City Hall and construct a seven story conference center hotel.  The four star hotel fronts on the Downtown Mall and the newly branded “Uber” Pavilion.

Both paths of these paths seem to end in the same place but the courage of City Council making long term infrastructure decisions drives the successful community while a lack of such vision creates economic uncertainty and possible municipal failure.

Charlottesville future will be decided by those in power at present.  Parking, and other municipal decisions, will determine which path the city travels.

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: Savannah.com, Tripadvisor.com

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,

Greene County Revises Water/Sewer Connection Payment Timing

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In 2008, Greene County developed a policy to sell Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDU’s) for water and sewer connections.  At the time, concerns were raised regarding the allowance of the speculative purchase of EDU’s, prior to the actual need.  As the cost of EDU’s increased (currently $10,000 for water and $10,000 for sewer) the timing of the EDU’s purchase has become an issue, especially for smaller builders.

At the only December meeting for the Greene Supervisors, Planning Director, Bart Svoboda, explained, numerous conversations with builders that have highlighted the cash flow problem this policy creates. So an alternative policy of charging for the EDU’s as a requirement for issuing a Certificate of Occupancy was proposed for Board consideration. However, the contractor runs the risk of EDU’s not being available if he waits until the project is ready to be occupied.

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked if a builder could opt to buy the EDU’s the way they have up until now? Svoboda answered that yes, the contractor effectively would have the option as to when to buy the EDU. He could buy the EDU like the current policy provides and, therefore, he is sure he has the water and sewer connection before the project is started. Or he could wait until the project is ready for occupancy and then purchase the EDU with no guaranty that water and sewer will be available.

clip_image001

Jim Frydl

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) commented that the risk of water and sewer not being available is small.

The argument for delaying payment is that paying for the EDU closer to when the property can be occupied allows for the revenue stream of the business/residence to begin and provide the funds to pay for the EDU connections.

Some other Virginia localities do not allow the purchase of EDU’s until the building permit is issued for a specific parcel.  Such a policy significantly impacts the ability to “speculatively” purchase EDU’s at a a lower rate than the cost of such EDU’s at redemption.   This potential reform was not discussed on Tuesday.

At this point County Administrator, John Barkley, clarified that any changes to the EDU policy must first be approved by Greene’s Supervisors and then it can be approved by RSA.

Supervisor Bill Martin commented that the current reservoir project will relieve the limitation of water in Greene County. At that point Chairperson Michelle Flynn proposed that the option to pay when connected be approved and that motion was unanimously approved.

image

Marie Durrer

Frydl Farewell

The last action taken at the final 2017 meeting was to thank Frydl who completed his second term. Frydl was defeated in his bid for a third term by Marie Durrer, former Clerk of the Circuit Court in Greene County.  Durrer will be sworn in in January.

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

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

VDOT’s ‘Charlie Brown’ Street Trees & ARB’s Double Standard

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

Much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, the young street trees planted as cbrown christmas treepart of the Route 29 Solutions projects may be the very best suited to provide the long term tree canopy desired, but if such trees were a part of a private application (residential, industrial or commercial) they would be summarily rejected – just like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

The public policy question is: Should a tree planted on behalf of a state agency along one of Albemarle County’s 21(!) Entrance Corridors meet the County’s requirements for private businesses locating on said corridor?

In fairness, most would reply yes. Not in Albemarle.

Please let me explain.

Merriam-Webster defines a double standard as:

a set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another;

20171127_112426

US 29 Northbound (just South of Ashwood Boulevard)

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will look back on 2017 in Charlottesville as a year of getting things done.  Working with motivated contractors (and elected officials) the Route 29 Solutions projects were completed with great agility.

As a part of the projects, VDOT contractors planted literally thousands of plants along US 29 and Berkmar Extended.  Each and every one of these plants have a one year guarantee from the contractor.   Therefore it is in the contractor’s best interest to plant trees that meet the VDOT standard and with the highest likelihood for survival.

Very few (if any) of these trees would meet Albemarle’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) trunk requirement of 3 1/2”.

University of Missouri researcher W. Todd Watson, writing in Hortitechnology magazine, found virtually no difference in the eventual height of trees when caliper size was used as a metric for success.  image

Filled with engineers, VDOT is nothing if not specific about their tree planting activity.  The have an arborist on staff to assist in species selection as well as planting details.  Nowhere in VDOT Section 1200 Landscape can we find any information regarding mandated tree caliper size.  Could it be that VDOT prefers to allow the design professionals determine the most efficient and effective landscaping over the life of the roadway?

20171127_113636

Roundabout Berkmar Drive Ext at Hilton Heights Rd

This double standard was brought to the attention of the ARB and was discussed back in September.  The conversation recognized the higher cost and limited availability of 3 1/2” caliper trees and recognized the maintenance of the trees after transplanting had a significant impact on their rate of survival.  In addition, they mentioned one specific proposal that might be reconsidered based on this information and asked for that project to come back the following meeting.

The specific application that prompted the latest discussion was on the agenda on October 2nd but after a two week hiatus, the ARB seemed to have a change of heart regarding the flexibility of the “guidelines”

c. ARB-2017-69: North Pointe Middle Entrance Landscape Plan: Tree size

The ARB viewed the revised landscape plan and considered the applicant’s request to use a smaller planting size for EC street trees. It was the consensus of the ARB that the 3½” planting size requirement should be followed for this application, but staff should present additional information on the planting size issue for continued ARB discussion on a more general basis.

While the Free Enterprise Forum does not have an opinion on this application; we do wish the ARB would revisit their planting size requirement decision.  To do so could lower cost for applicants, perhaps increase tree viability and result with the same tree canopy.

