Category Archives: economic development

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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Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”?

By Neil Williamson, President

Former Charlottesville City Council candidate and Public Housing Advocate Brandon Collins is energetic and passionate, but he is rarely described as optimistic or even jubilant.

Late in Monday night’s (6/18) City Council meeting he was both as he called for Charlottesville to give up on developer incentives that produce precious few affordable housing units and instead launch a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing to meet the current shortfall of 3,318 units.

Please let me explain.

Council received two important, somewhat disconcerting,  housing reports.  Prepared by Partners for Economic Solutions, the housing needs assessment was blunt in its analysis of current and projected market conditions.  It concluded that the city had a current need for 3,318 affordable units, growing to 4,020 units in 2040. The reasons for these conditions were summarized:

The forces creating this affordability crisis and impeding fair and affordable housing include:

• The city’s constrained supply of developable land supply limits the potential for new residential construction.

• More than 200 year-round housing units have been diverted to short-term transient rentals through Airbnb and other leasing services.

• High land and development costs limit the market’s ability to build new units that could rent at levels affordable to households at less than 60 to 80 percent of AMI.

• Federal funding for construction of new affordable housing and for Housing Choice Vouchers has not kept pace with the growing need. Public housing funding to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority includes almost no support for renovating existing public housing.

• Zoning policies such as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, setback requirements and maximum residential densities can prevent more intensive development of the city’s limited land resources. Community resistance to change leads to policies that prioritize preserving existing single-family neighborhoods over the development of new affordable housing.

• The lack of predictability in the City’s development approval process has a chilling effect on developers considering projects that require City Council and Planning Commission approval. A last-minute decision can scuttle or significantly delay projects in which the developer has proceeded in good faith, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

• The approval process is expensive and time-consuming, adding directly to the total development costs and ultimate housing prices.

• The tight housing market allows landlords to discriminate against low-income households with limited financial resources, spotty or no credit histories, arrest records, children, housing choice vouchers or other perceived risk factors.

• Housing affordability for many households is an income problem. Low levels of education, limited skills training, inadequate public transit and difficulty finding quality affordable child care can prevent individuals ability to reach financial self-sufficiency.

With this report in hand, the folks at Partners for Economic Solutions examined the height bonuses currently under consideration in both the Strategic Investment Area and the Comprehensive Plan.  The concept explored was how many units could be provided and at what level of affordability.

The very detailed report included carrying costs, a 7% profit margin as well as other development costs.  This profit margin was explained as necessary or the project would not gain investors – they would instead put their money into other projects with a better return on investment.

Development costs are impacted by several factors, but most significant are the style of construction and the type of parking. Height has a direct impact on costs with lower-cost wood-frame construction limited to four stories. A fifth story can be added if the first floor is constructed in concrete rather than wood. Above five stories, most apartment buildings are constructed on concrete or steel and concrete at a much higher cost per square foot.

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

The model assumed up to four stories of development would be served by surface parking with taller buildings requiring structured parking.

The analysis also suggests a limited ability for height bonuses to secure committed affordable housing units. Generally speaking, Charlottesville rents do not support the construction of mid-to high-rise residential buildings with the exception of student housing adjacent to the University of Virginia grounds, high-end condominiums and possible niche products such as luxury senior housing. Five-story structures are feasible only at the higher rents achievable in Downtown neighborhoods.

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In conclusion, the report found that if density is the only incentive, based on market conditions, it does not work.   Providing perhaps 15% of the incremental increase in units @ 60% AMI or 10% of the incremental increase @ 50% AMI.   The consultant went so far as to say, “some of the Planning Commission concepts have no value to the developer; it is NOT an incentive”.

After this well presented and documented report was presented, Councilor Kathy Galvin said,

This would depress a hyena

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said, “This is bad”, and continued to express concern that the economic analysis included a profit margin for the developer.  She contended that until we change that conversation we are never going to fix this.  She said that if you are willing to house just a few people at a time – that’s not a direction I support.

Councilor Mike Signer called out Albemarle County’s role in the housing affordability issue.  He indicated the politics of increasing density is very tough highlighting his affirmative vote in the 3-2 decision to rezone 10th and Jefferson.  He also pushed back on the contention that a profit margin did not matter.

Vice Mayor Heather Hill called out the Air BnB taking up some of the Accessory Dwelling Units are being pulled out of affordable housing stock.

