Tag Archives: albemarle county

Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentSee the source image

In the 1986 blockbuster movie Top Gun, Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was unable to get his head right when he lost his back seater, Goose.  He had to get focused on the future and make peace with the past.  The question when his squadron was in a dog fight, and needed him, would he engage?

I fear this is the same feeling regarding citizens, businesses and landowners in the current small area planning of the Rio/US29 region.

Please let me explain.

Maverick’s question of when to engage is pertinent because while some Rio/29 folks feel as though their perspectives were not taken seriously as the Grade Separated Interchange was pushed through approvals, and they are now hesitant to re-engage in a planning process with what they considered negative results.

Yet, like Maverick, we find ourselves at a juncture that requires us to engage.

This Thursday, August 9th at 6 pm at the Northside library, Albemarle County planners will hold an open house to get the feedback from the community to their long range plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is the time to engage.

Albemarle County explains the small area plan:

A Small Area Plan is a planning tool used to define a detailed plan for urban development and redevelopment in a focused area of strategic importance. The Rio29 Small Area Plan will devise a vision for the area around Route 29 and Rio Road and create a roadmap for implementation. The vision is guided by stakeholders that live, work, and play in and around the area and by the strategic goals adopted by the Board of Supervisors through the Comprehensive Plan, Places29 Master Plan, and Strategic Plan.

The Plan will help incorporate the new Rio Road Grade-Separated Intersection with future land use, transportation and capital projects in the area  Emphasis added-nw

In presenting the small area planning process, there will likely be caveats that this process is “visioning” and nothing is written in stone, or even funded.  The definition calls for the vision to be guided by the stakeholders however, if the public fails to engage, silence may be determined to be consent.

imageThe problem with long term planning is it is about the future and the future is never as we envision. Just twenty four months after the completions of the Rio/US29 Grade Separated Interchange, planners are already scoping out its replacement, the dog bone roundabout with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Station.

So we are planning for a BRT while we have not yet determined that we want/need this infrastructure investment.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy defines a true BRT system:

See the source imageBus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities. It does this through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations typically aligned to the center of the road, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations. 

Because BRT contains features similar to a light rail or metro system, it is much more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus services. With the right features, BRT is able to avoid the causes of delay that typically slow regular bus services, like being stuck in traffic and queuing to pay on board. emphasis added – nw

 

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

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

The long term vision will require significant amounts of private property to be acquired, perhaps via eminent domain. Interestingly, the plan calls for roads to run through commercial development but deftly avoids any residential areas (where voters live).image

The Rio29 Design Concepts – Final Draft Open House also includes a number of Transformative Projects.  Broken down into three categories (Short, Mid and Long term) we have not yet seen any cost projections for the projects but we fully anticipate they will be costly.

In announcing the Open House, Albemarle County was very clear in their intent:

Each topic will have its own station where attendees can provide feedback on the designs. Feedback will be shared with the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission as they consider incorporating these final draft designs into the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

The design concepts were developed with feedback from the community over the past 2 years. If endorsed by the Board, these concepts will be incorporated into Small Area Plan document that will be adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan

 

Much like the climatic dogfight in Top Gun, The Free Enterprise Forum is pleading with the citizens, businesses and property owners to re-engage in the small are planning process.  Absent all voices, the plan that moves fSee the source imageorward may not be the “community vision” for the future.

On August 9th, despite the fact that many will be focused on the upcoming anniversary, I hope the ENTIRE Rio/29 Community will re-engage, only then as a community can we move the shared vision forward.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, minnesota.cbslocal.com, Paramount Pictures

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Egotistical Entrance Corridor Expansion Effort

By. Neil Williamson, President

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are times when local public policy fails to follow logic.

When we learned in January the 1/3 Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors (EC) are Illegal, the Free Enterprise Forum was convinced Albemarle County supervisors would do the right thing to correct this code by reducing the number of roads designated as “Entrance Corridors”.  Imagine our shock to learn that this week, the Supervisors have a Resolution of Intent (on the consent agenda) to ADD a twenty-second road to the bloated EC list.

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

To their credit, staff prepared a resolution of intent for the Board of Supervisors to consider in their February 7th meeting.  The purpose of this resolution is to revise the Entrance Corridor Ordinance removing those roadways that do not qualify as arterials.

In the first action of the February 7th meeting, Board Chair Ann Mallek asked that the Resolution of Intent be removed from the consent agenda:

so some technical items can be worked out before it is brought back for further discussion.

Despite multiple requests of staff and supervisors, we have not received any update regarding these “technical issues”.

As of last month, the staff indicates they are not enforcing entrance corridor regulations on those roads that do not meet the state definition of “arterial” roads.  This is not a fix, it is a band aid.

Meanwhile in February, the Planning Commission was flummoxed by its inability to mandate architectural review on proposed changes to City Church on West Rio Road.  Therefore they passed a resolution of Intent to bring West Rio Road/John Warner Parkway as the twenty second road on the bloated list of “Entrance Corridors”.  This is the true origin of the Resolution of Intent the Supervisors have on their consent agenda this week.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes any changes to the Entrance Corridors MUST FIRST fix the illegal Entrance Corridors – If not, we are left to ask

How long will Albemarle choose to ignore the law?

