Category Archives: Forum Watch

Free Enterprise Wants 7 Minutes and Your Opinion

See the source imageAs a community leader, can you spare 7 minutes of your time to complete an important, anonymous, survey regarding the Free Enterprise Forum?

Your voice is important.  The Board seeks your input via this short, albeit unscientific, survey.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government in the City of Charlottesville and the surrounding counties.

We utilize direct appeal, research papers, social media, mainstream media, and blog posts to add pro-business balance to public policy discussions.  Areas of impact include housing affordability, land use, economic development, as well as environmental regulation.

Now in its sixteenth year, the Free Enterprise Forum Board of Directors is discerning the organization’s effectiveness and future direction and the results of this survey will help.

Please click on this link (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CZNSBPR) or any of the survey hyperlinks in this post to complete the 7 minute survey.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Robert P. Hodous, 2019 Free Enterprise Forum Chair

Photo Credit: Incolors Club

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2018 Forum Watch Top 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

top ten listPerhaps the best thing that can be said about 2018 was it was not 2017.

As our community is still dealing with the very real ramifications of August 2017, 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 complete 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 2018.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2018:

clip_image002#10 Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”  “ …Representatives of the volunteer rescue squad and Fire Departments also addressed the Board of Supervisors. Their message was clear – we are getting “no clear supervision” and it goes back and forth who we are to answer to.

Several other citizens asked that the Supervisors have the courage to back up and revert to how E911 worked since 2012 and then have a committee analyze how best to address E911 services in the future. One of the final public comments was there seems to be “a failure to communicate” in Greene County”

#9 Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model …”A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised….”

#8 Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”? “…At the end of the meeting, [Brandon] Collins presented a different pers

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Brandon Collins

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

#7 Delta Response Team Rescue Headed to Fluvanna …Fluvanna County will start with a new contract ambulance service this upcoming year.Delta Response Team (DRT), headquartered in Appomattox, was selected after a Request for Proposal (RFP) process was completed by the county. It will cost the county $438,000 for 24-hour services. The county budget $600,000 for FY19.  “We are not here to make a career service,” said Susan Walton, president of DRT.

#6 Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction “…This proposal has sped through the County’s approval process faster than any in recent memory.  Their “need for speed” is not clear and an e-mail requesting more information has not been returned.

Throughout this speedy process, there has been significant discussion regarding the impact of this land use change on property values.  In testimony before the Planning Commission several residents suggested the value could drop by up to 90%.  One speaker indicated that a potential real estate contract is in peril because of the proposed ZTA….”

#5 Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability “…So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?…”

See the source image#4 Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout “…The Free Enterprise Forum believes BRT is dramatically better than light rail, but we are not yet convinced that a mere two years after widening North US29, the community is willing to give up a lane on US29 for bus only access.  Since the jury is clearly still out regarding BRT, should we be planning this critical infrastructure piece with the station as the center?

In addition, the long term connectivity plan calls for roads to cut through Fashion Square Mall to connect to a new access road paralleling US29 and a pedestrian/bike bridge over US29 and that’s just the Southeast corner of the plan….”

#3 Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future  “…  Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.  There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.

Please let me explain….”

#2 Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal “…The Free Enterprise Forum has learned that eight of Albemarle County twenty-one Entrance Corridors fail to meet the state requirements for such designation.  Some of these have been in violation since inception in 1990.  This revelation, made by staff, calls into question the legality and enforceability of any ARB conditions placed on properties along the eight illegal entrance corridors….”

and the #1 post for 2019  Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy “…Albemarle’s Stormwater https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/no-rain-tax-logo.jpg?w=175&h=175Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department….Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

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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 2019!

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.

Proposed Politically Proactive Agenda of Albemarle’s Community Advisory Committees

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentImage result for warner wolf let's go to the videotape

I grew up watching television sports anchor Warner Wolf’s trademark introduction to each evening’s highlights, “Let’s Go To The Videotape”.

I anticipate Wolf would be most appreciative of The Crozet Gazette recording (digitally) the entirety of last week’s Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) meeting.

But I get ahead of myself.  Please let me explain. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has been very critical of Albemarle County’s Community Advisory Committees.  Here are just a few of our posts:

Most of the people serving on these unelected development area committees are sincere residents working to make their community a better place by commenting on development proposals, evaluating traffic reduction measures and discussing community infrastructure investments.  But there are some that seem to believe these CACs, as they are known “represent the majority of the development area residents” and should be empowered to set the political agenda.