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Brandon Collins

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

Beyond the ironic title “Marshall Plan”, the Free Enterprise Forum has several questions.

  • If providing significant affordable units was not economically feasible with a 7% profit margin does the loss of that 7% make the economics work?
  • Considering the current political climate in Charlottesville, could a $140 million bond be supported by the citizens?
  • Would this council support the tax increases needed to service the debt issuance?
  • Does addressing Affordable Housing head on start to address some of the other socioeconomic challenges in the City?
  • Could this program actually increase the demand for affordable housing?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.  Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: TV10

Greene County Planning Commission Lowers Proffers

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission  heard a rezoning request at their May meeting to remove or reduce the cash proffer required for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) originally granted in 2008. For the last ten years, Kinvara Properties, LLC has tried to develop approximately 33 acres fronting Route 29 southbound just north of the Food Lion plaza.

A cash proffer is a “voluntary” financial contribution the applicant makes per unit designed to offset a project’s fiscal impacts to the locality.  The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about proffers including the 2013 white paper “Contradictory Consequences“.

In 2016, Virginia’s General Assembly passed significant proffer reform.  The legislation required that any proffer provided must be answering a specific demand created by the project.  Most localities (including Greene) have not rewritten their zoning code to reflect these changes.

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Lily Ridge Apartments

A recent Greene County project, Lily Ridge Apartments, did pay the $9,000 per unit cash proffer for those units developed above the by right number of units (prior to the rezoning).

However, Kinvara Properties, represented by Attorney Butch Davies from Madison County, argued that their PUD will be more dense and have only 2 bedroom units therefore creating less demand on the school system – one of the major drivers of the cash proffer policy.

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Butch Davies

Davies explained that Kinvara has had several clients interested in the property but they have said that the size of the proffer makes the project economically unfeasible. In addition, the developer has already made expenditures for water and sewer hookups and road improvements. Chairman Jay Willer pointed out that these items, while having value to the county, are not part of the proffer calculation.

Davies offered $1,200 per unit in cash proffers with the logic being that the change in the law starting in July, 2018 will require proffers to be specific in the items related to the project. Davies referred to several other projects where proffers in the $1,200 range had been accepted by Greene County.

The hearing shifted to comments from the public, which there were none. Planner Stephanie Golon pointed out that the rezoning would allow 50 residential units to be built and she estimated that the number of students would range between Lily Ridge, 27 students or .58 students per unit and Terrace Greene, 30 students or .11 students per unit.

If the Lily Ridge ratio is used then the development would have approximately 29 students but Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy data would only project 16 students. Commissioner Ron Williams pointed out that given the current proffer and that schools are the main contributor to the costs involved then the amount should be approximately $4,500 vs. the $1,200 offered by the developer. Williams asked how the $1,200 was calculated and Davies answered that it is based on the smaller number of students.

Willer brought up the fact that Kinvara Properties accepted the original proffer agreement  and he had a difficult time lowering the proffer.  Davies again stated that potential sales to developers have fallen through with the current proffer and he believes a reduction will allow the sale to be completed and the development to go forward.

Williams stated that he thinks the development is a good fit for the area and he isn’t sure when the $9,000 proffer would become affordable. Inversely, the $1,200 proposed proffer lacks supporting detail as how it was calculated. But the county needs commercial development and he believes more residents in Greene County will attract more businesses.

While Willer agreed that more people attract businesses, he has a difficult time in revising an agreement that the two parties made and the lowering of the proffer would cost Greene County $390,000 in proffers when the development is completed.

Williams made a motion to recommend approval of a revised cash proffer of  $1,200 per unit and it was approved 3-1, with Willer voting against it and one commissioner absent. The rezoning application now goes to the Board of Supervisors for their decision with the recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission.

The reduction of the proffer in this specific case continues to set a precedent for a lower proffer. The original proffer amount was set over 10 years and should be updated with current cost and the impact of the 2016 proffer law. Another option would be to have separate proffers for individual homes, townhomes, condos, etc. and possibly down to the number of bedrooms in each unit. These are the issues that have been discussed in past meetings.

Definitely future requests from developers will point to the $1,200 amount, if approved by the Board of Supervisors, as a basis to set (or lower) their cash proffer.

An argument could be made that since lower proffers attract more developers wouldn’t doing away with proffers altogether attract the most developers?

Is 0% of the current proffer more valuable than 100% of $1,200?

