Tag Archives: Albemarle

Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction

imageBy. Neil Williamson, President

Do commercial uses fit in Albemarle County’s rural areas?

Looking at the photo to the right of Earlysville General Store, I would say not only do they fit, such uses (and the owners, employees and patrons) are the very fabric of the community for generations.

But such community supportive land uses are now in jeopardy.

Please let me explain.

On Wednesday night (6/13), the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will be considering a zoning text amendment (ZTA201800002) that would significantly reduce the number of uses allowed on property that is zoned commercial in the rural areas.

This proposal has sped through the County’s approval process faster than any in recent memory.  Their “need for speed” is not clear and an e-mail requesting more information has not been returned.

Throughout this speedy process, there has been significant discussion regarding the impact of this land use change on property values.  In testimony before the Planning Commission several residents suggested the value could drop by up to 90%.  One speaker indicated that a potential real estate contract is in peril because of the proposed ZTA.

The concept of “takings” was discussed at the Planning Commission.  In the meeting minutes Deputy County Attorney John Blair explained the issue:

image

Anecdotally, we have seen property values diminish with reduction in rights but it was not until we read a 2006 paper by Oregon State University professor William K Jaeger that we found empirical evidence of such property value deimmunization.  Jaeger’s research is very careful to paint a broad brush regarding property values but provides an interesting window on the comparison between regulated and unregulated land costs.

image

In explaining this issue, Jaeger mentions the significant externalities involved in any real estate valuation:

Given the possibility of a price effect for both regulated and unregulated land due to the land-use regulation, it would be presumptuous to attribute the entire price differential between the two markets to a reduction in property values for the regulated lands. To use an analogy, if you tie your boat to a coastal pier and then, after a period of hours, notice that the level of the boat is now below the level of the pier, you are unlikely to ask: Did the pier move up or did the boat move down? You will immediately understand that piers don’t move up, but that an outgoing tide could have easily caused the boat to fall.

Considering the significant number of variables in any real estate transaction, and the Supreme Court’s decision regarding loss of up to 90% dictating a taking, I believe this loss of property rights would not meet the legal definition of a taking.

Even if it is legal is it right?

Albemarle County’s Rural Chapter of its comprehensive plan recognizes the need for commerce in the rural areas.  Specifically calling for such communities to develop:

Crossroads communities that provide support services and opportunities to engage in community life;

Why then are these ~80 rural properties being effectively downzoned so quickly?

We do not know specifically but here is what we do know:

1.  Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors closed meeting earlier this summer one topic announced to be discussed was a Zoning Text Amendment and ongoing litigation.

2.  According to several sources, Albemarle has a court case on June 22nd regarding a rural area land use decision

3.  The Planning Commission was clearly pushed by the Supervisors to have this ready for the June 13th BOS meeting

4.  An e-mail asking the direct question of Albemarle County staff went unanswered last week.

If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors is pushing this agenda due to a specific court case, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the public has a right to know.

It’s a shame a bad law (400 gallons of water use per acre per day) is now being replaced by one that is even worse.

We continue to believe a thoughtful discussion of performance standards could produce a significantly improved ordinance that could more properly balance property rights and the community goals.

But that would take time, something seemingly the Supervisors don’t have.

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 Credit: Earlysville General Store Facebook Page

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Icarus, Municipal Hubris, and Tourism

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When you are traveling outside of Central Virginia, where do you tell people you are from?

Do you say “Free Union”, “Albemarle County” or do you say, “Charlottesville”?

Seemingly an academic question but it is one that is at the heart of the current governmental coup of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB).

According to an April 25th Daily Progress article by Chris Suarez:

In December, former Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Diantha McKeel sent a formal notice to [Then CACVB Executive Director Kurt] Burkhart that said the county intends to terminate an existing organizational agreement on June 30.

The letter says the city and county’s elected officials had been discussing the CACVB’s “limited focus and reluctance” to promote locally owned wineries, breweries and distilleries, history and heritage tourism and ecotourism, as well as specific activities such as bicycling, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.

