Category Archives: Growth Issues

Greene PC Recommends Approval of US29 Rezoning

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

US29 North (Subject Parcel to the right)

US 29 North (Subject parcel to the right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Google Street View

The Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Often the most enlightening questions start with, “What if?”

Working with co-author Derek Bedarf, we looked at developing empirical data to answer the question, “What if Charlottesville’s annexation was successful compared with the results of the negotiated Revenue Sharing Agreement?”

After significant research and deliberation, it was determined that this information was available but not assembled in a manner that made such calculations easy. Utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) technology for the real estate assessment data and 15 years of Albemarle County budget documents for the other taxes (sales taxes, consumer utility taxes, business taxes, motor vehicle licenses  and prepared food and beverage taxes.  Other taxes excluded from this study, for a variety of reasons, include utility consumption tax, short term rental tax, clerk fees, transient occupancy tax, penalties  interest, and audit revenues), The Free Enterprise Forum calculated the tax revenue generating power of the study area.

The resulting “Hindsight Report” examines the tax generating power of the proposed annexation area as it compares with the revenue sharing payments.

  •  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).

 

  • During the study period, study area property owners paid $72 million less in real estate taxes by being in Albemarle instead of the City of Charlottesville. This “Non-Annexation” Dividend averaged saved (Albemarle) property owners between $3 million and $4 million annually topping out at $6 million in 2007.

The question the data does not answer is whether the Revenue Sharing Agreement was a good deal for all involved.  This is a subjective question that can only be answered in context.

At the time, the historical record suggests annexation was a very real threat and revenue sharing negotiations were heated.

The historical public record also shows many citizens at the public hearing raising some of the same questions regarding equity and fairness that remain part of the discussion today.

Was it a good deal?

Hopefully this data will help you decide.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the Revenue Sharing agreement during their second August meeting on Wednesday August 9th.

Founded in 2003, The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization focused on Central Virginia’s local governments.

The entire Hindsight Report can be accessed at www.freeenterprisefoum.org under the reports tab.

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.

Greene Supervisors Endorse Schools Project Fund Application

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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

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

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

clip_image006

Kristie Spencer

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

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

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

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

Jim Frydl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Charlottesville Philosophy to YIMBY

Adapted from testimony to The City of Charlottesville Planning Commission, July 25, 2017

By. Neil Williamson, President

As you conduct the “legal” review of Charlottesville’s Zoning Ordinance, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that you may be actually, perhaps unintentionally, working against some of the comprehensive plan goals.  Decreasing heights, densities and intensity of development may seem to be reflecting the opinions of some vocal opponents to economic expansion but how does it impact the City’s goals for a vibrant community with affordable housing and economic opportunities for all.

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

Image result for yimby I recently reviewed the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) San Francisco platform and I believe there are many parallels to Charlottesville.  If you insert Charlottesville instead of San Francisco to their preamble, I believe it could be endorsed across the political spectrum:

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.

Quartz Media’s Dan Kopf recently wrote an article about the YIMBY movement:

[Sonja] Trauss and fellow San Francisco YIMBY Party members, a group that now includes more than 500 people, believe that the only way to solve San Francisco’s housing problem is by building a hell of a lot more houses. To advocate for this, YIMBYs, many of whom are millennials tired of skyrocketing rents, have aligned themselves with private developers and against long-settled locals who see new housing as an intrusion on their lifestyle and, more importantly, a threat to the value of their homes. YIMBY groups have also emerged in New York, Seattle, and Boston, among other places, challenging the much more prevalent NIMBYs (“not in my back yarders”) who favor keeping things as they are.

The YIMBY solution is different than many others advocating for affordable housing.  Rather than seeking government mandates for subsidized housing or funds to be placed into a “housing affordability trust fund”, YIMBY platform seeks to impact the supply/demand curve by increasing the supply:

We strongly support building new housing. We have a severe housing shortage. Increasing supply will lower prices for all and expand the number of people who can live in the Bay Area.

