Tag Archives: Albemarle

Albemarle Restrictions Benefit Greene Cell Coverage

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In an interesting twist of regulatory roulette,Greene County citizens will gain significant wireless coverage area as a result of existing cell tower restrictions in neighboring Albemarle County. See the source image

TowerCom, LLC represented by Valerie Long, Esq. approached the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their November 14th meeting, asking for a Special Use Permit for a cell tower in southwest Greene County near the Albemarle County line along Simmons Gap RoadT-Mobile is the cellular carrier that is interested in locating on the TowerCom tower.

During the October Planning Commission public hearing, one Greene County resident questioned the location of the proposed tower, suggesting that if the tower were to be located further into Greene County, it would serve more Greene County residents.

So that raised the question, why did TowerCom choose the location they chose?  Long addressed this issue directly explaining that they looked at several locations in northwest Albemarle County. However, as Albemarle County significantly restricts the height of cell towers – shorter than the 199 feet in Greene County. So, the potential number of customers (and therefore the potential revenue) is smaller from a shorter cell tower constructed in Albemarle County. And fewer residents in Greene County would receive cell service from a tower in Albemarle County than in Greene County.

clip_image003Inversely, a cell tower constructed in Greene County is permitted to go up to 199 feet and therefore reach more customers, both in Greene County and Albemarle County. The answer to the question as to why not locate the tower further north in Greene County comes down to which location generates the most revenue.

Due to population densities, moving the tower further north into Greene County contacts fewer total customers, although more residents of Greene County would be connected. The bottom line is that the money from an Albemarle County customer is worth the same at the money paid by a customer in Greene County. And therefore, T-Mobile wants to maximize their revenue and that happens where they positioned the tower in Greene County where they can reach the most customers.

T-Mobile is attracted to Greene County because it can install a taller tower and get more customers than in Albemarle County. But without the potential customers in Albemarle County it is questionable  that T-Mobile or any cell carrier would install a tower to only service the southwest portion of Greene County. Thankfully cell service doesn’t know county line barriers!

The special use permit was unanimously approved with provisions about color and materials and that the tower must begin construction within one year of the permit being approved. This has been an issue in the past where SUP’s have been approved but no tower has been constructed.

The one hurdle to the project outside the control of the Supervisors is that the property needed to provide access to the tower location is owned by Lance Petty and while he has granted a right of way to Ron and Janet Parham, he argues that the right of way doesn’t convey the ability to grant permission to another party. This issue will need to be resolved before construction can begin.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Unintended Consequence–Albemarle’s AirBnB Black Market

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When a new business concept is successful the first thing the government attempts to do is tax it.  What is the second thing? – regulate it.  In an interesting ‘Short Term Rental’ twist of fate, Albemarle has completed the first thing ensuringBlack Market photo credit news.softpedia but is about to put those revenue sources (and others) in jeopardy by driving much of this thriving new industry out of the open and into a Black Market.

Please let me explain.

Back in June 2017, Albemarle joined many Virginia localities in updating its tax code to capture ‘transient lodging’

TAX CODE
At its June 14, 2017 Board meeting, the Board of Supervisors amended the County Code §15-900 and §15-901 to enable the County to impose taxes on residential transient lodging, previously not included in this regulation. They also amended County Code §8-616 to explicitly list short-term rentals on the list of businesses subject to the business,professions, and occupations licensing (BPOL) tax requirements.

Albemarle County has been engaged in a “community conversation” regarding the regulation of short term rentals (AirBnB, HomeStay Charlottesville, etc.).  Rather than dealing specifically with the impacts of such rentals, with ordinances already on the books, Albemarle is seeking to restrict the number of rentals any property might be able to book in any given calendar year. This is a mistake.

According to Allison Wrabel’s article in Monday’s (10/30) Daily Progress, our good friend, Travis Pietila, of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) spoke out last week’ Planning Commission meeting about this very issue:

“We need to make sure that the revenue to be gained from homestays does not lead to building new houses in the rural area that would not otherwise be built, and it’s critical that the limits put in place to keep that from happening are enforceable,” he said.

Pietila said that the 90-day limit proposed for whole house rental was too high and that a 30-day limit seemed much more appropriate.

“But a more fundamental concern is that the limits based on a number of days a property can be rented would prove unenforceable,” he said.

While we firmly disagree with SELC’s position that property owners should be restricted from building new homes on parcels that have that fundamental property right, we concur that limits based on a number of days would not only prove unenforceable – it not only starts a negative domino effect on transparency and taxation – it is an unfair restriction on property rights.

