Tag Archives: affordable housing

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.


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.


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.


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


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


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

Charlottesville Mistaken & Mistimed Mandate

Adapted from comments to the Charlottesville Planning Commission May 9, 2017

By.  Neil Williamson, President

unintended-consequencesThe Free Enterprise Forum often speaks of unintended consequences of proposed legislation. We believe staff’s current recommendation regarding regulations around forgiving developer fees heads Charlottesville in the wrong direction.

Please let me explain.

In 2003, fourteen years ago, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development said:

Most housing professionals agree that concentrating assisted-housing for low- and very low-income Americans in dense, urban areas is not an effective use of scarce affordable housing resources. Over the past decade, professionals in the affordable housing industry have turned increasingly to mixed-income housing as an alternative to traditional assisted-housing initiatives. Mixed-income housing is an attractive option because, in addition to creating housing units for occupancy by low-income households, it also contributes to the diversity and stability of American communities.

There have been numerous successful mixed-income developments nationwide. State and local governments have developed incentive programs and initiatives to promote mixed-income housing. In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided support for public housing authorities to de-concentrate traditional public housing in favor of the development of mixed-income housing. In addition, HUD funding from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program can also be a valuable resource for states and local jurisdictions to finance mixed-income housing initiatives, or to develop, design and implement new mixed-income housing programs that address local housing needs. HOME funds are specifically designed to be flexible in order to meet local housing needs.

In practice, I have seen Charlottesville intentionally moving toward more mixed income neighborhoods as a tapestry of price points for the communities being developed.

Why then would staff recommend the following:

To ensure the affordable units are actually provided in new developments, staff recommends no Certificates of Occupancy be issued until the City confirms the affordable units have been developed and the developer has entered into an agreement with the City that these units will remain affordable for a specified period of time.

While this may look good on paper, the reality is that by DEMANDING the developer build the affordable units prior to receiving certificates of occupancy for the market rate units virtually guarantees the affordable units will not be mixed with market rate rather will be concentrated in one portion of the project. Further, by positioning the affordable units first in the pipeline this well intentioned requirement would create significant financing challenges for the development project as a whole.

If the Planning Commission is committed to mixed income communities that are truly mixed, the Free Enterprise Forum requests that you strike this language and move forward with the concept of development fee forgiveness as a small step to address the larger housing affordability crisis in our region.

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: http://theadvocates.org/tag/liberator-online-2


Fluvanna Approves New Townhouses

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved a 40-unit townhouse community near Lake Monticello at its last meeting of 2016.

Rivanna Heights, approved on a 4-1 vote, is situated on land on South Boston Road (Route 600). The development is up the hill on South Boston, up the hill from the intersection with Lake Monticello Road (Route 618).

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) raised concerns about where the community sits on the road. “My primary concern is of the people that will live there,” said Eager.

The road’s speed limit is 45 mph and will now add a community in between the intersection with Lake Monticello Road and the Riverside section of Lake Monticello.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said, “I’d rather see this further up the road than it is right now.” He also mentioned the county might have to lobby the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to lower the speed limit of the windy road in the future.

The community will have a separate entrance and exit. The homes will form a triangle with two way traffic allowed on two sides but all traffic will have to funnel through the entire community. VDOT required to have one way traffic for a certain distance from entrances and exits.

Developers are giving the public safety officers an area to run radar and will also have emergency entrance.

Rivanna Heights is expected to have townhouses with 1,300 square feet, priced between $180,000 to $240,000. Representatives of the applicant repeatedly called the development “affordable housing.”

“You can get a free standing house for $200,000,” said Eager.

Eager was the lone vote against the development.

In the first meeting of 2017, the supervisors are keeping status quo of board leadership with chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) as chairman for 2017.

In an primer to the FY18 budget season, supervisors were updated by staff. The reassessment equalized real estate rate will be $0.882 per $100 assessed. The current tax rate is $0.917 per $100.

The county’s savings account, known as the “Fund Balance”, has an unrestricted balance of $8.4 million. In June the unrestricted balance was $9.1 million. The county also keeps an additional 12 percent of the budget ($8.1 million) as a reserve.

County administrator Steve Nichols will formally present his FY18 budget on February 1.

The next supervisors meeting is January 18 at 7 p.m.

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

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Restrictions in Charlottesville’s West Main Down Zoning May Further Gentrify the Neighborhood

By Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will hold their last meeting of the year and have the first reading of the West Main Street Downzoning.  This will be the final meeting for DedeHujaMayor Satyendra Huja and Vice Mayor Dede Smith.

