Tag Archives: Albemarle

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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Albemarle May Cut Rural Regulatory Red Tape

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

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

From the staff report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Objective 1: Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy.

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Virginia Farm Bureau

Bad ‘Housekeeping’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Image result for alice brady bunchGrowing up in the 1970s, the only ‘housekeeper’ I knew was Alice from the Brady Bunch.  She was an important part of the family who helped out getting everything accomplished for a busy family with six children.  She was well respected by the children, the community and her employers.

Now, in separate, equally disturbing, actions both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are giving Alice a bad name.

Please let me explain.

Under the auspices of literally “Housekeeping” AlbemarlePC Legal notice plans, by my count, nearly 30 code revisions.  The legal ad for the June 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing (right) was dense, even by Albemarle standards.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds some of the changes proposed, we remain concerned that other items are clearly being pushed through for political expediency and are being “hidden in plain sight”.

Yesterday, I literally took out my magnifying glass to read the small print.  Policy wonks may read the legal ads this closely but by putting thirty largely unrelated code revisions into Zoning Text Amendment, the opportunity for obfuscation is great.

In a municipal game of “Where’s Waldo” see if you can find the second amend statement in the ad above.  If you were able to find it, you would find this innocuous legalese:

Amend Section 18-32.6 to clarify that specifications for recreational facilities comply with Sections 18-4.16-4.16.3;

Reading the text above, Alice (and pretty much everyone else) might think this is just “cleaning up” some legal stuff to make it comply with some other legal stuff.  But in reality, these twelve words eliminate special use permits for golf and swim clubs in the rural areas, effectively banning new golf courses in Albemarle County.  [correction June 13 10:46 am  this language is to clean up the ordinance, a separate SUP (and public engagement plan) will be submitted to eliminate golf courses in the rural area – per e-mail from Albemarle’s Bill Fritz- the Free Enterprise Forum regrets this error – nw] This is just one of the “housekeeping” items buried in the proposed Zoning Text Amendment

Albemarle is not alone in burying changes in “housekeeping” activities.  Charlottesville Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson took City Council’s charge of a “Legal Review” to mean anything her office wanted to change should be a part of the review.

Luckily, the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) took a long look at the “Legal Review”. As CADRe stated in their May 23rd letter to the Planning Commission:

In the case where a revision represents a substantive change that we feel is inappropriate for the Legal Review and better served by potential Amendments following the update to the Comprehensive Plan, we have noted as Substantive Change. [emphasis added-nw]

Much more than just “Housekeeping” CADRe’s letter outlined 16 pages of Substantive Changes; including the elimination of non residential uses in residential districts:

Also, what about all the other non-residential uses that are currently permitted in residential districts per the residential matrix? Is there a proposed replacement matrix that maintains these uses?

Examples: Houses of worship, temporary outdoor churches, cemetery, Health clinic, private clubs, wireless facilities (antennas, attached facilities, etc.), day care facility, schools (elementary, high school, college) funeral home, library, municipal govt. offices, property management, parking garage/lot, indoor health/sports clubs, parks, utility facilities, utility lines, consumer service business.
If these uses are eliminated from the residential districts this too is a SIGNIFICANT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE

Regardless of your position on the issues buried in these Zoning Text Amendments, it is difficult for us to understand how one would find these changes as “Housekeeping”.  Instead, we see it as an attempt, albeit a legal attempt, to circumvent the normal process and implement significant changes without proper public engagement.

Alice would indeed be disappointed in this shaming of the word “Housekeeping”.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: WJBQ.com

Sprawl Wars–One Rouge

By. Neil Williamson, President

Reminding me of the old Don Imus bit “Which Doesn’t Belong and Why”, this Thursday evening I will be joining Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin and Piedmont Environmental Council’s Charlottesville-Albemarle Land Use Officer Jeff Werner on a panel discussing “How Zoning and Land Use Shape The World Around Us”.  This FREE event is a non-partisan project of The Democratic Road Forward PAC.

At the outset, I must complement the other panelists both of whom are well respected in their professional and political fields.  I have known Werner and Galvin for many years; we disagree strongly about some things, but we have always had interesting, positive conversations/debates.  I anticipate Thursday will be equally interesting.

While the Free Enterprise Form is pleased to be invited to the panel, some of the promotion for the event already has me scratching my head. Rather than focusing on the more cerebral zoning and land use, the organizers are touting “URBAN SPRAWL” Here is the blurb from the website:

2017UGsession6_4

“Decades of unplanned and carelessly applied zoning gave rise to urban sprawl”, I have to disagree.

