Category Archives: land use

2018 Forum Watch Top 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

As our community is still dealing with the very real ramifications of August 2017, The Free Enterprise Forum remained focused on monitoring local government, reducing regulatory burdens, promoting market based solutions, protecting property rights, and encouraging economic vitality.

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

Each year, we select the top ten blog posts for our year in review.  There were many other blog posts that reached honorable mention status.  I would be remiss if I did not thank our Field Officers Brent Wilson (Greene County) and Bryan Rothamel (Fluvanna County) for their significant reportage in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

image.png

Brandon Collins

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

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

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

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

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

The industry or the elected officials?…”

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

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

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

Please let me explain….”

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

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

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

BRING ON 2019!

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

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A Holiday Tradition– “Rio The SmallPlan”

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission 12/18/2018

By. Neil Williamson, President

In what has become either a dreaded recurrence or a nice tradition, the Free Enterprise Forum annually presents a reworked holiday poem as a literary gift to the Planning Commission.

Last year, we penned Rudolph the Rio The SmallPlanForm Based Code.  In 2017 we started the tradition with An Albemarle Planning Christmas.  So this year before we pack up our holiday fare and go over the riparian buffer and through the forest easement to grandmother’s house for the holiday, with apologies to original songwriters Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson we offer the 2018 poem “Rio – The SmallPlan”.

Rio the
SmallPlan

Rio, the SmallPlan was a fighter against sprawl
With a dog bone roundabout and a transit stop
And roads right through Fashion Square Mall

Rio, the SmallPlan is a fairy tale, they say
He was made of ink, but the planners think
He may come to life one day

There must have been some magic
In that new Form Based Code they penned
For even before they got it enacted
Rezonings started to trend

Oh Rio, the SmallPlan was alive as he could be
And the Planners say he could bend and play
Just the same as Euclidian and me

Roads running here and there

Through structures in the square,

Saying “Market Build me if you can…”

Traffic calming humpty, hump, hump,
humpety, hump, hump

Look how Rio thrives, traffic calming
humpety, hump, hump,
Elevated crosswalk, bumpety, bump, bump

the walkable community where everyone drives.

Rio, the SmallPlan knew his roads were interconnected
So he said, “Let’s run and we’ll have some fun
Now, before I am traffic infected”

Rio, the SmallPlan knew his roads were interconnected
So he said, “Let’s run and we’ll have some fun
Now, before I am traffic infected”

Down to ACAC with a set of green dots in his hand
Runnin’ here and there, all around Albemarle Square
Sayin’, “Prioritize me if you can”

Traffic calming humpty, hump, hump,

humpety, hump, hump

Look how Rio thrives,

traffic humpety, hump, hump,
flooded parkland sump pump,

the walkable community where everyone drives.

He led them through
pedestrian oriented plan
Right to Rachel, the Planner Czar
He only paused for just a moment
When he heard her holler, “Car”

Because ol’ Rio, the SmallPlan, he had to hurry on his way
But he waved goodbye sayin’, “Don’t you cry
when market condition are right, I’ll be back again some day “

Merry Christmas to one and all.

santa neilRespectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

 

 

Original Songwriters: Jack Rollins,Steve Nelson

Albemarle’s $5 Million ACP Mitigation & The Big Blue Marble

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source image

The PBS series The Big Blue Marble was very popular in my elementary school years.  This program was ground breaking in presenting environmental (and social) concepts to children around the world including the interconnectivity of all natural systems to one another.

Based on recent actions, we are confused if Albemarle County considers itself part of the world’s larger interconnected ecosystem or an independent environment.

In their recent discussions of proposed stream health guidelines in the development area, Albemarle County seems to claim independence from the larger ecosystem –

9. Require that all stormwater treatment be conducted on-site or that any nutrient credits purchased are from a nutrient credit bank located in Albemarle County in order to qualify for special exceptions to zoning requirements, density bonuses, or cluster provisions,

Despite our recent post [Snow White and Albemarle’s Stream Health Incentives] highlighting the fact that currently no such nutrient credit bank exists in Albemarle County, staff contends this concept of “Albemarle Specific” Credits were critically important to the environmental community.

With this understanding we were perplexed by Allison Wrabel’s front page Daily Progress article [$5M in pipeline funds to support new Albemarle park] .