Negative Domino effect – if allowed to only permitted to rent my house on a short term basis for 30 days a year, that is exactly what some savvy property owner will claim.  If there is market demand for greater than 30 days a year (ie: weekend from April 15 to December 31 = 76 days), the incentive is to rent the space and not claim the rental on the TOT form, lower the BPOL payment, don’t report the rental revenue for 46 days of occupancy on state or federal income tax forms.

This scenario fits Investopedia’s definition of a Black Market:

Economic activity that takes place outside government-sanctioned channels. Black market transactions usually occur “under the table” to let participants avoid government price controls or taxes. The black market is also the venue where highly controlled substances or products such as drugs and firearms are illegally traded. Black markets can take a toll on an economy, since they are shadow markets where economic activity is not recorded and taxes are not paid. In the financial context, the biggest black market exists for currencies in nations with strict currency controls. While most consumers may shun the black market because they consider it sleazy, there may be rare occasions when they have no choice but to turn to this necessary evil.

What is gained by this charade?

More from Wrabel’s article:

Commissioner Pam Riley said she is concerned about the impact on local housing, especially as the county considers adding apartments and townhomes.

“The more you remove what could be housing units, really at any price range, from the long-term rental, you’re really exacerbating your affordability problem,” she said.

The Free Enterprise Forum finds itself again agreeing with SELC’s Pietila’s  economic analysis, if not his property rights restriction on that analysis:

Pietila said officials should consider limiting whole-house rentals in the rural area to existing houses.

“This would give existing homeowners the ability to earn some extra income and help defray housing costs, while reducing the risk of encouraging new house construction,” he said.

We have seen anecdotally, the short term rental income provides the revenue needed that makes the housing ‘affordable’.  If a unit (home, apartment, townhouse) has a monthly cost (mortgage/rent) of $900 a month and it is rented four weekend days at $150 a night, that generates $600 in revenue, this income helps offset housing cost.  Anecdotally, we have witnessed families visit their parents for football weekends and pay their entire monthly housing cost with the revenue.

Commissioner Daphne Spain is quoted in Wrabel’s article questioning the property owner rights regarding short term rentals:

…Spain said she noticed that many comments said that people should be able to do what they want with their homes to generate income.

“I don’t give much credence to that, because if they wanted to open a brewery or a speakeasy to earn money, or a brothel, that wouldn’t be allowed, so there are limits for the public good on what a person can do with their home and these are all residential areas,” she said.

Spain’s argument is really comparing apples and oranges. Unlike a brewery (or even brothel), the use of the property is still residential – it is just a question of the length of stay in residential.  How are the impacts different?

Which has more impact on me as a land owner, my neighbor renting out his house on weekends or a family with 5 teenagers moving in next door?

The reality we see from the Planning Commission is a clear anti short term rental bias.  Albemarle County would be wise to focus on mitigating any impacts of short term rentals [under existing ordinances] and skip any fatally flawed attempt to strangle this thriving new business with onerous regulations that are unlikely to be followed and will be impossible to enforce.

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.

What Albemarle Can Learn From Amazon’s HQ2 Search

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon, in an alphabet soup of a joint meeting Albemarle County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), Planning Commission (PC), and Board of Supervisors (BOS) discussed Site Readiness from a Site Selectors Prospective in an effort to focus on growing business.

Timmons Group Joe Hines presentation “Are your sites and community prospect ready?” was eye opening to many in the room.  Hines suggested the locality should own or control parcels under consideration and that the locality needs to make infrastructure investment on the parcel to become most attractive in the site selection process.

Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin (in likely her last public presentation prior to retirement) used much of Hines Presentation talking points to present an overview of the Deschutes Brewing competition that Roanoke won.   The discussion was very good and highlighted the areas where Roanoke was better prepared for the opportunity.  (Check out  @Neilswilliamson Twitter feed for more details)

In a seemingly unrelated news event, Business Insider reports on Amazon’s search for a new 2nd North American Headquarters.

The company’s press release lays out a few details of what it’s looking for: metro areas with more than one million people; a “business-friendly” environment; a strong technical workforce; be “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent,” and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”

Ignoring the obvious million people hurdle, how do you think Albemarle, or Charlottesville for that matter stacks up regarding “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options”.

Considering Catlin’s presentation,  one portion that was not mentioned was the “community” response to Deschutes.   Over two years ago, I wrote in Da Lessons from Deschutes.