We should build more housing in every neighborhood — especially high-income neighborhoods.

High density housing goes with high-quality public transit and walkability. However, housing can be built before or in anticipation of the construction of future transit improvements.

The people most hurt by a housing shortage are those with the least means.

So many of the conversations at the Planning Commission and City Council are focused on the topic of density.  In 1982, when Charlottesville and Albemarle reached their revenue sharing agreement, the City’s borders were set, no growth via annexation.  Somewhere in the late 1990s and early 2000s, population densification become a negative rallying cry of those opposed to increased development of the city.  Perhaps as a tip of the hat to these concerns, the SF-YIMBY platform boldly declares “Density is good”:

We are unapologetic urbanists who believe in the virtues of cities. More people living in close proximity to each other can improve their lives and the lives of those far beyond city limits.

  1. Density is sustainability: it reduces urban sprawl, reduces water usage, uses energy more efficiently, and creates a smaller carbon footprint.
  2. Density is accessibility: it encourages walking and biking, makes transit more efficient, reduces social isolation, and increases residents’ access to diverse cultural products and to each other.
  3. Density is opportunity: it increases access to jobs, supports diverse businesses, promotes innovation, and enables people to be more productive.
  4. The Bay Area is a particularly efficient place to build housing because of its moderate climate.
  5. People should be free to choose to live in places that are urban, compact and walkable, low-density and car-centric, or rural. Not everyone wants to live in a dense city. However, current policies restrict the supply of urban housing, leaving suburban life as the only affordable option for many.

Kopf’s article included an interview with Sonja Trauss regarding her definition of a YIMBY:

What exactly does it mean to be a YIMBY?

It means you are an advocate for housing. It means you believe that not having enough housing to accommodate newcomers is terrible public policy that leads to displacement.

YIMBYs want there to be neighborhoods of all varying levels of affordability close to job centers, so people can participate in the city’s economy. What ever your your situation is, we think you should be able to live in the city center if you want to.

The thing about housing is that, in many places, decisions about it are made in a distributed way. In California, no city can just decide to build 10,000 houses, though sometimes mayors will say that. The reality is that the decision is made almost building by building.

If you are in a growing metro area, like San Francisco, there will be times when housing development is proposed in your neighborhood. Being a YIMBY means piping up and supporting that development at neighborhood meetings, or by emails to the government.

No platform is complete without policy recommendations and while we in Virginia can not speak to the need for California Environmental Quality Act reform ,we can endorse the majority of the SF-YIMBY policy prescriptions.  It is interesting how many of these topics have been raised in Charlottesville over the last few years.

We believe in long-term planning. Once a citywide or neighborhood plan is made, the process for building should be streamlined, well-defined and predictable. It should not impose significant delays on or add significant costs to a project, nor should individual property owners or neighborhood associations have the power to hijack it.

  1. As-of-Right building: development plans approved at the departmental level if the project is within existing zoning.
  2. Mandate or incentivize cities to follow regional master plans and statewide housing policies or mandates.
  3. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reform.
  4. Raise height limits.
  5. Form-based zoning.
  6. Mixed-use zoning.
  7. Complete streets.

The Free Enterprise Forum strongly requests that you look at all the consequences (perhaps unintended) in your so called legal review.  Consider how these changes balance against the YIMBY platform.  We believe the impacts of many of the changes currently proposed are far beyond a simple legal review, and worse, are counter to the community goals for housing supply, economic vitality, and quality of life.

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: Yimby Toronto

Greene Supervisors Get School Project Update

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

At the July 11th  Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting, three residents spoke in favor of the proposed school facility study. The third speaker used the military term, FUBAR, to describe the current traffic patterns at the Stanardsville campus.

As background, School Board President Leah Paladino outlined the 31 month process to date. A committee was selected to oversee the process and the company VMDO https://www.vmdo.com/ from Charlottesville has been contracted by the School Board to study and make recommendations for the project.

clip_image002

Leah Paladino

Paladino indicated that VMDO prioritized the project with 1) safety / security, 2) increase capacity for the 7th fastest growing county in Virginia, 3) adaptability and 4) space for the community to use.

