Tag Archives: ARB

Good Signs Are Good For Business

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

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

The surveys found that:

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

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

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

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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

Photo credit:  NBC29

Year of Shaking My Head – 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

It is amazing to look back and see how often this year, I was top ten listdumbfounded by the strategy, actions and inactions of public officials and the lack of action by some because while the process was broken, it was meeting their need.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2015 SMH moments

#10 U.S. 29 is not a city street Kevin Bacon and Albemarle’s Thank You Letter for VDOT’s U.S. 29 Steamroller

While we have found former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  Commissioner Phillip Shucet to be a most effective facilitator and an honest supporter of the McAuliffe administration positions, we believe the public has not been, nor will be, fully “engaged” in the process.  As an example, In  last week’s BOS meeting Supervisor Ann Mallek suggested there would be a public hearing on the design of the interchange – Nope.  Even though this is a design build process, the VDOT proposed design (not what will actually be built) was already taken to public hearing, satisfying the legal requirements.

Aubrey Layne photo credit VDOTIn his Daily Progress opinion piece on Sunday (1/11), [Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey] Layne used the same song sheet as he wrote somewhat single mindedly of Albemarle County’s economic engine that is North US 29:

“Between Short Pump to the east, Staunton to the west, Danville to the south and Gainesville to the north, no section of highway carries more traffic than U.S. 29 between U.S. 250 and Rio Road – not even Interstate 64. U.S. 29 is not a city street.  It is a major Virginia arterial highway” Emphasis added-nw

#9 Fluvanna sees higher taxes as far as the eye can seeFluvanna 4% Property Tax Increase Proposed

This year, Fluvanna is projecting a five-year forecast to see how future budgets will look, conceptually, based on what decisions are made this year. It includes a two percent rate of inflation along with anticipation of certain upcoming projects.

The projection based off of Nichols’ budget shows a real estate tax rate of $1.05 in FY17, $1.06 in FY1Weaver20146 and FY19 and a $1.11 in FY20.

“Even if they are ballpark figures, it is alarming,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Nichols replied, “It is absolutely alarming.”

#8 Albemarle’s Political Cover Committees – Meanwhile, back in Albemarle County the county is seeking a diversity of opinions as long as they all agree #SMH  Eliminate Albemarle’s Mission Creeping Community Councils 

In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:

The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw

If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?

#7 ARB managing views that can’t be seen  In June, we were shaking our head when we asked about  the authority of the Albemarle Architectural Review Board (ARB) over the Rio area businesses that will not be visible to at least half of the US29 motorists Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

#6 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Places Preservation of Natural Resources as #1 Priority What abut citizen health Safety and Welfare? Albemarle’s Natural Resources Chapter Rewrite – More Planners, Less Property Rights

The newly revised goal is much more expansive and interventionist in its tone:

“Albemarle’s ecosystems and natural resources will be thoughtfully protected and managed in both the Rural and Development Areas to safeguard the quality of life of current and future generations.”

If there was any question the direction the Chapter is headed, the BOS rewritten chapter declares

“Natural resource protection is the County’s highest priority.”

Really??

Natural Resource Protection is the Highest Priority?

Over the safety and protection of your citizens?

Over the education of the children where you currently dedicate 60% of your budget?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is philosophical hyperbole and is not supported by the facts (or four supervisors), we hope such inflammatory and incorrect language will be removed from the plan.

#4 Albemarle Planning Commission Attempts to Bully staff The Albemarle County Planning Commission was unhappy that the economic development office did not come to them first regarding the Deschutes Brewing prospect.  Despite being beyond their role in government, their egos were bruised in the process.  This lead to our #4 SMH moment Albemarle PC Seeks Improper Staff Influence

How much is designated Light Industrial in the Comprehensive Plan but not in the underlying zoning?

These would seem like a set of objective questions to ask of a professional staff to produce an objective report – But not in Albemarle County.

Please let me explain.