“We feel destination development is currently lacking,” the letter says. “Although the targets for hotel vacancy rates are important and currently successful, their vacancy rates and other directly related indicators should no longer be the primary driving metrics.”[Emphasis Added-NW]

The friction between CACVB Executive Director Burkhart and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had been simmering for several years.  [Burkhart retired earlier this year]. While Burkhart touted hotel occupancy rate data; focusing on proving the return on investments in tourism using economic models showing $6 or $7 benefit for every dollar invested, supervisors questioned the methodology of these models and noted the large number of hotels in the City.

imageIn addition to Burkhart not filling funded positions quickly and maintaining a large fund balance, the root of much of the concern was focused on the belief that Albemarle was not being promoted enough in the marketing of the region.

This “Municipal Hubris” has been gong on for over a decade.   I recall when the latest logo redesign [left] was competed several years ago, it was a requirement that Albemarle be in the logo and then there was a concern regarding the different size font. Then there was a discussion, I am not making this up, that it was not alphabetical.

See the source imageAccording to www.Merriam-Webster.com

To the [Ancient] Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall. Hubris was a character flaw often seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, including Oedipus and Achilles. The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before a fall” is basically talking about hubris.

So what does Charlottesville City Council think about this internal branding conflict.  We believe the answer can be found between the lines of Councilor Kathy Galvin’s polite answer quoted in the Suarez article:

“What happens next (including whether or not a city/county CACVB committee persists and I remain the city’s liaison with the county) is a matter, in my view, to be decided by the City Council,” Galvin wrote. “I will be raising that question at a City Council meeting in May.”

At the end of the May 21st City Council meeting, they selected Councilors Galvin and Signer to represent Council in the CACVB reorganization work; but there was no further discussion beyond the appointment.

To review, the proposed CACVB Executive Committee would control all aspects of the organization and would consist of  one member from the City Council and the Board of Supervisors; the city manager (or a designee); the county executive (or a designee); a tourism or economic development official from the city and county; a University of Virginia representative; two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and county.  All but three of these members sit on or answer to either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Considering the many conflicts and concerns between the City and the County right now, I anticipate the jointly funded marketing of regional tourism objectives to be an area where the city (and county) end up walking away from the “new deal”.

The result will be duplicative efforts (though they will claim collaboration), inefficiency and a lack of accountability.  Tourism will become a division of each locality’s Economic Development departments and lack the import and independence it enjoys today.  In addition, we see further weakening of the required nexus between tourism and line item expenditures.  Transparency is lost.

Perhaps a brief review of Greek mythology [Daedalus and Icarus] could prove helpful prior to moving forward with the dissolution or dismemberment of the CACVB.

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 www.frederickmordi.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Albemarle Rural Special Use Permits For Not So Special Uses

By. Neil Williamson, President

rural outpostTonight (May 8th), the Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing what is and is not a by-right use on commercially zoned property not served by public water or a central system.  The problem is there are 80 parcels in the rural area zoned as commercial and the powers that be want to significantly limit commercial activity in the rural areas (95% of Albemarle County).

This is how the regulators are seeking to deal with “stale” zoning, create a process that is nearly impossible to gain approval and thus remove the ability for so called ‘noxious’ uses without conducting a controversial and legally challenging downzoning.

We think there is an alternative.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that objective metrics could be established to have some of the ‘Special Uses’ be by right uses with independently verified performance standards.

Please let me explain.

In zoning parlance, there are three types of uses on a property:

  • By Right (that which you can do without additional government approval)
  • Special use (that which the government may allow you to do on your property) and
  • Prohibited use (that which the government indicates you can’t do on your property)

The fact that the land in question here is currently zoned commercial means that at one time a planner somewhere thought it would be a good idea to have commercial activity in this vicinity.  This more flexible planning philosophy has given way to a much more restrictive vision limiting commercial activity in the rural areas.

