Category Archives: Forum Watch

Free Enterprise Forum 2017 Top 10

By. Neil Williamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

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

It is a shame.

#6 Fixing Charlottesville NDS Engine Light February 16, 2017

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

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

#5 Albemarle Economic Development X Files March 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

See the source image

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

#1 Sayonara Shucet March 31, 2017

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

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

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

BRING ON 2018!

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

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Rudolph the Form Based Code

Testimony to Albemarle County Planning Commission December 18, 2017

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

rudolph the form based code

Rudolph the Form Based Code

You know Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Mixed Use,

Urban and Rural and Multi-Family and Historic

But do you recall?

The most hyped up zoning code of all?

 

Rudolph the Form Based Code

Had a most prescriptive, aesthetic design

And if ANYONE ever fully understood it,

They might even say it shinedSee the source image

 

All of the other zoning codes 

Used to laugh and call him names;

They never let poor Rudolph 

Join in any Euclidian Land Use GamesSee the source image

 

After a long, contentious, municipal meeting,

The tired elected official came to say

Rudolph with your building forms and street standards so tight

Won’t you spark our anemic economic development tonight

 

Then how the other codes despised him,

As they shouted out with mock glee

Rudolph the Form Based Code

“The rest of us are history”.

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Mass.gov, Placemakers.com,

Unintended Consequence–Albemarle’s AirBnB Black Market

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When a new business concept is successful the first thing the government attempts to do is tax it.  What is the second thing? – regulate it.  In an interesting ‘Short Term Rental’ twist of fate, Albemarle has completed the first thing ensuringBlack Market photo credit news.softpedia but is about to put those revenue sources (and others) in jeopardy by driving much of this thriving new industry out of the open and into a Black Market.

Please let me explain.

Back in June 2017, Albemarle joined many Virginia localities in updating its tax code to capture ‘transient lodging’

TAX CODE
At its June 14, 2017 Board meeting, the Board of Supervisors amended the County Code §15-900 and §15-901 to enable the County to impose taxes on residential transient lodging, previously not included in this regulation. They also amended County Code §8-616 to explicitly list short-term rentals on the list of businesses subject to the business,professions, and occupations licensing (BPOL) tax requirements.

Albemarle County has been engaged in a “community conversation” regarding the regulation of short term rentals (AirBnB, HomeStay Charlottesville, etc.).  Rather than dealing specifically with the impacts of such rentals, with ordinances already on the books, Albemarle is seeking to restrict the number of rentals any property might be able to book in any given calendar year. This is a mistake.

According to Allison Wrabel’s article in Monday’s (10/30) Daily Progress, our good friend, Travis Pietila, of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) spoke out last week’ Planning Commission meeting about this very issue:

“We need to make sure that the revenue to be gained from homestays does not lead to building new houses in the rural area that would not otherwise be built, and it’s critical that the limits put in place to keep that from happening are enforceable,” he said.

Pietila said that the 90-day limit proposed for whole house rental was too high and that a 30-day limit seemed much more appropriate.

“But a more fundamental concern is that the limits based on a number of days a property can be rented would prove unenforceable,” he said.

While we firmly disagree with SELC’s position that property owners should be restricted from building new homes on parcels that have that fundamental property right, we concur that limits based on a number of days would not only prove unenforceable – it not only starts a negative domino effect on transparency and taxation – it is an unfair restriction on property rights.

Negative Domino effect – if allowed to only permitted to rent my house on a short term basis for 30 days a year, that is exactly what some savvy property owner will claim.  If there is market demand for greater than 30 days a year (ie: weekend from April 15 to December 31 = 76 days), the incentive is to rent the space and not claim the rental on the TOT form, lower the BPOL payment, don’t report the rental revenue for 46 days of occupancy on state or federal income tax forms.

This scenario fits Investopedia’s definition of a Black Market:

Economic activity that takes place outside government-sanctioned channels. Black market transactions usually occur “under the table” to let participants avoid government price controls or taxes. The black market is also the venue where highly controlled substances or products such as drugs and firearms are illegally traded. Black markets can take a toll on an economy, since they are shadow markets where economic activity is not recorded and taxes are not paid. In the financial context, the biggest black market exists for currencies in nations with strict currency controls. While most consumers may shun the black market because they consider it sleazy, there may be rare occasions when they have no choice but to turn to this necessary evil.

What is gained by this charade?

More from Wrabel’s article:

Commissioner Pam Riley said she is concerned about the impact on local housing, especially as the county considers adding apartments and townhomes.

“The more you remove what could be housing units, really at any price range, from the long-term rental, you’re really exacerbating your affordability problem,” she said.

The Free Enterprise Forum finds itself again agreeing with SELC’s Pietila’s  economic analysis, if not his property rights restriction on that analysis:

Pietila said officials should consider limiting whole-house rentals in the rural area to existing houses.

“This would give existing homeowners the ability to earn some extra income and help defray housing costs, while reducing the risk of encouraging new house construction,” he said.

We have seen anecdotally, the short term rental income provides the revenue needed that makes the housing ‘affordable’.  If a unit (home, apartment, townhouse) has a monthly cost (mortgage/rent) of $900 a month and it is rented four weekend days at $150 a night, that generates $600 in revenue, this income helps offset housing cost.  Anecdotally, we have witnessed families visit their parents for football weekends and pay their entire monthly housing cost with the revenue.

Commissioner Daphne Spain is quoted in Wrabel’s article questioning the property owner rights regarding short term rentals:

…Spain said she noticed that many comments said that people should be able to do what they want with their homes to generate income.

“I don’t give much credence to that, because if they wanted to open a brewery or a speakeasy to earn money, or a brothel, that wouldn’t be allowed, so there are limits for the public good on what a person can do with their home and these are all residential areas,” she said.

Spain’s argument is really comparing apples and oranges. Unlike a brewery (or even brothel), the use of the property is still residential – it is just a question of the length of stay in residential.  How are the impacts different?

Which has more impact on me as a land owner, my neighbor renting out his house on weekends or a family with 5 teenagers moving in next door?

The reality we see from the Planning Commission is a clear anti short term rental bias.  Albemarle County would be wise to focus on mitigating any impacts of short term rentals [under existing ordinances] and skip any fatally flawed attempt to strangle this thriving new business with onerous regulations that are unlikely to be followed and will be impossible to enforce.

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.

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

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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