Category Archives: land use

Preddy Gables Seek Proffer Amendment from GC PC

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Preddy Gables, LLC came before the Greene County Planning Commission at their September meeting (9/20/17) to file a rezoning application to amend the proffers approved on July 13, 2004 (RZ#04-152). The goal of the proffer amendment is to remove the proffer regarding tying the number of apartments to be developed to the development of retail space.

Currently the property located on Terrace Greene Drive / Seminole Trail, due to the ratio in the existing proffer, can only develop 276 units of which there currently are 260 units in existence. Under the new proffer, the total number of units would remain unchanged but the development of those units would no longer be tied to the construction of additional commercial space.  In addition, the proffer amendment increases the amenities and restricts the size of units in the last phase to be no larger than two bedroom. units.

This would be the last phase of the development and was displayed to develop the property that is lower in elevation and closer to Route 29.

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Terrace Greene Apartments- Phase II

Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda presented the project to the Planning Commission (less Chairman Jay Willer who was absent from the meeting). Svoboda indicated that there were no concerns from any of the agencies reporting and that all of the infrastructure was done originally to accommodate the full development.

Chris Gordon, a representative of the management firm working of the project, reviewed a conceptual rendering of the project. It showed the new section would be below the existing section and he also indicated that the existing structures are fully occupied.

Gordon continued on to explain that the new structure would have several different features – parking would be underneath the structure rather than surface parking, this would require elevators to be used rather than staircases. While not specifically built for older populations, it would be more convenient and easier to access the units in the new structure.

In addition a new pool, work out room and – something that existing renters have requested – a dog run to allow tenants to let their dogs “off-leash” to exercise are all part of the proposal. Gordon stated that the developer has not contacted adjoining landowners yet, as they wanted the feedback from the Planning Commission before taking their idea to the “neighbors”.

As a public hearing, the meeting was opened to the public and there was no one to comment.

In conjunction with this public hearing there was a second public hearing to address revising the height limit in Residential District (R-2) in Article 6 from 40 feet to 50 feet.

County Zoning Ordinance – Article 6, Residential District, R-2, 6-7 HEIGHT REGULATIONS Buildings may be erected up to forty (40) feet in height

This change would allow the new structure to raise up the 42 feet planned (2 feet in excess of the current height allowed).

The height discussion among the commissioners was mixed. While the feeling was that this particular project would use this higher limit to benefit a hillside, however other future projects may not have this topography and therefore it would actually rise 50 feet up from the sight line.

The Planning Commission approved the request to amend the proffers 5-0 and approved the change to the Residential District height by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner Frank Morris voting against the change in height.

Based on the change in State law, the commissioners completely ignored the issue of the original proffer ratio of residential vs. commercial property. They did not ask the developer about any future plans for commercial development. The law, known as Senate Bill 549, was signed by Governor McAuliffe in March, 2016.  It restricts both the subject matter and manner in which localities may accept proffers in residential zoning actions.

Instead, the commissioners discussed the existing units being “sold out” and that this would bring more additional housing to Greene County. By itself that is good, but that opens the question of the increased  demand of infrastructure on the county, especially schools.

In their letter supporting the rezoning the applicant provided evidence of limited impact on schools:

The existing apartment units at Terrace Greene are home to school teachers, policemen and countless other residents who contribute to the local community. Terrace Greene’s 260 apartments currently have only twenty (20) children residing there, and developing the last 90 units within an elevator building having no three-bedroom units is less likely to appeal to families with small children than the existing 90-unit plan being amended–meaning that these amended proffers are likely to reduce school impacts.  Given that, the economic development and other benefits, this new concept for the final project phase will, like the existing units at Terrace Greene, have a net positive impact–fiscally and more generally –for Greene County.

Balancing the need for housing in Greene and the cost of providing government service to the new housing is an important consideration; as is protecting property rights.

Interestingly, many potential business expansions use the number of “rooftops” in determining the viability of new locations.  One need only look to the recently released Sales Tax data from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce to see how the commercial landscape of  Greene County has changed.   In 2006, the total sales tax revenue was $867,433. In 2017 (January-June) the amount was $934,396 in just six 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: http://terracegreene.com/photos.html

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Frederick Fleet and Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Frederick Fleet photo credit 123peopleI fear we may be at a Frederick Fleet moment with next week’s impending Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette.

Please let me explain.

The technological marvel super ship the Titanic had its maiden voyage delayed by several months due to shipyard repairs to her sister ship.  The voyage was postponed until April 1912.  Four days into the journey, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg immediately ahead of Titanic and alerted the bridge.  The First Officer ordered the ship to be steered around the obstacle and the engines to be stopped, but it was too late.

It has been suggested if the Titanic sailed on its original schedule, it never would have encountered the iceberg.