Paladino then introduced Bryce Powell from VMDO to go over the detail of the project.  The plan concept is to tie the school project in with the Main Street project and reduce traffic conflicts on the school campus.  The plan is iterative with each step in the project builds toward the next phase.

Per Powell, the total presentation is a forward look 15-20 years into the future with the “dark blue” section being the first phase that is being discussed tonight. The emphasis is on safer cross walks, improved outdoor dining, having all the buses go to the back of the high school for drop off and pick up of students and the front to be used for parent dropping off students. The pedestrian crossings may have a raised, colored surface to highlight these areas to drivers to ensure safety.

clip_image004

As the Greene County is the 7th fastest growing county in the state, the plan is to expand the high school and the middle school to be able to hold an additional 200 students each – more than the current demand. At the high school the dining room congestion is a primary focus. The middle school also needs the kitchen and cafeteria enlarged. The space to enlarge the middle school will come from pushing Monroe Drive farther away from the school to allow for an expansion at the front of the building.

clip_image006

clip_image008

Powell discussed the cost of the project vs. what had been projected last fall. While the plan has become more focused in the past 8 months, construction costs have risen significantly this spring – 15-20%. He attributed this to contractors from Charlottesville to Harrisonburg having a large volume of work that enables them to raise prices in addition to a skilled labor shortage that drives up their costs. The Free Enterprise Forum has seen this trend in many municipal projects in recent months.

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked Powell what he expects will happen to operating costs. Powell indicated with upgrades to the HVAC systems and improved lighting he expected the energy costs to decline. In addition, he indicated that there are relatively small increases in square footage (approximately 3,000 square feet at the high school and middle school each) and it was mainly a reconfiguration of the existing footprint.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) asked Powell how firm the costs were. Powell indicated that they were at the high end. For example, the increased space for 200 students at both the high school and middle school might only require seating for 320 to start. It wouldn’t be the maximum day one as the plan has room for growth.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) stated the presentation while detailed was excellent. It was well thought out and presented well.

Perhaps in a measure of full transparency, the School Board prepared an amortization schedule for the project. The project must be sent out to bid before the Board of Supervisors approves the final expenditure (and determines the financing mechanisms).

The financial pages of the presentation were addressed by Kristie Spencer, Greene County Schools Director of Business and Facilities.

clip_image010

Kristie Spencer

The first page she presented was the retiring of current schools debt, by year and cumulatively. The reductions  started at $230k going into 2018. The next three years show the largest reductions 2018 = $103K, 2019 = $183K and 2020 = $312K so that the cumulative amount by 2020 grows to $828K. The next seven years range from increases of $12K to $57K and then spike back up to $298K in 2028 and $463K in 2029. By 2029 the cumulative amount of retired debt reaches $1,765K.

As a reminder to the supervisors, Spencer stated the current unspent Capital Fund Balance which has accumulated to a balance of $2,815,000.As the supervisors had not decided to use these accrued funds, Spencer did not show using these funds to pay for the project even though these funds could pay for the first two and one half years.

The next two pages showed four scenarios, two with 25 year loans one at 3% and another at 3.5%. The other two scenarios used 30 year financing with 3% and 3.5%. The gross annual cost with the 25 year and 3% scenario is $1,630,000.

However, each year as more existing debt is paid off (see two paragraphs above) thus reducing the net payment for the project to where in 2029 there is actually a reduction below the current level of debt service.