At the very end of last week’s CCAC meeting,  Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach clearly outlined his desire for the group to work with the other CACs to develop a Proactive CAC Action Agenda:

Loach said:

Why we should have a dialog with the other CACs [is] because I don’t think their problems are any different than ours … Here every year we have a meeting that the county calls and its all the CACs together…. but nothing gets done, there is no result in it….

…What I would like to see us do is work with the other CACs and start to come up with an agenda, an action agenda, that we can use for all of the CACs for the next year so that when we do that we’re not talking as individual CACs we’re talking essentially as the majority of the residents of the growth areas … I’d rather be proactive than reactive.

…What I am looking for are the global [themes between CACs] that we can focus on as an agenda item to work with the Board [of Supervisors] Emphasis Added-NW

Don’t believe me, thanks to the Crozet Gazette we can [as Warner Wolf would say]  go to the videotape:  https://t.co/PZFK6W60bv

Now to be fair, Loach was seeking to have a larger discussion about this concept at the next CCAC meeting and the last minute proposal was greeted by CCAC members gathering their papers. The topic will be added to the group’s October agenda.

The Free Enterprise Forum has learned this is not the first time this issue has come up.  It was apparently discussed at the CAC Chairs/Vice Chairs meeting earlier this year.  The topic is listed as a 10 minute discussion item on tomorrow night’s Places 29 Rio CAC agenda.

We hope each CAC will push back on the Loach Proactive CAC Action Agenda concept, perhaps by citing Albemarle County’s specific charge of the CAC:

image

Based on the diverse membership of the CCAC and the general level headedness of the other CACs, I do not think the Loach Proactive CAC Action Agenda will see the light of day.

We hope not; such is the work of elected officials who are answerable to all the voters both in and outside of the development areas.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: www.networthpost.com

Charlottesville Engagement Enragement

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In private life, in order to be ‘engaged’ one person has to ask and another has to accept.   Things are not nearly as clear or complete in the public sector.

Charlottesville Planning Commission AND Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) are wrestling with the proper calibration of their independent public engagement efforts.  Hours of discussion and deliberation have been dedicated to not only with whom they engage but also the manner such engagement reaches (or fails to reach) underrepresented demographic targets.

For the Comprehensive Plan the Planning Commission has been using more traditional town hall style meetings and workshops, while almost concurrently the HAC is seeking City Council approval to spend ~$200,000 to conduct a much more involved public engagement process regarding their Housing Strategy Document.

Please let me explain.image

If you follow me on social media, you have seen my #SeatsAvailable posts from countless public meetings.

In the last year, there have been significantly more, and more diverse meeting attendees (especially in Charlottesville).  This is a good thing; but not everyone is coming to the meetings.

Much of the world of citizen engagement is now digital.  Released earlier today, the 2018 Granicus Benchmark Report analyzed 1.6 million emails, activity from 185 million citizen subscribers, and visitor behavior on over 400,000 web pages over a one-year period (June 2017June 2018).

“In today’s data-rich environment, public sector communicators are turning to digital platforms that generate real-time performance metrics and deliver insights that can enhance their approach to citizen engagement,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes. “Measured across 4,000 organizations, the Granicus Benchmark Report provides industry metrics for engagement metrics so that communicators can iterate on the strategies that are working in the public sector. Better engagement translates into better outcomes for organizations and their priorities such as program adoption, participation in public meetings, or voter turnout.”

 The Institute for Local Government defines six different types of public engagement:

imageBy defining the goal of the engagement helps determine which of these topographies best fit.

In my estimation, too often localities are in the public information /outreach mode, where they want to tell you what they are doing but are not truly listening to the response.

The other end of the spectrum is equally bad where elected (and appointed) officials are too fearful of the public response and seek to put a finger in the wind for every decision.  This is best represented in this chart by the sustained public problem solving.  In this case rather than leading, the elected officials are creating scapegoats to duck what statutorily is clearly their direct responsibility.

The Planning Commission has been working on community engagement with their Comprehensive plan work since early last year.  Starting in May 2017, the city held a series of community engagement workshops explaining the comprehensive plan process and seeking input from the public regarding the plan and the land use map.  The planning commission then held nine more public outreach sessions (July-August 2017) with more detailed maps and listening stations and a structured questionnaire.  After the initial public workshops, the commission took this public input and worked on adjusting the previous (2013) comprehensive plan with the new thoughts and concepts.

