Category Archives: economic development

Preddy Gables Seek Proffer Amendment from GC PC

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Preddy Gables, LLC came before the Greene County Planning Commission at their September meeting (9/20/17) to file a rezoning application to amend the proffers approved on July 13, 2004 (RZ#04-152). The goal of the proffer amendment is to remove the proffer regarding tying the number of apartments to be developed to the development of retail space.

Currently the property located on Terrace Greene Drive / Seminole Trail, due to the ratio in the existing proffer, can only develop 276 units of which there currently are 260 units in existence. Under the new proffer, the total number of units would remain unchanged but the development of those units would no longer be tied to the construction of additional commercial space.  In addition, the proffer amendment increases the amenities and restricts the size of units in the last phase to be no larger than two bedroom. units.

This would be the last phase of the development and was displayed to develop the property that is lower in elevation and closer to Route 29.

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Terrace Greene Apartments- Phase II

Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda presented the project to the Planning Commission (less Chairman Jay Willer who was absent from the meeting). Svoboda indicated that there were no concerns from any of the agencies reporting and that all of the infrastructure was done originally to accommodate the full development.

Chris Gordon, a representative of the management firm working of the project, reviewed a conceptual rendering of the project. It showed the new section would be below the existing section and he also indicated that the existing structures are fully occupied.

Gordon continued on to explain that the new structure would have several different features – parking would be underneath the structure rather than surface parking, this would require elevators to be used rather than staircases. While not specifically built for older populations, it would be more convenient and easier to access the units in the new structure.

In addition a new pool, work out room and – something that existing renters have requested – a dog run to allow tenants to let their dogs “off-leash” to exercise are all part of the proposal. Gordon stated that the developer has not contacted adjoining landowners yet, as they wanted the feedback from the Planning Commission before taking their idea to the “neighbors”.

As a public hearing, the meeting was opened to the public and there was no one to comment.

In conjunction with this public hearing there was a second public hearing to address revising the height limit in Residential District (R-2) in Article 6 from 40 feet to 50 feet.

County Zoning Ordinance – Article 6, Residential District, R-2, 6-7 HEIGHT REGULATIONS Buildings may be erected up to forty (40) feet in height

This change would allow the new structure to raise up the 42 feet planned (2 feet in excess of the current height allowed).

The height discussion among the commissioners was mixed. While the feeling was that this particular project would use this higher limit to benefit a hillside, however other future projects may not have this topography and therefore it would actually rise 50 feet up from the sight line.

The Planning Commission approved the request to amend the proffers 5-0 and approved the change to the Residential District height by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner Frank Morris voting against the change in height.

Based on the change in State law, the commissioners completely ignored the issue of the original proffer ratio of residential vs. commercial property. They did not ask the developer about any future plans for commercial development. The law, known as Senate Bill 549, was signed by Governor McAuliffe in March, 2016.  It restricts both the subject matter and manner in which localities may accept proffers in residential zoning actions.

Instead, the commissioners discussed the existing units being “sold out” and that this would bring more additional housing to Greene County. By itself that is good, but that opens the question of the increased  demand of infrastructure on the county, especially schools.

In their letter supporting the rezoning the applicant provided evidence of limited impact on schools:

The existing apartment units at Terrace Greene are home to school teachers, policemen and countless other residents who contribute to the local community. Terrace Greene’s 260 apartments currently have only twenty (20) children residing there, and developing the last 90 units within an elevator building having no three-bedroom units is less likely to appeal to families with small children than the existing 90-unit plan being amended–meaning that these amended proffers are likely to reduce school impacts.  Given that, the economic development and other benefits, this new concept for the final project phase will, like the existing units at Terrace Greene, have a net positive impact–fiscally and more generally –for Greene County.

Balancing the need for housing in Greene and the cost of providing government service to the new housing is an important consideration; as is protecting property rights.

Interestingly, many potential business expansions use the number of “rooftops” in determining the viability of new locations.  One need only look to the recently released Sales Tax data from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce to see how the commercial landscape of  Greene County has changed.   In 2006, the total sales tax revenue was $867,433. In 2017 (January-June) the amount was $934,396 in just six months.