Next week, Charlottesville (and their consultant team) are embarking on a design charrette process that, may have a similar timing issue and may be destined for a Titanic style conclusion.

The Charrette process is an intense design exercise; the word is derived from the French word for “little cart” and refers to the intense work of architects before a deadline.

Charlottesville’s consultant firm DPZ website explains the charrette process:

In a one- to two-week work session, the charrette assembles key decision-makers to collaborate with the DPZ team in information sharing, iterative design proposals, feedback and revisions, organizing a complex project quickly. Professionals and stakeholders identify options that are rapidly prototyped and judged, enabling informed decisions and saving months of sequential coordination.

For projects requiring public participation, the charrette is effective in managing a large audience, encouraging input and producing valuable political and market feedback. The dynamic and inclusive process, with frequent presentations, is a fast method of identifying and overcoming obstacles. The shared experience helps vest interest in the design and build support for the vision. A number of DPZ charrettes have concluded with a final presentation during a city council voting to approve the plan!

In my limited experience, charrettes are fast paced, deadline driven and can feel a touch rushed even with the buy in from all stakeholders.  That hardly describes the current Charlottesville environment.

In recent months, even prior to the August 12th events, Charlottesville’s efforts to create a Form Based Code for the Strategic Investment Area (SIA) has been met with significant community concerns regarding gentrification and affordable housing.  In a meeting last week, one resident said,

You can’t ask a room full of white people to make zoning changes in low income neighborhoods

In an April affordable housing community meeting at Mt. Zion First African American Baptist Church, an attendee raised concerns about the SIA plan and the plan’s lack of commitment to the existing community.  One resident stated,

The City Council has knives in all the Charlottesville citizens back.

In last week’s meeting, a leader in the affordable housing community questioned whether the SIA plan was a valid starting point and questioned the City position that it was developed with significant community input.  He also questioned the “power structure” within the charrette process as well as the ability of residents to attend meetings held during the day.

Into this tense environment, a team of Form Based Code experts and consultants are arriving in town on Monday.  Tasked with producing a community supported set of Form Based Code concepts in a week’s time, the consultant Form Based Code Institute will be operating in an “open door” studio in the IX Art Park Event Space (522 2nd St SE).

Specific meetings are scheduled throughout the week

Specific Focus Groups:

Zoning—Mon. September 11 4:00 pm

Housing—Tues. September 12 10:00 am

Property Owners—Tues. September 12, 1:30 pm

Public Works—Wed. September 13, 11:30 am

Planning Commission—Wed. September 13,  4:00 pm

Presentations:

Opening Presentation—Tues, September 12 6:00 pm

Final Presentation—Thurs. September 14 @ 6:00 pm

Beyond definitions of Form Based Codes, two affordable housing concepts were discussed at last week’s meeting: additional height in exchange for affordable housing units or expedited development proposal review for reaching a certain percentage of affordable housing.  One resident suggested that form based code’s goal is to make review process easier.  The consultant replied, we would never make the approval process so easy that it could not be expedited.

Another idea to reduce the cost of building in the SIA was to reduce parking requirements by providing city owned structured parking in support of residential uses.  Considering structured parking is mandated in the SIA, this might be a concept that could save upwards of $20,000 a unit.

The reality is Charlottesville needs more housing, across all price points. We continue to believe one of the key hurdles to creating more housing (affordable and otherwise) is the oppressive regulatory environment; we believe a well crafted Form Based Code coupled with public investment and financial incentives could jump start development in the SIA.

While the Free Enterprise Forum believes that Form Based Code has great potential to provide predictability of outcomes and allow some use flexibility, we are very concerned that the years of work that has brought the project this far may be thwarted due to the current political environment.

To that end I am reminded of a comment from another resident in the April Mt. Zion meeting,

You’re going to come here from somewhere else, and tell us what to do

Anything that comes out of the charrette process will still need to go through the Planning Commission and City Council approval process.

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

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

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

It is a shame.

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.

Fluvanna Considers Short Term Rentals

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

If you operate a shImage result for airbnbort-term rental in Fluvanna County, bad news, it is a zoning violation. Good news, the Board of Supervisors wants to make it legal with limited government regulation.

The board was briefed on the item during its August 16 meeting because county staff was alerted to a new ‘bed and breakfast’ in the locality. It was a home listed on Airbnb.

Upon review, staff determined there was no legal way to operate such using the current laws. The supervisors gave overwhelming support to allowing the operation.

Currently if there was a complaint, staff would determine it was a commercial operation (hotel) operating in a residential zoned property. This would be a zoning violation.

Staff proposed making short-term rentals a by-right operation in residentially zoned properties. There would be no special use permit, there would be no need to register.

Still, even that Don Weaver (Cunningham District) was against. He wanted even less government regulation than that. Staff said unfortunately if the board wanted to allow the operations, the only recourse was to add it to the zoning laws.

