Category Archives: Forum Watch

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

March Madness–Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Oregon_St_Utah_Basketball.JPG_t1140Imagine you are a college basketball player and in the final tournament game, the officials change the rules – calling fouls that usually would be ignored and ignoring others that would usually be called.

In addition, the basket automatically changes height dependent on which player is shooting and from where. There was no change at the rules committee, there was no open discussion amongst coaches – those charged with making the decisions just changed how they judged things – this is Albemarle County planning philosophy today.

Please let me explain.

Albemarle, in big ways and small, is changing the way they look at property where the Rural Areas and Development Area boundaries meet. The Comprehensive Plan, which is only a guideline, calls for density up to the edge of the development area (see below) but recent actions see that philosophical pillar being eroded.

On the development area side, the Adelaide proposed subdivision  on the edge of the Crozet development area provides one example of eroding, or perhaps evolving, planning philosophy.

In the Crozet master plan the land was designated for “3-6 dwelling units an acre” – the Adelaide proposal came in at 5.5 units an acre. (editor’s note the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects only policy thus had no position on this or any other application).

In her defense of her vote in opposition, Supervisor Ann Mallek wrote to the Crozet Gazette:

I stand behind my vote to deny Adelaide to uphold important features of the Crozet master plan … .The primary reasons for my vote were stated in the resolution I read as part of my motion to deny. Three supervisors thought the density was acceptable at the high end of the range. Three thought the density should be at the low end of the range. A 3-3 tie results in denial of the application.

Additional reasons for my vote:

  • New density on the edge of the growth area, surrounded by forest and rural uses, should be at the low end of the range suggested in the comprehensive plan and master plan for Crozet. …
  • The highest density buildings were placed at the highway, further encroaching on the rural nature of the State Scenic byway. Emphasis added – nw

Regarding the rural side of the line, earlier this year during a discussion of Farm Winery, Brewery and Distillery events, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said:

We’re looking at, in my district, on Hydraulic Road, in the middle of the urban ring.. an event center [winery] essentially an event center surrounded by 25,000 homes. It is in the rural area but in the urban ring.  The folks that live in the area are very patient with music from Albemarle High School, they love the band on Friday night – but to have something that brings in this type of traffic and noise and impacts without some restrictions is unnerving and I get that it is a little unusual place.

To prevent having rural enterprises adjacent to the development areas Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested:

Perhaps none of the edges of the winery parcel can be outside of the rural area.

Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kamptner informed Randolph such a provision would be in violation of state law.

All of this discussion took place despite the explicit direction of Albemarle’s Comprehensive plan that calls for clear edges between development and rural areas.  Interestingly the very neighborhood McKeel discussed was called out in the plan

8.26 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

Strategy 2r: Promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas. Part of Albemarle’s beauty and attractiveness for residents and visitors is their ability to clearly see and appreciate the features of both the Rural Area and Development Areas. Discerning the boundary between the designated Rural Area and the Development Areas is important because it affects where and how new development should take place.. . .

Visual clues are also helpful in identifying the Development Areas-Rural Area interface. Land use on Rural Area Edgeboth sides of the boundary should be so distinct that residents and visitors know they are in the Development Areas or the Rural Area. Theses visual differences help to define expectations and appreciation for the different areas. Figure 20 clearly shows that the left side of Rio Road is in the Rural Area and the right side is in the Development Areas. . .

Transitions of large-lot subdivisions at the boundary are discouraged, as they are neither rural nor urban.They are too small for agricultural uses and muddy the edge. Emphasis added – nw

One easy solution would be to expand the development areas to encompass what McKeel calls the urban ring.  Dependent on the size of the expansion it could create, for a time, a buffer area of non conforming uses.

The larger core question revolves around the duality of two comprehensive plan land types, Development and Rural. A plurality of planners today see the world in a less binary reality.  The most popular planning philosophy of the day deals with the concept of “Transects” which is taken from the environmental sciences.

The Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) Explains transects this way:

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

transect

 

A similar picture appears in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.  Interesting question – where would you say the development area starts in the image above?  T-3?  T-4?

Based on recent actions, it is difficult to say where the Supervisors believe the Development areas begin and the rural areas end.

  • The question is how does this now shaky planning philosophy pillar impact the community vetted master plans and how does the rural area gain a voice in the discussion since by design they are outside of the master plan areas?
  • Should Albemarle consider abandoning its density dogma across the entire development area and seek to create a new comprehensive plan category?
  • A further question would be if Albemarle should consider proactively rezoning all the development areas land to make the community supported densities occur rather than the adversarial nature of the current rezoning process.

Once again we have more questions than answers, let March Madness begin.

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.

Photo Credits: Denver Post, Albemarle County, Center for Applied Transect Studies

2016 – A Year of Exits (Executive and Grade Separated)

By. Neil Williamson, President

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/top-ten-list.jpg?w=179&h=161At this time each year, I take time to look in the rearview and see what issues we have covered that have garnered the most attention.  As usual, I am amazed, and thankful, for the large number of people who read and financially support our work.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2016 Shaking My Head (SMH) Moments

#10 Is Charlottesville the $17.86 Million Court Jester?