Though the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route does not cross through Albemarle, $5 million in pipeline mitigation money is earmarked for the future Biscuit Run Park in the county….Being in the route of the pipeline is not a criterion to receive mitigation funds, Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Joshua Saks said…

Philosophically, the existence of the federally approved mitigation offer ignoring geographic specifics and Albemarle’s acceptance of such funds indicate an understanding and acknowledgement of natural interdependence.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes intellectual integrity requires that Albemarle County drop its isolationist environmental stream health demands and join with the rest of the world on our journey through space on our shared Big Blue Marble.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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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:lermaster.weebly.com

The Countdown — Time to Think About 2019

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recognizing today is the ‘Morning After’ Election Day 2018, it may seem premature to start talking about 2019.  It’s not.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the vast majority of the candidates for the 2019 races will make their decisions in the next 60 days.

That’s right, by the time you watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, who will be on the ballot in November (and the primaries) will likely already be determined.

Wait, we just had an election.

Yes, this is Virginia, we love elections so much we vote EVERY year.  What are we voting for in 2019?  So glad you asked — from Virginia’s Board of Elections:image

Some might look at that list (on the left) and believe this is not that important an election, we think otherwise.

While the Federal and statewide offices get a significant amount of publicity (and paid advertising), it is the local races that bring government home.  These are the elected officials you run into at the grocery store AND who control your property taxes, school spending as well as the majority of your land use decisions.

Who is up?

In addition to the House of Delegates, Virginia Senate, School Boards and Constitutional officers, here is the list for Board of Supervisors and City Council –

Albemarle County: Board of Supervisors Ann Mallek, White Hall; Rick Randolph, Scottsville; Norman Dill, Rivanna

Charlottesville:  Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer [important note Primary Date is June 11th]

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors Mozell Booker, Fork Union; Patricia Eager, Palmyra

Greene County Board of Supervisors David Cox, Monroe;  Michelle Flynn, Ruckersville; Dale Herring, At Large

Louisa County Board of Supervisors Willie Gentry, Cuckoo; Troy Wade, Louisa; Toni Williams, Jackson;

Nelson County Board of Supervisors  Thomas Bruguiere, Jr, West; Larry Saunders, South

Without question local (and state) government impacts your life.

The question is who will step up to fill these important leadership positions.

  • Will the current incumbents run again?
  • Will they have any opposition?
  • Who will step up?
  • Will there be a primary challenge?
  • Do you know someone who should run?
  • Should you run for office?

Once again we have more questions than answers but this much we do know – the candidates (and their families) will likely decide by NYE 2019.

The Free Enterprise Forum maintains an open door policy to talk with anyone regarding running for local office and what is required to serve.

As a non-partisan organization, we do not endorse candidates but we do support contested elections.  We believe uncontested elections make untested officials.

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.

Snow White and Albemarle’s Stream Health Incentives

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

snow-white-seven-dwarfs-cartoon-background-image-pcWhat does Albemarle County’s proposed incentives to improve stream health in the Development Areas have in common with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

Beyond being simple and well intentioned, neither is based in reality.

Please let me explain.

Stream health regulation in Virginia really came into its own with the 1988 passage of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.  According to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ):

Virginia designed the Bay Act to enhance water quality and still allow reasonable development to continue.  The Bay Act balances state and local economic interests and water quality improvement by creating a unique cooperative partnership between state and Tidewater local governments to reduce and prevent nonpoint source pollution.  The Bay Act recognizes that local governments have the primary responsibility for land use decisions, expanding local government authority to manage water quality, and establishing a more specific relationship between water quality protection and local land use decision-making.

The Bay Act Program is the only program in Virginia state government that comprehensively addresses the effects of land use planning and development on water quality.  It is also the only program that has as one of its core elements a requirement to assist local governments with land use planning to meet water quality goals and the development of land use ordinances and comprehensive plans.

At the heart of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act is the concept that in any given watershed, actions in that watershed impact others downstream.

However the proposed Albemarle stream health incentive fail to recognize the value of environmental activity outside of Albemarle County:

9. Require that all stormwater treatment be conducted on-site or that any nutrient credits purchased are from a nutrient credit bank located in Albemarle County in order to qualify for special exceptions to zoning requirements, density bonuses, or cluster provisions,

Beyond the philosophical whiplash of this Albemarle-centric regulation, the reality is – There is no nutrient bank located in Albemarle County.

Interestingly there is a “pending” application for Ivy Creek that was submitted 7/21/0616 [Date corrected 10/30 -nw].  It just so happens that the Bank sponsor is former Albemarle Supervisor David Slutsky.

When I pressed staff on this issue earlier this month, I was told three things:

  1. this was a concept they heard from the public
  2. this is an incentive developers don’t have to use
  3. there could be a nutrient bank in Albemarle in the next 20 years.