4.  While the Supervisors recognize the economic reality, the public is notnimby1 yet sold on the concept of increased economic development.  This lack of public support is seen by outsiders as “unwelcoming” and is clearly a competitive disadvantage.   As Lisa Provence reported in C-ville regarding the Planning Commission denial of the CPA, some are not convinced that economic development (AKA Growth) is a good thing:

 

Watching the various states and localities compete for the Amazon 2nd Headquarters, I am amazed by the deftness of their marketing and efforts to show community support:

This challenge is actually an opportunity.  Notice Amazon did not say “governments” who think big and creatively.  They are looking for a community that will not only welcome them but allow them to become one with them.  The communities competing for HQ2 are attempting to present their community as complimentary to the creative class.  Don’t think this is only in big time economic development.  Roanoke’s “Hashtag” campaign was a big part of the Deschutes Decision.

Albemarle Supervisor Rick Randolph thought the presentation corrected a “myth” that Albemarle lost Deschutes – he said instead Roanoke won it.  Sounds like splitting hairs to me but I still have the core question.

Is Albemarle ready to energetically embrace economic development?

Randolph said he was supportive of “smart” economic development where jobs went to Albemarle citizens and no traffic was generated – sounds like a unicorn hunt to me.

Supervisors Liz Palmer and Brad Sheffield both expressed interest in redevelopment sites.

One positive suggestion came late in the meeting from Planning Commissioner Jennie More.  More thought that economic development should be a part of the community vetted Master Plan process.  This might be a first step in developing the kind of community buy in that can be more than “accepting” of economic development instead can cheer for it.

This meeting was a good first step, but I remain concerned that not everyone is equally energetic about economic development and the community is clearly not yet fully engaged.

If everyone understands the net benefits of economic development and brings positive energy to support the effort, perhaps then Albemarle can be in a position to “Win”.

If not, we may want to ask if Albemarle should be (or is) in the game at all.

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.

Greene Supervisors Hears Five Year Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

It makes good common sense to hope for the best but plan for the worst.  For Virginia localities it is more than common sense, it is mandated by state law.clip_image002

In response to this requirement, Billie Campbell, Senior Program Manager, and Wood Hudson, Planning Manager, of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission  addressed the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their first meeting of October (10/10). They presented a draft of the 2017 Update of the Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan . The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 set out requirements for State and local governments to update their plans every five (5) years.

clip_image005The purpose of plan is prepare for natural disasters before they occur and it covers all jurisdictions in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District – Albemarle County,  the City of Charlottesville, Greene County, Louisa CountyFluvanna County, Nelson County, and the towns of Scottsville, Stanardsville, Louisa and Mineral. The first plan was approved in 2006, then in 2012 and it is now due to be updated by December 17, 2017.

In August a draft of Regional HMP was submitted to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) who will then forward it to FEMA for their review and comments and once they have approved it, each jurisdiction must adopt the plan.

According to the draft plan:

Natural hazards tend to be low-probability, high-impact events. One year could be mild with natural
events scarcely interrupting communities, while the next could be literally disastrous. The purpose of hazard mitigation is to make an effort to minimize the damage and loss of life caused by disasters when they do occur. Hazard mitigation is one component, along with emergency response and post-disaster recovery, to the larger strategy of dealing with the human impacts of natural hazard

With more people living in areas susceptible to natural hazards, the costs associated with such hazards have been steadily increasing over time. The localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (the Counties of Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, and Nelson, the City of Charlottesville, and the Towns of Scottsville, Columbia, Stanardsville, Louisa, and Mineral) are impacted by variety of different hazards. In order to lessen the growing cost of disaster recovery on the localities and minimize the disruption of business during a disaster, there is a growing need to mitigate the impact of known hazards. Through proper planning and the implementation of policies and projects identified in this Hazard Mitigation Plan, the region and the localities can reduce the likelihood that these events will result in costly disasters.

The Hazard Identification and Analysis section of the plan describes natural hazards which pose the greatest threat to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Hazards are profiled in terms of prevalence, intensity, and geographical scope. The section includes a description of the hazard as well as analysis based upon historical and scientific data.

The specific areas of the plan are:

        1. flooding and dam failure
        2. winter weather
        3. wildfire
        4. temperature extremes, drought and landslides, and
        5. tornado and earthquakes.

The plan calculates a risk factor for each event within the TJPDC study area.