Or is more residential development worth the upside of more driving potential commercial development and increased tax revenue?

It will be interesting to see how the Greene County Board of Supervisors deal with this application and if they ever get around to adjusting their cash proffer policy to be congruent with state code.

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

 

 

Albemarle Rural Special Use Permits For Not So Special Uses

By. Neil Williamson, President

rural outpostTonight (May 8th), the Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing what is and is not a by-right use on commercially zoned property not served by public water or a central system.  The problem is there are 80 parcels in the rural area zoned as commercial and the powers that be want to significantly limit commercial activity in the rural areas (95% of Albemarle County).

This is how the regulators are seeking to deal with “stale” zoning, create a process that is nearly impossible to gain approval and thus remove the ability for so called ‘noxious’ uses without conducting a controversial and legally challenging downzoning.

We think there is an alternative.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that objective metrics could be established to have some of the ‘Special Uses’ be by right uses with independently verified performance standards.

Please let me explain.

In zoning parlance, there are three types of uses on a property:

  • By Right (that which you can do without additional government approval)
  • Special use (that which the government may allow you to do on your property) and
  • Prohibited use (that which the government indicates you can’t do on your property)

The fact that the land in question here is currently zoned commercial means that at one time a planner somewhere thought it would be a good idea to have commercial activity in this vicinity.  This more flexible planning philosophy has given way to a much more restrictive vision limiting commercial activity in the rural areas.

Under the new proposal, if  any of the ‘special uses’ [including sporting goods (bait shops?), drug store, food/grocery stores, and many more] proposed on commercial zoned property without water service would be measured against the following Comprehensive Plan criteria:

Criteria for Review of New Uses

As new uses are proposed in the Rural Area,it is essential that they be able to meet the following standards.  New uses should:

relate directly to the Rural Area and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful, (e.g., a farm winery has to be located in the Rural Area and would be unlikely to succeed in the Development Areas);

be compatible with, and have a negligible impact, on natural, cultural, and historic resources;

not conflict with nearby agricultural and forestal uses;

reflect a size and scale that complements the character of the area in which they will be located;

be reversible so that the land can easily return to farming, forestry, conservation, or other preferred rural uses;

be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns;

generate little demand for fire and rescue and police service;

be able to operate without the need for public water and sewer;

be sustainable with available groundwater; and

be consistent with other Rural Area policies.

Can you think of any proposal that could make it through this subjective labyrinth of approval?

Even if a staff recommendation could be acquired, do we anticipate any planning Commission making findings of any activity meeting all of these “standards”?

There has to be a better way.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the performance standard models we have reviewed where objective metrics were developed to verify the data points rather than subjectivity reflected above.

The Comprehensive Plan even speaks of creating such performance standards on the same page as this review criteria:

Performance standards will be needed for any new uses to ensure that the size, scale, and location of the new commercial uses recommended for the Rural Area are appropriate.

It is of prime importance that the appearance and function of new uses blend and not detract from the key features of the Rural Area.

New uses should not overwhelm an area in terms of their function or visibility.

We fear this proposal may indirectly and unintentionally create food and gas deserts in the rural areas that will put rural residents even further away from the services they require.

Considering this proposal impacts only 80 properties, we believe this would be an excellent candidate for developing objective performance metrics.  Such an innovative program would protect the rural area AND Rural Property Rights – now would that be a good idea?

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: Commonplacemagazine.org

 

No Increase for Greene County Real Estate Tax Rates

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In the next to final step in their FY2019 budget process, The Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to maintain the same real estate tax rate forclip_image001 the coming fiscal year – $.775/$100 of the assessed value.

 

County Administrator John Barkley presented an overview of the budget process that started last July, 2017 and will conclude with at the May 8, 2018 Supervisor meeting when the budget is voted upon. The process included three workshops, advertising the rates, tonight’s presentation and the May 8th vote on the final budget.

Barkley highlighted that the county is investing in training of county personnel but, other than the school system, there are no increases in headcount. In addition, the county is focused on improved technology for improved services. The budget has 16 departments that are reflecting reductions in spending.

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John Barkley

Barkley then showed that Greene County’s Real Estate Tax Rate ($.775/$100) is in the middle of the surrounding counties – higher than Madison ($.680/$100) , but lower than Albemarle ($.839/$100) and Orange ($.804/$100).