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

Photo Credit: http://terracegreene.com/photos.html

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Greene PC Recommends Approval of US29 Rezoning

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

US29 North (Subject Parcel to the right)

US 29 North (Subject parcel to the right)

One of the larger Ruckersville tracts (16.404 acres) is seeking a rezone from A-1, Agriculture to B-3, Business. The potential buyers of the parcel that lies between two B-3 parcels on the east side of Route 29 just north of the parcel that has several businesses including Early & Powell law firm came to the August Greene County Planning Commission meeting to request the rezoning to expand the potential uses of the property.

Potential purchasers, Darrell & Brandon Payne, along with George Tennyson (the current owner) are looking to rezone the property to allow more business options.

County Planning Director Bart Svoboda reviewed the request with the commission explaining that the parcel has B-3 zoning on either side of the parcel and it sits opposite of Blue Ridge Café and the former Wayne Homes business. The rezoning would make the parcel more marketable as a commercial property and with the stream going down the middle of the property it probably isn’t as suitable for residential development.

Svoboda continued stating that the rezoning is supported by the Comprehensive Plan and that the proposed uses would have no impact on the school system. The applicant representative, engineer Justin Stimp, agreed that the stream going down the middle of the property presents design challenges but he feels that there can be commercial development along Route 29 west of the stream and then possibly storage units to the east of the stream with a roadway following the stream.

Stimp addressed the access to the parcel and felt that a right in / right out heading northbound would be acceptable at the beginning of the project since there is no current crossover. The possibility also exists to tie into Deane Road south of the parcel to have a crossover available to head southbound.

The hearing then was open to the public with one speaker, Matthew Woodson, addressing the commission.  Woodson has several interests in the parcel – he is part owner of the parcel to the south – Piedmont Commons – and he represents the seller of the property seeking rezoning. He definitely supports the rezoning and hopes that having more B-3, business property, will help development along the Route 29 corridor leading into Ruckersville. Commissioner Frank Morris asked about connecting the property requesting rezoning through his property (to connect to Deane Road) and Woodson was agreeable to the interconnectivity.

Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer asked Svoboda if there would be a need for water connectivity (the line runs on the west side of Route 29, the opposite side of the rezoning). Svoboda indicated that if an office with a restroom was constructed with the storage units (what this plan shows as the first development) then a hook up would be required.

The rezone request was approved 3-0 with Commissioners John McCloskey and Steven Kruskamp absent.  Willer explained to the applicant that the approval of the Planning Commission was a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and the Supervisors would review the request in the next few months.

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

Photo Credit: Google Street View

Greene Supervisors Endorse Schools Project Fund Application

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Last night (7/25), the Greene County School Board presented their Phase I proposal for updating the Greene Schools facilities to the Board of Supervisors. The School Board requested the Supervisors endorse the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) application for funding for the project . VPSA offers options for market financing with competitive interest rates.

clip_image004Greene County Schools Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh addressed the Board and summarized the process that began 31 months ago with the formation of a community committee to review all the school facilities in the county and make recommendations. The total recommendation is broken down into three phases with Phase I currently being requested for funding.

Kristie Spencer, Director of Business and Facilities added the retirements by year to her previous financial presentation. And then she showed the impact of consuming the $2.81 million excess capital funds that have been accumulated by underspending schools budgets in the past few years.

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Kristie Spencer

Spencer also pointed out that the first payment would not have to be made until July, 2018, which will allow for more debt to be paid down. Per Spencer, there are several options on how to structure the debt repayment that VPSA may allow. The length can be 25 or 30 years, the debt could be back loaded, etc. Greene County can make suggestions but the final decision is made by VPSA.clip_image008

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked Spencer why would the school board not use the excess capital funds to reduce the higher debt in the beginning of the repayment schedule?

Spencer stated that there may be other capital projects to use the funds. Martin suggested using the $2.81 million excess capital funds for the school project since it would have a large financial impact at the beginning of the repayment schedule, until more debt is paid off.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) thanked Spencer for the detailed planning with all of the options presented in a format easy to understand. Supervisor Martin complimented Frydl on his idea several years ago to accumulate unspent funds for future capital projects.