A zoning ordinance change will have to go through the Planning Commission before it works its way back to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Also during the meeting staff briefed the board on approval of a grant for the burn building. The grant will help the county build a practice facility for the volunteer firefighters. The anticipation is the county will have to match up to $300,000 for the building.

One option staff previously discussed was getting donations or using staff man hours to ‘match’ the funds. For example, if a cement company donated the slab the building sits, the value of the cement would be considered part of the county match funding.

The county will soon be able to accept debit and credit cards along with online payments, through a contract with PayGov. The county will install multiple card readers throughout to handle various payment needs.

The lease with Fluvanna Christian Service Society (FCSS) is finalized. FCSS, which operates a food bank, will lease ground space behind Carysbrook Gymnasium. The lease is for $15 a month and FCSS can pay in yearly checks.

FCSS will put moveable sheds on the leased area. FCSS currently operates a shed and a stick-built building behind Social Services building, mere yards from the new location. The move will make it easier to load and service those in need. The county is buying the stick-built building from FCSS once the move is complete.

The supervisors will next meet on Sept. 6 at 4 p.m. There will be a work session scheduled for after. At the Sept. 20 session, supervisors will discuss the Emancipation Monument that will be donated.


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

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

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

Ruckersville’s Zoning Evolution

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In the not so distant past, the Ruckersville corner (US 29 intersection with Route 33) of Greene County was best known for a cluster of small antique shops, restaurants, and a couple of gas stations.  The 2010 opening of The Gateway Center, the success of several mom and pop businesses, and infrastructure investment in water and sewer have fundamentally changed the potential economic opportunity of the area.

Many of the existing zoning designations reflect the intersection’s former self.  This zoning disconnect was the issue before the July Planning Commission meeting.

Applicant John Silke, who owns several Ruckersville properties, requested to rezone (RZ#17-002clip_image002) a 1.59 acre parcel on Route 29 South, north of Route 33 – roughly midway between Wal-mart and Lowes. The parcel (60-(A)-20A) was zoned from A-1 to B-2 with some proffers nearly 20 years ago when water and sewer was not available. With those services now available, there is no need to exclude those items via proffers.

Cattails Creek  was the most recent commercial tenant for the property. That business has now vacated the property and Silke is looking to rezone to B-3 to allow for more tenant business options.

Planning Director Bart Svoboda reviewed the request pointing out that all the surrounding parcels, including those on the northbound US 29, are zoned B-3. There is currently an intersection of US 29 and Enterprise Drive with only a right hand turn in and out. There is a crossover to Route 29 northbound at Stoneridge Drive, just south of Silke’s property.

Svoboda also pointed out that the county’s Comprehensive Plan supports economic development in this section of the county.

Staff recommended approval of the rezone but he pointed out that the proffers currently in effect would no longer be in effect with the rezone to B-3.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Svoboda about roadways near the property. Svoboda said “Interconnectivity to the parcel located to the north will be required during the site development plan review. Staff will work with the applicant, the adjacent property owner, and project engineers to ensure the interconnectivity access is planned to provide the optimal ingress/egress for all individuals.”

Commissioner Bill Saunders asked about the proffers back in 1999. Svoboda indicated that in 1999 the property was solely used as a private residence and, therefore, some of the proffers restricted uses that a private residence wouldn’t need. But now this property has a rental unit upstairs and the lower level has had other commercial entities and the B-3 classification is logical.

Commissioner John McCloskey encouraged Silke to find a new business for the first floor. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the SUP request and will forward this request 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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Albemarle May Cut Rural Regulatory Red Tape

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”- Thomas Jefferson

Considering Albemarle County is 95% rural areas, it is perhaps appropriate that the Comprehensive Plan’s Rural Area Chapter has as Objective 1 “Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy”.

It seems completely counter intuitive the hoops farmers must go through to sell their agricultural products in Albemarle.  In 2010, the Board of Supervisors made Farmer’s Markets a Special Use Permit (SUP) AND required a site plan.  This is a most involved process.

On Tuesday (7/11) evening the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss what, if any, regulatory reforms they wish to recommend to the Board of Supervisors.

For those unfamiliar with the SUP process it is as bureaucratic as it sounds.

From the staff report:

Currently, the applicant must submit a site plan. This plan may propose to contain less detailed information then required by the site plan chapter.  When the plan is submitted it is referred to the Site Review Committee. The members of the Committee may request additional information or they may recommend approval. The plan is then processed along with the special use permit and presented to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors must then act on the site plan to authorize the reduced level of detail. . .

. . . the current ordinance requires the plan to be distributed to the full site plan committee. This means that the Albemarle County Service Authority and Architectural Review Board receive the plan even if their review is not required. The Health Department also receives the plan twice, once during the plan review and again prior to clearance. This double review is not necessary as the Health Department’s only comment during the plan review is that it will need to review the site plan prior to issuance of a clearance.