There have been rumors that this Council may dispense of a second reading and enact the ordinance – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that would be a huge mistake and remains hopeful that the new council will have the opportunity to vote down this ordinance in the name of affordable housing.

Please let me explain.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading a great deal about rental housing economics.  A recent Harvard study showed that the homeownership rates dropping while the renter households increased.  The media has been very interested in the increase in the cost of rental units and its impact on the middle class.  Considering the proposed downzoning on Charlottesville’s West Main Street, one only needs to look to the larger cities to see how land use restrictions can impact the fabric of the community.


Interestingly, the Harvard study did not go into the reasons for the increases in rental costs.  Fortunately, The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote recently about Why it’s so hard to afford a rental even if you make a decent salary

This chart, from a report on America’s rental housing from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies published today, illustrates that only about 10 percent of our recently added rental apartments would be affordable to the nearly half of renter households in America who make less than $35,000 a year:

Note: Rents based on 30% of income affordability standard. Sources: US Census Bureau, 2015 Survey of Market Absorption, 2015 CPS. Harvard JCHS.

Badger’s article, unlike the Harvard study does speak to the reasons the rent for new apartment housing is increasing:

The number of renter households in the top 10th of the income spectrum rose 61 percent over that decade, more than for any other group. So developers are not simply building luxe apartments no one wants to rent.

But they’re also responding to the worrisome dynamic that we’ve made it very, very difficult in many cities to construct market-rate housing that would be affordable to the middle class or modest renters. It’s economically challenging for developers to create new apartments the median renter could afford — at about $875 a month — while covering the costs of constructing them.

Height limits, parking requirements and zoning restrictions all push up the cost of construction. So do lengthy design reviews and legal battles with neighborhoods opposed to new development. Developers must also build at the densities communities allow, and in the limited places where they allow higher density. And if a given parcel of land is only zoned for about five stories of apartments, those apartments may have to command $2,500 a month each to make the project profitable. Emphasis added-nw

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s New York Times column entitled  “Inequality in the City” also identifies New York’s land use regulations as a major factor in increasing rents.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

The good news is that this is an issue over which local governments have a lot of influence. New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else. And its current mayor understands that.

But will that understanding lead to any action? That’s a subject I’ll have to return to another day. For now, let’s just say that in this age of gentrification, housing policy has become much more important than most people realize.

For all the lip service paid to affordable housing, it will be most interesting if this last meeting of this Charlottesville City Council will addresses this question before they exacerbate the situation with even more costly regulations.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:  City of CharlottesvilleCharlottesville Tomorrow

John Lennon and Albemarle Affordable Housing

By Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from testimony given to the Albemarle County Planning Commission December 15, 2015

While I appreciate this Lame Duck Planning Commission’s interest in focusing on affordable housing, I am concerned that this discussion is misplaced; it should be the focus of the elected Board of Supervisors.  Many of the tougher questions are far outside the mission of the Planning Commission.

Thirty-five years ago this month we lost a generational poet and talent, John Lennon, who asked us to “Imagine”.

Opening the affordable housing lens far beyond the scope of the Planning Commission, I too am asking you to use your imagination.

Imagine if Albemarle County actually followed State Law and reduced their cash proffer policy from more than $20K per unit to under $5K, or better yet eliminated this unreliable, unfair “welcome stranger” tax – how would that impact housing affordability?

Imagine if Albemarle County considered affordable rental units, apartments, condos and homes as a part of their affordable housing stock – how might this reflect the reality of affordable housing (not home ownership)?

Imagine if Albemarle County, perhaps working with Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, invested in keeping the existing affordable housing stock in good repair – how might this small investment impact the amount of affordable housing?

Imagine if Albemarle County loosened their restrictive grip on 95% of their land mass and expanded their development area and increased the supply of buildable lots – how would that impact the cost of lots?

Imagine if Albemarle County encouraged transitional areas on the edges of the development areas for modular housing – how would this impact affordable housing supply?

TJCLTImagine if Albemarle County invested in Community Land Trusts that keep housing stock affordable for generations rather than the current unsustainable inclusionary zoning model makes 85% of new homes less affordable.  This misguided policy rewards the affordable housing proffer lottery winner with all of the appreciation gains. How would this change in strategy impact how long a home stays affordable?