Oct 20 PC meetingAt the very end of this week’s lengthy Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Tim Keller (At-Large), with just two members of the public in the audience (FEF & SELC)  and with the consent of his fellow commissioners, explicitly directed staff to have Economic Development Director Faith McClintic meet with the Planning Commission PRIOR to finalizing her inventory report on Light Industrial land.

Remembering that the Planning Commission is made up of politically appointed individuals (one of which is running for Scottsville Supervisor), one might reasonably ask why should the Economic Development Director, who reports to the County Executive, be required to run her professional report past the PC before it goes final?

The ONLY reason is because they want to impact the content of the report.

While I’ll agree the PC should see and comment on the report after it is written, to give them editorial control seems far beyond the pale and entirely unprofessional.

#5 Greene County battles with Jail Superintendent over budget and plan There was a great deal of head shaking in Greene this year (gun range, recycling center, public comment) but the Jail has been a source of some interjurisdictional anger.  As out own Brent Wilson reports Jail House Rocks Greene BOS

Bill Martin Greene County SupervisorSupervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) expressed concern about the poor timing in the budget process of the CVRJ and the impact to Greene County. Up until December, there was no indication of a significant increase and then in December, 2014 [Central Virginia Jail Superintendent Glenn] Aylor announced over a 50% increase in operating cost allocation to Greene County.

[Ruckersville Supervisor Davis] Lamb responded that there are a lot of pieces to the prison budget.

Martin stated he understood the complexity but all five counties that utilize the regional jail were caught by surprise by the size of the budget increase. Residents of Greene County are pushing back on a $10 facility fee on the water and sewer bill, Martin can’t imagine what residents will say when they see the cost increase for the jail in the upcoming budget.

Martin continued to state that the communication between the Greene Board of Supervisors and Aylor has been poor. He was not impressed when Aylor spoke at the last board meeting and Martin questions who is serving whom.

[Midway Supervisor Jim] Frydl questioned Lamb why the alternative budget that the five counties had presented at the last jail meeting wasn’t considered? Lamb’s only reply was that if you can find a better plan to bring it to the meeting and there are many variables. Frydl asked Lamb if he was ok with the jails budget to which there was no reply.

#3 Greene County Muzzles Public Comment The Free Enterprise Forum continues to have issues with Greene County’s current Matters from the Public Policy but after months of “inappropriate” public comments Greene seemed to want to muzzle public comments as Brent Wilson reports

The hearing of comments (or not hearing comments) from the public has been a work in progress the past several weeks in Greene County. The year started with all comments being allowed at BOS meetings with very little guidelines or restrictions. Several weeks ago, the Chairman decided to eliminate all comments from the public from the July 28th agenda.  The Board discussed the issue at the July 28th meeting and adopted (4-1 Deane opposed) a very restrictive procedure in place to allow public comment at the July 28th meeting

This takes us to the most recent Board of Supervisor meeting. Chairman David Cox, Monroe District, started the meeting stating that it is critical to hear comments from the public. He has not been trying to silence the public but trying to control rude and confrontational behavior.

Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District, stated he believes that Cox has an impeccable record in allowing all comments – sometimes to a fault. Cox would never disallow the public to speak and he believes that Cox will be fair to all citizens and not infringe their freedom of speech.

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively regarding the import of public comments and we believe they should be placed near the top of every agenda. While the comments some citizens make may cause you to shake your head, not hearing those citizens speak is much worse.

#2 Albemarle Chooses Not To Have a Beer – In a clear affront to the County’s new Economic Development Initiatives, Albemarle County decided not to expand its development areas enough to accommodate Deschutes Brewery [and about 100 new jobs]  from Bend, Oregon while shaking our head we did come up with  Da Lessons from Deschutes

Deschutes-BrewingIt is entirely possible that [Former Albemarle Supervisor] Sally Thomas’ position of keeping growth in check may be the majority opinion of Albemarle County citizens.  If the philosophy of the Board is that any business is lucky that we are allowing them to locate here and should be happy to jump through our bureaucratic hoops, then there is not “A new day” in Albemarle.