Under the new proposal, if  any of the ‘special uses’ [including sporting goods (bait shops?), drug store, food/grocery stores, and many more] proposed on commercial zoned property without water service would be measured against the following Comprehensive Plan criteria:

Criteria for Review of New Uses

As new uses are proposed in the Rural Area,it is essential that they be able to meet the following standards.  New uses should:

relate directly to the Rural Area and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful, (e.g., a farm winery has to be located in the Rural Area and would be unlikely to succeed in the Development Areas);

be compatible with, and have a negligible impact, on natural, cultural, and historic resources;

not conflict with nearby agricultural and forestal uses;

reflect a size and scale that complements the character of the area in which they will be located;

be reversible so that the land can easily return to farming, forestry, conservation, or other preferred rural uses;

be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns;

generate little demand for fire and rescue and police service;

be able to operate without the need for public water and sewer;

be sustainable with available groundwater; and

be consistent with other Rural Area policies.

Can you think of any proposal that could make it through this subjective labyrinth of approval?

Even if a staff recommendation could be acquired, do we anticipate any planning Commission making findings of any activity meeting all of these “standards”?

There has to be a better way.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the performance standard models we have reviewed where objective metrics were developed to verify the data points rather than subjectivity reflected above.

The Comprehensive Plan even speaks of creating such performance standards on the same page as this review criteria:

Performance standards will be needed for any new uses to ensure that the size, scale, and location of the new commercial uses recommended for the Rural Area are appropriate.

It is of prime importance that the appearance and function of new uses blend and not detract from the key features of the Rural Area.

New uses should not overwhelm an area in terms of their function or visibility.

We fear this proposal may indirectly and unintentionally create food and gas deserts in the rural areas that will put rural residents even further away from the services they require.

Considering this proposal impacts only 80 properties, we believe this would be an excellent candidate for developing objective performance metrics.  Such an innovative program would protect the rural area AND Rural Property Rights – now would that be a good idea?

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: Commonplacemagazine.org

 

Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model

By, Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

Almost thirty years ago,  Albemarle County decided to attempt to focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area.  On a philosophical level this policy makes perfect sense, put the population where it is most efficient to deliver government services. The promise was for a 5% bustling urban core surrounded by 95% natural beauty of (privately held) rural areas.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Albemarle Development Vision from Places29

Conceptually, the 5% development area was to develop with concurrent amenities and investments along with the development.  The idea is for the smaller more compact home have access to amenities, employment and green space to make the development area home more attractive than a home on a couple of acres in the country.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chronicled in a front page story in The Daily Progress this morning (5/1/18), Albemarle County has failed to build the infrastructure required to make the development area work.  Further, they have done a poor job explaining to residents the need for development in the development area.

Sean Tubbs reports on two developments planned for the Pantops area that went before the Pantops Community Advisory Council:

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

At one time there was some momentum for appropriate concurrent infrastructure spending along side private sector investment.

From December 8, 2004 staff report:

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat in October 2003, the Board identified the County’s growth and urbanization as a critical issue and established a new strategic planning goal related to urbanization. At this year’s retreat, the Board continued its focus on growth and urbanization by providing direction to staff regarding the desire to pursue an “Urbanizing County” level of service for the County’s transportation and streetscape needs. For transportation needs, this level of service focuses on providing “essential link” transportation projects, minimizing the use of private streets, and continuing to rely on VDOT for street maintenance. For streetscape needs, it includes the County becoming more involved in the construction and maintenance of streetscape in development areas, as determined by master plans.  For streetscape outside master planned areas, construction would be considered through the CIP process, based on the availability of funds.  In both transportation and streetscape, the County would continue to expect development to provide a significant portion of the initial infrastructure.  Emphasis added – nw

A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised.

In November 2014, then Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley acknowledged the lack of planned transportation infrastructure investment:

Mr. Foley stated that the Board has set up specific funding in the Capital improvement Program (CIP) for master planned areas but that was for new developments. He stated that there was some money designated for interconnecting streets, but there has not been a focus on infrastructure funding for sidewalks and things in existing neighborhoods. Mr. Foley noted that the County never even got to the new areas due to limited capital funding

The vision of the Neighborhood Model was to have a variety of housing types and sizes as well as owned and rented properties intermingled to promote diversity.  Interestingly, the residents don’t seem to be interested in this diversity of housing types.