The proposed budget does have an increase from $61,281K to $63,592K, an increase of over $2 million. The rate is able to stay the same since there is a significant increase in the number of houses in Greene County which is the primary contributor to increased local funding of over $1.5 million from real estate taxes.

Two other reductions that stand out is a 12% reduction in Greene County’s share of the funding of the Central Virginia Regional jail. The other significant reduction is over $400,000 reduction in debt service as borrowings are being fully paid off. The budget for capital expenditures is approximately $750,000 ($550,000 for all departments except the school system and $200,000 for the schools) even though there are significant projects in the near future – such as interconnectivity of the Sheriff, Rescue Squad and Fire Departments, the water impoundment project and the school renovation project.

The meeting shifted to comments from the public with four citizens speaking. Keith Bourne again brought up the elimination of 2 additional officers from the Sheriff’s budget. He suggested, as he has in past meetings, that the source for funding these positions could be by eliminating the $250,000 deficit incurred by the Solid Waste Facility by raising the tipping fees.

Current Tipping Fees for Greene County Landfill

30 Gallon Single (household garbage) $1.00
50 Gallon Single (household garbage) $2.00
90 Gallon Single (household garbage) $3.00

Tammy Durrer continued this discussion stating that the citizens of Greene County should not be required to subsidize the Solid Waste Facility. Her research came up with a fact that is unique to Greene County vs. neighboring counties. Greene County allows citizens from other counties to dispose their trash with no premium being charged. Albemarle County for example charges an additional $10 for people outside their county.

Mallory Lamb presented information related to how understaffed Greene County is in the Sheriff’s Department. She presented data from Page County (14,000 citizens) and Patrick County (18,000) vs. Greene County’s population of 19,000 (counties that have similar population to Greene County). Here is how the number of reports, total deputies and deputies funded by the county compare (as presented by Lamb).

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Steve Smith

According to these figures, Greene County generates more reports with significantly fewer deputies. Lamb also suggested that eliminating the subsidizing of the Solid Waste Facility by raising rates and charging a premium for citizens from outside Greene County would fund two additional positions – the budget that Sheriff Smith presented. Per the chart above, the number of citizens per deputy in Greene County is more than twice that of Page and Patrick County’s.

The final adoption of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget is scheduled for May 8, 2018.

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

The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President

 

Greene Examines Needed Emergency Communications Upgrade Options

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image002The Greene County Board of Supervisors asked engineering consultants from  engineering consultants Black and Veatch attend their March 27th meeting to present three alternatives to improve the communication systems between Sheriff, Fire and Rescue throughout Greene County.

Don Bowman, Consulting Manager of Black and Veatch, provided the Supervisors an update on the coverage that currently exists with the system which are extremely concerning. The Sheriff can communicate about 80% outside of a building and that drops to 15-60% inside depending on the type of building they are in. Fire and Rescue range from 35-55% depending on where in the county they are located (outside of a building) and it drops down to 5-25% (inside a building). In addition, the equipment is over a decade old.

Based on the consultant assessment, Greene County needs to upgrade their system; Black and Veatch presented three options to accomplish that goal. The options varied on whether Greene County would go alone in developing a system, the second option was to partner with Madison County and the third option was to join forces with Madison, Louisa and Fluvanna Counties and utilizing Fluvanna’s existing system.

All three options show significant improvement vs. the current situation – the in building connectivity ranges from 50-90%. But the costs go down from the first option of creating a standalone system in Greene County to the two options to partner with other counties. The cost impact of the three alternatives is telling:

Greene County alone $6,167,000

Greene and Madison $5,616,000

Greene, Madison, Louisa and Fluvanna $5,291,000

(these are estimated onetime costs for Greene County with estimated annual operating costs of $220K)

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) added that not only is the cost less to partner with other counties but it logically makes sense to be able to communicate with nearby counties as has been demonstrated in the past. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked if there was any improvement in coverage with option 2 or option 3.   Bowman indicated that option 2 would provide some overlap benefit to both Greene and Madison Counties.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) expressed concerns with the life of the solutions.  Bowman had representatives from Motorola present at the meeting and they assured that the system would be functional until 2040. Martin asked where Madison County is in their communication assessment/acquisition process and was assured that Madison is very interested in partnering with Greene County.

The Board of Supervisors is to be commended for pursuing this upgrade for the safety of the citizens of Greene County. The ability to have the Sheriff, Fire and Safety effectively communicate can mean the difference of life and death. These are the type of issues that need to be recognized and prioritized in the Capital Improvement Plan for the future of Greene County.