Sure the zoning regulations and their enforcement had an impact on neighborhood expansion, but market demand, improved mobility, automobile affordability, as well as the advancement of women in the workplace were significant contributors to sprawling neighborhoods.

Blaming the previous planning is evidence of the arrogant planner’s paradox — if only the community planned better we would be a better community – planning is good but product must have a market or it does not get built.  The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe most planners have a wide enough world view when it comes to planning alternatives.

In his paper, Urban Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Deliberative Democracy, David B. Resnik, JD, PhD wrote:

Urban sprawl in the United States has its origins in the flight to the suburbs that began in the 1950s. People wanted to live outside of city centers to avoid traffic, noise, crime, and other problems, and to have homes with more square footage and yard space. As suburban areas developed, cities expanded in geographic size faster than they grew in population. This trend has produced large metropolitan areas with low population densities, interconnected by roads. Residents of sprawling cities tend to live in single-family homes and commute to work, school, or other activities by automobile.

The concept of living in a suburban neighborhood has been a dream for many American families.  The advent of affordable automobiles and gasoline provided America the greatest independent mobility in the world.  People could choose to live out in the country and still make it into the urban areas to work.  Today, environmental groups and academics have successfully attached a negative connotation to the “American Dream” of owning a house with a yard by using the term ‘sprawl’.

“Sprawl features rapid geographic expansion of metropolitan areas in a “leapfrog,” low density pattern, segregation of distinct land uses, heavy dependence on automobile travel with extensive road construction, architectural and social homogeneity, shift of capital investment and economic opportunity from the city center the the periphery, and relatively weak regional planning.”
Rollins School of Public Heath, Emory University

“Sprawl is irresponsible, often poorly-planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic and air pollution, crowds schools, and drives up taxes.” –The Sierra Club

Local and State Governments have joined in the anti-sprawl movement mainly for economic reasons – it is significantly more efficient to deliver government services (Schools, Police, Fire, Etc.) to a densely populated area rather than geographically dispersed.

In a fascinating piece of creative lexicon, the term ‘Smart Growth’ worked its way into the planning sphere in the 1990s.  Like ‘Clean Water’ these positive terms, work subliminally to support their own cause i.e.: if you are opposed to ‘smart growth’ you must favor ‘dumb growth’.  Recently many of  ‘smart growth’ proponents have shifted lexicon to be supportive of “Form Based Zoning”, “Sustainable Cities” and of course Charlottesville’s  “Streets that Work”.

One of the premier new urbanist evangelists is Andrés Duany, whose firm DPZ was hired by Charlottesville last year to develop their Form Based Code.  Duany has co-authored five books: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, The New Civic Art, “The Smart Growth Manual”, “Garden Cities” and “Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents”.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes there is a market for Form Based Codes and New Urbanism; but there is also a market for old urbanism and suburbanism.  Just as we were supportive of Albemarle’s neighborhood model as ONE model not THE model, we believe zoning should not be crafted to prevent the last bad thing from happening again it should be built to allow the next great place to be built.  Neither sprawl or the automobile should be seen as planners’ enemy.

In his seminal book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Myths, Randal O’Toole wrote:

Sprawl is one of those invented problems. Low-density suburbanization–which is what people usually mean when they say “sprawl”–not only is not responsible for most of the problems that its critics charge, it is the solution to many of the problems that sprawl opponents claim they want to solve.

The war on sprawl is really a war on American lifestyles. It combines a war on the suburbs that house half of all Americans with a war on the automobiles that carry Americans four out of every five miles they travel. Yet the suburbs provide an ideal medium between rural open spaces and crowded cities while occupying just 2 percent of the nation’s land. Meanwhile, for most urban-length trips, the automobile is the fastest, most convenient, and most economical form of personal transportation ever devised.

Americans live in a wide range of possible lifestyles. A fourth of all U.S. residents live in rural areas away from any cities or towns. Another 10 percent live in small towns that are far from major urban areas. While 65 percent of Americans live in urbanized areas of 50,000 people or more, just a third of those live in the central cities such as New York, Seattle, or Dallas. Urbanized lifestyles range from low-density suburbs through medium-density edge cities to high-density city centers. All of these are valid lifestyle choices and they work for the people who live there.