In short, we ask the ARB to follow Linus Van Pelt’s advice regarding installation size and maintenance:charliebrowntree2

I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.

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: United Feature Syndicate in cooperation with Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1965)

Albemarle Restrictions Benefit Greene Cell Coverage

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In an interesting twist of regulatory roulette,Greene County citizens will gain significant wireless coverage area as a result of existing cell tower restrictions in neighboring Albemarle County. See the source image

TowerCom, LLC represented by Valerie Long, Esq. approached the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their November 14th meeting, asking for a Special Use Permit for a cell tower in southwest Greene County near the Albemarle County line along Simmons Gap RoadT-Mobile is the cellular carrier that is interested in locating on the TowerCom tower.

During the October Planning Commission public hearing, one Greene County resident questioned the location of the proposed tower, suggesting that if the tower were to be located further into Greene County, it would serve more Greene County residents.

So that raised the question, why did TowerCom choose the location they chose?  Long addressed this issue directly explaining that they looked at several locations in northwest Albemarle County. However, as Albemarle County significantly restricts the height of cell towers – shorter than the 199 feet in Greene County. So, the potential number of customers (and therefore the potential revenue) is smaller from a shorter cell tower constructed in Albemarle County. And fewer residents in Greene County would receive cell service from a tower in Albemarle County than in Greene County.

clip_image003Inversely, a cell tower constructed in Greene County is permitted to go up to 199 feet and therefore reach more customers, both in Greene County and Albemarle County. The answer to the question as to why not locate the tower further north in Greene County comes down to which location generates the most revenue.

Due to population densities, moving the tower further north into Greene County contacts fewer total customers, although more residents of Greene County would be connected. The bottom line is that the money from an Albemarle County customer is worth the same at the money paid by a customer in Greene County. And therefore, T-Mobile wants to maximize their revenue and that happens where they positioned the tower in Greene County where they can reach the most customers.

T-Mobile is attracted to Greene County because it can install a taller tower and get more customers than in Albemarle County. But without the potential customers in Albemarle County it is questionable  that T-Mobile or any cell carrier would install a tower to only service the southwest portion of Greene County. Thankfully cell service doesn’t know county line barriers!

The special use permit was unanimously approved with provisions about color and materials and that the tower must begin construction within one year of the permit being approved. This has been an issue in the past where SUP’s have been approved but no tower has been constructed.

The one hurdle to the project outside the control of the Supervisors is that the property needed to provide access to the tower location is owned by Lance Petty and while he has granted a right of way to Ron and Janet Parham, he argues that the right of way doesn’t convey the ability to grant permission to another party. This issue will need to be resolved before construction can begin.

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

Fluvanna Water Project Out To Bid

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

turn on waterThey said the day would never come.

On November 1st, 2017, Fluvanna County put the Zion Crossroads water and sewer project out to bid.

Decades of discussion have culminated in the supervisors advertising for bid the $11.9 million project.

The request for bid will be done in three parts. The pipes, the mechanical and the water tower are all in separate requests in hops of getting better bids by companies that would otherwise have to subcontract.

After the supervisors completed a series of motions, the room applauded as the long chapter of Fluvanna politics is nearing a close. The project is expected to take 18 months to construct.

Economic Development?  Supervisors also initiated a rezoning process for an undisclosed business trying to relocate in the Zion Crossroads area. The project would be an investment of $8 to $10 million and bring about 40 jobs to the county. The business would be disclosed once the public hearings occur.

The property is currently zoned agricultural and is seeking an industrial zoning. The county is also working with the business to get a hookup to the aforementioned water project once water is flowing.

In other water news, after a closed meeting, the supervisors pledged $5,000 to Caroline County for proposed legal advice on fighting Aqua America’s proposed rate increases. Lake Monticello is served by Aqua. Caroline County has several subdivisions also served by Aqua, estimated at 30 percent of its population.

Caroline reached out to other home owners associations and locality governments for assistance in teaming together to fight against Aqua’s request. Caroline estimated the cost of legal advice and State Corporation Commission expert help at over $75,000.

Other presentations during the November 1st  meeting included one from an official from Fluvanna Girls Softball League (FGSL). FGSL wanted the county to loan $25,000 to the private organization to field improvements at the Carysbrook field. Work included leveling the infield and outfield as well as replacing the backstop and adding an outfield fence.

The proposed loan was $25,000 paid over five years with 2 percent interest. Unfortunately, supervisors were briefed by the county attorney they have no legal authority to loan money to FGSL, a private organization. Because Carysbrook is county property, the county could construct the requested work and FGSL can voluntarily contribute to the county’s coffers.

Chris Fairchild, FGSL official, said even if the supervisors said they didn’t want to be paid back, FGSL wants to pay for the improvements. Supervisors and the parks and recreation department will work with FGSL to get work scheduled as previously planned.

Over the course of the last 15 years, FGSL has invested $168,000 in field improvements including construction of dugouts and concession stand.

Supervisors were briefed on preliminary budget projections of the Fluvanna County Public Schools system. Chuck Winkler, superintendent, is projecting a request of $2.2 million over last year’s budget.

That estimate included standards of quality changes that are partially funded by the state. He included the entire figure but noted if the state implemented, it would have a huge state budget implication. He said the likelihood of being passed was slim, but included it as a precaution.

Also in Winkler’s increase were pay raises and increase in health care costs. He also had additional money for technology improvements. He noted that if technology was funded again by Capital Improvement funds, it lowers the county’s per pupil spending.

The supervisors will next meet on November 15 at 7 p.m.

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The 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