Imagine you are a mayor or a City Manager, if a major employer and economic driver in your city was poised to leave, how would you respond?Image result for Court Jester

Perhaps its just me, but I would likely fight like heck to keep them in the city.  It is much easier to retain a major employer than to attract one.

But what if the employer is actually an arm of a neighboring government, should that matter? …

If Albemarle decides to bring $17.86 million of ‘County’ economic activity back to Albemarle, Charlottesville may end up looking as wise as the Court Jester this Halloween.

 

#9 Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map

Imagine being in the banana business — and you have no way to obtain fruit.Image result for Albemarle county development area

That is Albemarle County’s current economic development sales position: “Yes, we have no bananas.”

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

#8 Greene Supervisors Approve Overspending FY17 Budget

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In just the second month of the new budget cycle, the Greene County Board of Supervisors discussed clip_image002two issues last night (8/23) that would allow the county to spend nearly $33,000 over the approved FY17 budget.

The first issue that County Administrator John Barkley explained was that several positions are needed to be brought up to market value. He further explained that supplemental funds are being requested to fund the $27,250 for the reclassification of positions. Surplus funds from the FY16 budget will allow the county to be able to fund this request.

#7 C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

#6 Albemarle’s Executive Exodus x 2

Albemarle Executive Foley Finds Greener Pastures

Thomas FoleyWith rumors flying around Albemarle County (and Social Media) all day, a 4 pm Stafford County announcement made it official; County Executive Tom Foley is leaving Albemarle County to take up the same post in Stafford County.  In the announcement Stafford highlighted Foley’s service and temperament as key qualities they were looking for in their new administrator:

Albemarle is Losing Faith

leavingyourjobAs anticipated as the sun rising in the east, it is with absolutely no surprise that Albemarle County’s first Economic Development Director, Faith McClintic, will be leaving her position later this year.  In her short  18 month tenure, McClintic often found herself at odds with Planning Commissioners, some members of the public, this writer, and some elected officials.  In addition, she found herself without product as she said in August of this year:

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

#5 Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

rio gsiIn the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

#4 SOMEONE’s Shameful Sensationalism

Over the last dozen years, I have read literally hundreds of Albemarle County staff reports.  I tend to find the reports to be professional, concise, factually correct and devoid of generalizations or editorial commentary – until last week when I determined that SOMEONE  improperly and sensationally  used a tragedy to further an advocacy position in what was presented as an impartial staff analysis.

In an attempt to sensationalize the need for closing of Earlysville Road to truck traffic, SOMEONE has stooped so low as to cite a terrible teenage 2002 drunk driving accident as justification to overrule the technical analysis of professional traffic engineers.

#3 ‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgas its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea….

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

In her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations

#2 Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

OBrien2014-photo-credit-Fluvanna-County_thumb.jpg

“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien. . .

O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.

Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Supervisor Don Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Supervisor Mozell Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.

Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.

Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.

O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.

Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.

Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.

O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”

#1 $52.5 Million Dollar Indecent Proposal – Albemarle Backs Off Threat to Wedding Industry

Last Tuesday evening, a rare joint meeting of the Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors heard a great deal from both wedding venues and the vendors that support them.  Albemarle staff had prepared a proposed ordinance that, among other things, would limit the ability of wineries, breweries and distilleries to 24 events a year.  In the end the supervisors backed away from the most restrictive portion of the ‘indecent proposal’.

The testimony Tuesday was insightful and passionate.    Wedding Photographer Jen Fariello asked pointedly “Why are weddings being attacked?”  Wedding planner Adam Donovan-Groves [name correction 9:01 6/20 nw] told of one recent wedding whose local fiscal impact exceeded $250,000 musicians, gift packs, invitations, transportation, jewelry, photographer, etc.

Yes, 2016 has been a year of executive exits, speedy construction and threats of overregulation.  Through it all the Free Enterprise Forum continues to blog, tweet (@neilswilliamson) and Facebook about local issues of significant importance.

The year ahead is filled with promise: the promise of a national search for a new Albemarle County Executive, the promise of so called “Solutions” 29 being completed earlier than scheduled (looks like June), the promise of new form based code development in Charlottesville, as well as the promise of elections across all localities.

seats available2016 will also bring us the opportunity and privilege of attending and participating in  many more government meetings where important policy decisions are made and #SeatsAvailable.

Thank you for your support!

 

Happy New Year

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.

‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm as its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea.  Please let me explain.

C-ville writer Samantha Baars found in the last six years significant taxpayer money has poured into Crozet:

“But Kyle Redinger, the developer of Adelaide, a proposed 80-unit neighborhood adjacent to the Cory Farm subdivision on Route 250, disagrees. He notes that Albemarle has invested 40 percent of its capital improvement money, or at least $29 million since 2010, in Crozet, but only 5 percent of the county’s population lives there.”