To be clear, any land use regulation worth of the name is a restriction of property rights.  Interestingly, those same regulations provide a level of protection for the property rights (and property values) of others.  The question is how intensely you regulate.

  • Should local government determine where you should put your dumpster?
  • Should local government determine what color red should be in the Red Lobster sign?
  • Should local government mandate expansive sidewalks, bike lanes and street trees?
  • Should local government encourage economic development by reducing regulation?
  • How much power should neighbors have directing development nearby?
  • How does zoning impact neighborhood ethnic and income diversity?  Should it?

These are the type of questions I hope we get to discuss on Thursday night.  The answers will shape how our community chooses to prosper and grow, or not.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’

By. Neil Williamson, President

What does Albemarle want for the rural areas (95%+) of the county?

On this and other issues, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is putting the fun back into dysfunctional.

Earlier this month, the Supervisors enacted two Rural Area Resolutions of Intent that are as similar as a ten pound bag of gold and a ten pound bag of manure.  Both weigh ten pounds but one is more valuable than the other because the supervisors like it better.

Please let me explain.

First up on April 5th, buried on their consent agenda as attachment “T”, the supervisors decided they don’t like golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas:

WHEREAS, it is desired to implement the Rural Area Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan by removing “swim, golf, tennis, or similar athletic facilities” as a use permitted by special use permit in the Rural Areas zoning district because those uses are no longer consistent with the County’s policies and objectives for the Rural Area

During the Comprehensive Plan discussion (which reads such regulation should be considered) many of the folks opposed to such recreational activities in the rural area have suggested they generate too much traffic and take up too much land mass.  Interestingly, this would effectively ban new golf courses in Albemarle County as we wrote in a piece earlier this month (A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf).

So imagine our surprise when the same Board of Supervisors later on the same day used climate change as the justification for changing their regulations regarding rural solar farms.

To be cost effective, these farms will take a large amount of acreage and require significant additional infrastructure.

The sunny view on solar is different than that of swim, golf and tennis clubs.

WHEREAS, the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”), Chapter Four, Natural Resources, Objective Eight states the County shall, “Recognize changes occurring to the earth’s climate to anticipate and mitigate impacts to the County.”; and

WHEREAS, the County, the City of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia formed the Local Climate Action Planning Process Steering Committee (hereinafter “LCAPP Committee”) in 2010, which recommended that all three entities integrate the role of energy and carbon emissions in projects and planning and that the entities identify and promote actions that enable the community to reap the health, economic and environmental benefits that accompany sound energy-based decisions; and

WHEREAS, the Board accepted the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations on September 7, 2011; and

WHEREAS, the Plan, Chapter Twelve, Community Facilities, Objective Ten, Strategy 10(a) provides that the County will, “Continue to ensure the adequate provision of electricity, telephone, fiber optics, and natural gas services to support existing and anticipated development in the County through coordination with utility companies”; and

WHEREAS, permitting the siting, development, construction, operation, integration, and decommissioning of large-scale solar energy systems may assist the County’s efforts to achieve the aforementioned objectives in the Plan as well as the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT for purposes of public necessity, convenience, general welfare, and good zoning practices, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors hereby adopts a resolution of intent to consider amending the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance to achieve the purposes described herein;

So, despite the Comprehensive Plan’s discouragement of commercial activity in the rural areas, it is OK if they like your product or service provided.  As property rights advocates, we believe both uses should be permitted in the rural areas. 

We even agree that a special use permit is an appropriate route to make sure swim golf and tennis clubs as well as solar farms have adequate protections in place to remain harmonious with the surrounding rural areas.

We do not understand how the Board of Supervisors can call for a ban on rural area recreation the same day as they endorse the concept of a commercial field of glass that will require regular maintenance, transmission lines and have equal if not greater significant neighborhood impacts.

Perhaps there are some politics involved in such in-congruent decisions.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: Sigora Solar via Facebook

Good Signs Are Good For Business

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board April 17, 2017

Your agenda today includes a work session on sign regulations.  In the years I have been following issues in Albemarle, two specific localities always come up in signage conversations: Hilton Head, South Carolina and Route 3 in Fredericksburg.  Neither is appropriate to the discussion of Albemarle.

5th street station credit NBC29It is also important to note as you discuss the size, number and proportion of signs that you also consider their purpose – to help customers find businesses.

The Free Enterprise Forum is aware of at least one planning commissioner who believes we will have no signs in the future as our autonomous cars and GPS tracking will make them obsolete; we do not share that view.