Regarding #3 Prince Charming “could” come riding in on his horse and we “could” live happily ever after.  Honestly, I don’t recall a single regulation ever prospectively passed on a “could be” concept.

To be clear, we sincerely appreciate the significant public outreach staff is doing with these draft proposals.  The Free Enterprise Forum encourages readers to review the proposals and provide feedback via the county’s short online survey.  A public meeting is also scheduled for November 1, 2018 at 4:00 pm in Lane Auditorium of the County Office Building at 401 McIntire Road in Charlottesville. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/9f/1f/ff/9f1fffda74e8dea7c6c12303cb8a9115--grumpy-dwarf-dwarf-costume.jpg

Absent your input, this fractured fairy tale of an ordinance may become a reality and an incentive that can’t be achieved may become law – that’s enough to make anyone ‘Grumpy’

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Disney

Albemarle ARB Expansion on a Shaky Foundation

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageIf you have limited resources and a house with faulty plumbing, foundation issues, and a leaky roof, would you fix the existing house or expand it?

Indirectly, that is the question before the Albemarle County Planning Commission next week (10/30) as they consider further expanding the number of roads that are considered ‘Entrance Corridors’ and thus subject to additional review by the Architectural Review Board (ARB).

Late in January, we learned that over a third of Albemarle’s twenty-one entrance corridors are illegal.  At first we were encouraged when a Resolution of Intent to remove the impacted roadways appeared on the Board of Supervisors consent agenda, this positive energy was very brief as the item was removed from the agenda and never heard from again.

On top of the illegal roadways, members of the ARB have been discussing the need for a comprehensive update to their guidelines some of which were last revised in 2011.  The fuel pump canopy requirements have not been adjusted since Bill Clinton was president (1998).  The guidelines include specific language directed at “trademark” designs:

State law and County ordinance both require that the ARB approve only those proposals which reflect designs which are compatible with the historically significant architecture of the County of Albemarle and City of Charlottesville.  It is not intended that proposed designs mirror existing historic structures in the area. Replication of historic structures is neither required nor desired. However, developers proposing “trademark” designs can expect that significant modification will be required by the ARB before approval will be granted.

This language was used by one ARB member (in the minority) to advocate a proposed Pantops gas station’s fueling stations should be located in the rear of the building outside of the view of passing traffic (cars).  Correctly, the applicant pushed back that this would be a significant competitive disadvantage considering all the other gas stations on US 250 with pumps in front of their locations.

So into this mess, the Planning Commission wants to expand the purview of the ARB to include Rio Road East/John Warner Parkway.

Back to our house analogy, the problem is varied responsibilities of the three entities involved.

  • The Board of Supervisors, who has the checkbook, has not prioritized fixing the illegal entrance corridors See the source imagechoosing instead to “not enforce” the regulations. Similar to a family not using the hallway bathroom, this merely solves the leaky toilet symptom without fixing the plumbing problem.
  • The Board of Supervisors, via the Community Development Work Plan, has not dedicated resources to improving the Entrance Corridor Guidelines to have them better mesh with market practices and ARB precedents.  In our house analogy, the roof only leaks when it rains and it does not rain all the time, therefore I will not fix the roof.
  • The Planning Commission, empowered by the Board of Supervisors, will race forward with additional regulation the creation and enforcement will further impact limited staff time in order to expand the power of the regulators over additional property.  Let’s expand, rather than repair, this old house.
  • Interestingly it is the members of the ARB who are the semi tragic figures in this epic drama.  Absent Supervisor action, the ARB is impotent to modify the area or the outdated regulations that they are charged with enforcing.

Despite the fact that some of the reforms we advocated for in our 2010 ARB analysis The Eye of The Beholder report have occurred, the dire need to repair the existing ARB jurisdiction and guidelines far exceeds the expansionist desires of the Planning Commission.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credit Hanna Barbara Scooby Doo

Greene County Relaxes Kennel Regulations

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Currently a commercial kennel in Greene County must have 10 or more animals to operate as a business. For several years, officials have been reviewing this ordinance to decide how to become less restrictive.

In 2015, the Board of Supervisors asked the Planning Commission to review this issue and try to clarify the language. Since then, the issue has been studied by looking to see how other counties in Virginia handle this issue and even looking at how other states handle it. Issues that were addressed are the number of animals and the ages of the animals.

Last August, the Board of Supervisors voted to have the Planning Commission to propose imagechanges to the zoning ordinance and make a recommendation to the Supervisors. The Planning Commission proposed having two levels of shelters – small being less than five animals and large having five or more animals. Again, this only applies to commercial kennels.