Again from Sean Tubbs article:

“It’s [the proposed development] a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet. . .

…“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’.  In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.

This is just the latest example of how Albemarle’s growth management (growth restrictive) policy is undermined by existing neighborhoods (often recently built) who oppose new development via the rezoning process. Most often the rationale for the opposition is the failure of Albemarle to meet existing resident expectations for services.  The lack of political will to stand up for the concepts and aspiring density rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan is disappointing.

Tipping Point? An interesting byproduct of the Growth Management Plan and Magisterial design – about the same time the development area was designated, the magisterial districts were redrawn so that every supervisor had a portion of the growth area in their district.  With the level of development most districts are now population dominated by development area residents – mathematically speaking if you win Mill Creek and Glenmore neighborhoods, you win the Scottsville District.  Will this new electoral reality result in super representation of the development area concerns stated above?  Should it?

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the current development area reality comes close to the aspirational vision that was endorsed by the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) or DISC II (AKA son of DISC).

Despite significant private sector investment in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, parks, sidewalks, etc.), Albemarle County has failed to create the connective linkages between developments (and in existing neighborhoods) to make the community vision a reality.

Based on the comments from Pantops, it soon might be too late to ever catch up.

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.

The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President

 

Albemarle Mission Creeping Planning Commission

FORUM WATCH EDITORIALcreeping

By. Neil Williamson, President

After a January 2018 determination found that 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors are illegal, the Board of Supervisors has yet to act on a resolution of intent to fix this issue.

In this vacuum, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission decided they don’t need no stinking Architectural Review Board – they can mission creep far beyond their state mandated advisory role and institute architectural demands on projects regardless of their location.

Please let me explain.

First it is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects.  The examples below are used to show a broken process, we do not have an opinion regarding the applications’ individual merit.

Example #1

During the Architectural Review Board review of a project (SP-2017-00016) in the Scottsville District on Avon Street Extended, it was determined that Avon Street Extended is not an arterial roadway (a requirement for an Entrance Corridor designation).  The applicant went through the initial review without this knowledge and after the determination was made, the planning commission was briefed.  Based on the applicant’s testimony at the Planning Commission, it was clear they were never told that they were not under the ARB regulations.  Only late in the public hearing did the Deputy County Attorney mention that the applicant would not need to go back to the ARB for a final review.

Instead, the mission creeping Planning Commission seeking to achieve ARB-type control created a new class of conditions to codify the architecture as a part of a special use permit for a body shop.

b. Additional fenestration or architectural features shall be added along the “02 Left Elevation (South)” façade to provide a pedestrian orientation to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning or his/her designee. Priority should be given to providing additional fenestration or a combination of wall plantings, architectural features and fenestration along this particular elevation. [emphasis in original – nw]

Conditions in a Special Use Permit generally mitigate negative impacts on adjoining property owners, taking this to mean architectural elements is a LARGE LEAP beyond normal review.

Example #2

The following week, the Planning Commission considered a Special Use Permit application  for a new church on Rio Road East (SP201700010).  Rio Road East has never been established as an entrance corridor; it is mentioned as a corridor for possible entrance corridor consideration in the Comprehensive Plan (Page 5.20).

Strategy 8f: Consider additional EC designations as appropriate, or as road classifications change, for roads such as the John Warner Parkway, Route 614 (Sugar Hollow Road), Route 692/712 (Plank Road), and Route 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike).

It is important to note there has been no resolution of intent or any other forward motion on making the John Warner Parkway an Entrance Corridor beyond the notation above in the 2015 guiding planning document.

That mere mention is enough for this activist Planning Commission to mission creep into mandating architectural features as a function of the Special Use Permit process.  In this case now they have precedent, based on the SUP they railroaded the week before (Example #1).  Honestly, the applicant never knew what hit him.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the mission creeping Planning Commission is unchecked in its power grab beyond state code.  As an advisory body, nothing becomes final until accepted by the Board of Supervisors.

