Tag Archives: albemarle county

The Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

  •  The Hindsight Report indicates that over the study period (2001-2016), Albemarle County received, from the study area, over $277 million in local tax revenue compared with the $212.9 million revenue sharing payments made to the City of Charlottesville (+$64.1 million).

  • Had Charlottesville been successful in the annexation and the revenue sharing agreement not been in place, the City would have received $304.7 million in tax revenue from the study area during the study period compared with $212.9 million in revenue sharing payments from Albemarle County (-$91.8 million).

 

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

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

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

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

Was it a good deal?

Hopefully this data will help you decide.

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

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Ballot Box Capital Spending Exceeds $1.3 Billion

By. Neil Williamson, President

In case you did not notice, earlier this week there was an election.

In addition to the Presidential race, several localities had so called “Bond Issues” on their ballots.  Albemarle County was one of 17 bond issues presented by 6 localities this year – This represents over $1.3 Billion in capital spending – not surprisingly all passed by fairly significant margins.    bond-chart-2016

The Free Enterprise Forum does not question the need for any of these projects but we do wonder if the ballot box is the proper place for determining their priority in the community.

Voters are provided a binary choice of support or not support a distinct number of capital projects in a particular government function but they are not told (on the ballot) the impact on their local budget or the other capital improvement items that might have to be postponed in order to pay for the proposed bond referendum.

Interestingly, this year when voters in four localities were provided the option to institute a meal tax – it failed in three of the four localities (Passed Matthews County 54%).  The lesson, regardless of the actual impact, if you do not call something a tax the citizens will be likely endorse it.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that referendums [and fees (i.e. storm water)] are providing local government a new way to generate revenue and duck responsibility for making the hard choices that result in tax increases.

In addition, it seems that the manner the ballot question is phrased also has an impact on the success of the effort.

Tuesday, Augusta County residents were asked not about a bond issue but a straight spending question.

Shall the Courthouse of Augusta County be removed to the Augusta County Government Center Complex in Verona, Virginia, and shall the Board of Supervisors be permitted to spend $45,000,000.00 therefore?

Voters (66%) said no.

But Henrico Schools Bond referendum asked a 6 times larger spending question in a completely different way:

Shall Henrico County, Virginia, be authorized to contract a debt and issue its general obligation bonds in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $272,600,000 pursuant to the Public Finance Act of 1991 to finance school projects and the Henrico County School Board’s Capital Improvement Program, including capital improvements to schools, furnishing and equipping of schools, acquisition of future school sites, and such other school construction, renovations, and improvements as may be required by the actual education needs in Henrico County?

It seems to this observer that voters strongly favor financing options for municipal spending even absent tax ramification information but push back on the concept of making specific spending decisions.  The language of the ballot question matters.

More importantly perhaps is not how voters are asked but should they be?

The self governance part of our philosophy appreciates the apparent citizen involvement in the process but the cynical portion questions if by limiting the choice to a binary yes/no decision they are truly engaged.

Shouldn’t those we elect make the tough choices between adding classroom space or adding a firehouse?  Aren’t they in the best position to evaluate competing priorities?

The reality is each and every one of the bond referendums that passed will be repaid using local tax revenue but not one of them said in the ballot question how the amount borrowed equates to the property tax rate increases during the term of the bond.  .

Considering the significant disclosures required when we as private citizens take on debt (car, auto, etc.) is it too much to ask for a truth in lending statement for over $1.3 BILLION in capital spending?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes such fiscal clarity should be an integral part of such ballot questions.  Unfortunately, we doubt such change will be made any time soon as that might negatively impact the passage rate and require elected officials to make the tough capital budget decisions.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org.

 

There You Grow Again–Albemarle’s Latest Government Expansion

By. Neil Williamson, President

“They think that the cure to big government is to have bigger government… the only effective cure is to reduce the scope of government – get government out of the business.” – Economist Milton Freidman

Freidman’s prescription for big government came to mind as Albemarle County is now hearing from their various departments regarding their increased staffing needs in a series of reports and presentations in preparation for the FY18 Budget cycle.

Tonight (11/2) Community Development is charged with supporting their request for two additional planners and a new administrative position.  It is unfortunate that this departmental analysis does not calculate the unprecedented increased demands of Planning Commissioners and Supervisors that are far beyond the mandated legislative review.  We will say it again the best economic development strategy is to make it easier to develop in the development areas.