The current and future leadership of Albemarle County need to determine the direction of the Economic Development Department.  That decision, perhaps more than any other, will determine not only the success of businesses to locate and expand; but also the jobs that may or may not be available as well as the percentage of government costs that will be carried by property taxes.

Da Lesson from Deschutes – Albemarle was not ready.

Da Question from Deschutes – Do they really want to be?

But this year’s #1 is without a doubt

#1 If I call you Karl Marx is it an insult?  Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors gave us plenty to shake our heads about this year including accusations of Communism.   The Board meeting sounded more like a playground taunt than a governing body as our own Bryan Rothamel reported Fireworks at Fluvanna Supervisors Meeting

After Parish briefly started his presentation on the [employee] recognition program, which includes monetary gifts for various awards throughout the year, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) raised his issues with the recognition program.

Ullenbruch2014

Ullenbruch compared the recognition program as a pat on the back and children in youth sports getting a participation trophy. He then concluded his remarks and what ensued was Ullenbruch leaving the meeting after Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) responded.

Here is a transcription from the end of  Ullenbruch’s statements. It was the 1 hour, 59 minutes mark of the meeting.

Ullenbruch: You are hired to do a job. You are hired to do a job the best you can. I’m not saying our employees are paid enough or they’re not recognized enough. I’m not saying that at all. I’m trying, once again, keep people from being divided. This is devise. I’ve lived in this atmosphere of awards and plaques and that-a-boys, in the back, in the little huddles, in the little corners, it becomes a bitch session. The intent is not for that to happens, but it happens.

O’Brien: You sound like a communist, Bob. I mean honestly, why don’t we–

Ullenbruch: Wow. Wow. That’s on tape.

O’Brien: Yeah, your idea is that people don’t appreciate recognition. That they should just do their damn job, to use your words.

Ullenbruch: I’m just saying it causes divisiveness.

At this point Ullenbruch stands up to leaves. The two began talking over each other but O’Brien responds to Ullenbruch’s comments with, “I mean, that’s what you sound like. I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ullenbruch talks from the doorway. O’Brien responds, “I don’t think calling someone a communist is necessarily insulting them, Bob.” He turns back to the board, “That’s a first. Sorry. Apologies.”

Yes, the Free Enterprise Forum will look back on 2015 as the Year of Shaking My Head.

Perhaps 2016 will be different.

I know which way I am betting.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, Fluvanna County, Greene County, Virginia Department of Transportation,

US 29 Business Assistance – The Least Albemarle Can Do

By Neil Williamson, President

question-signLast night (4/7/2015)  the Albemarle County Planning Commission considered and approved changes to the temporary sign ordinance allowing 10 signs that will be removed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for the easements and construction of the US29/Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange.

Prior to their action the Free Enterprise Forum spoke as a part of the public hearing:

Tonight you have before you common sense regulatory relief for the 12 businesses that will lose their permanent signage during the utility relocation and construction of the Rio US29 Grade Separated Interchange.  This regulation will allow these businesses to erect temporary signage for the duration of the construction period.

Our long standing opposition to this project is well recorded. I continue to believe the costs far outweigh any limited benefits and it sets the stage for the eventual Albemarle Expressway that will decimate this important business corridor. Yes, the lost signage is just one of the ways many businesses will be impacted by the Rio GSI.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has already started discussions with business owners about just compensation for the signs scheduled to be removed.

Removal of these signs could start in just a few weeks’ time. We applaud staff for moving this up the agenda to assist the impacted business. We believe not only is this regulation change commonsensical – it is clearly the least you can do.

We look forward the staff promised phase two and phase three  of the signage review. It is our hope that businesses that have restricted visibility or limited access gain increased signage by right for the construction period and the six months after. Further, we ask that you use this opportunity to set up a provision in code that helps businesses during such road construction regardless of location.