Despite such investment, some vocal members of the Crozet community continue to believe the growth that is currently contemplated by the comprehensive plan is too dense and too intense.

Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach suggested at a recent Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting that the unelected Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) plans to rewrite their master plan on their own. The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that this “independent citizen activity” may become an illegally constructed defacto Master Plan that all future projects are measured against.

For those unaware, Master Plans are a part of the legally mandated Comprehensive Plan and are generally prepared by professional planners through a deliberate, transparent, public process that includes all stakeholders (i.e. neighbors, businesses, environmental activists, etc.).

It is not surprising that Loach, a longtime CCAC advocate, would be supportive of ignoring the established public process in favor of “snob zoning”.  As a commissioner Loach famously stated that he could not ever see a circumstance where he would vote in favor of a project that the CCAC did not support.  While I recall Loach voting in favor of every Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that included many Crozet items, I cannot recall a single Crozet development project that he supported during his years on the Planning Commission.  Such blind allegiance to an unelected neighborhood association precludes the planning commission process and perpetuates a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone (BANANA) planning philosophy.

It goes far beyond master planning.  Long ago the CCAC (more than any other Citizen Council) unilaterally expanded their charge from being an advisory body to a mandated hurdle for any and all Crozet development proposals.  As this change was strongly supported by the subsequent votes of elected and appointed positions, the body grown further embolden to the point of reinventing elementary school math.

Recently the CCAC opposed a development project (the above mentioned Adelaide) based on its non-conformity to the Comprehensive Plan density.  A review of the Mater Plan showed the area as 3-6 units per acre and the Adelaide proposal called for 5.5 units an acre.  I am not sure how the CCAC can find that 5.5 is not between 3 and 6.  To be clear the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this particular project but we do wonder in what universe 5.5 is not between three and six.

In an Adelaide meeting earlier this year, one planning commissioner stated that Crozet neighbors had voiced concerns about their children playing with those children from attached housing.  If this is starting to sound like class warfare (or discrimination), it should.

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgIn her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations. Prevost reports such NIMBYism clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were. [emphasis added-nw]

The question then becomes if Crozet wants to preserve its small town charm and restrict population growth – when (and how) will they pay Albemarle County back for the $29 million taxpayer dollars expended over the last six years to make it a desirable development area?

Or might they embrace the change that has been vetted by the community and work to make the anticipated population growth work well with the existing community?

Or perhaps Albemarle will rollover to the vocal NIMBY mentality and choose to recognize an illegally developed Master Plan that fails to balance the many competing priorities of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

As usual we are left with more questions than answers.

Only time (and politics) will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson 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

 

July 1, 2016 – Unleashing Community’s Economic Power?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Today’s most radical ideas, may be commonsensical tomorrow.

RADICAL IDEA 1 – What if our zoning agreed with the community vetted Comprehensive Plan?

RADICAL IDEA 2 – What if local businesses looking to expand could do so without a year+ rezoning process?

RADICAL IDEA 3 – What if such an increasing commercial development increased the community’s job opportunities and tax base?

Each of these three “RADICAL” ideas could be made possible, perhaps even probable after July 1, 2016.

Please let me explain.

As many Forum Watch readers know, several new laws  go into effect on July 1st.  Perhaps the most significant to the work of the Free Enterprise Forum is proffer reform.  The hard fought reforms require “voluntary” proffers to have a specific, direct and material benefit to the residents who indirectly pay them.

Localities across the Commonwealth are wrestling with how to best meet the fairness demanded by the new code.  Albemarle County has repealed its cash proffer policy and has indicated it will no longer seek to mandate 15% of all new housing units be “affordable”.

While we opposed all cash proffers and affordable housing proffers since their inception, we choose today not to just celebrate this important victory but to also contemplate how the removal of this new home buyer punishment might actually free the community vetted comprehensive plan and increase economic vitality.

Image result for proactive As we have quietly discussed these ideas, there are some in local governments that are starting to recognize how removing the yoke of proffers makes PROACTIVE REZONING much more palatable.

Proactive rezoning is when a locality (with owner consent) takes the initiative and rezones land to match their comprehensive plan designation.  In practice, it makes it easier to develop to the uses and densities expressed in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

Proactive rezoning requires political will and in smaller cases (ie: Downtown Crozet District) often comes with flexible form based zoning regulations that dictate the shape of future development while preserving owners ability to utilize the code flexibly.  The  code is very clear:

The purpose of the Downtown Crozet District (hereinafter referred to as the “DCD”) is to establish a district in which traditional downtown development, as described for the CT6 Urban Core and CT5 Urban Center transects in the Crozet master plan, will occur.