Imagine if Albemarle County reduced the bureaucratic red tape and regulatory hurdles to streamline rezoning approvals.  If a project could be approved in 6 months instead of 24, thus reducing the carrying costs – how might that impact affordable housing?

Imagine if Albemarle County had a large amount of appropriately located and designated Light Industrial Land that could provide good paying career ladder jobs – how might that impact the demand for affordable housing?

Yes, there are imaginative ways to improve Albemarle County’s situation.  Regulatory reform and proffer elimination are within the scope of the planning commission purview.

Larger issues of increased economic vitality and job creation are better suited for the new Albemarle County Board of Supervisors sworn in earlier today.

I must admit I remain cautiously pessimistic that an aggressive economic development plan is a major plank of the new Board’s agenda.  I can’t tell you how much I hope I am wrong.

Perhaps, I am the one who needs a little more imagination.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:  pixgood.com,  sodahead.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Only in Albemarle, Do You Make Housing Affordable by Making It More Expensive

Adapted from Comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan September 9, 2014.

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum  a privately funded public policy organization covering local government in Charlottesville and the surrounding localities.

Tonight you might be discussing the Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. Internal to this chapter is one of the most baffling policies of Albemarle County – the affordable housing proffer. I have passed out a recent Richmond Times Dispatch article questioning the rationale and nexus of cash proffers Are Proffers on Shaky Ground?.

For all residential rezonings, Albemarle currently requires 15% of the new units be affordable. This is on top of the $20,000+ per Single Family Unit Cash Proffer.

The affordable housing proffer ultimately results in 85% of all new units to be less affordable. By making the majority of the new houses more expensive, you have harmed overall housing affordability. Only in Albemarle do you make things more affordable by making them more expensive.

According to the Draft Chapter:

Albemarle County’s Affordable Housing is defined as houses affordable to households not exceeding 80% of the area median income.  At present an “affordable” sales price for a home is $211,250 for a family of four paying 30% of their income for housing costs.  Approximately 40% of the households in Albemarle have incomes at 80% of the median or lower.

Those buyers who acquire the “affordable” units are effectively lottery winners. Their neighbors have subsidized their purchase and when they choose to sell, there is nothing that keeps that home affordable and the buyers gain the windfall. As noted on Page 9.13 “If Albemarle County is to have affordable housing stock, it must find a way to make sure the affordable units stay affordable.

Why does it fall on new home buyers to “solve” the affordable housing inventory issue?

To date as a result of rezonings,  approximately 1,200 affordable units have been “voluntarily” proffered (100 have been built).  In addition, approximately $1.6 Million Dollars have been “voluntarily” proffered as cash-in-lieu of units.

If this is a community issue, why isn’t the community equally invested?

The reality is due to the myriad of regulations, codes of development, $20,000 per single family home cash proffers, mandated sidewalks, street trees, water and sewer hookup fees – new housing stock is perhaps the worst place to try and create (and maintain) affordable housing.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes adaptive reuse and refurbishment of existing housing stock would be a much more cost effective method to increase affordable housing. Further study should be done regarding financial vehicles that allow the property to remain at market value and the loan to be modified – such work might go a long way in keeping housing affordable – The Housing Trust model is one such vehicle.

In addition, we do not believe this chapter adequately addresses the significant impact of rental units on the market. Affordable housing does not have to be affordable housing ownership.

We encourage you to pursue code changes to allow more flexibility for accessory units in the development areas and to allow residential dependencies in the rural areas. While the latter may seem to contradict your goal of moving development into the development areas, it is a reality that eliminating the land cost for a second residence on a 21+ acre parcel dramatically impacts the cost of the home.

We applaud the attention paid to reducing or eliminating minimum lot sizes in the development areas.  We encourage the continued review of setbacks to further maximize land in the development area for development.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not raise issue with Strategy 6d regarding increased staffing. Just as in the other chapters, staffing levels should be an operational decision by the Board of Supervisors and not a line item in a Comprehensive Plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson 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

Is the Lorax Guilty of Snob Zoning?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Let me open with a disclaimer – I love beach reading. 

I was t"Snob Zones" by Liza Prevost was released Tuesday, May 7 and covers Darien and other New England towns' zoning regs.hrilled to be able to take a few days off with the family for a beach trip late last month.  While some might have preferred the new Dan Brown novel, my  primary book this trip was  Lisa Prevost’s Snob Zoning.