Jim Frydl

Frydl asked Whitmarsh if the Supervisors agreed to endorse the VPSA application could the project be put out to bid? Robert Moje, one of the principals of VMDO, the architects working on the project – agreed that it is important to move forward quickly to minimize cost increases and raising interest rates. However, funds must be available in order to enter into contracts.

Spencer indicated that there are still several steps to occur and that it would be November, 2017 before the bonds would be sold and the costs finalized.  Moje clarified that this should be accomplished by November 6th.

Frydl asked Moje how long he expected the request for bids to be out. Moje said that it typically takes a month with the goal to have the funding and the quotes come in at the same time. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) asked Moje if he expected any problems in getting bids for the project. Moje anticipated that the project should get multiple bids.

Chairman Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) stated that Greene County doesn’t have other separate facilities – and therefore the school buildings are very important assets beyond their primary function of providing classrooms to the students. The Board unanimously agreed to approve the request of the School Board to endorse the VPSA application.

Finally, as Moje was departing the meeting, he addressed the Board and said that it is rare that a community works as well together as Greene County did on this project.

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

Ruckersville’s Zoning Evolution

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In the not so distant past, the Ruckersville corner (US 29 intersection with Route 33) of Greene County was best known for a cluster of small antique shops, restaurants, and a couple of gas stations.  The 2010 opening of The Gateway Center, the success of several mom and pop businesses, and infrastructure investment in water and sewer have fundamentally changed the potential economic opportunity of the area.

Many of the existing zoning designations reflect the intersection’s former self.  This zoning disconnect was the issue before the July Planning Commission meeting.

Applicant John Silke, who owns several Ruckersville properties, requested to rezone (RZ#17-002clip_image002) a 1.59 acre parcel on Route 29 South, north of Route 33 – roughly midway between Wal-mart and Lowes. The parcel (60-(A)-20A) was zoned from A-1 to B-2 with some proffers nearly 20 years ago when water and sewer was not available. With those services now available, there is no need to exclude those items via proffers.

Cattails Creek  was the most recent commercial tenant for the property. That business has now vacated the property and Silke is looking to rezone to B-3 to allow for more tenant business options.

Planning Director Bart Svoboda reviewed the request pointing out that all the surrounding parcels, including those on the northbound US 29, are zoned B-3. There is currently an intersection of US 29 and Enterprise Drive with only a right hand turn in and out. There is a crossover to Route 29 northbound at Stoneridge Drive, just south of Silke’s property.

Svoboda also pointed out that the county’s Comprehensive Plan supports economic development in this section of the county.

Staff recommended approval of the rezone but he pointed out that the proffers currently in effect would no longer be in effect with the rezone to B-3.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Svoboda about roadways near the property. Svoboda said “Interconnectivity to the parcel located to the north will be required during the site development plan review. Staff will work with the applicant, the adjacent property owner, and project engineers to ensure the interconnectivity access is planned to provide the optimal ingress/egress for all individuals.”

Commissioner Bill Saunders asked about the proffers back in 1999. Svoboda indicated that in 1999 the property was solely used as a private residence and, therefore, some of the proffers restricted uses that a private residence wouldn’t need. But now this property has a rental unit upstairs and the lower level has had other commercial entities and the B-3 classification is logical.

Commissioner John McCloskey encouraged Silke to find a new business for the first floor. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the SUP request and will forward this request to the Board of Supervisors.

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 May Cut Rural Regulatory Red Tape

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”- Thomas Jefferson

Considering Albemarle County is 95% rural areas, it is perhaps appropriate that the Comprehensive Plan’s Rural Area Chapter has as Objective 1 “Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy”.

It seems completely counter intuitive the hoops farmers must go through to sell their agricultural products in Albemarle.  In 2010, the Board of Supervisors made Farmer’s Markets a Special Use Permit (SUP) AND required a site plan.  This is a most involved process.

On Tuesday (7/11) evening the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss what, if any, regulatory reforms they wish to recommend to the Board of Supervisors.

For those unfamiliar with the SUP process it is as bureaucratic as it sounds.

From the staff report:

Currently, the applicant must submit a site plan. This plan may propose to contain less detailed information then required by the site plan chapter.  When the plan is submitted it is referred to the Site Review Committee. The members of the Committee may request additional information or they may recommend approval. The plan is then processed along with the special use permit and presented to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors must then act on the site plan to authorize the reduced level of detail. . .

