Category Archives: land use

Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal

By. Neil Williamson, President

On January 16th, 2018, both the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Planning Commission went into to closed sessions “to be briefed by legal counsel related to a zoning overlay district”  — we now know what that was about.

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.

First a little background:

On October 3, 1990 Albemarle County held a public hearing on the proposed Entrance Corridor Guidelines [and the Architectural Review Board].  In that hearing, Mr. Andrew Dracopoli raised concerns about the proposed ordinance:

“is concerned that the ordinance has “sprouted wings”.  It seems like almost every road in the County has become a part of this ordinance whereas when it originally came up, it had only five or six roads.  He would like to see it scaled back to just major roads.”

Today, almost 28 years later, Mr. Dracopoli is proven correct.

According to county staff, during a routine preapplication meeting, a question came up regarding the posted speed limit on the entrance corridor.  Staff researched the issue and determined both the speed limit and that the roadway was not an “arterial street”.

Virginia Code §15.2-2306 enables localities to establish entrance corridor districts encompassing parcels contiguous to arterial streets and highways found to be significant routes of tourist access to the county and to designated historic landmarks, structures, or districts within the county

This revelation, led staff to research each of the current twenty-one entrance corridor designated roadways and found eight did not meet the state “arterial” requirement.

To their credit, staff has prepared a resolution of intent the Board of Supervisors will consider in their February 7th meeting.  The purpose of this resolution is to revise the Entrance Corridor Ordinance removing those roadways that do not qualify as arterials.  The following roadways will no longer be under ARB jurisdiction (nor ever should have been)

Non-Arterial Corridors: Avon St Ext (Rt.742), Barracks Rd (Rt.654), Irish Rd (Rt. 6), Thomas Jefferson Parkway (Rt.53)

Corridors with mixed classifications:5th St and Old Lynchburg Rd (RT. 631), Louisa Rd (Rt.22), Richmond Rd (Rt.250), Stoney Point Rd (Rt. 20)

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about overreach at the ARB – including our 27 page report:  Eye of the Beholder – Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board’s Mission Creep. While we understand the goals and objectives of the ARB and the Entrance Corridors, we believe Albemarle has, since 1990, vastly exceeded the intentions of the enabling legislation.

Today we see many positive signs as Albemarle staff is looking to do the right thing by repealing the illegal designations.  Perhaps now, as a community, we can look to limiting ARB purview to the five or six roads Mr. Dracopoli mentioned in his 1990 testimony.

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: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

 

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Greene Supervisors Decline US 29 Residential Rezone

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Significant public policy issues including affordable housing, economic development and commercial capacity were all part of Tuesday night’s Greene County Board of Supervisors’ rezoning public hearing. A standing room only crowd as well as several media outlets were on hand to hear an unsuccessful rezoning request and, then if rezoing were approved, a request for a Special Use Permit.

Back in December the Greene County Planning Commission voted 4-1 (Morris opposed) to recommend approval of the Mark-Dana Corporation request to rezone of a tract of 8 acres in Ruckersville from B-2, Business to R-2 , Residential.  The current owners of the property are John and Wanda Melone of the Melone Family Trust who plan on selling the property to the Mark-Dana Corporation to be developed.

Greene County Planner Stephanie Golon presented the rezoning application identifying the property as just south of the Blue Ridge Café and the Ruckersville Antiques Gallery on Route 29 South. The 8 acres requesting to be rezoned sits to the west of 7 acres (farther away from Route 29), both parcels owned by the Melone Family Trust.

Golon mentioned that the parcel is located at the south end of the area identified as mixed use in the Comprehensive Plan. The feedback from the departments in Greene County did not have any concerns other than the school system – Schools Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh responded that the Ruckersville Elementary School was at capacity already and the addition of 105 apartments would add to the overcrowding.

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Andrea Whitmarsh

Projected residential growth of the county is expected and is part of the schools justification for expanding the school system. However, the development could generate up to $1.2 million in tap fees to access the public water system.

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David Koogler

Next David Koogler, chairman of the Mark-Dana Corporation,  gave the Supervisors some background of his company. His mother, father and Sister – Dana – operate the company that was started in the 1980’s when President Reagan signed low income housing into law. They have done similar projects in Virginia and Texas and they live in Grottoes, VA.

Jack Melone, one of the owners of the property, then addressed the Board. He explained that the parcel was originally zoned Agricultural, the front part then was rezoned to B-2 and later the county changed all of the zoning to B-2.  Melone stated that this rezone to B-2 has brought about a significant tax increase for him and his family.