In fact we want to share some relatively recent sign statistics from two surveys in 2015.  The first was commissioned by FedEx Office, measured the importance of signage to business operations and consumer decision making.  The second by the Economic Center, University of Cincinnati, measured the impact on business owners in different industries.

The surveys found that:

  • Nearly 76% of consumers (8 in 10) said they had entered a store or business they had never visited before based simply on its signs. (FedEx)
  • Nearly 75% indicated that they had told others about a business simply based on its signage. (FedEx)
  • About 68% of consumers believe that a business’ signage reflects the quality of its products or services. (FedEx)
  • About 67% of the consumers surveyed said they had purchased a product or service because a sign caught their eye. (FedEx)
  • Nearly 60% of consumers said that the absence of signs deters them from entering a store or business. (FedEx)
  • Roughly 60% of businesses reported that changing the design or enhancing the visibility of their signage had a positive impact on sales, number of transactions and profits, with an average increase of about 10%. (UC)
  • Over 50% of survey respondents indicated that poor signage (e.g., poor quality, misspelled words) deters them from entering a place of business. (FedEx)
  • 38% of large companies with multiple locations identified branding/image as the most important purpose of effective signage, while small firms and single establishments perceived signs to be most important for making their business stand out and for helping customers find their location. (UC)
  • Legibility was chosen by both consumers and businesses as the most important characteristic of signs. (UC)

open for businessWhile we know that the ARB is seeking to make our community great (to coin a phrase).  It is important to remember that the tax paying businesses in Albemarle’s 20+ Entrance Corridors NEED signage to attract and retain customers.

Albemarle is currently outsourcing their economic development strategic plan to a Richmond based consultant.  When we talk about being business friendly, changing the corporate brand colors (ARB trivia – who changed the red in Red Lobster) might not be the best first impression.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo credit:  NBC29

A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf

By. Neil Williamson

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors April 5th, 2017

Wow, did you fit a great deal into today’s consent agenda.

The sheer number of resolutions of intent required almost the entire alphabet for attachments.  Clearly what started as “Code Housekeeping” has been greatly expanded to a seismic shift of Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy. In the interest of time I will highlight only two of these shifts.

Old Trail Golf Course (in the Rural Area)

#1.  Banning golf courses.  Perhaps it is fitting that this week, the week of the Masters golf tournament, the Board of Supervisors is voting on effectively eliminating new golf courses. Attachment T of your consent agenda item item 8.4.

While this proposal would eliminate golf, swim and tennis club special use permits in the Rural Areas, it really would ban golf courses in Albemarle County.  The concept of putting a golf course in the development area would be an economic challenge and would eliminate roughly 200 acres of developable land. The Free Enterprise Forum notes earlier in this meeting you thanked the donors of 1,500 acres of rural area land for a park – does not parkland recreation have many of the same impacts as a golf course?  Perhaps Albemarle wishes to eliminate your rural park policies as well.

#2 Shrinking the Development Area using Net vs. Gross density – This deep in the weeds issue will have the likely intended consequence of lowering by right residential density therefore increasing the demand for rezonings and increasing the cost of housing in the community.  For two decades, we have heard that placing residents in the development areas provides more efficient delivery of government services.  Why now are you going the other direction?  The perhaps unintended consequence of this action will be to significantly reduce the carrying capacity of the development areas and therefore accelerate the need for an expansion of the development areas.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes these two examples can trace their lineage to individualNIMBY-sign-0411b applications (or proposals) that ended up not moving forward.  In these cases the NIMBY’s (Not In My Backyard) won.  Now these same forces are pursuing regulatory changes that are counter to Albemarle’s planning philosophies but suit their needs; rather than pursuing an anti economic development spot zoning decision they are pushing the NIABY (Not In Anybody’s Backyard) agenda.

In this election year, I know this Board will not reject any of the alphabet soup attachments on the consent agenda.  I can only hope that these proposed ordinance changes will be fairly researched and debated by all and that the Board of Supervisors stands up to the CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) agenda and consider the impact of your decisions on the basic pillars of your planning philosophy.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: Old Trail Golf Club

Albemarle Economic Development X Files

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

i want to believeAlbemarle County says that it is in favor of economic development.  The former County Executive Tom Foley went so far as to say it is a “new day in Albemarle” regarding being open for business.  A couple of supervisors have even gone on the road attempting to drum up public support for economic vitality.