Clearly some of the perceived need for additional Community Development staffing is driven by the increased demand for staff at project community meetings, and citizen advisory councils.  Rarely, if ever, are such increased staff costs calculated as a new “engagement initiative” is developed.  The Free Enterprise Forum has long complained about the increased complexity and cost of such regulatory hurdles on private developers, this report exposes the increased cost of regulation on taxpayers in the form of expanded government staffing.

Albemarle’s Community Development FY16 staffing is 66.5 Full Time Employees (FTEs) and a payroll of around $3.75 Million dollars (an average salary+benefit cost of ~$56,000)

CDD funded positionsBut the question before the Supervisors should not be just how many planners, inspectors and managers they have in the department but how efficient and effective are those employees.

 

The report highlights the variable nature of the development review process:

CDD workload is largely a function of the number of applications submitted. Most applications (e.g. site plans, subdivisions, rezonings) have State defined timeframes for acting on the application and some applications (e.g. VSMP) are automatically approved if CDD does not meet that timeframe. Recognizing the County doesn’t control the number of applications and has legal timeframes for acting, the remaining strategies for managing workload are to 1) adjust the staff resources to match the workload and 2) adjust the expectations to match the workload.

While the report is accurate regarding state mandated timelines for review, Albemarle also has a significant pre-application process and does not start the state clock running until they accept the application as complete.  This increases the timeframe, and cost, for a project to gain approval.

In addition, not all development reviews are created equal the site plan for the bank on the corner should be significantly easier to manage than the Stonefield development.  The charts provided regarding rezonings and site plans fail to capture the differentiation between complexity of reviews.

The staff report also contradicts itself regarding the philosophical underpinnings of the department.  In an early section of the report, staff suggests reviewers are in a high pressure position:

Additionally, given the adversarial nature of development review, that additional 10 hours/week adds considerable stress to those workers and decreases the discretionary time to “decompress”. This can accelerate burnout and increase turnover.

Later in the document, staff suggests the exact opposite for some applications:

Finally, these applications are much harder to track in terms of review efforts, as they often call for a collaborative approach, rather than formal submissions, to address comments raised by staff, the public, Planning Commission or Board. While this informality in process improves the overall review quality and provides for better customer service, it makes it makes formally defining a “review” difficult.

So which is it, adversarial or collaborative approach results in a more time consuming review?

Then there is an issue of turnover in the department.  Ignoring significant retirements, over 18% of Community Development’s workforce left the employ of Albemarle County in FY16.

CDD TurnoverThis “brain drain” is distressing and expensive as it is anticipated that it takes a minimum of 6 months to bring a new employee to the level where they may work independently.  This Albemarle exodus might present the best argument for increasing the staffing levels or it might be a canary in the coal mine suggesting the policies and procedures are not supportive of good, efficient planning practices.

As we watch the Albemarle Planning Commission meet on a quarterly basis to discuss “big topics” where they have little to no jurisdiction, the Free Enterprise Forum has to ask “Who is calculating the cost of such a meeting to the taxpayer?

As applicants are routinely requested to defer their state mandated right for a “speedy” hearing to provide the commission or board their requested more detailed information in an additional meeting, it is important to recognize it is not just the applicant that is incurring cost – it is the taxpayer.

While we appreciate the limited metrics provided by Community Development staff, we believe better metrics could be developed for this important review.  In addition, we would welcome a review of the Development Review Task Force recommendations that were finalized and presented to the Supervisors almost a decade ago (2007) but never fully enacted.

Despite our misgivings, we predict Community Development will get the two new planners and one more administrative person to bring their headcount to nearly 70 employees.

Increasing employees, increasing payrolls and ever increasing complexity of regulatory regimens – this, unlike Freidman’s prescription, – will continue to grow government, increase cost and reduce our regions economic development opportunities.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org.

Photo Credits: Albemarle County

Albemarle Economy Weathers the US29/Rio GSI Storm?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The early economic indicators are in.  While there are limitations in the initial data set, it looks like the significant efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) may have worked as designed.

Please let me explain our logic.

Back in 2007, Free Enterprise Forum Research Associate Natasha Sienitsky authored the Workplace 29 report that found:

The Workplace 29 study area:
• supports more than 20,000 jobs, conservatively providing more than $800 million ($874,216,408) alone in direct salaries each year.
• generates 35% of taxes by all non-residential uses in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville; approximately $ 33,019,354 in total tax revenue paid to Albemarle County and Charlottesville City in 2006.
• provides per acre tax revenue of $24,700 for non-residential uses, compared to the entire county average of $335 per acre.
•produces approximately 45% of the county’s total tax revenue in 2006.