In May 2018, the commission held four identical public workshops in locations across the City. Last week, in a meeting with City Council, there was less than satisfaction regarding the level of public engagement with the plan especially with the low income community.  It was determined that an outreach document would be prepared to solicit feedback and some members of City Council (Wes Bellamy and perhaps others) would work to get that document created, printed, distributed, collected and collated in the next four weeks.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…..

Engagement is a critical part not only of the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan work but also the Housing Advisory Committee’s (HAC) Affordable Housing Strategy.  City Council and HAC will meet tomorrow (8/30) to discuss their outreach efforts.  They explain the import of such engagement to the effort:

engagement
In Charlottesville’s history, the failure of institutions and city government to be accountable to low-wealth communities, particularly communities of color, has taken many forms: violent suppression, structural oppression, neglect, half-hearted or insincere attempts that serve to manufacture consent, and well-meaning attempts that end up failing due to their assumptions, framework, and processes favoring those in power and resulting in lopsided and inaccurate information, community inaction, or community harm.
Housing is at the root of historical structural inequity and oppression in the United States, and it came to be this way deliberately. As we build a strategy to achieve a local housing landscape that is healthy, ample, high quality, and affordable, we must be equally deliberate in dismantling the dynamics and the structures that perpetuate continued inequity—structures that often go unnoticed by those of us who benefit from them or don’t directly experience their harm.
To that end, rather than relying on the existing power structure to set the narrative and define the discussion, the community engagement strategy must leverage community relationships and expertise to genuinely engage our community. This methodology is vital to the project’s success and to the quality and legitimacy of the final Affordable Housing Strategy.

The scope of the HAC public engagement plan is significantly more robust, active and expensive ($200,019) than the Planning Commission’s efforts.  The objective of this data collection is made clear in the HAC proposal:

The city will engage with a consultant to plan and execute the community engagement process, which includes community outreach and response, training of citizen-interns to engage peer-to-peer conversations within their communities, data collection, data analysis, information delivery, and stewardship. The consultant will be an advocate for eliciting, amplifying, and accurately reporting resident voices. . .

[scope of work includes]  . . . Design a community engagement process that will engage the most citizens in the most personal and most meaningful ways possible. The emphasis will be on proactively connecting and engaging with low-income residents, people of color, and others traditionally underserved, underrepresented, and/or overshadowed by citizens who are more vocal, affluent, politically involved, and deferred to.

Methods and activities could include the following:

  • community meetings (all meetings must include childcare and meals or refreshments)
  • door-to-door outreach
  • training of peer outreach workers to engage in peer-to-peer outreach that will leverage existing relationships and distribute communication efforts across the city
  • focus groups
  • distribution of self-guided discussion toolkits
  • tabling/interviewing at local gathering places, work hubs, and commercial spots
  • texting platforms for communicating with participants
  • use of social media and website

The Institute for Local Government describes three orientations of local government public engagement: Passive, Active or Sustaining.  Their experience (and ours) indicates that most local efforts to engage the public are one time events focused on one time issues a roadway (Bypass), climate provision, school budget, etc.  They advocate localities need to move toward a more sustained public engagement  and “embed” a capacity beyond these “one and done” efforts.

the benefits of sustained, effective and inclusive public engagement are significant. They include: better identification of the public’s values and ideas; more informed residents; improved local agency decision making and actions; and more public trust and confidence in local government.

In reviewing the Housing Advisory Committee Housing Strategy document, we believe this is significant outreach effort but wonder if such engagement is designed to be sustained.  Perhaps the HAC is seeing this as a pilot and if successful it could be easily reconstituted with the already trained peer-to-peer networks.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on budget line items such as the $200K HAC engagement plan. That is a value judgement for City Council to make.

We firmly believe that outreach opportunities should be provided to all citizens.

We also believe public engagement requires willingness to engage from all involved.  We are concerned that a lack of a specific, requested, action may be used to prove “The City is not listening”.

We also know, we are a representative democracy and that requires leadership not governing by survey/poll data.

You’ll never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.–David Mahoney Jr.