I find myself thinking of the 1990’s science fiction series the X-files where two FBI agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.

Just as Fox Mulder in the X-Files, I want to believe Albemarle, but the facts keep getting in the way.

Please let me explain.

In big ways and small, Albemarle seems to be losing ground.

Losing Faith, Missing Deadlines

When Economic Development Director Faith McClintic resigned in October 2016, Foley stated:

I am pleased that Faith will continue leading the development of the county’s first economic development strategic plan through the plan’s presentation to the Board in mid-December, and we will work with her during that time to assist in her transition to her new job responsibilities in Richmond.

But that did not happen.

In the same article, McClintic seemingly dissed Albemarle stating:

“I have told the county that I will finish the economic development plan so that if they get the political will to do it, they will have a roadmap,” she said. [emphasis added –nw]

Perhaps because of her comments on her way out the door,  McClintic did not complete the work she started.

We now understand a Richmond based consultant has been engaged to conduct stakeholder interviews and complete the economic development strategic plan with a late May delivery date to the Board of Supervisors.

False Expectations

Interestingly, as Albemarle’s Planning Commission seems to want the opportunity to weigh in on all sorts of issues beyond their direct scope of work, I was heartened when the Chairman wrote in an e-mail to the Free Enterprise Forum in Late July 2016:

 

“Last evening (7/26), under New Business (after your departure) the planning commissioners briefly discussed your comments under “matters from the public.” We wonder if you might expand on your thoughts in a 1-3 page “discussion piece” for our review, reflection and comment at a future meeting.

Thank you.

Best regards,

Tim

J. Timothy Keller – At-Large Commissioner and Chair
Albemarle Co. Planning Commission

Never one to turn away an opportunity to participate, I provided my Economic Development Homework Assignment from Albemarle PC.  In the post I posed a simple question:

The question is not only does Albemarle want to compete – the question is does Albemarle want to win?

Then………crickets.

Despite specifically requesting my input for their “review, reflection and comment” the Planning Commission has yet to take up the six basic concepts we raised in our so called “thought paper”.

Perception is Reality

Last week, Virginia Business ran an article about “Getting on the Radar” regarding Richmond’s economic development efforts.  Writer Paula Squires quoted national site consultant Tom Striger who explained why Austin, Texas is not as hot as it once was:

… he referred to Austin as a cautionary tale. For years, it enjoyed the buzz of being a young, hip, university town, and it drew corporate relocations.

Yet when Austin needed to invest in infrastructure, such as building new roads or expanding its airport, the city balked, Stringer said, out of fear of damaging its charm.

That’s where Austin has gone off the rails. People don’t go to Austin anymore. 

It takes three years for a building permit, and there’s no incentives. You have to live 20 miles from the city or put the facility near San Antonio. ‘It’s a privilege to be in Austin.’ That’s the mindset you have to avoid.”[emphasis added –nw]

Sound familiar?

Back in 2015, during the Deschutes Brewery discussion we wrote about Albemarle’s New Day or Arrogance:

 During my daughter’s accepted seniors college tour we heard two types of pitches from the schools she was considering the first “We are a great school, you are lucky to be considered” vs the college president saying directly “If you hear just one thing today please know, we want you here”.  Guess which school we selected. …

…. Please do not return to the Albemarle Arrogance that says to those who want to operate a business “you’re lucky to be here” and instead say you are “open for business” [emphasis added –nw]

Albemarle could benefit from a good hard look in the mirror.

Yes, there are a couple champions for economic development on the Board of Supervisors, but they are not in the majority.

Five months after McClintic’s departure and with Foley now leading Stafford County, Albemarle is without a County Executive, without an Economic Development Director and without a strategic plan to move economic development forward.I still want to believe

But I still want to believe.

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.

The Wizard of Oz and the Rio/29 Small Area Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors March 1, 2017

Scarecrow, tin man, lionOver the years, some have considered the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz to be less than perfect heroes – I beg to differ I find them to be the best kind of heroes – those that must work together to achieve a goal.

Today, (3/1) as the Board of Supervisors considers the innovative Form Based Code land use planning for Rio/29 small area plan I believe this unlikely trio could provide important guidance

Please let me explain.

The Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI) defines form based code this way:

A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.