In addition to the above economic impacts it was determined that the Workplace29 study area generated 57% of all of Albemarle’s sales tax income.  Considering this was prior to the construction of Stonefield, Costco, and several other retail establishments it is not a reach to suggest that number has remained steady.

The conclusion of Workplace 29 stated:

Non-residential uses in Workplace 29 generate significant jobs and taxes for Albemarle County. The master planning process must continue to engage owners of these properties as the economic vitality and level of government service in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City have a close relationship to revenues generated by non-residential properties in the Workplace 29 area. The current Places 29 plan calls for a reconfiguration of the road network which will cause significant business disruptions along US Route 29 during an extended construction period. Neither the extent nor time frame of disruptions has been addressed.

Although changes in the character of US Route 29 may have long term economic benefits, short term disruptions, through extended construction periods, most likely would negatively impact business and as a result the revenue stream for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the impact of master plan formulation and implementation on business.

Our 2007 hypothesis does not hold up based on recently released 2016 economic data.

Book1The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce regularly reports regional sales tax data.  Their reports provide both updates as well as historical sales tax data.

The report last week, for all of Albemarle County, indicated sales tax revenue for the first half of 2016 was up over 2015 by greater than $495,000 (+7.25%).

Considering the significant disruption to the corridor including the closure of the intersection from May 23 – July 18, 2016 [opening date corrected 12:50 8/29-nw], one must conclude the intense marketing efforts, signage and business assistance efforts had an impact.

Back in March [in our Lemonade Post], we mentioned our appreciation for the marketing efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) as well as Albemarle County.

With these early returns, it seems their mitigation efforts, which continue today, are having the intended results.  While we continue to witness economic dislocation (Better Living, PJ Networks, Sultan Kabob), much of this dislocation may have occurred with or without the new GSI.

As Albemarle prepares to produce a small area plan for the US29/Rio area, they would be wise to attempt to capture intersection specific economic data to confirm our conclusions based on county wide data.

We have not yet seen the July numbers but considering the trend for the first six months, I anticipate they will continue to be slightly ahead of 2015.

Absent a more detailed metric, I believe it would be appropriate to congratulate all the businesses involved for weathering a difficult storm; and to congratulate the speedy construction, all of the marketing and business outreach teams for a job well done.

As for our failed 2007 hypothesis, I am happy to have been wrong but one might wonder what the numbers would look like with a longer construction period and absent the unprecedented outreach efforts.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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

 

Albemarle PC Chooses to Ignore State Law, Again

By. Neil Williamson, President

go-to-jail-photo-credit-myanimelist.net_.jpgIn tonight’s (4/26) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting the commissioners again voted that their opinion on Cash Proffers was more important than state law (and the staff opinion).  And this wasn’t even the first time this year that they made such a vote (Albemarle Planning Commission Tells Supervisors To Violate State Law)

Add to this “fun house of mirrors” that this very same Planning Commission voted 5 – 0 on a Resolution of Intent to consider amending the Comprehensive Plan by repealing the Cash Proffer Policy.  This issue will come to the Planning Commission as a public hearing on May 10th.

I’d like to be able to explain all of this — but I am at a loss.

As a reminder what is at stake is a reduction of cash proffer of ~$15,000 per single family home in rezoned residential housing.

Here is the justification the Planning Commission made to support their first arrogant state code violating vote in February:

By a vote of 7:0, the Planning Commission recommends denial of ZMA-2015-09 Spring Hill Village Proffer Amendment for the following reasons:

1. Some reduction in cash proffer amounts may be in order based on looking at the school enrollments and capacities; but, the Commission at this point does not know what the reduced amount would be.
2. The recommendation of the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) of this reduced amount has not yet been fully analyzed by the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors; and, the additional information is still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago.
3. A full analysis should be conducted of the actual costs to the county of going forward with this development, and
4. The Board of Supervisors should set a new proffer policy, not use this project to set a precedent, and possibly consider repealing the current cash proffer policy while that is undertaken.

#2 is perhaps the most outlandish of these.  The proffer change was driven by a 2013 change in state code.  A full three years late Albemarle still has not obtained “the additional information still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago”?????  Based on this logic, the applicant is being punished because Albemarle County did not do their job.