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

Albemarle Answers Rain Tax Questions (Part II)

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the second in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Why has a stormwater utility been recommended as the funding mechanism?’

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility has the following advantages:

· Fairness – A utility fee based on a property’s impervious area more closely relates to the demand a property places on the stormwater system and on water resource protection efforts than its real estate property value. For that reason, a utility is considered a fairer way to allocate total program costs to individual properties.

· Stability – A utility will result in a dependable and steady revenue stream that grows with the community; this stability will allow for long-term program development and planning for capital investments.

· Regulatory preference – A dedicated funding source is preferred by federal and state regulators and would create advantages for the County when being audited or applying for grants.

· Wider funding base – Government- and tax-exempt- properties – charged under a utility but not charged taxes – contribute to the stormwater and pollution burden.

So we have four advantages to unpack: Fairness, Stability, Regulatory Preference and a wider funding base.

Fairness is a bit difficult to measure but let’s fist look at the current funding mchanism.  Today, all county taxpayers contribute $.007 of the property tax rate is dedicated to stormwater.

This cost allocation system is the same for schools, public safety, and most other government functions.  Suggesting a user fee is a very different concept.  Imagine if this was how we funded schools, the couple across the street do not have any children, why should they pay for schools?

Is the current funding mechanism ‘fair’?

Albemarle’s FAQs suggest that the proposed rain tax impervious surface calculation more closely relates to the demands placed on the system is a challenge as well.  Nothing in the calculation considers property context.

Consider the Google maps captures below:

White hall google map sugar hollow rdRolkin Road Google maps

The capture on the left is in the White Hall District in Sugar Hollow surrounded by forested lands, the photo on the right is Rolkin Road on Pantops, ignoring the variation in the amount of impervious surface in each photo, does using the same billing unit for these two instances the same make logical sense?   Which photo has more impact on Albemarle County’s stormwater infrastructure?  The home in the rural countryside or the urban ring townhouse?

Albemarle County FAQs indicate the proposed rain tax will result in a steady revenue stream that grows with the community.  The only thing stopping this from happening under the existing funding system is political will of 4 supervisors (the number needed for action).  Such political will has existed in recent years, evidenced by the $.007 dedicated to storm water in the current budget.

Albemarle FAQs suggest the proposed rain tax was selected because of a “Regulatory Preference” and that the proposed rain tax will ‘create advantages when audited or applying for grants’.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes to be perfectly clear – the proposed rain tax is NOT mandated by any governmental agency.  Among regulators some preference may exist but the regulation relates to the projects not how the projects are funded. Albemarle can say “no” to the proposed rain tax and have a very successful stormwater program.

The last bullet ‘wider funding base’ is perhaps the most jarring. Government and tax exempt properties may be charged under the proposed rain tax but not charged taxes.  This means Albemarle County will have to pay the proposed rain tax on all of their properties (including schools), these funds will come out of the general fund creating a need for more tax dollars to pay for those costs.

In addition, rural churches, often with impervious gravel parking lots will need to spend hundreds of dollars annually either through higher contributions or by cutting ministries in the community.

PrintThe proposed rain tax is not a fair allocation of costs as it does not consider parcel context in its calculations.  Stormwater management is not a utility it is a public service.  The costs should be shared via the general fund not the proposed rain tax.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credits: Google (accessed 3/19/18)

 

 

 

 

 

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

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

First a little background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

 

Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department

By. Neil Williamson, President

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government by over Twenty new full time employees and a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million. [corrected 12/5 9:44]

Please let me explain.

In 2013, Albemarle County thought it needed a Rain Tax (a fee paid by all land owners based on the percentage of impervious surface) in order to meet state mandated Chesapeake Bay regulations for pollutants.

In late 2014, staff projected the costs to be nearly $2.5 Million a year.  During the preparation of Albemarle County’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL  Action Plan they found they would receive credits for the many stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – both private and public – that were already built. Albemarle’s Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper Harper explains:

While the County is required to achieve 5% of its long-term required pollutant reductions by July 1, 2018, the current status of reductions is as follows:

pollutant reductions achieved as percent of total, long-term requirement

phosphorus  68%

nitrogen 99%

sediment 137%

All (100%) reductions must be achieved by 2028. As you can see, we are theoretically complete with required nitrogen and sediment reductions and two-thirds complete with phosphorus reductions. [emphasis added-nw].

When it was determined that Albemarle was well on its way to meeting those requirements, the Free Enterprise Forum wrongfully thought this would be the end of the discussion of a rain tax [see Singing in the Rain].

Instead, gifted with this “fee” authority from the General Assembly, Albemarle tasked staff to come up with a plan to spend the money to address the county’s greying stormwater infrastructure – .

image

Make no mistake this is the beginning of an Albemarle County Public Works Department with Twenty new full time employees  (corrected 12/5 9:44 am) and an annual budget of roughly $5 million absent any check on its further expansion based on a dedicated revenue source

While the Free Enterprise Forum is not questioning the need for many of these infrastructure improvements, we believe these projects should compete with other capital projects in the biannual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  Such project competition breeds efficiency and promotes transparency just as a dedicated revenue source reduces sunlight, breeds complacency and presents the opportunity for mismanagement and malfeasance.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: giphy.com, 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.

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.