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

Fluvanna Proposed FY19 Budget has $400K Deficit

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The needle has slipped across the record known as the FY19 Fluvanna County budget.image

County administrator Steve Nichols briefed the Board of Supervisors on April 4th on updated numbers. The big shocker was the health insurance quote for next year is an increase of $435,000. There were some additional revenue numbers that meant at $0.929 real estate tax rate, the supervisors will still be $400,000 in the hole.

There were four tentative nods at $0.929 but unless the supervisors cut personnel or the school budget, they will need an even bigger increase.

At the public hearing on the tax rates, capital improvement plans and budget, one person spoke. Perrie Johnson, School Board member, spoke as a resident. She spoke in favor of funding the schools.

Since the last meeting in March, the county found another $68,000 in tax revenue. The expenditures grew as the supervisors approved a new pay raise policy that added another $32,000 to the budget.

The new policy is employees will receive any pay raise as long as they are on-board six months before the start of the raise and off probation period. The previous policy was must be on board before the start of the fiscal year and not receive a pay increase in the fiscal year the raise is given.

The vote to set the new policy was unanimous however supervisors were uncommitted to budget. They are slated to approve a budget on April 11.

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Patricia Eager

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) ask if the board desires to pull more from the county savings, the fund balance. “You don’t want to go too far down that road,” replied Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

That leaves either cutting expenses or raising the tax rate. Per state code, the highest rate the supervisors can institute is $0.945 [The rate advertised for public hearing].

One issue the county doesn’t project is significant new tax revenue coming in immediately to help next year’s budget. Expenses aren’t getting cheaper considering the vast majority of the county’s budget.

The silver lining is this year the county had two new debt service payments starting for FY19 that equated six cents. There is no expected debt payments to start in FY20 but also no significant debt retirements.

“We shouldn’t have the problems we are looking at this year,” said O’Brien.

There is hope the county will get a lower number for the health insurance increase. The issue is the county has had several high claims and have only been with the insurer for a single year.

The supervisors next meet on April 11 at 6 p.m to adopt a final budget. The budget calendar does have a possible overtime week of April 18.

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

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County

Fluvanna Budget Discussion Includes New Business

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

It takes three to tango during budget season and the Fluvanna County  Board of Supervisors is working its way to a final budget number.  During the latest work session the supervisors left with four nods on stopping at a real estate tax rate of $0.929 per $100 assessed. The current rate is $0.907.

The supervisors got a boost by additional tax values and increasing fees for items like trailers.

But to get to $0.929 and fund the schools its full request of $600,000, the supervisors will pull money from the county’s savings, the fund balance. It is a practice that is highly discouraged because the fund balance is typically used for one time expenses. But school staff is confident the school system will return a few hundred thousand to the fund balance when the current fiscal year is complete.

At the end of the March 28 work session, only Don Weaver (Cunningham District) didn’t give a nod to the budget but he said he would think about it.

Supervisors will have a public hearing on the budget on April 4 at 7 p.m.

Also on March 28 the supervisors held two public hearings on industrial sites in the Zion Crossroads area.

The first hearing was for the old Cosner Brothers location. M&M Salvage owns the property and trying to rezone the front part to I-1 and the back portion to I-2.

The property currently has a zoning violation issued against it for non-conforming use. The property is being used by contractors for the Colonial Gas Pipeline, per the owner. County staff has ruled it is being used as a contractor’s yard, which is a by-right use for an industrially zone property but the property is currently zoned A-1.

“I think you are able to consider this [a violation],” said Fred Payne, county attorney, to the supervisors.

Next to the property is a small cluster subdivision, Fox Glen. Residents continually complain to staff of work consistent with a contractor’s yard.

“People are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their property and it is being interrupted,” said Charles Hess, who lives in the subdivision.

Residents have complained of the loud noises and lights used to work early in the morning and evenings. One complaint listed a 1 a.m. start time.

“This I-1 and I-2 use next to the residential is less than ideal,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

Supervisors denied the rezoning 5-0. The owner filed an appeal of the non-conforming use to the Board of Zoning Appeals. BZA will hear the case on May 15.

LKQ is coming to town thanks to approval of its special use permit, 5-0. The supervisors added provisions to increase buffer areas near residents and restrictions on hours of operation.

The property was previously rezoned, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, in December. The property is located behind the Cosner Brothers property and was once the back half of Cosner. It is 90 acres.