The hearing then was open to the public with 12 people commenting and all but two asked that the Supervisors decline the rezoning with the major reason being that it would be take away from business property along Route 29. However, Simon Fiscus Director of Skyline CAP spoke in favor of the project as a way to provide more low income housing for the county.

Several of those opposed to the project agreed that low income housing in Greene County is needed, but not in this location – a prime business location. Others opposed the rezone since the county has already signed up for large expenditures for a water supply and school expansion. The consensus was that adding more people would aggravate both of these issues.

The other issue made by Bill Gentry a realtor with Jefferson Land & Realty in Madison in favor of the rezone was that commercial development looks at rooftops to determine if there is enough demand to support their business. He cited the Lamb property that has set vacant for decades and other parcels that have similar situations. The rezone and the proposed development would help attract more development.

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Bill Gentry

The meeting then shifted to a discussion amongst the Board members. Supervisor Bill Martin asked Golon if the access to the parcel being considered would be through the frontage rather than by some connector in the rear. Golon indicated it is planned to access through the front of the property. Martin further stated that he supports affordable housing and Greene County needs it. However, this property is better suited as B-2, Business.

Supervisor Dale Herring agreed that the property should stay B-2 and that in the long run – 20 to 30 years – the property will better serve the county as currently zoned. Greene needs affordable house, but somewhere else.

Supervisor David Cox brought up another issue that he is not in favor of split zoning and that this would go against developing a business district. The Supervisors unanimously agreed to not approve the zoning request.

At this point Chairperson Michelle Flynn asked Koogler if he wanted to pursue the Special Use Permit.  Koogler said no but he asked to address the Board. He stated that this is the third parcel he has brought before the Supervisors in Greene and all have been disapproved. He stated that his company’s projects do attract businesses. His final request was – would the county please point him to a parcel that would meet the approval of the Supervisors so that his company can bring affordable housing to Greene County

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Alan Yost

Hopefully Greene County can have Economic Development Director Alan Yost and the EDA help identify a viable parcel for this development. As for the specific parcel of Melone, he has previously stated that the tax burden of the property is not sustainable for him. While the county may want commercial development on the parcel – Melone he has tried for years to develop it with business developers, unsuccessfully – he may have to find another way to dispose of the property.

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 http://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

Greene PC Recommends Rezoning To Fix Split Zoning

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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

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

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

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Stephanie Golon

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

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

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

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

Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source image

Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center

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.

The City’s recent decision to abandon their parking meter “pilot program” makes good sense in the short term but the long term issues surrounding parking are significantly larger than a few on street meters.  Currently, the existing garages are effectively full, with greater than 350 potential parkers on waiting lists for the opportunity to buy a monthly parking pass.

Commercial development activity continues in downtown with four prominent parking demanding projects currently in the pipeline. Conservative estimates place the new parking deficit [parking demand less parking provided] created by these developments to be 844 spaces [(386) Charlottesville Technology Center, (213) West 2nd Street, (160) Dewberry Hotel, (85) Vault Virginia].

If there is a future parking deficit exceeding 800 spaces based on projected demand, what would be the cost of building a parking deck to meet that need? It is widely accepted that structured parking costs roughly $25,000 a space to build (absent land costs). Thus, just the construction cost for an 850-space garage would be $21.25 million (absent land costs).

Last week, I had an over simplistic epiphany regarding the future of transportation. With the advent of self-driving cars (which will be a reality sooner than we realize), “park and ride” parking lots will be replaced by more efficient and less land demanding “ride and park” lots surrounding more walkable business and commercial districts. The car will drop you at your destinatSee the source imageion and drive to a nearby, but not too close, parking area.

This no longer science fiction and will completely rework the highest and best use of the land within the business district and increase the value of parcels currently too distant to serve as parking alternatives.

The average life of a parking deck is 50 years; with this pending innovation of self driving cars, the need for close in parking is reduced so how should Charlottesville deal with the next 33 years of market parking demand exceeding supply. The easy answer is build more parking but make the building flexible for reuse.

Progressive parking experts are now contemplating designing parking buildings with the clear vision of conversion to mixed use buildings later in their useful lifetime. By designing parking decks with higher ceilings, roughed in plumbing mains and central elevators (rather than on the corners). The infrastructure investment is higher than building a standard deck but it serves as insurance that the investment is not lost as demand shifts from parking storage to office/residential space.

If we accept that there is a parking deficit (for the next 30 years), what should be the role of the City in remedying this situation?