. . . the current ordinance requires the plan to be distributed to the full site plan committee. This means that the Albemarle County Service Authority and Architectural Review Board receive the plan even if their review is not required. The Health Department also receives the plan twice, once during the plan review and again prior to clearance. This double review is not necessary as the Health Department’s only comment during the plan review is that it will need to review the site plan prior to issuance of a clearance.

Virgina had 90 farmers markets in 2005, has 250 in 2017Is it any wonder that there have only been four applications for farmer’s markets since 2010.  This is in direct opposition to the statewide trend.

Staff is right in recommending a so called ‘Sketch Plan’ be sufficient for this use.  The Free Enterprise Forum was surprised when the North Garden Farmer’s market came before the Board of Supervisors, an engineer had volunteered to assist with the application.  Absent that professional support, it is not clear the application would have reached the Board.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds the lower regulatory hurdle of the ‘sketch’ plan over the site plan – the larger question is shouldn’t this be a “By Right” use.

For over thirty years, Albemarle’s comprehensive plan has discussed supporting agricultural enterprises – are these just words?  From the Comprehensive Plan:

Strategy 1d: Continue to assist Rural Area property owners to diversify agricultural activities, including helping to connect local farms with local consumers

We respectfully request Farmer’s Markets become a by right use that requires a zoning clearance (>$100) that can be processed administratively.

Only then will Albemarle be living up to their Comprehensive Plan goal:

Objective 1: Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy.

Please join me in asking the Albemarle County Planning Commission to cut the red tape and make Farmers’ Markets a by right use in the rural areas.

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: Virginia Farm Bureau

Greene Seeks To Address Define Blight

Near the end of the June 27th Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting Alan Yost, Director of Economic Development and Tourism, made a presentation regarding a potential “Blight” ordinance.

Alan Yost

County Administrator, John Barkley, started the discussion with the goal to try to compel businesses to improve and to dress up the Route 29 corridor. There are some properties on Route 29 that are significant problems and give a poor image to people passing through Greene County.

Alan Yost addressed the Board and told them that the top two questions he gets from residents are – is there an Olive Garden coming to Greene and what can be done to address buildings in poor condition? Yost said he has researched many counties in Virginia to see how they identify blighted businesses and what ordinances they use to address them.

What he has found is that blighted property is incapable of being utilized without outside intervention. And some property cannot be improved for various reasons, such as the owner is absentee and has no interest in making the property better. Another third reason is that the property has no market value – this rationale would likely fit the northeast corner in Ruckersville since the parcel is too small to have a business placed on it.

Yost went on to explain that not only is the specific property a problem, but neighboring property is devalued. As traffic goes up and down Route 29 what is seen becomes their perception of Greene County and seeing blighted property gives a poor image of the county. Yost explained that the owners of the northwest corner of Routes 29 and 33 had the “hotel rooms” demolished right after they learned of the possibility of action related to blighted property. clip_image002

Yost further explained that he researched many counties and found Middlesex County’s treatment of blighted property as a good starting point.  He suggested that the Board set ground rules for the community patterned after Middlesex County’s.

Interestingly, Albemarle County recently dealt with this issue and chose simply to utilize existing state law that allows permits a locality to hold a public hearing and declare the property as blighted.

From the Albemarle staff report:

Virginia Code § 36-49.1:1 enables localities to identify and remedy “spot blight.” Virginia Code § 36-3 defines “blighted property” as:
“[A]ny individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that endangers the public’s health , safety, or welfare because the structure or improvement upon the property is dilapidated, deteriorated, or violates minimum health or safety standards, or any structure or improvement previously designated as blighted pursuant to § 36-49.1:1, under the process for determination of ‘spot blight.’”

This enabling authority authorizes a locality’s chief executive (or designee) to determine that a property is blighted, and require the owner to develop an abatement plan within 30 days. If the owner fails to respond within 30 days with an acceptable abatement plan, the chief executive may request that the Board adopt a specific uncodified ordinance declaring the property as blighted.

Once the owner has been provided written notice of the ordinance and the locality’s abatement plan, the locality may carry out the approved plan to repair or acquire and dispose of the property. If the ordinance is adopted by the Board, the locality shall have a lien on the property to recover its costs of repairing or acquiring property under an approved spot blight abatement plan.