Utilizing a state grant, Albemarle has completed Phase I of Rio/29 Small Area Plan. Stage II is much more difficult and may move in many directions.  According to the staff report:

Phase II, expected to begin in March 2017, will further address the following issues identified in Phase I:  Transportation challenges posed by increasing development & economic activity in the area. Further analyzing market factors affecting development potential, such as demographic change influences (for example, “aging up” millennials and baby boomers, and increasing income and purchasing power)

Incorporating Economic Development Strategic Plan influences into the area plan With a focus on developing the following:

  • Detailed design of node(s)
  • Transportation strategy for this vision
  • Form-based Code/zoning, infrastructure, and other implementation strategies needed to accomplish the vision

When Dorothy first stumbles on the Scarecrow (covered in crows), her mission lacks specificscarecrow-wizard-of-oz direction. In seeking her way, the Scarecrow provides contrarian advice

Dorothy: That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.”

As the story goes the scarecrow joins Dorothy to assist on her quest to find the wizard and so he might be granted his wish for a brain.  Interestingly the Tin Man’s tin-mandesire for a heart is in direct contrast with the Scarecrow’s request for a brain; just as these two colorful fictional characters provide dramatic tension, similar tensions will be evident as Albemarle moves from a Euclidian (traditional use based) zoning process to Form-Based Code.

At last week’s Legal Aid Justice Center/NAACP sponsored workshop in Charlottesville, concerns regarding Form Based Codes taking away citizen’s right to oppose projects and promoting gentrification of neighborhoods were voiced by speakers and attendees.  The handout provided, written by Legal Aid Attorney Kim Rolla highlighted four problems identified with FBC:

Less Affordable Housing

Higher Property Values

Less Flexibility

Faster Development

As the last traveler to join the quartet, the Lion was expected to be brave and fierce, a leader but he seemed to lack the trappings of power. As one reads the novel, the lion exhibits bravery throughout the story – he just lacked confidence.

Just as the Wizard of Oz gave our unlikely trio gifts recognizing their skills, the Free Enterprise Forum is asking the Board of Supervisors today to give planners the confidence and direction to move boldly forward with Form Based Code in their “Transformational” small area planning.

We are asking the Supervisors to provide direction in two specific areas: Removing Architectural Review Board Jurisdiction and Protecting Existing Property Rights.

In reviewing the staff report on Phase II, it is clear that the Architectural Review Board will have representation on the stakeholder group. It is not clear if the eventual buildings that follow the painstakingly developed design guidelines in the form based code will also be required to submit to ARB review.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the ARB should weigh in on the code as it is developed and then step away. No project under the FBC should be subject to ARB review. To submit a form based code application to additional ARB review would be counter to the goals of the form based code.

We believe the land uses proposed within the new Rio/29 district must be of equal or higher density than is currently permitted. Height restrictions must be carefully considered especially when attempting to create mixed use buildings. In addition, we ask Albemarle consider utilizing the Form-Based Code as an optional overlay. As FBCI reported Arlington County found in their 2003 FBC overlay worked well:

Virginia is a strong property-rights state, and the county avoided some legal and political issues by keeping the “by-right” zoning in place and overlaying the FBC as an option. Developers can choose to use either the conventional zoning or the form-based code for proposed projects, although effectively, few projects “pencil out” if the conventional code is used. As a result, since the FBC was adopted for the centers in 2003, it has fostered the construction of 10 mixed-use development projects, including more than 1,500 homes, more than 280,000 square feet of retail and office space, a new community center and a new public plaza. The transformation envisioned by the community is well underway.

“The fact that the code has continued to work well for Columbia Pike over more than a decade, even as the economy has gone through a major recession, shows that the vision was realistic and the FBC provided a sound framework for private reinvestment.” said [Mary]Madden.

The Free Enterprise Forum asks Albemarle Board of Supervisors today to boldly embrace this direction, establish the community endorsed form based code AND have the courage to both eliminate ARB review and make the FBC an optional overlay.

As logical as this tact seems it will not be easy.32735-cowardly_lion

As Dorothy told the Lion:

“Don’t you know the Wizard’s going to give you some courage?”

Cowardly Lion said “I’d be too scared to ask him for it.”

Rio/29 Form-Based Code will take courage, heart and firm direction from the Board of Supervisors.

Will you give such bold direction today?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: MGM, Classicphotos.com, imgardcade.com, michaelcerio.com

March Madness–Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Oregon_St_Utah_Basketball.JPG_t1140Imagine you are a college basketball player and in the final tournament game, the officials change the rules – calling fouls that usually would be ignored and ignoring others that would usually be called.

