Category Archives: economics

Albemarle’s Prophylactic Proffer Policy

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from Comments to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors March 7, 2018

Good afternoon, my name is Neil Williamson with the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded Public Policy organization focused on local government in Central Virginia.

This afternoon you will receive a detailed report from your Residential Development Impact Work Group regarding the Proffer reform legislation that became effective in July of 2016. The bulk of their recommendation is to pursue enabling legislation for impact fees at the General Assembly.

For the last thirty six months or so, Albemarle (and many other localities across the Commonwealth) have had a Prophylactic Proffer Policy that prevented the types of rezonings envisioned in your Comprehensive Plan from moving forward.

In a related development, all of this year’s proffer legislation in the General Assembly has been set aside for this session with the promise of a “Proffer Party” this summer to discuss solutions with all stakeholders.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been concerned about proffers (also known as a ‘Welcome Stranger’ tax) for a very long time. I have provided each of you a copy of our 2013 Contradictory Consequences report. It is interesting that the three case studies internal to the report are now entering the market.

As you contemplate your advocacy for residential impact fees that will drive up the cost of housing, we have a few questions:

  • How would you grade Albemarle’s efforts to fund the infrastructure promised in your own Comprehensive Plan?
  • Considering the unintended consequences of getting the very type of development you don’t want, are proffers or impact fees worth it?
  • With the community growing at a predictable (and sustainable) rate of about 2% annually, how has Albemarle’s infrastructure spending properly prepared for this growth?

It is clear the siren’s song of cash proffers and impact fees is very strong for elected officials. The idea of generating revenue from new home buyers (who are not yet voters) to “pay their way” is too good to be true.

The negative impacts of cash proffers and impact fees as documented in our report include tearing up the community vision as expressed in the Comprehensive Plan. Cash Proffers and Impact Fees produce a plethora of contradictory consequences without achieving significant community benefit.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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: Charlottesville Tomorrow


Greene Planning Commission Considers Expanding Tourism

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County’s Board of Supervisors asked the Planning Commission to look at including Tourist Lodging in the Residential (R-1) zoning district. Planner Stephanie Golon outlined the proposed revision to the zoning ordinance explaining that several citizens have requested this change to have Travel Lodging as a by right use.

Golon explained that Transit Occupational Tax (TOT)  has increased the past three years from $174,000 to last year hitting $226,000. Tourist Lodging is defined as having no more than 5 guest rooms in each structure and no more than 4 events can be held per year. Most of the R-1 areas are Ruckersville, Stanardsville, Dyke, Lydia and subdivisions such as Greene Mountain Lake.

Some negative aspects of this use is that it takes away from commercial lodging and the transient nature of the dwelling takes away from the nature of a residential neighborhood. Golon also clarified that a development’s HOA (homeowners association) may have more stringent rules than the county which might bar tourism lodging in their neighborhood.

Chairman Jay Willer clarified that most of the funds go to support tourism rather than come to the county as tax revenue. Ms. Golon added that the Commissioner of Revenue works with owners of the properties to collect the proper taxes. Also, each property must be in compliance and pay the proper taxes to have their property advertised by the EDA.

Willer’s main concern was the granting of four (4) events per year in a residential neighborhood and he would prefer that a Special Use Permit (SUP) be required in order to hold an event in R-1. Planning Director Bart Svoboda explained that there is a 100 foot set back requirement but Willer still had a concern that noise isn’t limited to 100 feet.

Willer agreed that some properties may be large enough to allow the event with minimal noise problems, but others in dense neighborhoods would have the noise carry to many properties. If the revision is allowed then there is no control while a SUP will provide flexibility in deciding to allow the event or not. After discussion with the Commission, Svoboda and Golon it was unanimously agreed to defer action until next month and the staff would add the SUP requirement for the R-1 zone.

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

Greene PC Recommends Rezoning To Fix Split Zoning

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

A “Split Zone” sounds like a complex defensive pass coverage for one of the upcoming NFL playoff games but in zoning parlance split zoning is when a single parcel has two different zoning designations.