Virgina had 90 farmers markets in 2005, has 250 in 2017Is it any wonder that there have only been four applications for farmer’s markets since 2010.  This is in direct opposition to the statewide trend.

Staff is right in recommending a so called ‘Sketch Plan’ be sufficient for this use.  The Free Enterprise Forum was surprised when the North Garden Farmer’s market came before the Board of Supervisors, an engineer had volunteered to assist with the application.  Absent that professional support, it is not clear the application would have reached the Board.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds the lower regulatory hurdle of the ‘sketch’ plan over the site plan – the larger question is shouldn’t this be a “By Right” use.

For over thirty years, Albemarle’s comprehensive plan has discussed supporting agricultural enterprises – are these just words?  From the Comprehensive Plan:

Strategy 1d: Continue to assist Rural Area property owners to diversify agricultural activities, including helping to connect local farms with local consumers

We respectfully request Farmer’s Markets become a by right use that requires a zoning clearance (>$100) that can be processed administratively.

Only then will Albemarle be living up to their Comprehensive Plan goal:

Objective 1: Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy.

Please join me in asking the Albemarle County Planning Commission to cut the red tape and make Farmers’ Markets a by right use in the rural areas.

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: Virginia Farm Bureau

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

Charlottesville’s Engagement Problem

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Man-proposing-ring-woman-e1434128981263One person can’t get engaged – it takes two.

Engagement, like all communication, requires all parties to fully participate; listening and responding.  This was not the case in last night’s (6/27) Charlottesville planning commission meeting – where the banner of public engagement is waved proudly; but despite the efforts of two special interest groups, their zoning code concerns were not addressed in the discussion.

Please let me explain.

In last night’s Planning Commission code audit work session, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson related to the Commission that she had several conversations with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and received a copy of the letter written by the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe).

Rather than taking the bull by the horns and including these organizations’ concerns in the presentation, Robertson said that CADRe’s letter was written to the Planning Commission and City Council and was not staff’s position to reply.  Robertson said she thought the comments of both groups might inform discussion of the panel but not once in the two hour work session did she raise a specific concern from either of the organizations.  Considering the level of technical detail in the CADRe letter, one would have anticipated planning staff providing some context to the legal discussion – there was none.

The Free Enterprise Forum has reviewed CADRe’s 16 page letter, sent to the Planning Commission in advance of their first work session (5/29).  The respectful tone and constructive criticism was well drafted and encouraged public discussion of the various points.  Those questions went unanswered.

In his reporting for Charlottesville Tomorrow, Sean Tubbs included the CADRe concerns as a part of his coverage of the meeting in this morning’s Daily Progress. If it was important enough to be in the article, shouldn’t it be part of the Planning Commission discussion?

The goal of the Planning Commission work sessions was to vet the proposed zoning changes and the impacts they might have on property owners.  CADRe which works with several prominent property owners raised many significant concerns regarding building heights.  Staff failed to mention (let alone address) these concerns in their presentation; therefore the discussion was significantly less robust than it could have been.

Late in the meeting Planning Commission Chair Kurt Keeseker suggested the commission should be made aware understand the types of comments that are coming in and the citizens should receive a response.  He related the manner in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is answering inquiries and the reporting back to the Hydraulic Advisory Panel.  This less than perfect engagement concept was brought forward in good faith, but it was dismissed.

This process is being done under the auspices of a ‘legal review’ and thus the Deputy City Attorney is the lead staff.  As mentioned above, one would anticipate that the planning staff who work with the zoning code day in and day out would have a great deal to offer regarding the code revisions.  Silently sitting a row behind the Deputy City Attorney, Alex Ikefuna Charlottesville’s Director of Planning spoke not one word during the 2 hour+ meeting.  His silence spoke volumes.

When the four Planning Commissioners present pushed back on staff asking for more engagement with  SELC,  CADRe, and other interested citizens, staff indicated that could not be accomplished under the stated work plan that City Council adopted.

In summary, at least two special interest groups provided substantial information to the staff and staff choose not to include the concerns in the presentation because the letter was addressed to the Planning Commission and the City Council. When the Commission pushed for more community engagement, they folded under staff’s threat of jeopardizing City Council’s calendar.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the zoning code rewrite process is being railroaded.

We believe in true engagement.  Failing to directly address the concerns of the SELC and CADRe at the Planning Commission work session level will lead to increase delay in zoning code implementation and a lack of respect for the entire “engagement” process.  These issues will not “go away” they will return at the public hearings.

Simply putting documents on a website “for all to see” is not engagement – engagement is involved, engagement can be messy, engagement requires significant work and engagement takes time.  It seems the City is placing their calendar over their citizens.

Charlottesville deserves better.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Hiphealthy.com

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