The Free Enterprise Forum encourages you to approve the zoning ordinance before you and move it forward to the Board of Supervisors with all deliberate speed.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

While the Planning Commission acknowledged that Joes Diner arrowthere would be a lack of visibility for businesses during and after construction, staff made clear their position in opposition to any additional signage in this area.  Staff believes that VDOT’s proposed way finding signs will be more than adequate.

This temporary sign ordinance is really setting the tone for Albemarle’s Least You Can Do “Business Assistance Program”.

Here are the not so lofty goals of Albemarle’s “Business Assistance Program”:

Goals of the Program
 Provide accurate and complete information in advance to help businesses plan for the construction period
 Provide resource expertise to support affected businesses
 Create a rapid response communication network during construction that identifies critical business issues and responds to needs of businesses
 Ensure fair and equitable assistance for all qualifying businesses
 Leverage opportunities for partnership – take advantage of ideas, services and relationships that partners can offer to help businesses manage the challenges of construction
 Actively engage construction contractor to positively affect business outreach and support

This is significantly lower bar than was discussed when the projects were first proposed.  Clearly as the momentum for project construction increases the likelihood of significant resources being allocated to  businesses assistance has been reduced or eliminated.

Speaking last night of concerns regarding equity across the entire county, the Albemarle Deputy County Attorney minimized efforts to promote the construction challenged businesses via county communication tools.

Yes, Albemarle has a business assistance program for those impacted by the Route29 solutions projects – it is the least they can do.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: VDOT, http://quovadisblog.com 

Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

This Monday (3/2) Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) held a work session to discuss the proposed CVS for the Northwest corner of the US29 and Rio intersection.  This corner will be significantly impacted by the construction of the Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI).ARB 03022015

It was revealed that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be taking 20’ of the frontage of the parcel for a utility easement and a taper lane.  This further constrains an already physically tight site.

The applicant is proposing to unify two parcels, tear down the existing buildings and construct a compact CVS Drugstore with a pharmacy drive thru on the unified parcel.  Some of the application challenges include the change in topography on the site, the 60 car parking requirement, the placement of such parking as well as treatment of retaining walls.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on the CVS or any other application, the discussion raised a more basic question, considering the changes to US 29 at Rio Road, does that segment still qualify as an Entrance Corridor?

Virginia Code and Albemarle’s implementation of such code is fairly explicit in the requirement (from Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Minutes, November 2, 2005 p.25)

The entrance corridor overlay is created to conserve elements of the county’s scenic beauty and to preserve and protect corridors: (i) along arterial streets or highways designated as such pursuant to Title 33.1 of the Virginia Code found by the board of supervisors to be significant routes to tourist access to the county; (ii) to historic landmarks as established by the Virginia Landmarks Commission together with any other buildings or structures within the county having an important historic, architectural or cultural interest and any historic areas with in the county as defined by Virginia Code § 15.2-2201; or (iii) to designated historic landmarks, buildings, structures, or districts in any contiguous locality. Emphasis added – nw

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

Making the conversation even more difficult, Rio Road is also designated by Albemarle County as an Entrance Corridor (They have 21 of them).

On Wednesday, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be considering how to help businesses during the construction and the transition to life as an enterprise on an off ramp.

Considering the significant positive accolades I have heard from several GSI supporting supervisors regarding the potential redevelopment investment of this business area, one might think they would make it easier to make such investment happen.

The Comprehensive Plan calls for a  a new more urban form of development in this new “Midtown” section of Albemarle County but much of the ARB guidelines are about screening development from the traffic.  Something has to give.

We suggest the Rio ramps that are being constructed are not really part of the Entrance Corridor based on the original legislative intent.  As such, they should be excluded from ARB review.

The ARB and staff have already agreed that there is a need for more corridor specific guidelines in the multiple entrance corridors.

Perhaps, they should start with the one intersection VDOT is about to tear up?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson President

**Rio GSI image changed 2:20 pm March 4th

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit:   Virginia Department of Transportation

The ARB Should Follow The EPA on U.S. 29 GSI

By. Neil Williamson, President

Earlier today, the Free Enterprise Forum asked the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) to follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead and issue a limited categorical exclusion for business signage in the U S 29/ Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) Impact Area.