Hazard-Mitigation_full_doc

Within each category are specific actions recommended to be taken that include describing the hazard, potential mitigation, lead responsible entity, estimated cost, funding method and the time period of the issue.

clip_image006

Campbell asked that the Board consider making the resolution supporting the plan. All of the supervisors supported the plan but wanted to wait until the second board meeting of the month to allow time for them to review the proposal. The request was deferred until the October 24, 2017 meeting and it is hoped that the Supervisors will approve the resolution at that time.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

VDOT’s SmartScale Funding Deadline Accelerates Local Land Use Planning

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.” – English Poet Samuel Johnson

Perhaps in the case of the Route29 Solutions Hydraulic Plan the last word in that phrase should be changed to ‘transportation funding’.  Both The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are preparing to receive, hold public hearings and endorse the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, a forty to fifty year land use plan, over the course of 40 to 50 days.

Why? It’s all about the money.

Please let me explain.

SMART SCALE - Funding the Right Transportation ProjectsWhen the Commonwealth of Virginia changed over to the transportation funding program now known as Smart Scale it was touted as taking the politics out of transportation funding decisions [interestingly, Route29 Solutions was one of the last projects funded under the old system].

From their website:

Virginia’s SMART SCALE (§33.2-214.1) is about picking the right transportation projects for funding and ensuring the best use of limited tax dollars.  It is the method of scoring planned projects included in VTrans that are funded by HB 1887. Transportation projects are scored based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers. Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.

An important part of the funding decision rests on the position of local government on the project and how the project relates to the municipality’s Comprehensive Plan.  In the case of Hydraulic, this involves two governments and two different Comprehensive Plans.

In determining the timing for the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, it was determined that the land use plan should inform the transportation plan, rather than the other way around (which was done at Rio/29).

Due to the number of projects submitted and the intensity of the objective review, VDOT  determined that the Smart Scale process will only open every other year and then only for about 90 days.  Here is where the timing issue arises.

Diagram 1

When, at the request of the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne advanced the funding for the panel to develop the land use plan AND the transportation plan, it was done to explicitly facilitate the Smart Scale intake dates.

From the January 2017 Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) media release:

The study schedule anticipates having the small area land use plan complete and any recommendations for transportation improvements finalized in the summer of 2018. That timetable will allow the localities to prepare applications for the next round of Smart Scale project scoring in September 2018.

So here we are.  Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission will hold 5 joint public hearings the evening of October 10th.  Which one is last?  You guessed it The Hydraulic Small Area Plan.

Conceptual Land Use Map Oct 2017 P71

Albemarle County will hold their Planning Commission Public Hearing on October 17th.

In an interesting piece of bicameral political theater, both the Planning Commissions [as well as City Council and Board of Supervisors] will be pushed to approve the Small Area Plan without making significant changes for fear the funding schedule will be lost.

It is hard to believe that many folks [perhaps even planning commissioners] will have taken the time to read the entire document.  But never fear, the decisions are not being made from the top.  Again from the January VDOT media release:

“It is important to emphasize,” Secretary Layne continued, “that Aubrey-Layne-photo-credit-VDOT.jpgthe land use decisions will be made by the city, county and the MPO. There are no preconceived solutions or presumptions here. We are kicking off a process at the MPO’s request; the outcome of that process remains to be seen.”

How involved with the Planning Commissions and elected officials get with this small area plan knowing VDOT is building the transportation plan based upon these assumptions?

Is 120 days a good measure for reviewing a 50 plan?

Is creating a sense of urgency a bad thing in these planning exercises?

Will the public be fully engaged?

Will the elected officials?

Once again we have more questions than answers.

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: Route29Solutions.com

Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

Charlottesville, VA – As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2019 budget process, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically. The “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum, is based on an independent locality-specific local government spending index (LGSI). The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2016, identified Nelson County as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI with Albemarle County a close second.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “The goal of the LGSI is to inform and promote dialog. The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions. Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the elections and budget season”.

The LGSI is based on self-reported data required to be provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts. The numbers focus exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. This number will not include capital expenditures thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.

It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment. While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:

Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 152% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 55% and 36% respectively.

clip_image004City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2016), Charlottesville experienced a population increase of almost 23%, the second smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative growth in school enrollment of just over 1%. In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased over 80% during the study period.

It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities.

In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities. During the study period, four localities had roughly 50% increase in per capita spending, while two, Albemarle and Nelson, increased per capita spending by over 60%.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization dedicated to individual economic freedom. The entire report, and supporting documentation, can be accessed under Reports Tab at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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.

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:

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“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.