To these ends, the DCD provides for flexibility and variety of development for retail, service, and civic uses with light industrial and residential uses as secondary uses. The regulations for the DCD are intended to promote a development form and character that is different from typical suburban development allowed by conventional zoning, and are also intended to: (i) promote the economic and social vitality and diversity of downtown Crozet; (ii) implement the Crozet master plan for the downtown area of Crozet so that it may serve as the commercial hub of Crozet and its environs; (iii) provide a greater mix of uses in downtown Crozet, including increased employment; (iv) facilitate infill and redevelopment; (v) increase the utility of the land; (vi) retain the uniquely diverse character of Crozet; and (vii) promote a pedestrian-friendly environment.

These regulations are intended to provide maximum flexibility in establishing uses and structures in order to implement the relevant policies of the Crozet master plan. [emphasis added-nw]

Prior to July 1, opponents of proactive rezoning used the incorrectImage result for ALbemarle rezoning rationale that landowners, through the extortion like proffer process, would fund the infrastructure needs of the entire community in order to get the rezoning they needed – the reality is that this has never been the case.

If proffers are taken off the table and a landowner still must meet all local, state and federal regulations prior to site plan approval, why then shouldn’t our zoning match our Comprehensive Plan?

Could it be that retaining the current subjective legislative review allows those opposed to specific projects (regardless of their accordance with the Comprehensive Plan) an opportunity to scuttle the community vision for the future?

Do citizens actively fight the implementation of the community approved Comprehensive Plan?  — You bet.

According to the Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) minutes (February 2017) regarding a project that met the targeted population density in the Master Plan and is in the designated development area:

Leslie said that she thought the development is not at the right place. There would be too much traffic and at some point the CCAC needs to recommend that traffic and other infrastructure issues be dealt with before there is more growth.  Phil said that he opposes the project on the basis of density, and John Savage said that it is inconsistent with other uses along Route 250 there. [emphasis added-nw]

Wait a minute – I thought this was the group charged with implementing the Master Plan for increase density not opposing it?

While we take no position on this specific rezoning, this type of  obstructionism prevents the vision of the comprehensive plan from becoming a reality.

Proactively rezoning land for the density and uses determined in the comprehensive plan will significantly reduce the time it takes for a project to be approved without sacrificing existing protection for the community.

The time has come to make the zoning code match the aspirational ideals of the Comprehensive Plan.  Proactive Rezoning would significantly reduce the barriers to develop in the development areas and would unleash the economic power of the Community’s Vision.

Will any locality seize this powerful economic opportunity?

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, Charlottesville Tomorrowhttp://wrightoncomputers.com.au

Albemarle’s Anemic VDOT Economic Development Score

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County earned a failing report card from Virginia Departmentepic fail of Transportation (VDOT) regarding the economic development impacts on their proposed transportation improvement.

This low score, coupled with other factors, resulted in the ONLY Transportation project Albemarle County The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization [correction 11:27am 2/22-nw] submitted for possible funding the I-64/US29 Interchange (Exit 118) ranking 282 out of 287 projects statewide and DEAD LAST in Culpeper District.

Like a parent, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned with this economic development report card and we wonder if Albemarle is willing to do what is necessary to improve their scores.  We believe absent a paradigm shift regarding economic development and proactive zoning Albemarle County  may not receive significant transportation dollars for a generation.

Please let me explain.

The Commonwealth just completed the first ever objective scoring exercise of transportation projects.  This exercise is the result of a 2014 state law commonly referred to as HB2.  This legislation was so significant – it has its own website.  According to the website:

House Bill Two (HB2) is about investing limited tax dollars in the right projects that meet the most critical transportation needs in Virginia. At the heart of the new law is scoring projects based on an objective process that involves public engagement and input. Once projects are scored, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will have the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.

Governor Terry McAuliffe signed HB2 into law in 2014, which directs the CTB to develop and use a scoring process for project selection by July 2016. Candidate projects will be screened to determine if they qualify to be scored. Projects will be scored based on an objective and fair analysis applied statewide. The law will improve transparency and accountability. The public will know how projects scored and the decisions behind the CTB’s project selections.

In an attempt to capture the different demographic needs of the state, different values are placed on the six different areas of scoring.  Albemarle and Charlottesville are in Category B.

In Category B, accessibility factors (which really are about economic opportunity) are weighted 25%,  economic development factors are weighted 20%, safety factors are also weighted 20%; Environmental quality and land use are each weighted at 10%.

In VDOT’s safety calculations, fatalities rank significantly higher than simple injury and property damage accidents rank even lower.  As this is an interchange not an intersection, the majority of the accidents are sideswipe incidents.

In his article on the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting on this issue Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs quotes Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Executive Director Chip Boyles:

“We got zeroes for economic development and we got zeroes for crash frequency reduction,” Boyles said, adding that there have been no fatalities at the intersection in the past three years.

Short of generating a rash severe life grabbing accidents, there is little a locality can do to change the safety ranking.  The other areas however localities can make a difference.