The EPA determined that the GSI project qualified for a categorical exclusion from environmental review, shouldn’t businesses attempting to survive the onslaught of construction and new traffic patterns receive the same kind of treatment from the ARB.

Please let me explain.

Even those not directly involved with business understand that businesses exist to meet the needs of customers.  If a customer is unaware of a business it is impossible to meet the customer needs.  This is where customer awareness and signage comes in.

While potential customers may not stop in to a North 29 business every time they travel on the road – they do see it and this raises company awareness.

In a recent project in Gainesville (Linton Hall Interchange) we watched many local businesses suffer Jiffy Lube Linton Hallthrough their construction time line.  Predictably, some did not make it.

Jiffy Lube was one of the local businesses impacted severely. After the highway construction was started they petitioned and got a small sign placed just past the “Jersey” barrier (photo left).  In a phone interview, the Jiffy Lube manager indicated the sign has helped “bring some of the customers back but we have lost a ton of business.”  

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the time is NOW to get the changes in place in Albemarle.  Not only do we want to have little or no ARB constraint, we believe the signage permitted should be at least doubled for impacted businesses and height constraints be considered due to the change in roadway elevation.

Further, we ask that Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel member (especially Mark Graham and Brad Sheffield) champion this cause and do what ever can bspeed reevese done to fast track the ordinance change process.

I recognize this may seem like an alarmist call to action but believe me, just like Keanu Reeves in the 1994 film Speed, this entire project is rolling very fast and will explode if we don’t take action.

The ever speeding US29 Solutions steamroller is on schedule.  Despite significant public outcry the Rio Road GSI is prioritized first.  According to the Route 29 Solutions website:

[US29/RIO GSI] Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 and will be completed no later than Dec. 2, 2016. Construction that restricts movement on Rio Road through the intersection must be done between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time, Rio Road will be closed to through traffic and left turns at the Route 29 intersection.The Rio Road intersection must be reopened to all traffic movements no later than Sept. 2, 2016. [Emphasis added-nw]

Four lanes in each direction on Route 29, and two lanes in each direction on Rio Road, will be maintained during construction except during the period between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time traffic on Rio Road will be limited to right turns onto Route 29 and traffic will not be able to cross the intersection. On Route 29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and right turns onto Rio Road will be allowed at all times.

A temporary intersection at Route 29 and Berkmar Drive, controlled by a signal, will serve as a detour and allow traffic from Berkmar to turn right or left onto Route 29 and travel north or south to Rio Road and businesses along Route 29 north or south of Berkmar. That signal will also have preemption equipment that allows priority access for emergency vehicles.Traffic from Route 29 north and south will be able to access Berkmar at the temporary intersection.

Recognizing Albemarle’s unceasing  desire to have homogenized entrance corridors, the Free Enterprise Forum has requested that the sign ordinance and ARB regulations be lifted for 24 months.  This time frame would provide those owners who choose to make the investment in temporary signage to impact consumer travel and shopping patterns during and AFTER construction.

Two members of the ARB, Chuck Lebo and Fred Missel, seemed to be in general agreement with our suggestion.  The third member present, Vice Chair Marcia Joseph asked to receive the information in writing so she might consider it from all angles.  The ARB asked staff to consider the concept and perhaps draft a resolution to the Board of Supervisors regarding our proposal.

If we fail to act NOW, the businesses will be dying on the vine before the regulatory relief can help them.

Then we will see signs that really negatively impact the community:

going-out-of-business-closed

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, christheentrepreneur.wordpress.com

The 2014 Free Enterprise Forum Five

By. Neil Williamson, President

Oh what a year it has been!

Annually, the Free Enterprise Forum takes a step back and examines our work over the last twelve months.  Based on this review – we have created the 2014 Free Enterprise Forum Five – our completely biased view of the top five blog posts based on readership and impact.