Thomas Morris owns such a parcel that is currently split 5.14 acres R-1, residential, 3.47 acres A-1 Agricultural.  Morris came to the January 17, 2018 meeting of the Greene County  Planning Commission requesting all of his parcel be rezoned to A-1, agriculture.  This change would allow subdivision of the parcel and permit mobile homes.

The parcel requesting the rezone is in the western end of Greene County on Snow Hill Road off of Bacon Hollow Road (Tax Map 46-(A)-43B). The reason for the request is to be able to rent two additional mobile homes in addition to the current two units onto the 8 acre parcel.  Mobile homes are not a permitted dwelling unit in the current R-1 zoning.   Although, Morris plans on only adding one additional mobile home at this point he wants to have the ability to rent two.


Stephanie Golon

Planner Stephanie Golon presented the request to the Planning Commission explaining that the rezone will allow Morris to place one mobile per two acres and that the A-1 zoning in this location is in synch with the Comprehensive Plan.

Commissioner John McCloskey commented that the property was originally zoned R-1 many years ago but there has been no development and therefore rezoning to A-1 doesn’t reduce the density of the parcel.

Chairman Jay Willer commented that the zoning can be changed in the future if needed. At that point the motion to recommend approval to the Board of Supervisors was passed 4-0, since Commissioner William Sounder was absent from the meeting. The January meeting was also Commissioner Ron Willams first Planning Commission meeting.

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

Free Enterprise Forum 2017 Top 10

By. Neil Williamson

top ten listWell, 2017 is the year many in Central Virginia would like to forget.  Beyond the far reaching ramifications of the year when Charlottesville became a verb on the national stage, The Free Enterprise Forum remained focused on monitoring local government, reducing regulatory burdens, promoting market based solutions, protecting property rights, and encouraging economic vitality.

None of this could be accomplished without the generous support of our donors and our regular readers. Thank you.  As we embark on our fifteenth year of operation,we remain vigilant, and “pleasantly” persistent.

Each year, we select the top ten blog posts for our year in review.  There were many other blog posts that reached honorable mention status.  I would be remiss if I did not thank our Field Officers Brent Wilson (Greene County) and Bryan Rothamel (Fluvanna County) for their significant reportage in 2017.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2017:

#10 Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department December 4, 2017

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government with a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million.


#9 Charlottesville’s Paid Parking ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ ? March 14, 2017

canary in coal mine photo credit share.america.govWhile it is heartening to see Charlottesville position parking meters as a “pilot” and only a part of the parking solutions considered.. . Available parking is the life’s blood of most small businesses.

… The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the City Council will pay attention when the canary stops singing – local businesses (as well as the jobs and taxes they generate) will be at risk.

#8 The Wizard of Oz and the Rio/29 Small Area Plan March 1, 2017

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

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

#7 Frederick Fleet and Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette Sept. 7, 2017

Frederick Fleet photo credit 123people….Considering the current [Charlottesville] climate, I am reminded of Titanic crewman (and survivor) Frederick Fleet who was on duty when he saw a black mass ahead of the ship. He struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. Though the ship swung out of the way, he watched as an iceberg scraped the starboard side.

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

We fear this ill timed, but worthy, Form Based Charrette exercise will be met with a similar fate.

It is a shame.

#6 Fixing Charlottesville NDS Engine Light February 16, 2017

car-check-engine-lightIf you have ever driven with a “Check Engine” light illuminated, you have an idea of where Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Department has been for some time.

Everyone (land owners, neighborhood associations, developers, etc.) agrees that something is seriously wrong but no one knows specifically what it is or, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it – until now.

#5 Albemarle Economic Development X Files March 29, 2017

i want to believeAlbemarle County says that it is in favor of economic development.  The former County Executive Tom Foley went so far as to say it is a “new day in Albemarle” regarding being open for business.  A couple of supervisors have even gone on the road attempting to drum up public support for economic vitality.

I find myself thinking of the 1990’s science fiction series the X-files where two FBI agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.

Just as Fox Mulder in the X-Files, I want to believe Albemarle, but the facts keep getting in the way.