Interestingly, this provision of state code was not a part of the discussion in Greene.

Barkley suggested that either a public hearing or a work session be scheduled as the next step. Yost asked that Barkley review the ordinance from Middlesex County and modify it for consideration by Greene County.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked that care be given to this issue since it deals with property rights. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) asked Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda how Stanardsville handles blighted property and Svoboda indicated that they have their own standards. It was suggested that Svoboda review how Stanardville handles blighted property and come back to the Board for further discussion.

Considering the balance between property rights and community health, safety and welfare, the Board may be challenged to create an ordinance that accomplishes their goals of property improvement without significantly limiting the landowners rights. Considering their limited goals, Greene may be wise to examine the provision in the existing state code for Spot blight.

The real question is how will blighted property be determined and addressed by whatever ordinance is developed and what penalties will be put in place to ensure action is taken.

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 Adding Debt and Reducing Regulations to Boost ZXR Development Potential

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors are adding another $8.5 million to the county’s debt total.

The supervisors voted 4-0 to finance $8.5 million for the Zion Crossroads water and sewer project.Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) had a pre-planned absence.

Current estimates has the project at over $10 million. The remaining amount will be paid in cash from the county’s reserves.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) wanted to include in the financing the first year’s payment but it failed to reach a second. Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) moved to pay the first year’s payment in cash. This payment was not budgeted for in FY18.

The supervisors originally applied and were approved for $8.5 million through the Virginia Resource Authority but debated on financing less than the full amount. The county’s reserves are sitting at $4.8 million above policy of keeping 12 percent of the budget in reserves. This additional amount above policy is called the ‘fund balance.’

With financing of $8.5 million for the project, the county will still pay $1.7 million in cash from the fund balance.

“Flexibility [in the cash balance] is important. $2 million is not a lot of flexibility,” said O’Brien.

The county’s debt total will be over $100 million. Starting in FY19 the county will be retiring $6 to $7 million a year of debt.

Also at the June 21 meeting, the supervisors approved a number of changes in the the zoning ordinances.

The only one not to get an unanimous vote was the one regarding planning unit developments. Fluvanna still does not have an approved PUD and only one has come to a vote, Walker’s Ridge.

The changes would restrict PUDs to the Zion Crossroads community planning area and would require use of public water and sewer. O’Brien raised concern if a developer needed more capacity than the county could offer at the time, it would stop development.

County staff said if a developer wanted a PUD, the developer would help finance an expansion of the system to make it work.

Wayne Stephens, director of public works, said he thought it would be a huge mistake to allow people to build a private system in a community planning area.

O’Brien envisioned a scenario where the developer would have a private system that later would connect when the capacity would allow.

“Trust me, if you have an out…someone will take it,” said Stephens.

The ordinance change passed 3-1 with O’Brien against it.

The other zoning text amendments passed without dissension. The sign ordinance became less restrictive including allowing larger signs in the Zion Crossroads urban development area. The ZXR sign overlay district will have similar dimensions as Louisa County but slightly smaller.

The other change was increasing the maximum height of Industrial 2 zoned properties. It also will now require less setback unless bordering a residential zoned property.

All of the changes are geared to helping development in the Zion Crossroads’ area with the anticipating of the aforementioned planned water system.

In other news, the supervisors approved the county applying for a grant to build a fire training tower building at the Fork Union Fire Station. The goal of the application is for the county’s match to be provided by staff work or already budget resources instead of additional cash contribution.

The supervisors approved a new private secondary school at the old ABC Preschool by Slice Road. The facility is a six week program geared to helping students return to the public school classroom by working on social skills and classwork. The private school has agreements with Fluvanna, Albemarle, Charlottesville, Greene, Nelson and Madison already.

The board transferred money to pay for county attorney services. The FY17 projected cost is $273,000. The county’s attorney costs have increased each of the last four years. The supervisors briefly discussed during the budget season hiring a full time county attorney, however that discussion didn’t go far.

Also at the June 21 meeting the supervisors extended the contract for the county attorney services at the same rates as the current fiscal year.