Option 1 – Charlottesville City Council could choose to do nothing.  Parking availability could go from bad to worse as downtown employees and customers are forced into mass transit (if available) or parking further from employment centers.

Option 2 – The City could build a lot on the recently acquired Guadalajara/Lucky 7 lot.  Based on the current political reality, I fail to see Charlottesville City Council showing the leadership vision necessary to spend $21+ million to address this clear and present danger to downtown economic vitality.

Option 3 – Charlottesville could enter into a Public Private Partnership (3P or PPP) on the Guadalajara/Lucky 7 lot.  The PPP Knowledge Lab defines Public Private Partnerships as:

a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service, in which the private party bears significant risk and management responsibility, and remuneration is linked to performance. PPPs typically do not include service contracts or turnkey construction contracts, which are categorized as public procurement projects, or the privatization of utilities where there is a limited ongoing role for the public sector.

The PPP option would require a challenging, lengthy process (likely 3+ years) to seek and identify appropriate partners, develop mutually beneficial agreements including financing options all prior to construction.

Back to our prediction:

If the Charlottesville selects the ostrich method of Option 1, the downward economic spiral that was exacerbated by the events of August 12th will continue.  Enterprises see the City failing to address the paring infrastructure issue and flee the City to locations in Albemarle County (Shops at Stonefield, Fifth Street Station, Reimagined Albemarle Square, Peter Jefferson Place, etc.) or elsewhere with ample free parking. This exodus would significantly reduce Charlottesville’s vitality, as well as its real estate and sales tax revenue.

The loss of revenue creates a reduction in City provided services; resulting in a citizen revolt and resignation of City staff and City Council.  After a special election, a new City Manager is hired and recommends (and council agrees) to sell off the City’s real estate assets (City Hall and Market Street Parking Garage) to raise much needed revenue.  The buyer gets the property for a song, demolishes the existing structures and builds a 15 story hotel and conference center (with parking deck).

or, in an alternative reality

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Savannah Aloft Hotel

Charlottesville chooses either Option 2 or Option 3, as well as other investments in the community. Enterprises and neighborhoods thrive, tax revenue continues to climb as the City’s business and residential density increases; autonomous cars and an enhanced transit service reduce the need for structured parking downtown.  As an economic development catalyst, Charlottesville chooses to move City Hall to the Strategic Investment Area (SIA).

The City enters into a Public Private Partnership with a developer to raze the Market Street Garage and City Hall and construct a seven story conference center hotel.  The four star hotel fronts on the Downtown Mall and the newly branded “Uber” Pavilion.

Both paths of these paths seem to end in the same place but the courage of City Council making long term infrastructure decisions drives the successful community while a lack of such vision creates economic uncertainty and possible municipal failure.

Charlottesville future will be decided by those in power at present.  Parking, and other municipal decisions, will determine which path the city travels.

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: Savannah.com, Tripadvisor.com

Greene Planning Commission Approves 105 Apartments

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

A proposed affordable housing apartment project on US 29 in Ruckersville took a step forward Wednesday night.

The Mark-Dana Corporation came before Greene County’s Planning Commission on December 20th seeking  a two-step approval – 1) rezone a tract of 8 acres in Ruckersville from B-2, Business to R-2 , Residential and 2) a Special Use Permit (SUP) to increase the density to allow 105 apartments to be built on the 8 acres.  The current owners of the property are John and Wanda Melone of the Melone Family Trust.  If the rezoning and SUP of the property are approved, the Melones plan on selling the property to the Mark-Dana Corporation to be developed.

Greene County Planner Stephanie Golon presented the rezoning application identifying the property as just south of the Blue Ridge Café and the Ruckersville Gallery antique store on Route 29 South.  The 8 acres requesting to be rezoned sits to the west of 7 acres, both parcels owned by Melone Family Trust.

Golon mentioned that the parcel is located at the south end of the area identified as mixed use in the Comprehensive Plan.  The feedback from the departments in Greene County did not have any concerns other than the school system – Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh responded that the Ruckersville Elementary School was at capacity already and the addition of 105 apartments would add to the overcrowding.  This is part of the school’s justification for expanding the school system.

The other main issue of the presentation is the Mark-Dana Corporation will be applying for financing through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Progam  which will help provide affordable housing in Greene County.   Under this financing program, units constructed must remain affordable for forty years past the date of occupancy.

David Koogler

David Koogler, chairman of the Mark-Dana Corporation, reviewed the project for the commission stating that the units will have a brick frontage, they will be three stories in height and there will be one, two and three bedroom apartments.  Koogler explained that his parents started the business and they now have 23 properties with 15 of them in Virginia and the balance in Texas.