Prevost is an award winning journalist who has written extensively about real estate for the New York Times.  Her articles have also appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, More, Ladies’ Home Journal , and other publications.

In this rather well researched, short tome, Prevost outlines specific New England instances where existing residents use restrictive local zoning to eliminate the potential of “undesirable” affordable housing.  

Every reader will examine this book with their own perspective but many passages reminded me of the Charlottesville region, or where some would like it to be.

“As the wealthiest town in Litchfield County, Roxbury (CT) can financially afford its pull-up-the-drawbridge mentality.  The wealthy weekenders pay far more in taxes than they demand in services, thereby making up for the town’s nearly nonexistent commercial base.  the top ten taxpayers on the town’s grand list are, in fact, homeowners. ‘That’s our industry,’ says Gary Steinman, a biomedical engineer who operates a consulting practice out of his Roxbury home. ‘If we lose our rurality, we would lose that industry.’  But by refusing to make room for any higher density housing, Roxbury is contributing to a regional affordable housing shortage that affects most of the northwest corner.”

Over the last ten years, I have heard countless times that it is the “ruralness” of Albemarle County that makes our part of the world unique.  Preservation of such rural integrity is a priority for the Board of Supervisors even as such rural protection runs in conflict with their housing affordability goals.

This passage was also front of mind this morning as I read Sean Tubbs’ Daily Progress article on development projects in the City of Charlottesville and members of City Council’s concerns over their design and projected populations.

“[City Councilor Dede] Smith also wanted to know what population was being attracted to Charlottesville based on the nature of the new developments.

“Who is going to live at City Walk?” Smith asked. “Our number of families is declining in the city and it has been stated as a priority that we would like to at least maintain or grow housing for families.”

Reading between the lines, the question seems to be ‘are the right kind of people going to live at City Walk?’.  Isn’t this the very type of exclusionary thinking that could be called ‘Snob Zoning’?

Is this really what the City should determine or should the land owner, who is taking the financial risk seek to provide what the market will bear?

The concept of using zoning to preclude types of developments, or even specific tenants, is not limited to Charlottesville.  Paula Hawthorne of The Central Virginian reports of resident objections with a proposed Family Dollar retail outlet in Mineral. Under the front page banner headline “No welcome mat for Family Dollar”: 

“Residents Debbie and James Glass are against having Family Dollar in their neighborhood.  “I don’t want it in my backyard,” Debbie said.

Prevost reports such NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

McConkey’s startling admission was as good as a gift, from Viscarello’s perspective.  First thing the next morning, he dispatched a paralegal to Ossipee.  He wanted a copy of the hearing tapes before anything could happen to them.  Two months later, after failed attempts to get the board to reconsider its denial, Great Bridge sued the town in superior court.”

I will not divulge how the court case turned out suffice it to say the twists of the case made for great reading.

Perhaps the most interesting case study in the book focused on Watch Hill, Rhode Island where an area known as Napatree is 90% owned by the Watch Hill Fire District.  The District and another Parcel owner  The Watch Hill Conservancy entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the service to manage the federally protected piping plover population.  According to Prevost:

The fire district and conservancy had taken it upon themselves to hire wardens and put up signs.

This new arrangement was necessary to protect Napatree from overuse.  Conservancy officials pointed to a study’ they’d commissioned that concluded extensive human (and canine) use was harming the dunes, along with the well-being of threatened birds like the plovers…

…If preserving Napatree was a laudable goal, the locals who regularly roamed its shores were not convinced conservation was the sole aim.  “There was a sense that somehow the conservancy and fire district were trying to exclude people,’ says Steven Hartford, Westerly’s town manager.  The warning that “permission may be withdrawn at any time” sounded like some like a threat.  

This is a concern I have often heard voiced in Central Virginia as land owners enter into conservation easements and then find they may not be able to do what they wish with the land due to the restrictive language of the easement.

Often in local public policy, an oversimplification of developer vs. the-lorax-pic09environmentalist is put forth as the story line.  Very rarely are the lines that clear. 

Regularly, the Suessical Lorax imagery is brought forth to cast the development interests in a negative light.  The Rhode Island case was demonstrative of this issue.

“Although he knows that the preservation of eelgrass beds is important for sustaining healthy fisheries populations DeGrooth is openly suspicious of the Watch Hill groups’ push for more control over the anchorage, an area the general public has freely enjoyed access,”They’re using the curtain of environmental protection for a completely different agenda,” he charges. “they are not dumb.  They are very slow, very methodical.””