When the Board of Supervisors considers these applications later this year, will any Supervisor (or County Counsel) raise the red flag regarding these architectural demands absent a significant community benefit OR a strong legal nexus?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay Tuned,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: Bartblog.bartcop.com

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part V)– The Christopher Columbus Map Award

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 fifth in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a GIS and how does the County collect the GIS data used to calculate utility fees?

Albemarle’s answer:

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It is computer software designed to capture, store, analyze, and present spatial or geographic data. The County has used a GIS for decades to improve operations such as capital planning, emergency response, and development tracking.

Various data has been developed since the late 1990s for a variety of purposes. New data is obtained as land is subdivided and improvements are constructed. For instance, County staff will map the corners of new buildings – during the permitting process – using a highly accurate (sub-meter) GPS device. Older data was originally mapped by County staff and consultants from Mylar tax maps and aerial photography. The County does not rely on automated or computerized processes to map impervious areas. Once buildings, parking lots, and other features are mapped, they are generally not re-mapped unless a permitting process proposing new development is initiated on the property. However, County staff will occasionally compare mapped features to new aerial photography to identify missed features.

The Free Enterprise Forum is the first to acknowledge the power of GIS.  We utilized GIS technologies to calculate our Hindsight Report as well as our Workplace 29 ReportThose reports used GIS to aggregate data rather than provide specific parcel information.  When you drill down on Albemarle County’s GIS to the parcel level you find all kinds of issues – especially if you try to use it to calculate impervious surface.

Incorrect boundary lines If you pull the GIS imagery for Tax Map 14-18 in Southern Albemarle, as an owner you would think that looks like the proper lot lines but when you overlay a physical survey completed for the property you find the GIS map is wrong in material ways.  See the combined image below:

RR Exhibit B

As a reminder, Albemarle’s proposed rain tax calculation will include all rooftops and any impervious surfaces (including gravel) within a 100’ radius of the building.

According to the GIS (blue line), Tax Map 14-18 has a large building on the east side of the parcel.  The physical survey (black line)recognizes not only iron buried but a fence along the property line that places the building (and the related impervious surface) on the neighbor’s property.

On the left side of the map the circle around the northwest out building is not fully captured due to the misplaced property line.The GIS lines are misaligned resulting in a miscalculation of the Rain Tax.

In a different example, also in Southern Albemarle (Exhibit A) Albemarle County’s GIS boundary lines for Tax Map 19-42A both over and undercount the impervious surface radii when compared with the maps available in the courthouse (DB 777 P.359)RR Exhibit A

The County GIS lines (blue) show a boundary that is shorter and wider than the legal data (Red lines) provide.

The resultant Rain Tax Calculation fails to capture the full radii in the southwest corner and over calculates the impervious surface on the north boundary of the property.

Based on this documentation – these two errors may almost cancel each other out – but they are incorrect.

rr gis According to the GIS for Tax map 132-14, three buildings exist on this parcel that are connected by gravel drives.  A drone review shows that there are four 4 buildings on the parcel.

The fourth building (identified as Shed #2) was constructed in 2008 but (as of December 2017) does not appear on the GIS.  As important that the building is not captured in the calculation neither is the 100’ radii.

RR Drone 2Shed #2 represents 1370 sq feet of impervious surface that would not be counted using GIS because according to GIS the shed does not exist.  In addition the gravel surrounding the shed would also not be counted utilizing current GIS data.

Some might suggest these are cherry picked examples and not representative of the County as a whole.  The Free Enterprise Forum has learned of 7 errors within a 5 square mile quadrant of Albemarle County.  We also believe that such errors while existing within the urban ring are likely not as prevalent with more recent developments that utilized global position survey techniques.

One local surveyor estimated that 25% of all parcels in the county would have some form of inaccuracy in their GIS data.  To be clear, not all of the errors are in favor of the landowner, some are to the benefit of the county – no matter – a 25% error rate for data driving the RAIN TAX is unacceptable.

This may be the most erroneous use of mapping software since since Christopher Columbus charted his first voyage to Asia.