Planning Director Jim Frydl outlined the proposal and explained that this revision to the ordinance only applies to kennels run as a business. The selling of several puppies or kittens does not qualify as a business and would not be included under the revised ordinance. Also, owners that keep any number of dogs for hunting would not fall under this ordinance.

In fact, recently there have been no kennels operating as a business in Greene County. The revision to the zoning ordinance actually would encourage commercial kennels to operate with less than five animals being allowed by right in A1, C1, B2 and B2 zones. Up until now, kennels had to have 10 or more animals to be legal. Kennels with five or more animals will be allowed in the same districts with a Special Use Permit. Frydl explained that a SUP is proposed for the larger number so that a review of the specific lot and other issues can be made.

Frydl also explained that the Planning/Zoning Department is a complaint driven agency. This ordinance does create any authority to regulate non-businesses. The perception is that the county is trying to be more restrictive but in fact just the opposite is what would occur.

However, the 20 speakers during the public comment section of the hearing seemed very concerned that since there are no kennels under the current definition (10 or more animals) then why are we trying to fix the situation?

Other comments were that too much government interference affects people who have a litter of puppies.

One speaker complained that too many city people have moved into Greene County. Many of the speakers asked that hunting dogs and pets specifically be excluded from the ordinance.

The supervisors then discussed the issue and agreed that the proposed change to the zoning ordinance would allow more and smaller kennels to operate businesses. Again the clarification was made that selling from a litter doesn’t make a business.

Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) reconfirmed that this zoning ordinance would only apply to kennels that are being run as a business and that the less than five animals would make it easier to have a business.

image

Marie Durrer

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) reconfirmed that under the new ordinance a person could have as many hunting dogs as they wanted. The one clarification from the proposed revision was to clarify that the kennel is “operating as a business”.

The revision to the zoning ordinance was approved by a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Marie Durrer (Midway) voting against the change.

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

Proposed Politically Proactive Agenda of Albemarle’s Community Advisory Committees

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loach said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: www.networthpost.com

Pencils and Improving Charlottesville NDS

Adapted from Comments to Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission regarding the NDS Efficiency Study 8/23/18

I sincerely appreciate the City providing the opportunity for public feedback on Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Review  study. The Novak document is very complete and candid in its survey data regarding the department and the related approving authorities:

  • The Tree Commission has 75% positive impact
  • City Council has a 55% positive impact
  • The Planning Commission has 67% negative impact.
  • 71% did not believe the application submittal process worked well
  • a full 80% found the review process not easy to understand.

The recommendations in the Novak report do not exactly correlate with the identified issues are worthy of consideration but there are three critical components that are outside the scope of this report that must be addressed by Council to fix this broken department – Accountability, Reduction in Review, and Philosophical shift.

The report outlines a number of metrics that should be tracked to better understand, identify and fix areas of inefficiency. While laudable, absent 1 individual who will be held accountable to the targeted goals – this report will do nothing more than sit on a shelf. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for direct, individual, public accountability.

Reduction in review – Looking at the chart in the back of the report, is every level of this review necessary or are some of these items designed more to prevent the last bad thing, rather than encourage the next great thing? The Free Enterprise Forum calls for a reduction in application review items.

20180823_151742Philosophy – Several years ago, we provided the NDS Department (and other local planning departments) with pencils that outlined what we believe their marching orders should be. I brought the few pencils I have remaining to you all tonight.

The “Permit us to Permit you” philosophy does not cut corners on review nor approves everything that comes in the door. It is much more a mortgage broker mentality – this application process is tough, but I will help you, my customer, get through it. “The Permit us to Permit you” philosophy requires leadership and engagement – two areas, according to your efficiency report that are currently lacking in NDS. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for City Council and the Planning Commission to endorse NDS role in helping citizens gain needed government approvals.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight, enjoy the pencils.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Affordable Housing Policy Makes Building Affordable Housing Impossible

By. Neil Williamson, President

Back in 2005, when Albemarle County instituted its 15% inclusionary housing regulation on all new residential rezonings, Overton McGee, then Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity CEO stated “It was a good first step”.  I was quoted in The Daily Progress “You just made housing less affordable to 85% of new home buyers”.    My larger economic point seemed to be lost on the reported but time has proven this paradoxical prognostication to be correct.

Please let me explain.