Examine the scorecard below for Exit 118, 60% of the accessibility factor revolves around “Increase in Access to Jobs” another 20% of this score is related to “Increase in Access to Jobs for disadvantaged Populations”. Therefore, 80% of the accessibility score relates to economic opportunity.  Reading the report card below, Albemarle failed to achieve a full integer on accessibility scoring .9

The Charlottesville Tomorrow article highlighted opportunities for improving scores:

John Lynch, VDOT’s Culpeper District administrator and a voting member of the MPO, said localities can increase scores by demonstrating they are actively investing in infrastructure.

“As you progress through the development of that site you would get more points towards that particular element because you’re investing money into that plan,” Lynch said.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the HB2 ranking system is here to stay and that the system as currently designed favors those localities seeking to use state dollars to advance economic development and economic opportunity.  The logical nexus is that by spending limited state dollars on projects that increase economic activity, there will be more state dollars to spend in the future.

This is where proactive zoning comes in.  Proactive zoning is when a locality seeks to rezone land, with the consent of the owner, to the uses already approved in the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle county last completed a proactive rezoning when it created the Downtown Crozet District.  Opponents of proactive rezoning cite the lack of applicant proffers creating an undue burden on the locality to mitigate the project impacts.

While we have been a proponent for landowner authorized proactive zoning for many years, the new transportation funding paradigm makes the proffers argument moot.

If proactively rezoning land, and investing in infrastructure, allows the community to be not only more attractive to new or expanding business but will improve our chances to receive needed state funding for transportation, the economic benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

poker chipsHB2 Transportation funding is very similar to sitting down at a new poker game.  The cards are the same but the rules are now completely different.  The big question is  if the Albemarle County Supervisors will ante up.

If not, other localities surely will and they will reap the benefits of their foresight and investment.

Time will surely tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, VDOT

Asking the Wrong People the Right Question

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

What if during the climatic western movie scene, the stable boy, who knows the location of the gang’s hideout, went to the grocery clerk rather than getting word to the Lone Ranger?

This is exactly what Albemarle County is doing on Tuesday night.

Please let me explain.

On September 3, 2014, Albemarle BOS directed their appointed bodies to evaluate and come up with a recommendation to address changes in state code regarding cash proffers.

The Board of Supervisors requests that the Albemarle County Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee provide advice and recommendations to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors on revisions to the credit provisions and the per unit cash proffer amounts of the Cash Proffer Policy…Provide this advice and recommendation at the earliest possible date.

To be fair, the members of the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee did their work as effectively as they could despite what the Free Enterprise Forum sees as staff driven delays.  After the FIAC report was issued, staff continued to drag their feet.

For the last four months, the Free Enterprise Forum has regularly highlighted Albemarle County’s Cash Proffer Policy is in direct violation of State law.  County Attorney, Larry Davis, disagrees indicating that Albemarle has not had a rezoning come before it since the change in state law and if such a rezoning application did come before the Board, legal staff would inform them of the impact of the change in state law on the cash proffer amount.

With all due respect Mr. Davis, might the $20,000+ cash proffer amount per unit be a reason Albemarle has not seen more rezonings coming forward?

The results of the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (which included a member of the Planning Commission) should have been sent directly to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors for immediate action.

While we believe cash proffers should be eliminated entirely, the proposal from the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee helps put some reasonable, rational, (and legally mandated) conditions on the calculation of Albemarle Illegal Cash Proffer Gravy Train.

Whether the Planning Commission, who in the role of the Western Grocery Clerk, is ill equipped to process this request, will send this recommendation forward to the Board of Supervisors  is yet to be seen.

We hope the hero shows up soon, to bring Albemarle in line with the law.

Stay Tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, maryrobertsonwriter.blogspot.com tomsoter.com

Year of Shaking My Head – 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

It is amazing to look back and see how often this year, I was top ten listdumbfounded by the strategy, actions and inactions of public officials and the lack of action by some because while the process was broken, it was meeting their need.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2015 SMH moments

#10 U.S. 29 is not a city street Kevin Bacon and Albemarle’s Thank You Letter for VDOT’s U.S. 29 Steamroller

While we have found former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  Commissioner Phillip Shucet to be a most effective facilitator and an honest supporter of the McAuliffe administration positions, we believe the public has not been, nor will be, fully “engaged” in the process.  As an example, In  last week’s BOS meeting Supervisor Ann Mallek suggested there would be a public hearing on the design of the interchange – Nope.  Even though this is a design build process, the VDOT proposed design (not what will actually be built) was already taken to public hearing, satisfying the legal requirements.

Aubrey Layne photo credit VDOTIn his Daily Progress opinion piece on Sunday (1/11), [Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey] Layne used the same song sheet as he wrote somewhat single mindedly of Albemarle County’s economic engine that is North US 29:

“Between Short Pump to the east, Staunton to the west, Danville to the south and Gainesville to the north, no section of highway carries more traffic than U.S. 29 between U.S. 250 and Rio Road – not even Interstate 64. U.S. 29 is not a city street.  It is a major Virginia arterial highway” Emphasis added-nw

#9 Fluvanna sees higher taxes as far as the eye can seeFluvanna 4% Property Tax Increase Proposed

This year, Fluvanna is projecting a five-year forecast to see how future budgets will look, conceptually, based on what decisions are made this year. It includes a two percent rate of inflation along with anticipation of certain upcoming projects.