 

Year Net Increase in Thousands Tax Rate Impact Less Capital Fund Balance in Thousands
2018  $1,297  0 0
2019  $1,115  0 0
2020  $803  0.02  $399.00 
2021  $786  0.04
2022  $774  0.04
2023  $762  0.04
2024  $749  0.04
2025  $696  0.04
2026  $639  0.03
2027  $627  0.03
2028  $328  0.02
2029  $(135) -0.01
2030  $(135) -0.01
2031  $(135) -0.01
2032  $(136) -0.01
2033  $(138) -0.01
2034  $(136) -0.01
2035  $(135) -0.01
2036  $(135) -0.01
2037-42  $(135) -0.01

Average Tax Rate Impact = $.02/Year

Average Tax Rate Impact less Capital Fund Balance = $.01/Year

The current projected cost of the project of $28 million would cost nearly $41 million ($1.63 million x 25 years) with interest at 3% over 25 years, the net additional cost accumulated over 25 years would equal approximately $7 million in total above current levels. Plus the accumulated Capital Fund Balance of $2.814 million represents excess tax revenue that taxpayers have paid in previous years.

While there are many infrastructure demands on the Capital Fund Balance, we ask that Supervisors consider using this dedicated fund prior to increasing the tax rate.

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

Greene Seeks To Address Define Blight

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

Alan Yost

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Albemarle staff report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad ‘Housekeeping’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Image result for alice brady bunchGrowing up in the 1970s, the only ‘housekeeper’ I knew was Alice from the Brady Bunch.  She was an important part of the family who helped out getting everything accomplished for a busy family with six children.  She was well respected by the children, the community and her employers.

Now, in separate, equally disturbing, actions both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are giving Alice a bad name.

Please let me explain.

Under the auspices of literally “Housekeeping” AlbemarlePC Legal notice plans, by my count, nearly 30 code revisions.  The legal ad for the June 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing (right) was dense, even by Albemarle standards.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds some of the changes proposed, we remain concerned that other items are clearly being pushed through for political expediency and are being “hidden in plain sight”.

Yesterday, I literally took out my magnifying glass to read the small print.  Policy wonks may read the legal ads this closely but by putting thirty largely unrelated code revisions into Zoning Text Amendment, the opportunity for obfuscation is great.

In a municipal game of “Where’s Waldo” see if you can find the second amend statement in the ad above.  If you were able to find it, you would find this innocuous legalese:

Amend Section 18-32.6 to clarify that specifications for recreational facilities comply with Sections 18-4.16-4.16.3;

Reading the text above, Alice (and pretty much everyone else) might think this is just “cleaning up” some legal stuff to make it comply with some other legal stuff.  But in reality, these twelve words eliminate special use permits for golf and swim clubs in the rural areas, effectively banning new golf courses in Albemarle County.  [correction June 13 10:46 am  this language is to clean up the ordinance, a separate SUP (and public engagement plan) will be submitted to eliminate golf courses in the rural area – per e-mail from Albemarle’s Bill Fritz- the Free Enterprise Forum regrets this error – nw] This is just one of the “housekeeping” items buried in the proposed Zoning Text Amendment

Albemarle is not alone in burying changes in “housekeeping” activities.  Charlottesville Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson took City Council’s charge of a “Legal Review” to mean anything her office wanted to change should be a part of the review.

Luckily, the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) took a long look at the “Legal Review”. As CADRe stated in their May 23rd letter to the Planning Commission:

In the case where a revision represents a substantive change that we feel is inappropriate for the Legal Review and better served by potential Amendments following the update to the Comprehensive Plan, we have noted as Substantive Change. [emphasis added-nw]

Much more than just “Housekeeping” CADRe’s letter outlined 16 pages of Substantive Changes; including the elimination of non residential uses in residential districts:

Also, what about all the other non-residential uses that are currently permitted in residential districts per the residential matrix? Is there a proposed replacement matrix that maintains these uses?

Examples: Houses of worship, temporary outdoor churches, cemetery, Health clinic, private clubs, wireless facilities (antennas, attached facilities, etc.), day care facility, schools (elementary, high school, college) funeral home, library, municipal govt. offices, property management, parking garage/lot, indoor health/sports clubs, parks, utility facilities, utility lines, consumer service business.
If these uses are eliminated from the residential districts this too is a SIGNIFICANT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE

Regardless of your position on the issues buried in these Zoning Text Amendments, it is difficult for us to understand how one would find these changes as “Housekeeping”.  Instead, we see it as an attempt, albeit a legal attempt, to circumvent the normal process and implement significant changes without proper public engagement.