We reiterate our call for Albemarle Supervisors to say “NO” to the RAIN TAX AKA Stormwater Utility Fee because it is based bad maps create bad results.

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.

 

 

 

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part IV)–If three of your friends jumped off a bridge …

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 third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: Do other localities use a stormwater utility to fund stormwater programs?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Yes. Stormwater utilities were first established in the US in the early 1970s and in Virginia in the early 1990s. There are currently nearly 1,600 stormwater utilities in the US (source: Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey, 2016). Over 20 Virginia local governments have established stormwater utilities, including Prince William County, Isle of Wight County, Chesterfield County, and the cities of Charlottesville, Richmond, and Waynesboro.

The Free Enterprise Forum would answer the question differently.  While over 20 localities have adopted a stormwater utility fee, most are cities.  We are only aware of three other counties in the Commonwealth who utilize a stormwater utility fee.  Each locality approaches the issue slightly differently.  Let’s look at the three counties and their different approaches to stormwater fee.

Isle of Wright County Virginia is located in the Hampton Roads region directly across the James River from Newport News.  As of the 2010 census, the population was 35,270. Its area: is 363 square miles. In their implementation of the stormwater utility fee they chose to  use a flat fee for all residential property and calculate the impervious surface for businesses and non residential.  From Isle of Wright website:

How Much is The Stormwater Management fee and When is it Due?   All developed residential property owners will be assessed a fee of $54 per year.  The storm water management fee will be added as a separate line item on real estate tax bills.

How will businesses and other nonresidential properties be charged? Businesses and other nonresidential properties will be charged the Stormwater Management Fee based on the ratio of impervious area on site to the impervious area of 1 ERU.  For example a nonresidential property that has 32,000 SF of impervious area would be accessed an ERU of 10 which equates to a yearly Stormwater Management Fee of $540.00.

Prince William County, Virginia is located directly on the Potomac River South of Washington, DC.  On 1 July 2015, the population was estimated to be 451,721, making it Virginia’s second-most populous county. Their geographic footprint is 348 square miles. Prince William also bills a flat fee for residential and looks for agricultural users to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.  Prince William’s website explains:

  • Residential and nonresidential owners of developed property pay based on the amount of impervious area (rooftops paved areas etc.) on their property. Impervious areas contribute to an increase in storm water runoff that adds to our drainage requirements for flood control and water protection.
  • Residents will pay their fee on the bi-annual real estate bill.  This means the total annual fee is split between the two bills.
    • $39.36 total annual fee for detached singe-family homes
    • $29.55 total annual fee for townhome, mobile home and condominium owners
  • Nonresidential property owners will pay a total annual fee of $19.12 per 1000 square feet of impervious area. Fee adjustments or credits may be available if a storm water management system is already in place. This fee is billed on the bi-annual real estate bills.
  • Owners of agricultural croplands and undeveloped properties are not charged a fee. Agricultural properties are currently required to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Farm Bill.

Chesterfield County, Virginia is located just south of Richmond.  The county is bordered on the North by the James River and on the South by the Appomattox River. In 2016, the estimated population was 339,009 in their area of 437 Square miles.  Chesterfield also chose to implement a flat fee for residential properties.  Chesterfield outlines its fee on their website:

How much will I pay (fee rates)?
  • Residential property owners pay $25 per year (one ERU) for single family detached homes.
  • Townhome and condominium owners pay $7.50 per year (30% of one ERU).
  • Commercial properties (e.g., nonresidential and rental multifamily properties) are charged based on the total amount of impervious area on the site and the resulting ERUs, at a rate of $25 per ERU per year.
  • Commercial properties that drain to stormwater management facilities or participate in pollution reduction programs receive a partial credit in the stormwater utility fee as outlined in the credit policy.
  • Exempt properties include
    • Federal, state, local and public entities that hold a permit to discharge stormwater
    • Undeveloped properties

The truth in fee award goes to Chesterfield County who called out that they are charging property owners for a service that they do not receive (see our post about “utility”)

I live in a subdivision with stormwater BMPs and drainage infrastructure. Why do I have to pay the stormwater utility fee?