The hearing then moved to comments from the public which brought up several concerns – the project is barely cash positive with only 30 students estimated, another 2 students would cause the project to be cash negative.  The other issue brought up was the demand on the water supply.   The White Run project won’t be completed for five years after the apartment project is completed (2019 vs. 2024).   However, Simon Fiscus Director of Skyline CAP  spoke in favor of the project as a way to provide more low income housing for the county.

Commissioner Frank Morris brought up the question of how many housing units this parcel would allow by right.  Planning Director Bart Svoboda answered that based on 8 acres it would accommodate 48 units.  Commissioner William Saunders asked if the possible lack of water can be a reason to reject the rezoning request.  Svoboda answered no, since there are EDU’s available.

Chairman Jay Willer brought up the fact that if this rezone to R-2 is approved it would be the first residential rezoning in the growth area of Ruckersville.  The vote was then taken and was approved 4-1 with Commissioner Morris voting against the rezone.

With the rezoning approved, the commission turned to the Special Use Permit request to allow 105 apartment units on the eight acres, up from the 48 units allowed by right in R-2.   Koogler added to Golon’s presentation about the number of new residents in the apartments.  Koogler stated that historically some of the apartments are rented by residents already living within the county the apartments are constructed.  Therefore the net increase which generates a need for additional resources from the county is less than the total number moving into the apartments.

In the SUP public hearing, again, the input from the pubic focused on the pressure on the school system.  Inversely, Fiscus again stated the need for more affordable rental units.  Morris brought up his concern about setting a precedent of going above the “by right” number of units per acre.  McCloskey asked Svoboda if a condition of the SUP could be that it restricted the property to affordable housing.  Svoboda answered that no, under state code, that type of restriction could not be applied to the property.

Willer asked Mr. Koogler one last question – how long does the restriction of the property last?.  Koogler answered that the restriction lasts 40 years and stays even if the property is sold.

At that point the commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the Special Use Permit to the Board of Supervisors.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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,

Albemarle Restrictions Benefit Greene Cell Coverage

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In an interesting twist of regulatory roulette,Greene County citizens will gain significant wireless coverage area as a result of existing cell tower restrictions in neighboring Albemarle County. See the source image

TowerCom, LLC represented by Valerie Long, Esq. approached the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their November 14th meeting, asking for a Special Use Permit for a cell tower in southwest Greene County near the Albemarle County line along Simmons Gap RoadT-Mobile is the cellular carrier that is interested in locating on the TowerCom tower.

During the October Planning Commission public hearing, one Greene County resident questioned the location of the proposed tower, suggesting that if the tower were to be located further into Greene County, it would serve more Greene County residents.

So that raised the question, why did TowerCom choose the location they chose?  Long addressed this issue directly explaining that they looked at several locations in northwest Albemarle County. However, as Albemarle County significantly restricts the height of cell towers – shorter than the 199 feet in Greene County. So, the potential number of customers (and therefore the potential revenue) is smaller from a shorter cell tower constructed in Albemarle County. And fewer residents in Greene County would receive cell service from a tower in Albemarle County than in Greene County.

clip_image003Inversely, a cell tower constructed in Greene County is permitted to go up to 199 feet and therefore reach more customers, both in Greene County and Albemarle County. The answer to the question as to why not locate the tower further north in Greene County comes down to which location generates the most revenue.

Due to population densities, moving the tower further north into Greene County contacts fewer total customers, although more residents of Greene County would be connected. The bottom line is that the money from an Albemarle County customer is worth the same at the money paid by a customer in Greene County. And therefore, T-Mobile wants to maximize their revenue and that happens where they positioned the tower in Greene County where they can reach the most customers.

T-Mobile is attracted to Greene County because it can install a taller tower and get more customers than in Albemarle County. But without the potential customers in Albemarle County it is questionable  that T-Mobile or any cell carrier would install a tower to only service the southwest portion of Greene County. Thankfully cell service doesn’t know county line barriers!

The special use permit was unanimously approved with provisions about color and materials and that the tower must begin construction within one year of the permit being approved. This has been an issue in the past where SUP’s have been approved but no tower has been constructed.

The one hurdle to the project outside the control of the Supervisors is that the property needed to provide access to the tower location is owned by Lance Petty and while he has granted a right of way to Ron and Janet Parham, he argues that the right of way doesn’t convey the ability to grant permission to another party. This issue will need to be resolved before construction can begin.

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

Fluvanna Water Project Out To Bid

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

turn on waterThey said the day would never come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

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.