In the meeting, the commissioners discussion started with school impacts and Commissioner Mac Lafferty again stated his belief that the action should go directly to the Board rather than the Planning Commission.  The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with Lafferty’s position.

Commissioner Bruce Dotson suggested the applicant, who is selling product at $600,000+, can afford the proffer.  The applicant indicated they can afford it but told the commission the previous proffer amount is now in violation of State law. The Free Enterprise Forum believes the fact that a project can afford it is not germane to the argument.

Tonight’s vote was unanimous 7-0 to recommend denial of the cash proffer amendment.

The repetitive arrogance of the Albemarle County Planning Commission to determine they are above the Code of Virginia is astounding.

Remembering the Planning Commission is merely advisory to the Board of Supervisors, the true question is will the current Board of Supervisors also choose to willfully violate state law?

Only time will tell.

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.

Albemarle Arrogance on US29

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

directional question signPrior to determining what transportation solution to implement on US29, the community, state and federal government must determine exactly what problem they are trying to solve. Unfortunately,the Free Enterprise Forum continues to see a vocal minority expressing a self centered circular argument that precludes productive dialog.

Please let me explain.

The February 18th letter from The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) changed the conversation paradigm from the approved and funded bypass versus anything else to everything is now on the table.

But the question remains, what is the problem the project is seeking to solve?

Alice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleLewis Carroll captured this concept in his famous tome Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Throughout the 5 hour public hearing at the Albemarle Board of Supervisors last month, speakers mentioned that the bypass is a misnomer and needs to be significantly longer.  The Free Enterprise Forum wrote about this concept in September US29 Bypass Extension is too short and too long.

The question raised by the FHWA letter is one of “purpose and need”.  The feds believe this road was properly designed for a time that has passed.  The letter also suggests that VDOT should get significant buy in from the community to any solution proposed.

To gain community consensus, the Free Enterprise Forum believes an objective set of metrics needs to be developed to evaluate ANY proposed solution.  The metrics discussion should happen now absent any concrete (pun intended) concept. Some of the metrics I have heard discussed include:

          • Cost/Return on Investment
          • Throughput Improvement (Corridor Travel time)
          • Congestion Improvement (how many hours at level of service  E or worse)
          • Preservation/Destruction of Rural Area
          • Water Quality
          • Economic Dislocation
          • Freight Capacity
          • Distance to Schools

us 29 logoSeemingly, there are some in the community that have little to no concern about the import of this National Highway and Federal Aid Route as it relates to the rest of the Commonwealth. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs article in Sunday’s Daily Progress included two direct quotes that clearly voiced this sentiment:

“I don’t think … I’m sitting here to worry about people from Lynchburg getting to Washington, D.C.,” said Places29 council member Cynthia Neff. “I’m worried about the growth area of the Albemarle community and how we move traffic through most effectively.”

“It’s obvious Virginia needs a third north-south interstate, but it ain’t U.S. 29,” Places29 Council Member and President of Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition George]  Larie said. “There are too many driveways.”

The Free Enterprise Forum has also learned that one person at the meeting heard a Places29 Council member member suggest under their breath “[explicative deleted] Lynchburg”.

It is interesting those generally described as Bypass Opponents, including Neff and Laurie, have little difficulty with the concept of accepting Federal funds (from all of the US) for transportation improvements as long as they are programmed for their myopic local improvements.  This “Albemarle Arrogance” suggests a lack of understanding of the word “Commonwealth” and undercuts the goals of VDOT.

Despite calls for the immediate sale of Western Bypass Right of Way,  Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) February meeting discussion of selling the right of way is premature because it would rule out a possible solution.

Interestingly, in the February meeting two CTB members indicated a willingness to accept the funds that had been dedicated for Charlottesville and reprogramming them to projects in their districts.  Again, Layne suggested such reprogramming of funds would be premature (but not out of the question).

Unfortunately, I believe Lewis Carroll correctly projected Albemarle County’s current transportation planning philosophy in Through the Looking Glass.

“Well, in out country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’dAlice_in_Wonderland generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

We eagerly await the March 19th CTB meeting where VDOT has been charged to present a laundry list of projects designed to address the concerns raised in the FHWA letter.  Whether any such projects might garner the required local support is an open question.  If not, there are plenty of other communities in the Commonwealth who are lining up for these Federal dollars.