#4 Changing Charlottesville Philosophy to YIMBY July 25, 2017Image result for yimby

…This is not a development problem, it is a political problem, and it exists nationwide.

I recently reviewed the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) San Francisco platform and I believe there are many parallels to Charlottesville….

We believe that San Francisco has always been, and should continue to be, an innovative and forward-looking city of immigrants from around the U.S. and the world. San Francisco is not full, and the Bay Area is definitely not full. Ours is an inclusive vision of welcoming all new and potential residents. Anyone who wants to should be able to afford housing in the Bay Area.

#3 Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’ August 1, 2017

…The Hindsight Report indicates that over the study period (2001-2016), Albemarle County received, from the study area, over $277 million in local tax revenue compared with the $212.9 million revenue sharing payments made to the City of Charlottesville (+$64.1 million).

….Had Charlottesville been successful in the annexation and the revenue sharing agreement not been in place, the City would have received $304.7 million in tax revenue from the study area during the study period compared with $212.9 million in revenue sharing payments from Albemarle County (-$91.8 million).


#2 A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf  April 5, 2017 and

Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’ April 24, 2017

See the source image

….By our back of the envelope calculations, rural recreation is an economic driver in the community representing nearly 2,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $40 million dollars.  In addition, rural recreation is a part of the fabric of Albemarle County.  The Free Enterprise Forum asks you to abandon this folly and utilize your limited staff resources to meet real needs of the community.

#1 Sayonara Shucet March 31, 2017

Shucet - Photo Credit CvillepediaLate yesterday afternoon (3/30), the embattled Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) named former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Philip Shucet as their new Chief Executive Officer.

In our three years of observation, we have grown to appreciate the charming manner in which Shucet manages (some might say manipulates) meetings and their outcomes…. As a facilitator extraordinaire, he has stayed true to the “Shucet Six” we first identified in 2014…. for now we say Sayonara Shucet, we wish you fair winds and following seas.


But most of all THANK YOU, the readers and supporters of this blog and our work in Central Virginia.  Without your generous support, we would not exist, thank you!

BRING ON 2018!

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Rudolph the Form Based Code

Testimony to Albemarle County Planning Commission December 18, 2017

Created by Robert Lewis May;  Adapted by Neil Williamson, President

rudolph the form based code

Rudolph the Form Based Code

You know Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Mixed Use,

Urban and Rural and Multi-Family and Historic

But do you recall?

The most hyped up zoning code of all?


Rudolph the Form Based Code

Had a most prescriptive, aesthetic design

And if ANYONE ever fully understood it,

They might even say it shinedSee the source image


All of the other zoning codes 

Used to laugh and call him names;

They never let poor Rudolph 

Join in any Euclidian Land Use GamesSee the source image


After a long, contentious, municipal meeting,

The tired elected official came to say

Rudolph with your building forms and street standards so tight

Won’t you spark our anemic economic development tonight


Then how the other codes despised him,

As they shouted out with mock glee

Rudolph the Form Based Code

“The rest of us are history”.


Merry Christmas Everyone!


Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Photo Credits:,,

Greene County Revises Water/Sewer Connection Payment Timing

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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

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

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


Jim Frydl

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

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

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

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

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


Marie Durrer

Frydl Farewell

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

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

Fluvanna Primes The New Business Pump

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County is trying to be more shovel ready.

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved transferring $35,000 to start the Fluvanna Shovel Ready Sites Program (FSRSP). The program is set up to help Zion Crossroad area landowners move sites up the development tier.

Currently the county has no properties in the lowest of a five tier grading scale. The FSRSP will help move properties higher up the scale.

“The objective is to get as close as possible to tier five,” said economic development coordinator Jason Smith.

Steve Nichols

Staff stressed the program is assist landowners wanting to move closer to development.

“The program is not to tell citizens what to do with their property,” said Steve Nichols, county administrator.

The program would be administrated by the Fluvanna Economic Development Authority. The EDA and staff recommended a grant based program. The supervisors approved an interest free loan program to be repaid paid back after land use changed.

“There are a lot of places you can put shovel ready sites, but I think we all agree Zion Crossroads makes a lot of sense,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District). O’Brien noted being briefed on a report that Virginia was losing out to development because of lack of shovel ready sites.