There is a time to listen and a time to lead, we hope Charlottesville’s leaders are able to discern the difference.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

 

 

 

Does ‘Social Justice’ Fit in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageLast Tuesday (6/26), the Charlottesville Planning Commission heard from a large number of citizens calling for their Comprehensive Plan process to have more public engagement, to be informed by the recently released housing needs assessment, to directly address racial inequity and to include ‘Social Justice’ throughout the document.

From my Twitter (https://twitter.com/NeilSWilliamson ) notes:

Andrea Massie tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission she supports additional community engagement asks for the comprehensive plan to focus on race. “The planning maps were drawn in the 1950s to segregate our community. There must be an intentional effort to undo this”

Annie Stump tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of her support for additional Comprehensive Plan Community Engagement. Housing Needs Assessment is a great first step. Calls out racial inequity in housing. We should be judged by how we serve our most marginalized.

Brendon Hassler #Albemarle resident tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of marginalized, historically oppressed communities that have a severe lack of trust with the government regarding Comprehensive plan outreach

Lena Seville asks for housing policy to address a long history of discrimination in the #Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan

Anna from #Albemarle bemoans the lack of organization. Suggests that the Comprehensive Plan is designed to be difficult for normal folks to read so developers can push mixed use instead of #AffordableHousing

Virginia code § 15.2-2223 clearly delineates that each locality’s Planning Commission shall draft a comprehensive plan:

making a comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The code provides a non exclusive list of plan elements including:

D. The comprehensive plan shall include the designation of areas and implementation of measures for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of affordable housing, which is sufficient to meet the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income in the locality while considering the current and future needs of the planning district within which the locality is situated.

‘Social Justice” is not a required element, but does it belong in the plan?

Perhaps it depends on your definition of Social Justice.

  • The equitable distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society?
  • The proportional distribution of advantages and disadvantages as it relates to effort?
  • The redistribution of resources from those who “unjustly” gained them?
  • The equal distribution of opportunity?
  • A virtue?

The Pachamama Alliance provides a concise background on Social Justice:

Social Justice as a concept arose in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and subsequent civil revolutions throughout Europe, which aimed to create more egalitarian societies and remedy capitalistic exploitation of human labor. Because of the stark stratifications between wealthy and the poor during this time, early social justice advocates focused primarily on capital, property, and the distribution of wealth.

By the mid-20th century, social justice had expanded from being primarily concerned with economics to include other spheres of social life to include the environment, race, gender, and other causes and manifestations of inequality. Concurrently, the measure of social justice expanded from being measured and enacted only by the nation-state (or government) to include a universal human dimension. For example, governments (still today) measure income inequality among people who share citizenship in common.

In 2015, Ashland Virginia’s Senior Planner Garet Prior penned a thoughtful post “Planning’s Role in Social Justice” calling for the industry reconsider their role and recognize their ethical responsibility to advocate for social justice.

Prior highlighted how activist planning philosophy impacted 1970s planning:

History teaches us the necessity of taking intentional steps to define our role in public service, or else we allow the entrenched powers to direct our purpose, thus making us a tool in continuing the status quo.

During the feverous pitch of the last Civil Rights Movement, in 1965, planning professor Paul Davidoff — who coined the term “advocacy planning” — instructed that “Planning action cannot be prescribed from a position of value neutrality.” Norman Krumholtz illustrated this concept as planning director for Cleveland in 1975 when he set the department’s overriding goal as “providing a wide range of choices for those Cleveland residents who have few, if any, choices.”

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the concept of developing a wide range of choices as long as those choices continue to respect property owner rights.  Prior’s argument goes further to suggest planning departments should be philosophically charged with advocating for specific outcomes rather than “opportunities”.

In his argument, Prior used the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) code of ethics for direction:

“We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs” (emphasis added).

If we are in a true pursuit of equitable outcomes for racially and economically disadvantaged groups, then history informs us that advocacy — more than an urge — will be required.

To fulfill this ethical call to advocacy, we need to better understand how change occurs. We should begin with a process of self-identification to be aware of our values, beliefs, and biases. In working with others, we need to understand that trust is necessary and will only be acquired through time. We need to get out of the office and form intentional relationships with underserved populations. . .

. . .As tensions around social inequities mount, now more than ever planners need to fulfill our ethical values by taking intentional action to advocate for equitable justice solutions. Inaction will only aid in continuing these broken systems because, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

This is a significantly higher level of advocacy than we see as appropriate from staff – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that the elected and appointed positions should be moving their planning philosophy forward and the professional staff should be following their lead.