If the funds are reprogrammed outside of Albemarle, no significant transportation improvements will likely be completed in the near term “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”.

Maybe that was the opposition’s goal after all.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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

Photo Credits: Pixabay, Walt Disney Company

US29 Bypass – Building a Roadblock is Easier Than Building a Road

By. Neil Williamson, President

VDOT-logo_thumb.jpgOn Thursday, May 23rd, from 5 pm – 7 pm at the University Area Holiday Inn,  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be holding an open house style meeting to discuss alternative designs to the southern terminus of the US 29 Western Bypass.  But the question is will “the public” focus on the meeting topic or use this meeting as a platform for opposition to this much needed safety improvement to US29?

Based on the e-mbypass-survey-results-graphic-2012.jpgail and Facebook traffic I have seen this week, I fully anticipate the “roadblock builders” to be out in great numbers at this meeting.  Does this mean the public is opposed to the road? 

No, in fact our 2004 transportation survey, Charlottesville Tomorrow 2012 survey [graphic] (and others) as well as the 2011 Rivanna District Supervisor election all seem to indicate the pubic is in favor of the road.

However, when a cohort of any population, regardless of size, is in opposition to a project that cohort is generally more energized than the cohort that is in support of an already approved project.  Therefore, I anticipate the “road blockers” to dominate the attendance at Thursday’s citizen informational meeting.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds this vocal minority for remaining engaged, we question the structural integrity of their current six part “GO29” argument.

Please let me explain. 

On their website, The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) advocates for several steps to relieve the congestion on US29 other than the bypass. 

The first step in building an effective roadblock is to redefine the argument.  If you can include portions of the opposition’s solution in your solution, you will have them chasing their rhetorical tail.

By branding this as “GO29”, the SELC seems to think the public will not recognize that many parts of “their” solution are already in process at the direction of those supporting the bypass {and were included in Places29].

From the SELC website:

We can’t bypass our problems. Our community has developed an approach that addresses traffic backups directly, and also gives drivers more ways to reach destinations. Our Go29 video highlights six key pieces of the solution:       

    1. Improve the interchange with the 250 Bypass near Best Buy;  
    2. Build a compact overpass at Hydraulic Road to eliminate a major source of congestion and allow through-traffic on 29 to flow without stopping;
    3. Extend Hillsdale Drive parallel to 29 to give local drivers ways to reach destinations without having to use 29;
    4. Build a second compact overpass at Rio to solve this traffic snarl (same concept as Hydraulic);
    5. Extend Berkmar Drive up to Hollymead Town Center and beyond, so that drivers could go from Kmart to Lowe’s to Target without getting on 29; and
    6. Eliminate the bottleneck between the Rivanna River and Hollymead by widenin100_0404_thumb.jpgg 29 in both directions.

Wait a minute, four of these items are not issues.  There is community consensus (and in some cases studies completed and even funding) for:

  1. The Best Buy Ramp
  2. Hillsdale Drive Extended
  3. Berkmar Drive Extended
  4. The widening of US29 North of the Rivanna River

By suggesting these other items won’t be built, SELC is knowingly constructing a multi faceted false choice argument designed to obfuscate the simple question Expressway or Bypass?  

Should vehicles without business in the North US29 corridor be forced to go through the corridor or should they be given the option to bypass it?

But none of this is the topic of Thursday’s meeting.

According to VDOT:

The purpose of this Citizen Information Meeting is to provide an opportunity for interested citizens and organizations to review preliminary alternatives for the proposed interchange at the southern terminus of the project. . . The project will include construction of a new interchange at the southern terminus of the project that will replace the existing U.S. 250 Bypass interchange at Leonard Sandridge Road. VDOT is considering three alternative configurations for this proposed interchange. Displays showing each alternative under consideration are being presented at this meeting for public review and comment.

So the question remains, will Thursday’s meeting be about the alternatives to the southern terminus of UAlice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleS29 Bypass or a trip down the roadblock builder’s rhetorical rabbit hole?

Will the vocal minority succeed in redefining the meeting agenda to include settled issues or will VDOT be able to maintain the focus on the three proposed southern terminus options?