Alice would indeed be disappointed in this shaming of the word “Housekeeping”.

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: WJBQ.com

Fluvanna Finances $8 Million for ZXR Water Project; Discusses Refinancing School Debt

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors have a tentatively agreed to finance the Zion Crossroads (ZXR) water project with $8 million of debt.  The county was approved to finance up to $8.5 million through the Virginia Resource Authority.

The ZXR project is projected to cost $10.2 million. The county has $4 million in cash savings, most commonly called the fund balance.  Supervisors debated how much they would feel comfortable financing between $6 million and $8 million and for how long.

“I would encourage you to go $8 [million],” said county administrator Steve Nichols.

OBrien2014 photo credit Fluvanna County

Tony O’Brien

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said, “The more flexibility we have in regards to the fund balance, the better.”

The county was advised by staff to go no more than 25 years on the bonds to avoid financing a project longer than the project’s replacement cycle.  The estimated lifespan of the project is 50 years for the water tower, 15 to 20 years for mechanical parts and 70 to 80 years for the pipes.

“You should view this debt as an investment,” said O’Brien.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) said, “It is definitely an investment.”

Also at the June 7 meeting, supervisors decided it will sit back and watch the market in regards to how to reinvest $58 million worth of bonds.  In third quarter 2018, the school bonds will have about a 100-day span where money can be reinvested. The proceeds of the investments would be profit for the county.

“I don’t think you will make less [later] than you are going to make today,” said Patricia Eager (Palmyra District).

The county explored a float agreement where the county would now offer companies an opportunity to invest money when the chance arises in 2018. The companies would pay the county now for the opportunity later.

Another option is to buy state and local government series (SLGS) securities. However, the government regulates when those can be purchased. Currently SLGS securities are not allowed to be purchased but it is expected to open again.

As the opportunity to reinvest the bonds gets closer, the float agreement becomes less advantageous because companies would not be ‘betting’ on the market. Another issue with the float agreement is the county would pay fees which would take away maximum income.

If SLGS window is closed during the reinvestment period, the county could purchase treasury bonds for a similar rate.

“In other words, [by not doing anything now] we are taking a risk?” said Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

Eager responded, “Not a very big risk.”

The county administration recent discovered a new ‘bed and breakfast’. Staff has discovered 20 to 25 homes are listed on popular sharing economy website airbnb, where owners can rent out spare rooms to strangers.

The state now allows localities to regulate this new type of lodging options. Many localities have had an adversarial relationship with airbnb because many owners are failing to pay lodging (and business) taxes. [Albemarle County is considering a new lodging tax and business tax ordinance this Wednesday]

However Fluvanna has no lodging taxes. County staff asked the supervisors for direction regarding the issue. Weaver found no issue if renting your own home was legal.

“Have you had any issues?” Weaver asked and received a no. “Then leave it alone.”

County attorney Fred Payne said, “I think [the market] is so new, it is still shaking down.”

Staff offered an opportunity to require airbnb hosts to register with the county. “I think it is a very fluid market,” said O’Brien.

Staff research and return to the board with opportunities or regulations.

The next Fluvanna Board of Supervisors meeting is June 21 at 7 p.m.


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

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum 

Photo Credit: Fluvanna County

Sprawl Wars–One Rouge

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

2017UGsession6_4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

VDOT’s Green Route 29 Expressway

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

“You have to show people the ramps, you have to show people the expressway you’re building,” Henry Weinschenk said.- Charlottesville Tomorrow May 2010

Henry was right — the Expressway is coming. It was likely a dozen years ago, and countless ‘stakeholder’ meetings ago when I first heard the term “US29 Expressway”; today as I review the documents and plans, I see the expressway being an accepted reality.

Today, even as the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) is calling out highways that separate communities, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) consultant planners are prepared to take US29 over (or under) Hydraulic Road and perhaps top it with a green feature, a cap park.