The supervisors will next meet on July 5 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The supervisors have no second meeting in July. A public hearing on issuance of the ZXR bonds will be on the 7 p.m. docket.


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

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credit: Fluvanna County

Charlottesville’s Engagement Problem

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlottesville deserves better.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Hiphealthy.com

Sprawl Wars–One Rouge

By. Neil Williamson, President

Reminding me of the old Don Imus bit “Which Doesn’t Belong and Why”, this Thursday evening I will be joining Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin and Piedmont Environmental Council’s Charlottesville-Albemarle Land Use Officer Jeff Werner on a panel discussing “How Zoning and Land Use Shape The World Around Us”.  This FREE event is a non-partisan project of The Democratic Road Forward PAC.

At the outset, I must complement the other panelists both of whom are well respected in their professional and political fields.  I have known Werner and Galvin for many years; we disagree strongly about some things, but we have always had interesting, positive conversations/debates.  I anticipate Thursday will be equally interesting.

While the Free Enterprise Form is pleased to be invited to the panel, some of the promotion for the event already has me scratching my head. Rather than focusing on the more cerebral zoning and land use, the organizers are touting “URBAN SPRAWL” Here is the blurb from the website:

2017UGsession6_4

“Decades of unplanned and carelessly applied zoning gave rise to urban sprawl”, I have to disagree.

Sure the zoning regulations and their enforcement had an impact on neighborhood expansion, but market demand, improved mobility, automobile affordability, as well as the advancement of women in the workplace were significant contributors to sprawling neighborhoods.

Blaming the previous planning is evidence of the arrogant planner’s paradox — if only the community planned better we would be a better community – planning is good but product must have a market or it does not get built.  The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe most planners have a wide enough world view when it comes to planning alternatives.

In his paper, Urban Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Deliberative Democracy, David B. Resnik, JD, PhD wrote:

Urban sprawl in the United States has its origins in the flight to the suburbs that began in the 1950s. People wanted to live outside of city centers to avoid traffic, noise, crime, and other problems, and to have homes with more square footage and yard space. As suburban areas developed, cities expanded in geographic size faster than they grew in population. This trend has produced large metropolitan areas with low population densities, interconnected by roads. Residents of sprawling cities tend to live in single-family homes and commute to work, school, or other activities by automobile.

The concept of living in a suburban neighborhood has been a dream for many American families.  The advent of affordable automobiles and gasoline provided America the greatest independent mobility in the world.  People could choose to live out in the country and still make it into the urban areas to work.  Today, environmental groups and academics have successfully attached a negative connotation to the “American Dream” of owning a house with a yard by using the term ‘sprawl’.

“Sprawl features rapid geographic expansion of metropolitan areas in a “leapfrog,” low density pattern, segregation of distinct land uses, heavy dependence on automobile travel with extensive road construction, architectural and social homogeneity, shift of capital investment and economic opportunity from the city center the the periphery, and relatively weak regional planning.”
Rollins School of Public Heath, Emory University

“Sprawl is irresponsible, often poorly-planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic and air pollution, crowds schools, and drives up taxes.” –The Sierra Club

Local and State Governments have joined in the anti-sprawl movement mainly for economic reasons – it is significantly more efficient to deliver government services (Schools, Police, Fire, Etc.) to a densely populated area rather than geographically dispersed.

In a fascinating piece of creative lexicon, the term ‘Smart Growth’ worked its way into the planning sphere in the 1990s.  Like ‘Clean Water’ these positive terms, work subliminally to support their own cause i.e.: if you are opposed to ‘smart growth’ you must favor ‘dumb growth’.  Recently many of  ‘smart growth’ proponents have shifted lexicon to be supportive of “Form Based Zoning”, “Sustainable Cities” and of course Charlottesville’s  “Streets that Work”.

One of the premier new urbanist evangelists is Andrés Duany, whose firm DPZ was hired by Charlottesville last year to develop their Form Based Code.  Duany has co-authored five books: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, The New Civic Art, “The Smart Growth Manual”, “Garden Cities” and “Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents”.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes there is a market for Form Based Codes and New Urbanism; but there is also a market for old urbanism and suburbanism.  Just as we were supportive of Albemarle’s neighborhood model as ONE model not THE model, we believe zoning should not be crafted to prevent the last bad thing from happening again it should be built to allow the next great place to be built.  Neither sprawl or the automobile should be seen as planners’ enemy.