We completely agree there is a responsibility on the part of planning commissioners and elected officials to actively seek out the opinions of those who are often under represented/underheard in our community.  This information, combined with all the other data that has been collected, should be considered.

Considering all of the above and the state mandated goals of the Comprehensive Plan document, The Free Enterprise Forum believes that while ‘Social Justice’ is an important element to our community conversation but should not be a separate chapter in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Cville PC Paradox — Build Less & Increase Affordability

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Charlottesville Planning Commission seems to believe it is above the immutable economic law of supply and demand as they draft a Comprehensive Plan revision calling for affordable housing while reducing the ‘by right’ building height (and capacity) across nine of the City’s thirteen zoning districts.

If this draft moves forward, it fundamentally shifts the planning paradigm and will likely cause significant harm not only affordable housing but also the overall economic vitality of the City.

Please let me explain.

A 2016 Comprehensive Housing Analysis study conducted for the City by Robert Charles Lesser & Company (RCLCo) found:

The Charlottesville region should not be a supply-constrained market.  However, two key factors are creating supply challenges within the City limits and in the close-in areas of Albemarle County and will continue to drive up home prices and rents:

  1.  Limited land available for new development within the City and close-in areas, driven both by the City’s small land area and built-out character and Albemarle County’s restrictive growth areas.

  2. A large affluent population that desires city living and can afford to pay higher prices for housing compared to the market today, which will continue to drive up land prices, home values and sales prices.

These two market impacts clearly are pressures on either side of the supply/demand curve.  Finance guru Al Erbam defines supply and demand succinctly:

The law of supply states that the quantity of a good supplied (i.e., the amount owners or producers offer for sale) rises as the market price rises, and falls as the price falls. Conversely, the law of demand says that the quantity of a good demanded falls as the price rises, and vice versa.

Given this reality, if the City wants to address affordable housing it would seem like it would be advocating for an increased supply of housing product in their Comprehensive Plan Update.

Per state code, all Virginia localities must review their mandated comprehensive plans every five years.  The goal of this review is to encourage localities to think beyond the near term and create a twenty year community vision. This document generally includes chapters regarding land use, economic development, population projections, affordable housing and environmental issues. While these chapters often have competing priorities, the goal is to provide the locality a guide for future development.

The 2018 Comprehensive Plan, as drafted, significantly reduces the residential carrying capacity of Charlottesville thus increasing price pressures on both existing and new residential and commercial units.

The Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) recently sent a letter to City Council and the Planning Commission outlining their concerns with the proposed nearly citywide downzoning.

The Planning Commission has not publicly stated the specific goals and planning principles informing their proposed changes in the City’s land use and zoning.  Their work thus far … appears to show a determination to “downzone” our downtown and virtually all of our urban mixed-use corridor areas.  Reducing building height and hence buildable area, would create impediments to addressing the City’s housing and workplace shortages, including the affordable housing shortage.

The CADRe letter included a most helpful chart graphically depicting the reduction in by right and “bonus” height compared to the current zoning regulations.

cville downzoning height chart

One portion of the Comprehensive Plan that we have not yet seen is the capacity analysis for future growth.  It will be interesting to see how this version’s capacity analysis (with these reduced heights) compares with the 2013 Comp Plan which stated:

Adding the by-right calculations together, staff finds that the City’s current zoning could accommodate approximately 10,000 additional residential units, or roughly 25,000 additional residents.

All of this ties into the 2013 Comprehensive Plan goal that stated in goal 5.5

Revise the Future Land Use Map so that it represents the desired vision for the City’s future,  Pay special attention to increasing the supply of affordable housing, increasing employment opportunities for all citizens, and encourage the development of mixed income neighborhoods throughout the City. Emphasis added – nw

The City Planning Commission can’t completely ignore the law of supply and demand.  Given the proposed downzoning, the commission must be transparent that its objective of restricting heights will reduce the city’s residential AND commercial carrying capacity. The economic impact of these proposals must be quantified to understand their import.  We believe these changes will harm the economic vitality of the region and significantly reduce housing affordability across all zoning districts.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes reducing existing regulatory barriers and, at a minimum, maintaining the existing allowable heights is the best path forward to improve housing affordability across all price points.

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: 425business.com

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.

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