Clearly in Albemarle County, and many communities, building a roadblock is much easier than building a road.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson,President

 

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: Free Enterprise Forum, Disney

Graphic Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Heavy Handed Albemarle Comp Plan is Not Ready For Prime Time

By. Neil Williamson, President

The 2013 Comprehensive Update to Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan is headed to public hearing on Tuesday (4/2) night.  The plan is available online, but the Free Enterprise Forum purchased a hard copy from the Planning Department for the princely sum of $168.

The new plan weighs in at about half the weight of the previous plan and we applaud the use of appendices rather than embedding policies and master plans into the text of the comp plan. 

We are encouraged by the brief (shortest in the Comp Plan) but meaningful chapter on Economic Development as well as the recognition of the importance of agriculture and forestry to the rural areas. We are encouraged that the document asks the question ‘How do Cash Proffers hinder density’.

But with that being said, we find the comprehensive plan to be lacking a consistent, unified voice.  For all the brevity of the Economic Development chapter, there are long winded almost evangelical undercurrents written into the Natural (and Historic) Resources chapters that have little or no concern for the cost of implementation nor property owner rights and do not belong in this planning document. 

  …the County should develop the action plan to focus on conserving ecological integrity at the scale of the landscape.  The landscape approach focuses on a wide scale (square miles rather than square feet) an the management of major land features (e.g., forest blocks, watersheds, urbanized areas) to both conserve ecological diversity and support conservation measures (such as conservation easements) or for restoration efforts.  This plan should also establish conservation approaches for aquatic conservation through land management techniques designed for a specific watershed. (5.1.14)

The concept of a historical protection ordinance has been a flaw in Albemarle County’s comprehensive plan for years.  In this iteration, the concept has been vastly expanded to use GIS technology to create a historic overlay layer and empower (likely without legislative authority) the Architectural Review Board to evaluate development proposals and by right building in and adjacent to the Historic Overlay.

Strategy 2b.3: Expand the Authority of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to include the review required under the recommended historical overlay district ordinance.  Revise the make-up of the ARB to include members with expertise in historic preservation and revise the name of the board accordingly.

Strategy 2b.4: Establish an advisory review by the ARB of all rezonings, special use permits, site plans, and subdivision plats for proposals located within or abutting a locally designated historic district to ensure that historic preservation considerations are available as part of the decision making process. (5.2.10)

The Free Enterprise Forum has already written extensively about the Monticello Land Grab that is currently drafted into the comp plan has attempted to put into the Comprehensive Plan.  To be clear there is no reason for Monticello’s viewshed to be enumerated in the Comprehensive Plan.  We encourage Monticello to work directly with their neighbors to discuss how each of them exercise their property rights and leave government out of the equation.  

Upon further study, it became clear that Monticello is not the only entity seeking to regulate aesthetics.  Under the Cultural and Scenic resources section the comprehensive plan calls for expanded (again without legislative authority) power for Albemarle County:

The County’s scenic resources are highly valued and contribute both to the quality of life and the tourism economy.  Existing regulations only go so far in protecting the resources.  Greater ability to regulate aesthetics is desired to help preserve these qualities. (5.2.14)

The Transportation chapter section of the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to reflect reality.  Without population increases exponentially above the current projection, automobiles will continue to be the dominant form of transportation and home buyers will continue to choose homes that best fit their lifestyle choices rather than being limited by transportation availability.  Highlighting an anti car/anti personal mobility bias the plan states:

Dispersed development patterns have helped promote a transportation network that is mostly focused on the automobile.  In the past, a more abundant supply of cheap land and fuel encouraged development patterns that have become hard to sustain.  Today, and n the future, the local transportation system is faced with the challenge of finding adequate revenue, an aging transportation infrastructure (and an aging population), higher energy prices, and accommodating future population and employment growth….

Since our founding, the Free Enterprise Forum has had issues with the mandated neighborhood model form of development and the manner in which the County has now codified THE MODEL rather than a model.  Considering the importance of this document and our ten years of experience with THE model shouldn’t more time be taken to see how these “principles” have turned out in real projects both good and bad?  In addition, based on all of the evidence light rail will not work in Albemarle County in the next 50 years; why then is it still on page 5.5.19 of the comprehensive plan. 

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the significant effort staff and the Planning Commission have put into the document thus far.  We believe there are positives in this iteration but we also believe it could still be better.

We hope that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors take their time with the document that is supposed to guide our community for the next twenty years.