Neighborhoods with existing stormwater conveyance and retention or detention ponds still contribute runoff and pollution to the overall drainage system. The program’s costs are distributed to all county property owners because stormwater management is a countywide service.

Beyond the recognition that development today handles the vast majority of stormwater on-site – This is the crux of the Fee/Tax discussion.  If as Chesterfield states, stormwater management is a countywide service and “program costs are distributed to all county property owners” – it is independent of the property’s direct impact on stormwater – it is a tax.

PrintThe reality we see is only three counties in Virginia have enacted this “fee”.  We are not convinced these are “peer communities” based on their different geographic conditions and population densities.

I can hear my Mother’s voice as I type, I don’t care what the other counties are doing, it is not right for you.

The Rain Tax is Wrong for Albemarle.

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.

Albemarle’s Rain Tax Answers (Part III)– Utility?

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 third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a stormwater utility?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Utilities are funding mechanisms that charge a fee for services provided. A stormwater utility supports stormwater management and other programs related to water resource protection. While property taxes are based on the value of the property, a stormwater fee must be related to each property’s contribution to the problems being address by the programs, namely through discharges of stormwater runoff and pollution. Fees are typically based on property characteristics having a strong relation to runoff and pollutants, such as impervious area. A utility is not a tax and revenues generated from fees must only be used to support water resources programs. (emphasis added-nw)

While Albemarle’s definition of utility seems entirely reasonable, it also does not accurately describe the proposed rain tax.  Examining the image below, I can see the paved and gravel grace episcopalareas around the church that would create runoff, however from this perspective I anticipate the majority of the stormwater would be absorbed long before it reached a stormwater conveyance or even a stream – what utility is being provided?

Even if one of the few green infrastructure/open channel maintenance projects (8% of the FY19 program budget) is being completed in the area – the direct utility is extremely limited.  pepe-le-pew-warner-brothers

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a rain tax, collected from all property owners (including churches) to pay for a community good – stormwater infrastructure.

We agree the proposed rain tax does create revenues that are restricted to only support water resources programs.  We don’t think this an unchecked dedicated revenue source is a good idea but we agree this is what is planned.

Calling the proposed rain tax a stormwater utility fee does not make it any less offensive than calling a skunk a cat.

Call it what it is a rain tax and yes it stinks.

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 Credits: Google (accessed 3/20/18), Warner Brothers/Loony Tunes

Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy

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 were some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the first in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’ 

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility will not result in the creation of a separate organization or a new County department. Revenues from the utility will be used to support existing staff and mandated programs related to stormwater management and water resource protection, as well as some program enhancements to better achieve County needs and goals [link to below “New Programs”]. Administration of the utility is expected to require the equivalent of about one-half additional staff. [Emphasis added-nw]

To be fair, like a good politician, Albemarle did not answer the yes/no question posed.  Perhaps we have a different definition of bureaucracy.  Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

image

In the answer above,  Albemarle references the revenues will be used to “support existing staff”; true but not complete.  The program budget projects staff INCREASES from the current  ~16.5 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) to 23.4 staff in FY28 (nearly a 42% increase).  But note there is not a new department.

Albemarle’s Stormwater Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department.

The program budget approved by the Board of Supervisors included two line items that we think of as bureaucratic (absent the fee they are not needed):  Program Management/Administration and Regulation and Enforcement.

Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

2018-03-15 14_00_44-Rain Tax Figures - Excel

Let’s the question for the class; ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’

PrintYES!  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the RAIN TAX will create a new bureaucracy (but not a new department).  The storm water mitigation credits allowed by the RAIN TAX will need to be verified at installation and regularly inspected to ensure proper compliance.  In addition, the mapping services required to make parcel corrections and other adjustments will be most significant in the first five years.  While we can understand some considering this work a part of the stormwater protection, we contend this specific, bureaucratic work would not be required if this funding mechanism was not used.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “A bureaucracy by any other name would smell as sweet”

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