The projection based off of Nichols’ budget shows a real estate tax rate of $1.05 in FY17, $1.06 in FY1Weaver20146 and FY19 and a $1.11 in FY20.

“Even if they are ballpark figures, it is alarming,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Nichols replied, “It is absolutely alarming.”

#8 Albemarle’s Political Cover Committees – Meanwhile, back in Albemarle County the county is seeking a diversity of opinions as long as they all agree #SMH  Eliminate Albemarle’s Mission Creeping Community Councils 

In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:

The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw

If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?

#7 ARB managing views that can’t be seen  In June, we were shaking our head when we asked about  the authority of the Albemarle Architectural Review Board (ARB) over the Rio area businesses that will not be visible to at least half of the US29 motorists Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

#6 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Places Preservation of Natural Resources as #1 Priority What abut citizen health Safety and Welfare? Albemarle’s Natural Resources Chapter Rewrite – More Planners, Less Property Rights

The newly revised goal is much more expansive and interventionist in its tone:

“Albemarle’s ecosystems and natural resources will be thoughtfully protected and managed in both the Rural and Development Areas to safeguard the quality of life of current and future generations.”

If there was any question the direction the Chapter is headed, the BOS rewritten chapter declares

“Natural resource protection is the County’s highest priority.”

Really??

Natural Resource Protection is the Highest Priority?

Over the safety and protection of your citizens?

Over the education of the children where you currently dedicate 60% of your budget?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is philosophical hyperbole and is not supported by the facts (or four supervisors), we hope such inflammatory and incorrect language will be removed from the plan.

#4 Albemarle Planning Commission Attempts to Bully staff The Albemarle County Planning Commission was unhappy that the economic development office did not come to them first regarding the Deschutes Brewing prospect.  Despite being beyond their role in government, their egos were bruised in the process.  This lead to our #4 SMH moment Albemarle PC Seeks Improper Staff Influence

How much is designated Light Industrial in the Comprehensive Plan but not in the underlying zoning?

These would seem like a set of objective questions to ask of a professional staff to produce an objective report – But not in Albemarle County.

Please let me explain.

Oct 20 PC meetingAt the very end of this week’s lengthy Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Tim Keller (At-Large), with just two members of the public in the audience (FEF & SELC)  and with the consent of his fellow commissioners, explicitly directed staff to have Economic Development Director Faith McClintic meet with the Planning Commission PRIOR to finalizing her inventory report on Light Industrial land.

Remembering that the Planning Commission is made up of politically appointed individuals (one of which is running for Scottsville Supervisor), one might reasonably ask why should the Economic Development Director, who reports to the County Executive, be required to run her professional report past the PC before it goes final?

The ONLY reason is because they want to impact the content of the report.

While I’ll agree the PC should see and comment on the report after it is written, to give them editorial control seems far beyond the pale and entirely unprofessional.

#5 Greene County battles with Jail Superintendent over budget and plan There was a great deal of head shaking in Greene this year (gun range, recycling center, public comment) but the Jail has been a source of some interjurisdictional anger.  As out own Brent Wilson reports Jail House Rocks Greene BOS

Bill Martin Greene County SupervisorSupervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) expressed concern about the poor timing in the budget process of the CVRJ and the impact to Greene County. Up until December, there was no indication of a significant increase and then in December, 2014 [Central Virginia Jail Superintendent Glenn] Aylor announced over a 50% increase in operating cost allocation to Greene County.

[Ruckersville Supervisor Davis] Lamb responded that there are a lot of pieces to the prison budget.

Martin stated he understood the complexity but all five counties that utilize the regional jail were caught by surprise by the size of the budget increase. Residents of Greene County are pushing back on a $10 facility fee on the water and sewer bill, Martin can’t imagine what residents will say when they see the cost increase for the jail in the upcoming budget.

Martin continued to state that the communication between the Greene Board of Supervisors and Aylor has been poor. He was not impressed when Aylor spoke at the last board meeting and Martin questions who is serving whom.

[Midway Supervisor Jim] Frydl questioned Lamb why the alternative budget that the five counties had presented at the last jail meeting wasn’t considered? Lamb’s only reply was that if you can find a better plan to bring it to the meeting and there are many variables. Frydl asked Lamb if he was ok with the jails budget to which there was no reply.