As we close our twelfth year, I want to take a moment and thank all of you for reading.   I also have to thank our financial supporters – If you find our work valuable please donate today.

Finally, I want to thank those who disagree and comment.  I sincerely appreciate your contributions.

Without any more fanfare – Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Five (click on the headline for the rest of the story):

#5  The Zombie Comp Plan — Return of the “Voluntary” Viewshed Requirements

D_nightofzombiesposterIn classic horror films, zombies are among the best villains as it is so hard to kill the “Walking Dead”.

Just like a zombie the Monticello Viewshed requirements are back and property rights are again under attack in Albemarle County.

But it’s OK because the requirements are voluntary.

#4 “Snob Zoning” Request Returns to Charlottesville City Council?

In a blog post just under a year ago, Is the Lorax Guilty of Snob Zoning?, we raised concerns of so called snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300“Snob Zoning” in Central Virginia.  Included in that post was a quote from Councilor Dede Smith about new residential developments.

[City Councilor Dede] Smith also wanted to know what population was being attracted to Charlottesville based on the nature of the new developments.

“Who is going to live at City Walk?” Smith asked. “Our number of families is declining in the city and it has been stated as a priority that we would like to at least maintain or grow housing for families.”

 

#3  Building Late Night Life Rafts on the Titanic

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

titanic sinking credit redbubbleTomorrow night (6/11) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be considering how to best assist businesses negatively impacted by the 2+ years of construction of the Rio/US29 grade separated intersection.

The Free Enterprise Forum is somewhat conflicted regarding “government help”.  We firmly believe in the free enterprise system and that a critical part of that system is business failure to make room for new innovations.  While we believe in the “creative destruction” concept, we prefer it is the market not the government doing the destruction.

#2  VDOT Losing Control on US29 Solutions?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentUS29 Survey July 16 2014

“It seems how lately, baby
Got a bad case steamroller blues” – James Taylor

As we all are getting accustomed to yellow and orange vests in the impacted areas of US29, the Free Enterprise Forum has learned we will have significantly less control over the US29 projects than we were led to believe at the outset.

Later this week the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will rubber stamp the Shucet  US29 Solution Package.  Interestingly, only now have we learned (via Twitter) the sequencing of these long desired projects is seemingly out of our control.

#1 from April 12, 2014

 Shucet’s Charade – A Public Participation Illusion

us-29-logo_thumb.jpg

The Route 29 Advisory Panel is, perhaps unwittingly, playing a part in a masterfully orchestrated and expertly conducted illusion of public participation where the questions, concerns and opinions of panel members are being denied or actively dismissed. No votes are taken nor consensus measured. All the while the facilitator is complementing the panel for its incredible positive forward momentum.

And the public is none the wiser.

 

Honorable Mentions

Albemarle’s Mad Hatter Paradoxical Proffer Policymad-hatter-1-300x240

Only in Albemarle, Do You Make Housing Affordable by Making It More Expensive

Charlottesville Requires Residents To Tell How Their “Natural” Garden Grows

Fluvanna Budget Proposal Includes Tax Increase

Ruckersville Interconnectivity Goes Forward

failure-to-communicateAlbemarle’s Cool Hand Luke Development Areas Plan

Albemarle’s Manifest Density

Admiral Stockdale and the Albemarle County Planning Commission

Albemarle Knows Best – Comprehensive Plan Mission Creep

Do Jobs Fit in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan?

Is This The End of The Road?US29 Survey July 16 2014

Misinformation, Compartmentalization and Realization on the US29 “Expressway”

Regulatory Hurdles and Lack of Infrastructure Hinders Fluvanna Economic Development

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<p>*** USA ONLY ***Albemarle Apologist Economic Development Policy

The Who Has the Answer to New US29 Panel

Who Puts the DL in TMDL?