Also at the November 15 meeting, supervisors appropriated an additional $54,000 to construct the Farm Heritage Museum to be placed at Pleasant Grove, near the farm house.

The project includes over $250,000 from the funds raised and secured by the Fluvanna Historical Society. The historical society also pledged to give $5,000 over five years to help offset the $54,000 the county is outlaying.

The entire project is estimated at $340,000. The facility will be owned by the county. The bid for construction was awarded to Fuog/InterBuild. The company estimates it will take eight weeks to complete after building permit is issued.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) was the lone vote against the county contributing $54,000 to complete the project. The county already gave $15,000 to complete site work.

“Should the tax payers pick up the tab,” asked Weaver.

Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) noted how much money was raised from resident and business donations. “That’s telling me there is community support,” said Booker.

Weaver voted with the majority to award the bid and accept funding from the historical society.


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 Water Project Out To Bid

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

turn on waterThey said the day would never come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Who Will Decide Election 2017?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBallot Box

One day left.  Mercifully.

Citizens and candidates alike look forward to the end of the election season. As one local incumbent described the process, “There’s two ways to run, unopposed or scared”.

Unfortunately, this election we have many seats running unopposed. This is not an indictment of the candidates running, The Free Enterprise Forum strongly believes contested races make better candidates. Simply put contested elections make candidates explain and defend their positions thus making the public better informed and generates better policy after the election.

johnny RaincloudNot to be ‘Johnny Raincloud’ but the weather report for Election Day 2017 looks pretty gloomy; this generally suppresses voter participation.

By virtue of reading this post, you tend to be one of the more engaged community members.  By now, you likely know who is running for local office in your locality.  Hopefully, you know where they stand on issues that are important to you and you have selected the candidate that best represents your views.

Here in Virginia we like elections so much we hold them every year.  This year is an “off-year” election meaning there are no Federal offices on the ballot but there is a gubernatorial race. By means of contrast the 2016 presidential election year saw 72.05% statewide voter turnout compared with the last “off” year the 2013 Gubernatorial election turnout of 43.0%.

Based on early absentee voting and historical averages, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates the 2017 statewide election turnout to hover near 40%.  Locally, the lack of multiple contested races may hinder turnout. We do not believe it will exceed 50%.

virginia voter turnout photo credit Rassmuten

Credit: Rassumsen Reports

It is not a leap to predict roughly half of registered voters likely will not vote this cycle.  Therefore, regardless of the locality, this year’s campaign will come down to which campaign motivates their voters to show up at the polls.

Get Out The Vote, known in the ‘biz’ as “GOTV”, campaigns have been underway by the major parties, and special interest groups, for a number of weeks.  Likely voters are being contacted via mail, phone, and in person by party operatives and candidates.  Historically, this type of “ground game” can make the difference.  Over the years, we have seen the amount of shoe leather candidates put into the campaign can have a higher return than signs and advertising in many of the local races.

Every vote matters as evidenced by several recent close elections.  In the 2013 Samuel Miller District Race in Albemarle County, Liz Palmer on a Board of Supervisors contest by 874 votes. The same year, Jim Frydl  won his Greene County Supervisor race by 33 votes. In 2011, Supervisor Davis Lamb won his Ruckersville seat by just 15 votes (with 41 votes going to a candidate who had dropped out of the race).

Typically turnout elections favor those candidates with well defined and energized constituencies.  While there are a multiplicity of local constituencies with varying levels of organization, the question of election day is which of these constituencies are both motivated and energized.  Put succinctly, what half will show up?Badge

The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization, as such we embrace elections as the political marketplace for ideas.  We sincerely thank ALL the candidates who are making the sacrifice to run for public office.  We strongly encourage everyone to make your voice heard by voting.

The candidates have done their job by running now it is up to you – Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 am to 7 pm.—VOTE

If you do not know where you vote, click here for your polling place.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


Photo Credit:

What Albemarle Can Learn From Amazon’s HQ2 Search

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Is Albemarle ready to energetically embrace economic development?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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