Residents of Fox Glen aren’t exactly touching it but the subdivision is about 200-300 feet from the property line. LKQ offered to increase its buffer from 50 feet from property line to 75 feet. The company will build an eight-foot fence and plant trees.

LKQ is a salvage yard company that recycles parts mostly from totaled cars. The company buys cars wholesale then goes through the cars to sell parts to repair cars.

The company will fill the property with stripped cars and once it needs more space, it crushes cars. Supervisors put restrictions on hours the company can work in yard to pull parts. Restrictions were also placed on crushing cars to six days a week. Work inside the building have no restrictions.

“This is a very clean facility,” said resident William Hensley, who toured a similar LKQ facility.

LKQ is expected to pay $200,000 to $300,000 in taxes. A penny of real estate taxes is less than $300,000.

“I would love to keep Fluvanna green,” said resident Tom Payne. “But we are going to have to keep Fluvanna with another green (money).”

Some neighbors still were not pleased of the salvage yard coming to town.

“Would you like your daughter or son or grandkids to live there?” said Jeff Wagner.

Katie Ward, said she purchased the neighboring property months after Fluvanna started negotiations with LKQ, “We were robbed to have our voices heard.”

Ward distributed flyers before the meeting of a FOIA request she had that showed the county in discussions with LKQ as far back as February 2017.

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will meet on April 4 for a regular session at 4 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. public hearing session on the budget.

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

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County

Albemarle Mission Creeping Planning Commission

FORUM WATCH EDITORIALcreeping

By. Neil Williamson, President

After a January 2018 determination found that 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors are illegal, the Board of Supervisors has yet to act on a resolution of intent to fix this issue.

In this vacuum, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission decided they don’t need no stinking Architectural Review Board – they can mission creep far beyond their state mandated advisory role and institute architectural demands on projects regardless of their location.

Please let me explain.

First it is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects.  The examples below are used to show a broken process, we do not have an opinion regarding the applications’ individual merit.

Example #1

During the Architectural Review Board review of a project (SP-2017-00016) in the Scottsville District on Avon Street Extended, it was determined that Avon Street Extended is not an arterial roadway (a requirement for an Entrance Corridor designation).  The applicant went through the initial review without this knowledge and after the determination was made, the planning commission was briefed.  Based on the applicant’s testimony at the Planning Commission, it was clear they were never told that they were not under the ARB regulations.  Only late in the public hearing did the Deputy County Attorney mention that the applicant would not need to go back to the ARB for a final review.

Instead, the mission creeping Planning Commission seeking to achieve ARB-type control created a new class of conditions to codify the architecture as a part of a special use permit for a body shop.

b. Additional fenestration or architectural features shall be added along the “02 Left Elevation (South)” façade to provide a pedestrian orientation to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning or his/her designee. Priority should be given to providing additional fenestration or a combination of wall plantings, architectural features and fenestration along this particular elevation. [emphasis in original – nw]

Conditions in a Special Use Permit generally mitigate negative impacts on adjoining property owners, taking this to mean architectural elements is a LARGE LEAP beyond normal review.

Example #2

The following week, the Planning Commission considered a Special Use Permit application  for a new church on Rio Road East (SP201700010).  Rio Road East has never been established as an entrance corridor; it is mentioned as a corridor for possible entrance corridor consideration in the Comprehensive Plan (Page 5.20).

Strategy 8f: Consider additional EC designations as appropriate, or as road classifications change, for roads such as the John Warner Parkway, Route 614 (Sugar Hollow Road), Route 692/712 (Plank Road), and Route 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike).

It is important to note there has been no resolution of intent or any other forward motion on making the John Warner Parkway an Entrance Corridor beyond the notation above in the 2015 guiding planning document.

That mere mention is enough for this activist Planning Commission to mission creep into mandating architectural features as a function of the Special Use Permit process.  In this case now they have precedent, based on the SUP they railroaded the week before (Example #1).  Honestly, the applicant never knew what hit him.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the mission creeping Planning Commission is unchecked in its power grab beyond state code.  As an advisory body, nothing becomes final until accepted by the Board of Supervisors.

When the Board of Supervisors considers these applications later this year, will any Supervisor (or County Counsel) raise the red flag regarding these architectural demands absent a significant community benefit OR a strong legal nexus?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay Tuned,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: Bartblog.bartcop.com