Considering the previous Habitat CEO’s position on mandated 15% affordable housing requirements, it is interesting what the current Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity CEO, Dan Rosensweig said at an Albemarle County work session last week.  From my Twitter feed:

image

Recent news reports have highlighted the impact of inclusionary zoning.  The Economist Booming Seattle Struggles to Stay Affordable spoke of “the grand bargain”

Seattle’s proposed solution to this deadlock, unveiled in 2015, is known as the “grand bargain”. It would reduce restrictions and unleash building on big patches of city. In exchange, developers would have to reserve a few units for renting below the market rate or pay into an affordable-housing fund. Such schemes, known as “inclusionary zoning”, are increasingly common in progressive American cities. They can lead to more mixed districts and placate left-wing critics. But they are not without problems.

By reducing future earnings, inclusionary zoning acts as a tax on new development. If the affordability requirements are set too high, many new projects will not be built. Bill de Blasio, New York City’s progressive mayor, championed requirements that at least one-fifth of new units should be offered below the prevailing market rate. San Francisco sets the threshold as high as 30% and imposes a clutch of added “impact fees”. Developers complain that these fees suffocate all but the most lucrative projects—which then invite criticism as “luxury high-rises”.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County have heard the cry of building only high end product.  The perverse reality is that the affordable housing fees actually push against housing affordability.

Due to regulatory hurdles and outright prohibitions, there is a lack of price variety (and format) in the new products being constructed.  In Late July, Daniel Herriges of www.StrongTowns.org wrote of the oft mentioned ‘missing middle’ housing in his article “Why Are Developers Only Building Luxury Housing”.

Missing Middle housing—buildings containing anywhere from 2 to 19 units—can be a sweet spot when it comes to construction cost. Duplexes through fourplexes in particular are built in much the same way as single-family homes, but the cost of the land is distributed across multiple households. Even cheaper to build than a duplex or fourplex is an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). It’s no accident that a disproportionate share of America’s existing “naturally occurring” (i.e. without subsidy) affordable housing takes Missing Middle forms.

Unfortunately, we’ve pretty systematically outlawed the Missing Middle in many neighborhoods. Single-family homes are the only thing that can be built on 80% of residentially-zoned land in Seattle, 53% even in renter-friendly San Francisco, and 50% in Philadelphia, to name just a few cities. In suburbs, it’s common for over 90% of land to be zoned for single-family residences exclusively.

Robert Steuteville writing on www.CNU.org highlights the work of Dr. Arthur C. “Chris” Nelson of the University of Arizona regarding the market demand for the ‘Missing Middle’ housing:

This supply and demand mismatch is behind the need for “missing middle” housing, often built by small developers and builders. Meanwhile, the demand for large-lot single-family housing, the mainstay of the US building industry from the 1960s through 2008, is declining. Nelson’s research comes up again and again in discussions with thoughts leaders in small-scale urbanism. . .

. . .Nelson has been saying much the same thing for more than 10 years—yes, even before the housing crash—and he has been right so far. His numbers are based on demographics, demographic trends, market trends, and housing supply and construction data.

 

If we accept that the majority of the land available for development is designated to single family residential, and that there is a market demand for a different, more intense form of development, can regulations be relaxed to allow such increased density and perhaps increase the supply of missing middle (affordable) housing?

Over the last few years we have seen significantly more multifamily housing units come into Albemarle County Development Area housing mix:

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According to Adam Beltz of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis is now considering fourplexes as part of their affordable housing solution:

In a cityscape dominated by single-family homes, a proposal to allow four-unit residential buildings virtually everywhere in Minneapolis is stirring strong and conflicting feelings among neighborhood leaders.

A draft of the city’s updated comprehensive plan won’t be published until March 22 or completed until December, but the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey were recently briefed on the high-level concepts, one of which is a historic rewriting of the zoning rules that would allow property owners to build fourplexes on any residential property in the city.

Middle Housing www.missingmiddle.com describes the fourplex as a medium structure that consists of four units typically two on the ground floor and two above with shared entry.  Typical unit size is between 500 – 1,200 square feet with a net density of between 15 to 35 dwelling units per acre.

How might such a proposal be received in the City of Charlottesville or Albemarle’s development areas?

  • How could reducing the regulatory requirements increase housing affordability?
  • Would increasing the developable area of Albemarle positively impact affordability?
  • Would relaxing Charlottesville’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations assist in providing a bulwark against gentrification and revenue for the existing homeowner?

We find ourselves agree with Albemarle Planning Commissioner Pam Reilly who last week said, “We are lacking an affordable housing policy to guide our decision making”.

If the community wants to address the market need for affordable, accessible housing, policies and regulations should permit, but not require, the market to respond to consumer demand for denser development AND redevelopment without mandated affordable units.

Ironically, getting rid of the affordable housing mandate will make housing more affordable.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: www.missingmiddle.com