#3 Greene County Muzzles Public Comment The Free Enterprise Forum continues to have issues with Greene County’s current Matters from the Public Policy but after months of “inappropriate” public comments Greene seemed to want to muzzle public comments as Brent Wilson reports

The hearing of comments (or not hearing comments) from the public has been a work in progress the past several weeks in Greene County. The year started with all comments being allowed at BOS meetings with very little guidelines or restrictions. Several weeks ago, the Chairman decided to eliminate all comments from the public from the July 28th agenda.  The Board discussed the issue at the July 28th meeting and adopted (4-1 Deane opposed) a very restrictive procedure in place to allow public comment at the July 28th meeting

This takes us to the most recent Board of Supervisor meeting. Chairman David Cox, Monroe District, started the meeting stating that it is critical to hear comments from the public. He has not been trying to silence the public but trying to control rude and confrontational behavior.

Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District, stated he believes that Cox has an impeccable record in allowing all comments – sometimes to a fault. Cox would never disallow the public to speak and he believes that Cox will be fair to all citizens and not infringe their freedom of speech.

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively regarding the import of public comments and we believe they should be placed near the top of every agenda. While the comments some citizens make may cause you to shake your head, not hearing those citizens speak is much worse.

#2 Albemarle Chooses Not To Have a Beer – In a clear affront to the County’s new Economic Development Initiatives, Albemarle County decided not to expand its development areas enough to accommodate Deschutes Brewery [and about 100 new jobs]  from Bend, Oregon while shaking our head we did come up with  Da Lessons from Deschutes

Deschutes-BrewingIt is entirely possible that [Former Albemarle Supervisor] Sally Thomas’ position of keeping growth in check may be the majority opinion of Albemarle County citizens.  If the philosophy of the Board is that any business is lucky that we are allowing them to locate here and should be happy to jump through our bureaucratic hoops, then there is not “A new day” in Albemarle.

The current and future leadership of Albemarle County need to determine the direction of the Economic Development Department.  That decision, perhaps more than any other, will determine not only the success of businesses to locate and expand; but also the jobs that may or may not be available as well as the percentage of government costs that will be carried by property taxes.

Da Lesson from Deschutes – Albemarle was not ready.

Da Question from Deschutes – Do they really want to be?

But this year’s #1 is without a doubt

#1 If I call you Karl Marx is it an insult?  Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors gave us plenty to shake our heads about this year including accusations of Communism.   The Board meeting sounded more like a playground taunt than a governing body as our own Bryan Rothamel reported Fireworks at Fluvanna Supervisors Meeting

After Parish briefly started his presentation on the [employee] recognition program, which includes monetary gifts for various awards throughout the year, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) raised his issues with the recognition program.

Ullenbruch2014

Ullenbruch compared the recognition program as a pat on the back and children in youth sports getting a participation trophy. He then concluded his remarks and what ensued was Ullenbruch leaving the meeting after Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) responded.

Here is a transcription from the end of  Ullenbruch’s statements. It was the 1 hour, 59 minutes mark of the meeting.

Ullenbruch: You are hired to do a job. You are hired to do a job the best you can. I’m not saying our employees are paid enough or they’re not recognized enough. I’m not saying that at all. I’m trying, once again, keep people from being divided. This is devise. I’ve lived in this atmosphere of awards and plaques and that-a-boys, in the back, in the little huddles, in the little corners, it becomes a bitch session. The intent is not for that to happens, but it happens.

O’Brien: You sound like a communist, Bob. I mean honestly, why don’t we–

Ullenbruch: Wow. Wow. That’s on tape.

O’Brien: Yeah, your idea is that people don’t appreciate recognition. That they should just do their damn job, to use your words.

Ullenbruch: I’m just saying it causes divisiveness.

At this point Ullenbruch stands up to leaves. The two began talking over each other but O’Brien responds to Ullenbruch’s comments with, “I mean, that’s what you sound like. I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ullenbruch talks from the doorway. O’Brien responds, “I don’t think calling someone a communist is necessarily insulting them, Bob.” He turns back to the board, “That’s a first. Sorry. Apologies.”

Yes, the Free Enterprise Forum will look back on 2015 as the Year of Shaking My Head.

Perhaps 2016 will be different.

I know which way I am betting.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, Fluvanna County, Greene County, Virginia Department of Transportation,

Lessons from Snoopy

By. Neil Williamson, President

This holiday season, perhaps more than most, I am reminded how lucky we are to live in this particular place at this particular time.  Thanks to the generous support of the community the Free Enterprise Forum is celebrating twelve years of making a difference in Central Virginia.

Regular readers of this space are well aware of the many meetings the Free Enterprise Forum covers, often as one of the only members of the public in the room.

This year there were several meetings that were standing room only as Albemarle County considered an expansion of their development area for a brewery prospect.  In this meeting, there were many speakers including Former Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas who suggested the Planning Commission was being “bullied” into accepting this economic development prospect.  Our friend, Jeff Werner from Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), also spoke questioning the due diligence of the County.

Route 29 Solutions logoThis year we also saw the start of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) construction of the subtlety named “Route 29 Solutions” projects including the one of the newer words in the local lexicon “Rio GSI” for the grade separated intersection being constructed at Rio Road and U.S. 29.  The issues surrounding these projects have provided significant activity over the last forty months.