In many cases, I see folks who feign environmental concern simply to restrict the lawful development of property that they do not own.  Unfortunately, I tend to agree with the author that the NIMBY or CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have the political upper hand.  

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were.

With a subtitle of “Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate” Lisa Prevost’s Snob Zones should be required reading for all Planning Commissioners, Zoning Boards, Boards of Supervisors and City Councils. 

Beyond just a great beach read, this book has the potential to make a difference.  By spotlighting these overzealous zoning regulations and the fortress mentality of NIMBYism that created them, readers will likely reexamine  land-use drawbridge regulatory impacts (intended and unintended) on the entire community.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits : Universal Pictures, Beacon Press

‘Rezoning Ransom’: Repeal cash proffers

Rezoning Ransom OpEd Headline Daily Progress 3 March 2013This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday March 3, 2013.  The full “Contradictory Consequences” white paper can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org under the reports tab.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government in the Central Virginia region.


By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

There are times you have to say no to one thing because you said yes to something else. Such is the case with cash proffers.

If a community believes in citizen vetted comprehensive planning, preserving rural areas by densification of development areas and economic vitality, then such a community must say no to the fatally flawed cash proffer system.

In the recently released “Contradictory Consequences” white paper, the Free Enterprise Forum research and case studies explain the impacts of cash proffers. Sold to the public as a way to make growth pay for itself, the unintended negative economic and planning impacts have caused localities across the Commonwealth to repeal this “rezoning ransom” and replace these funds with more dependable and equitable infrastructure funding options. Today, rather than simply recalibrating their cash proffer calculation, as Albemarle County is doing, full repeal is a much more economically and ecologically sensible and sustainable alternative.

Cash proffers are per unit fees “voluntarily” extracted from applicants seeking to rezone their property. In theory, such “voluntary” proffers would be directly tied to the costs associated with the increased density of a rezoning. In reality, cash proffers lower land values, encourage development contrary to comprehensive plans, and create false hope for outside infrastructure funding.

Lower land values, lower property tax revenue – In concept, cash proffers are voluntary payments made by landowners to mitigate the impacts of changing the prescriptive zoning on their property. The concept works best when the rezoned value exceeds the increased cost of the proffer. Such a symbiotic relationship is difficult to achieve with automatic inflation increasing cash proffers and fickle housing markets not keeping pace.

Albemarle Single Family Detached $19,753Townhouse $13,432Multi Family $13,996
Charlottesville No cash proffers
Greene $5,778 per unit
Fluvanna $6,577 per unit
Louisa $4,362 per unit
Nelson No cash proffers

Basic economic theory indicates any increased cost must be paid by an entity that is a part of the transaction. Many believe the increased cost of a cash proffer will be borne by the end user, the new homebuyer. This can only occur in a housing market that has constant upward motion.

If, due to market conditions, the end user is not available to accept the cost of the cash proffer it is the land owner, whose land will be discounted by the increased entitlement costs that cash proffers create. In turn, such reduced land values reduce the locality’s real estate tax assessed value and revenue (absent an increase in the tax rate).

‘By Right’ Development Encouraged Charlottesville and Albemarle are currently updating their State mandated comprehensive plans. These community vetted plans suggest the manner in which the locality wishes to grow in the next twenty years.

In many, if not most, cases the zoning in a locality’s development area does not match the comprehensive plan designation. While the property owner does not have to agree to the comprehensive plan changes, they cannot act on those new designations until they have rezoned the property. Alternatively, if the land owner chooses to move forward with the existing, some might call “stale”, zoning, which likely does not agree with the locality’s comprehensive plan, they can do so immediately without paying any cash proffers.

In 2011, a developer acquired the rights to a project that included property in The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Charlottesville does not have a cash proffer, while Albemarle’s exceeds $19,000 per single family home. After calculating the increased value of the land with the rezoning in each locality, the developer chose to rezone the property that was in the City (without cash proffers) and chose NOT to rezone the property in the county. This calculated decision was based on calculation of the cost (in money and time) of rezoning the County land exceeded the increase value.

Therefore, the land owner is incentivized to not to follow the community vetted comprehensive plan vision but instead to construct lower density, less thoughtfully designed developments. These projects are built to meet local building and zoning code but absent the enhancements and flexibility a rezoning might allow.