One of the biggest challenges to “planning” the future is current reality.  As VDOT consultants draw conceptual maps, each has a small disclaimer:

ILLUSTRATIVE AND FOR CONCEPTUAL PURPOSES ONLY INTENDED TO ILLUSTRATE BROAD CONCEPTS AND ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO REPRESENT POTENTIAL FUTURE DEVELOPMENT SCENARIOS [ALL CAPS IN ORIGINAL – nw]

While I understand that none of the three concepts presented so far are the likely outcome of the transportation planning piece of this study, the direction is of critical import.

Despite this important caveat, significant changes to the future of Hydraulic and the areas around it are being discussed and not all of the ideas are gaining traction with panel members or the community.

The concept of urban interstates was very big in the 1960s.  Today, many of these same roads are now charged with hindering community cohesion and promoting gentrification.  The very highways that were originally constructed to promote mobility and connect communities to each other are being targeted as fracturing communities.

CNU’s recent report Freeways Without Futures is the fifth in a series of reports suggesting the destruction of such intercity interstates.  The report states:

But some highways on this list are here to stay—and even expand. State highway engineers still love straight, wide roads, and this inertia cannot be underestimated. At the very least, some state DOTs are becoming more sensitive to impacted communities. Lately, “cap parks” have emerged as compromise solutions that restitch neighborhoods bifurcated by highways by literally covering up their air and noise impacts. Denver’s much-protracted fight over I-70 came to a decisive moment last week, when the Federal Highway Administration approved Colorado’s plans to lower the highway below grade, widen lanes from six to ten, and put a grassy “cap” over a small section of it. It will adjoin a local schoolyard. The I-70 saga offers one illustration of the challenges in such highway facelifts: Many residents love the prospect of a grassy cap park, while others fear that hiding the highway beneath it could draw in a tide of gentrification and displacement. (Emphasis added – NW)

But what does this have to do with Charlottesville?

Last week, the Route 29 Solutions Hydraulic Planning Advisory Panel (colloquially known as the HPAP) heard three different Framework Concepts for the US29 Hydraulic Intersection. Two of the three concepts embrace some measure of the cap park concept.

US29 Over Hydraulic Concept:

Rt 29 at Hyrdraulic lower level plaza

In the meeting, many panel members expressed concern with creating such significant ‘public space’ under the highway.  This option likely had the least amount of support.

Alternative B where US29 goes Under Hydraulic Road:

Rt 29 Hydraulic Upper Plaza

Some panel members were intrigued by this concept especially the pedestrian orientation of the upper plaza.  There were some concerns raised but this concept will likely move forward for more refinement.

In Alternative C the “Park” bridge most closely resembles CNU’s grassy cap concept.

Park Bridge at Seminole and Rt 29

The “Park” bridge/tunnel is designed to connect Seminole Square Shopping Center and The Shops at Stonefield and eliminating direct access from these important job creating properties.

Reminding readers of the consultant caveat above, one part of this concept map included the creation of a large public park where Sperry Marine currently sits.  While appreciative of the planners’ open mindedness, one must wonder what the 500+ Sperry employees think of their office becoming a park.  Albemarle County economic development folks would be wise to be proactive in these discussions. Once maps are part of the public record people get antsy.

It is also of interest that last week’s presentation did not include any images of an at grade intersection with more limited turning movements that had been discussed in the previous meetings.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have a preferred vision for this intersection but we would echo the voice of one HPAP member who, in a previous meeting, asked “What if, in 30 years, the community decided to build a bypass, will this significant infrastructure investment still be worthwhile?”

Significant philosophical questions remain on the table:

  • If we are putting an expressway through our Main Street, should we camouflage it? How?
  • How will the neighborhoods react to a designed litany of roundabouts and through traffic?
  • How will this infrastructure investment impact property values and redevelopment possibilities?
  • What is in the best long term interest of our community?
  • If community needs and transportation needs are in conflict – which wins?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.

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 Credits: VDOT Route 29 Solutions