Last night (12/21) the Charlottesville City Council opted to table the Down Zoning of West Main Street – We have argued in opposition to this affront to property rights while our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have, somewhat counter intuitively, jumped on the reduced density in the neighborhood. Another friend John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Chapter of the Sierra Club provided comments in favor of lowering the heights thus reducing the environmental impacts.

Yes, there are important issues and emotions that can divide the community.  With limited exception,  the Central Virginia community has a great deal of respect for those who disagree with them.  This is not true across the Commonwealth.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has, and will continue to, question the logic, strategies and tactics of those opposed to regulatory reform and economic development, we do not question their motivations.  We believe they are working toward their vision of a better community.  We welcome their involvement and, lest anyone think I have been hitting the egg nog, we will still often adamantly disagree.

However this holiday, thinking of the spirited alphabet soup of Free Enterprise Forum opponents (ASAP, PEC, SELC, VDOT,  Etc.)  I am reminded of the 1967 hit from The Royal GuardsmanSnoopy Christmas – Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes all of Central Virginia, especially those who disagree with us, a blessed holiday season.

 

The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn’t shoot, well, we’ll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, “Merry Christmas, my friend”

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they’d meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:  Charles Shultz,  Charlottesville Tomorrow

C-ville’s ‘Stagnant Status Quo’ — using History as a Growth Control Tool

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

1997 BMWIn my garage sits a 1997 car with well over 200 thousand miles on the odometer.  It has long ago started to show its age with the telltale drooping headliner and magical mystery electrical short or two.  While the passenger side widow does not go up; the windshield wipers work (they just don’t turn off).

The car is old, and in need of some repair,  but is it historic?

Should the government have the right to tell me I can’t replace it for a more reliable machine?

If not, why should the government have that ability to limit my property rights with historic designations?

Please let me explain.

According to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s article by Sean Tubbs:

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review indicated Tuesday (1117) it will protect two buildings from demolition on West Main Street, including one that houses the Blue Moon Diner.

“Every house that we demolish on this street lessens our argument for keeping any of them,” said BAR member Carl Schwarz.

Developer Jeff Levien sought permission to take down buildings at 512 and 600 W. Main St. to make way for a new mixed-use building. Both were built in the late 19th century.
He is proposing a new four-story building with ground floor retail and with rental apartments on the higher levels. That height would be consistent with the proposed West Main rezoning changes pending before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

“Although these buildings are old and no one is going to dispute the age of these buildings, they are no longer part of the character of West Main Street,” Levien said Tuesday. “They are ripe for demolition and on an underutilized site and they no longer have any function for the tenants that are there.”

Under Levien’s proposal, the portion of 512 W. Main St. that makes up the front room of the Blue Moon Diner would be retained and incorporated into the new building. The owners of the diner supported the idea of demolition.

The city’s historic resources planner said she could not recommend demolition.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have a position on this specific request but we believe this situation shines light on a policy question regarding whether historic preservation should be used as a growth control tool?

While some argue historic preservation overlay districts (and similar tools designed to limit property rights) increase property values, we see them as yet one more expansion of government and stripping of property rights.  We are not surprised many of the cities most often cited have separate, distinct historic preservation commissions with dedicated city staff to support the work of the commission.

Architectural Critic Ada Louise Huxtable of the The Wall Street Journal asked a most appropriate question in her 2004 review of the so called “Lollipop Building” proposed demolition:

The most basic preservation question is not being asked at all. What will be lost, and what will be gained?

The proposal being rejected out of hand is a promising solution by a talented young American practitioner that will reclaim an abandoned building of debatable merit for a desirable cultural facility…

There is a great deal more at stake than this one building. When preservation distorts history and reality in a campaign of surprising savagery, it signals an absence of standards and an abdication of judgment and responsibility. It has lost its meaning when we prefer a stagnant status quo. [emphasis added-nw]

In the West Main case study Huxtable’s question “What will be lost and what will be gained?” certainly rings true.

In a city dedicated to affordable housing, how does restricting housing unit supply impact the price of already existing units?

So the question remains, what difference can we discern between old and historic?

Cities if they grow and thrive will continually remake themselves over and over again.  Adaptive reuse can play a part in historic preservation but should be done at the will of the owner, not the demand of the government.

Blind devotion to historic preservation will perpetuate Huxtable’s “stagnant status quo” and restrict economic development as well as individual economic advancement.

Perhaps if as every historical protection overlay is initiated, all property owners were provided immediate local property tax abatement, cities would be less eager to engage in growth control via historic preservation’s restriction of property rights.

If the City of Charlottesville deems a structure to be of such significant historic value that they want to control the property use, they should buy it.

Otherwise, the city should allow property owners to invest in the city, meet city building and zoning code and use his or her property to the highest and best use.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

20070731williamson

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

Photo Credits: Neil Williamson, Docstock.com