In addition, the basket automatically changes height dependent on which player is shooting and from where. There was no change at the rules committee, there was no open discussion amongst coaches – those charged with making the decisions just changed how they judged things – this is Albemarle County planning philosophy today.

Please let me explain.

Albemarle, in big ways and small, is changing the way they look at property where the Rural Areas and Development Area boundaries meet. The Comprehensive Plan, which is only a guideline, calls for density up to the edge of the development area (see below) but recent actions see that philosophical pillar being eroded.

On the development area side, the Adelaide proposed subdivision  on the edge of the Crozet development area provides one example of eroding, or perhaps evolving, planning philosophy.

In the Crozet master plan the land was designated for “3-6 dwelling units an acre” – the Adelaide proposal came in at 5.5 units an acre. (editor’s note the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects only policy thus had no position on this or any other application).

In her defense of her vote in opposition, Supervisor Ann Mallek wrote to the Crozet Gazette:

I stand behind my vote to deny Adelaide to uphold important features of the Crozet master plan … .The primary reasons for my vote were stated in the resolution I read as part of my motion to deny. Three supervisors thought the density was acceptable at the high end of the range. Three thought the density should be at the low end of the range. A 3-3 tie results in denial of the application.

Additional reasons for my vote:

  • New density on the edge of the growth area, surrounded by forest and rural uses, should be at the low end of the range suggested in the comprehensive plan and master plan for Crozet. …
  • The highest density buildings were placed at the highway, further encroaching on the rural nature of the State Scenic byway. Emphasis added – nw

Regarding the rural side of the line, earlier this year during a discussion of Farm Winery, Brewery and Distillery events, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said:

We’re looking at, in my district, on Hydraulic Road, in the middle of the urban ring.. an event center [winery] essentially an event center surrounded by 25,000 homes. It is in the rural area but in the urban ring.  The folks that live in the area are very patient with music from Albemarle High School, they love the band on Friday night – but to have something that brings in this type of traffic and noise and impacts without some restrictions is unnerving and I get that it is a little unusual place.

To prevent having rural enterprises adjacent to the development areas Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested:

Perhaps none of the edges of the winery parcel can be outside of the rural area.

Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kamptner informed Randolph such a provision would be in violation of state law.

All of this discussion took place despite the explicit direction of Albemarle’s Comprehensive plan that calls for clear edges between development and rural areas.  Interestingly the very neighborhood McKeel discussed was called out in the plan

8.26 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

Strategy 2r: Promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas. Part of Albemarle’s beauty and attractiveness for residents and visitors is their ability to clearly see and appreciate the features of both the Rural Area and Development Areas. Discerning the boundary between the designated Rural Area and the Development Areas is important because it affects where and how new development should take place.. . .

Visual clues are also helpful in identifying the Development Areas-Rural Area interface. Land use on Rural Area Edgeboth sides of the boundary should be so distinct that residents and visitors know they are in the Development Areas or the Rural Area. Theses visual differences help to define expectations and appreciation for the different areas. Figure 20 clearly shows that the left side of Rio Road is in the Rural Area and the right side is in the Development Areas. . .

Transitions of large-lot subdivisions at the boundary are discouraged, as they are neither rural nor urban.They are too small for agricultural uses and muddy the edge. Emphasis added – nw

One easy solution would be to expand the development areas to encompass what McKeel calls the urban ring.  Dependent on the size of the expansion it could create, for a time, a buffer area of non conforming uses.

The larger core question revolves around the duality of two comprehensive plan land types, Development and Rural. A plurality of planners today see the world in a less binary reality.  The most popular planning philosophy of the day deals with the concept of “Transects” which is taken from the environmental sciences.

The Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) Explains transects this way:

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

transect

 

A similar picture appears in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.  Interesting question – where would you say the development area starts in the image above?  T-3?  T-4?

Based on recent actions, it is difficult to say where the Supervisors believe the Development areas begin and the rural areas end.

  • The question is how does this now shaky planning philosophy pillar impact the community vetted master plans and how does the rural area gain a voice in the discussion since by design they are outside of the master plan areas?
  • Should Albemarle consider abandoning its density dogma across the entire development area and seek to create a new comprehensive plan category?
  • A further question would be if Albemarle should consider proactively rezoning all the development areas land to make the community supported densities occur rather than the adversarial nature of the current rezoning process.

Once again we have more questions than answers, let March Madness begin.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Denver Post, Albemarle County, Center for Applied Transect Studies