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. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Monticello’s Comp Plan Land Grab

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:36

Considering Thomas Jefferson’s strong belief in personal property rights, one must wonder what Jefferson would think of the Foundation that bears his name seeking to use Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan to enact ‘voluntary’ restrictions on the property rights of landowners whose properties might be visible from Monticello.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees this as an effective land grab via comprehensive plan.

Please let me explain.

According to Merriam-Webster, the term land grab was first used in the middle 1800’s  “to describe a usually swift acquisition of property (as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force”.

Today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc., owner and operator of Monticello, is calling for the creation of a “Monticello Protection Area” overlay in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.   The Foundation contends that the view from Monticello is an important part of their dual nonprofit mission of education and preservation.  They are seeking to have input on any development/construction activity that occurs within this “Protection Area”. 

The map below, prepared by Foundation staff and included in the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, illustrates the vast area Monticello wishes to exercise their ‘voluntary’ design control.

map

The current iteration of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan includes a significantly smaller Monticello view shed map.  The map below includes both the current (in blue) and proposed (in gray)  view shed maps:

current and proposed

This is a huge increase in area and includes parcels that, due to topography can not be seen from Monticello (example: portions of Avon Street Extended).

Foundation staff provided both the verbiage and the map to be included in the just released Albemarle Comprehensive Plan.   The word voluntary does not appear anywhere in the documents provided.

From the draft Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (as drafted by the Foundation):

The Monticello Protection Area is defined by the GIS map on file with Albemarle County which depicts all property visible from the Monticello mountaintop.  The intent of the Guidelines for Development within the Monticello Protection Area (MPA) is to protect the historic character of Monticello and the rural character of entrance corridors, particularly as it relates to the visitor experience. The implementation of these guidelines is intended to maintain the historic and rural character of the area for both visitors and residents to improve the economic vitality of this community resource.

Members of the Foundation staff have indicated property owners will not have to abide by their ‘voluntary’ restrictions.  They simply want to make the landowners aware that the view from their very important community asset might be negatively impacted by something the landowner could lawfully do with their property.  The Foundation also wants to suggests ways property owners could change their plans to better suit the desires of the Foundation.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes if included in the Comprehensive Plan, the regulatory reality (different from the true legal standing) is that the Foundation would have effective design control power over all development in the “Monticello Protection Area”. 

The guidelines the Foundation has proposed are exceedingly specific and overreaching.  The Foundation wants to weigh in on the color, arrangement, lighting and even placement of windows on properties they do not own.  They are mandating a seat at the table at every rezoning Albemarle considers in their view shed.  In addition, while they want to have the ability to enjoy the view of properties they don’t own, they specifically do not want windows facing their property.  Lest you think we have overstated these voluntary restrictions, here is exactly as they appear in the Draft Comprehensive plan:

Bright pastels and whites on exterior faces of buildings and roofs can be distracting when viewing the natural landscape from Monticello. Muted colors for roofs and walls that blend with the natural landscape (ie. mid-spectrum browns and greys, sandy tones) can be substituted for bright pastels and whites on building faces and roofs.

To minimize impact, avoid large roof expanses, especially those of one color—mottled coloring that combines light and dark elements for roofs is preferred.

Surfaces that are prone to glare and reflection increase visibility and should be avoided whenever possible.

For example, expansive windows facing Monticello should be avoided.

Flood lights, up- lights and exposed bulbs are more apparent in the night sky than shielded fixtures. Lighting for buildings and parking areas can use shielded fixtures at lower heights to reduce impacts. Whenever possible lighting should not be placed higher than the tree line.

Lighting on the tops of cellular towers should be avoided when possible.

Lighting for buildings and parking areas should use fixtures that reduce/eliminate glare.

Employ techniques that break up massing.

Development that breaks the mature tree line is more apparent than development that is lower than the mature tree line. Special consideration should be given to development which is higher than the mature tree line to camouflage impacts.

Parking can always be broken up with interspersed plantings of trees and other landscaping.

When there is no conflict with Entrance Corridor or Neighborhood Model guidelines, the preferred location for parking is on the far side of buildings as viewed from Monticello.

Landscaping to screen buildings and parking should employ trees which will generate a mature canopy of trees.

Monticello welcomes the opportunity to assist homeowners and developers who are contemplating construction in the MPA. Please contact Monticello with any questions about these guidelines.

Projects that require discretionary land use permits should consider offering a proffer that addresses protection of the views from Monticello. Albemarle County could consider conditions that protect the views from Monticello when special use permits are issued.