False Financial Hope – Forecasting cash proffer revenue is much like predicting snow in Central Virginia, localities do not know when it is coming, how much they are actually going to get or when it will stop. Cash proffers rarely, if ever, total the amounts localities are banking on.

In November 2012, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors was presented a staff report outlining cash proffers that were in excess of $49.3 million dollars quite literally off the chart.

albemarle proffer 2012 chart with biscuit runAs one looks at this chart (right) and sees almost $50 Million dollars proffered, one might anticipate the cash proffer program is answering the very need it was designed but the Free Enterprise Forum estimates at least 28% of those proffers will never be collected as they are associated with the now defunct Biscuit Run Development.

It is interesting that while the State of Virginia acquired the property for a state park on December 31, 2009, Albemarle County continued to calculate those proffers as receivable in November 2012.

Rural Areas Jeopardized – According to the Piedmont Environmental Council, Albemarle County has in excess of 10,000 units already rezoned for residential development. Why have these not moved forward?

Have the embedded costs of development in Albemarle County, including cash proffers, created a cost burden the market is unable to bear?

If growth trends continue, won’t these embedded costs push residential development out of Albemarle County’s designated growth areas and into the rural areas?

The reality is that cash proffers contribute to the paradigm that rural residential development remains the least expensive, most profitable development option in Albemarle County.

If the cash proffers are pushing development into the rural areas and surrounding localities, what are the community costs of increased traffic, more costly government services delivery, as well as loss of ecologically contributing farmland, and productivity?

Cash proffers have produced a plethora of Contradictory Consequences without achieving significant benefit. Now is the time to repeal this rezoning ransom and replace it with a more sensible and equitable alternative.

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene County BOS Approve Skyline CAP’s Request

By Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County  Board of Supervisors approved a request from Skyline CAP, Incto rezone from R-1 to R-2 at their most recent meeting on August 28th.  This is an increase in residential density per acre, in addition R-2 Residential allows multi-family dwellings by special use permit as opposed to the R-1 Residential only allowing single family dwellings.

The property is located on Jack Russell Lane off Celt Road near the school system in Stanardsville.  As a proffer or offering to the county, Skyline CAP, Inc. will restrict the additional residences to 55 and older.  This was a two step process – first to rezone to R-2 and then secondly to issue a Special Use Permit for a multiple family dwelling.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other application.  The Board of Supervisors believed the density change to R-2 in this area fit well with Greene’s Comprehensive Plan.

Affordable housing is a priority which these apartments will fit, especially for the elderly and disabled. Another favorable consideration is the parcel’s location, the apartments are near the town of Stanardsville, banking and shopping. The applicant’s proffering of a resident age restriction (55+) will mitigate any direct impact on the school system and the county funding of schools.

Concurrently with this application, Skyline CAP, Inc. is undertaking its annual survey of needs assessments of its localities. They are surveying both housing needs  and community needs  and are intended to identify the needs housing for seniors, disabled and homeless. The Housing Needs Assessment targets specific questions about what functionality is needed and what type of housing is needed. Within rental housing, it asks that you prioritize potential housing solutions. For home ownership, it asks what issues are most important from weatherproofing to methods of ownership.

While this self selecting survey has the same non scientific balance the Free Enterprise Forum faulted in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) livability survey, we again have decided to encourage folks to participate despite this lack of scientific sampling.

The Community Needs Survey targets employment, education, type of housing, money management and outlines the programs that they offer. Specifically, the survey asks to prioritize employment issues. In regards to education, the survey asks to prioritize types of education vs. child care. Housing issues are listed from lack of housing to knowledge of how to buy a home. Skyline CAP, Inc. was founded in 2009 and has the mission of helping those in need attain self-sufficiency. Here is the mission statement of Skyline CAP……

The agency is organized and operated as a not for profit corporation exclusively for community service activities including education and charitable purposes. Specifically, the purpose is to advance the general welfare and conditions of low income, elderly and/or disadvantaged person by providing programs and services that shall promote, develop and encourage activities and means to improve housing, educational and literacy needs. And further, will help low income families and individuals move out of poverty and help to alleviate the conditions associated with poverty; and to that d, sponsor, support, promote and undertake safe, affordable housing projects, education projects and other services to include the designated Counties of Greene, Orange, Madison, and in the future, contiguous counties that may be without community action services, without regard to race, religion, and national origin.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes Skyline Cap is a part of the affordable housing solution we wrote about earlier this week in a Daily Progress Guest Editorial.


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