In his seminal book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Myths, Randal O’Toole wrote:

Sprawl is one of those invented problems. Low-density suburbanization–which is what people usually mean when they say “sprawl”–not only is not responsible for most of the problems that its critics charge, it is the solution to many of the problems that sprawl opponents claim they want to solve.

The war on sprawl is really a war on American lifestyles. It combines a war on the suburbs that house half of all Americans with a war on the automobiles that carry Americans four out of every five miles they travel. Yet the suburbs provide an ideal medium between rural open spaces and crowded cities while occupying just 2 percent of the nation’s land. Meanwhile, for most urban-length trips, the automobile is the fastest, most convenient, and most economical form of personal transportation ever devised.

Americans live in a wide range of possible lifestyles. A fourth of all U.S. residents live in rural areas away from any cities or towns. Another 10 percent live in small towns that are far from major urban areas. While 65 percent of Americans live in urbanized areas of 50,000 people or more, just a third of those live in the central cities such as New York, Seattle, or Dallas. Urbanized lifestyles range from low-density suburbs through medium-density edge cities to high-density city centers. All of these are valid lifestyle choices and they work for the people who live there.

To be clear, any land use regulation worth of the name is a restriction of property rights.  Interestingly, those same regulations provide a level of protection for the property rights (and property values) of others.  The question is how intensely you regulate.

  • Should local government determine where you should put your dumpster?
  • Should local government determine what color red should be in the Red Lobster sign?
  • Should local government mandate expansive sidewalks, bike lanes and street trees?
  • Should local government encourage economic development by reducing regulation?
  • How much power should neighbors have directing development nearby?
  • How does zoning impact neighborhood ethnic and income diversity?  Should it?

These are the type of questions I hope we get to discuss on Thursday night.  The answers will shape how our community chooses to prosper and grow, or not.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Charlottesville Mistaken & Mistimed Mandate

Adapted from comments to the Charlottesville Planning Commission May 9, 2017

By.  Neil Williamson, President

unintended-consequencesThe Free Enterprise Forum often speaks of unintended consequences of proposed legislation. We believe staff’s current recommendation regarding regulations around forgiving developer fees heads Charlottesville in the wrong direction.

Please let me explain.

In 2003, fourteen years ago, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development said:

Most housing professionals agree that concentrating assisted-housing for low- and very low-income Americans in dense, urban areas is not an effective use of scarce affordable housing resources. Over the past decade, professionals in the affordable housing industry have turned increasingly to mixed-income housing as an alternative to traditional assisted-housing initiatives. Mixed-income housing is an attractive option because, in addition to creating housing units for occupancy by low-income households, it also contributes to the diversity and stability of American communities.

There have been numerous successful mixed-income developments nationwide. State and local governments have developed incentive programs and initiatives to promote mixed-income housing. In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided support for public housing authorities to de-concentrate traditional public housing in favor of the development of mixed-income housing. In addition, HUD funding from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program can also be a valuable resource for states and local jurisdictions to finance mixed-income housing initiatives, or to develop, design and implement new mixed-income housing programs that address local housing needs. HOME funds are specifically designed to be flexible in order to meet local housing needs.

In practice, I have seen Charlottesville intentionally moving toward more mixed income neighborhoods as a tapestry of price points for the communities being developed.

Why then would staff recommend the following:

To ensure the affordable units are actually provided in new developments, staff recommends no Certificates of Occupancy be issued until the City confirms the affordable units have been developed and the developer has entered into an agreement with the City that these units will remain affordable for a specified period of time.

While this may look good on paper, the reality is that by DEMANDING the developer build the affordable units prior to receiving certificates of occupancy for the market rate units virtually guarantees the affordable units will not be mixed with market rate rather will be concentrated in one portion of the project. Further, by positioning the affordable units first in the pipeline this well intentioned requirement would create significant financing challenges for the development project as a whole.

If the Planning Commission is committed to mixed income communities that are truly mixed, the Free Enterprise Forum requests that you strike this language and move forward with the concept of development fee forgiveness as a small step to address the larger housing affordability crisis in our region.

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.

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