Considering the revised map and the voluntary restrictions listed above, development (that the Comprehensive Plan seeks to encourage) just got a great deal more difficult in the Monticello visible development areas of Albemarle County.  In addition, The Free Enterprise Forum questions the legal standing for the existing Monticello view shed protection in the current Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan.   

In 2004, we cheered when the Foundation purchased a neighboring 334 acre parcel now known as Montalto.  This purchase is the proper way to control view shed – you want it — buy it.

When President Thomas Jefferson looked west to the expansion of the United States, he initiated the Louisiana Purchase.  I firmly believe Jefferson would advocate for the protection of property rights over the view shed protections currently proposed.

Despite the fact that they wrote it, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation should now ask the Albemarle County Planning Commission to remove the “Monticello Protection Area” map and the associated  ‘voluntary’ land grab language from the Comprehensive Plan before prior to sending it on to the Board of Supervisors.

As Jefferson wrote “Nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of.” –[Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 1786. ME 5:440]. 

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. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Image Credits:Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc.

Why Didn’t Somebody Call The Police

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County just released its latest draft of their comprehensive plan.  A large portion of the plan regards land use.  Interior to the land use portion is the concept of the “neighborhood model”.  The Neighborhood Model is a form of New Urbanism that promotes pedestrian orientation, building mass, interconnected streets, multi modal transportation options and even public art.

But what about crime?  There is an increasing volume of research indicating some elements of new urbanism promote criminal activity. 

So we were most interested when Albemarlecrime scene tape County announced in July 2011 that a new Crime Prevention Officer position (click here for the media release).  Ten year Albemarle Police veteran Steve Watson, a CEPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) Certified Police Officer was selected for this position.  According to the County media release:

Officer Watson’s duties and responsibilities will include managing community related events, and coordinating the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program and the Neighborhood Watch Program.  Officer Watson will be the liaison between the community and the police department as it relates to crime prevention.

In a telephone interview with the Free Enterprise Forum, Officer Watson indicated he has had no interaction with the Planning Department regarding Crime Prevention and the Neighborhood Model but he would welcome such a conversation.  Frankly, Officer Watson seemed almost evangelical about his passion for CPTED.

Considering this newly acquired talent, why didn’t somebody call the Police? 

During the discussion of relegated parking (once merely a part of the Neighborhood Model, now written into County Code), the Free Enterprise Forum asked what the Albemarle County Police Department thought of this planning concept.  Based on our limited understanding of CPTED, hidden parking lots created a fertile environment for criminal activity.  Our calls for police involvement fell on deaf ears.

Basic CPTED theory focuses on examining the built environment and how CPTED principles apply to problem solving, community planning, and safety and security assessments. 

NCPClogo.gifThe National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) offers certification in CPTED and indicates the basic coursework provides:

The Basic CPTED course covers the theory behind CPTED and give an overview of the history of crime and the physical environment; the basics of CPTED principles and how they work; applying successful applications and techniques of CPTED to specific crimes; how to consider CPTED principles in plans to secure key public places and facilities; and how to conduct a community safety assessment using CPTED principles.

  • CPTED applications to specific crimes and “hot spots” locations
  • Specific practical techniques including street and security lighting, landscaping, barriers, traffic calming, and target hardening
  • Role of maintenance, ordinances, and other local laws in strategies to prevent crime and improve quality of life
  • How to conduct a community safety assessment using tools based on CPTED principles
  • How to consider CPTED principles in plans to secure key public places and facilities
  • How to link neighborhood volunteers to local crime prevention, community building, and homeland security initiatives.

Naively perhaps, the Free Enterprise Forum believed that the Albemarle County Planning Department would know that the Albemarle County Police Department had this new position dedicated to Crime Prevention and would utilize this resource to evaluate the Comprehensive Plan review.  [Remember this Comprehensive Plan revision included a Million Dollar Grant to help Albemarle coordinate planning work with Charlottesville and the University].

There is mention of CPTED in the Current Comprehensive Plan under Parks and Open Space:

The design and location of open space determines how fully it will be used. For example, a public space framed by building fronts, surrounded by neighborhood thoroughfares, and accessible to nearby residents is inviting and safe. Such principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) can improve siting decisions, as can such criteria as locating parks near paths or major destinations like schools and other public facilities

But nowhere in this state mandated document is there significant consideration of crime prevention through better community design.

For a government dedicated to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,  that is a crime.

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. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org