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan 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

Signs of Anti Business Bluster at the ARB

By. Neil Williamson, President

What started as a small matter of replacing Crozet Volunteer Fire Department’s aging channel letter community announcement sign has morphed into a debate over the future of business signage in Albemarle County’s Entrance Corridors.

According to Albemarle’s website:

The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and is charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. Entrance Corridors are streets that provide routes of tourist access to the County and to historic landmarks, structures, and districts. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.

While the impact of such regulation may seem small, and well it should be, Albemarle has perverted the original intent of the EC legislation and restricted 21 roadways as Entrance Corridors.  It is our understanding that once the John W. Warner/Meadowcreek Parkway is completed the number will advance to 22.

With 21 Entrance Corridors, Albemarle spends a vast amount of money and staff time aggressively examining the architectural design, landscape design, color scheme, lighting and signage of all parcels sharing a boundary line with the EC or within 500 feet of the EC.

The result is any restriction placed on the Entrance Corridor effectively covers a majority of the county’s commercial activities.

With this as a backdrop, the ARB discussion of electronic signs was especially interesting.  Albemarle Zoning Staff reminded the ARB that any such sign would require a special use permit and no such application has come forward to date.

The staff was aware that the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) planned to submit an application in the near future.

The CVFD uses their existing sign to get the word out about fire prevention, promote CVFD fundraising and community messages.  The existing sign is pictured below and predates the EC legislation:

Crozet-Fire-Department-Sign_thumb.jpg

Signage technology has changed a great deal since CVFD first erected this message board.  Recognizing this digital-sign-example.jpgadvancement and noting the age of the current message board, CVFD came to the ARB with an idea – an electronic message board; similar in style to the one pictured to the right.

It is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not have an opinion regarding the CVFD potential application – or any other application for that matter —  we use this as an example of our concern for the significant policy decision the ARB is considering.

In early October the ARB determined some new guidelines to use regarding digital signs and message boards

The ARB held a work session on design criteria for electronic message signs. ARB members made the following comments on the “Characteristics and Criteria” table presented by staff:
1. Eliminate the criteria regarding daytime and nighttime intensity limitations.
2. Add a note indicating that standard color guidelines apply, including the limitation to three colors.
3. Add a criteria indicating that graphic images will not be allowed on the electronic message portion of
the sign.
4. Graphics are prohibited in the electronic message portion of the sign.

This week Eric King from Watchfire Signs, a digital sign company met with the ARB and explained the state of the industry.  Somewhat surprisingly, he indicated that appropriate regulation makes for good signage as no one wants to be Las Vegas (unless of course you are Las Vegas).  King also said “Unreasonable regulation is harmful to tax generation as commerce will go elsewhere.”  He also alluded to constitutional questions regarding commercial free speech.

He raised a number of concerns regarding the proposed regulations.  One of the great benefits of the digital signs is the ability to readily change it and to include graphics.  It seems like Albemarle’s ARB was opposed to both of these advancements.

King said, “If you restrict color and eliminate graphics, you effectively ban digital signs”.

ARB Chair Bruce Wardell had more questions than answers in this work session indicating his need for the county attorney’s opinion on some of the matters raised.  Wardell also said, “If we allow 21st Century technology, it seems a bit hard to restrain using 19th century law.”

ARB Member Marcia Joseph took a different tact, she wanted to make the digital signs appear just as a fixed sign would and be regulated the same.  In her argument she cited the need for fairness for all those businesses who already have approvals under the existing guidelines.  The Free Enterprise Forum finds this argument to be rather circular seeing as businesses existed in the entrance corridors prior to the creation of the ARB and the body had no problem creating a new set of rules that made doing business more difficult to new comers – why not make it easier?

Albemarle County seems to have a need to understand economic development is more than a department it is a philosophy.  While we understand the need to regulate the size of signage and the speed of content changes, we fail to see the benefit with maintaining antiquated sign regulations that no longer fit the industry.

This business visibility issue is not the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding economic vitality – but it is a sign [pun intended] of how far we have to go before existing businesses, and start ups feel welcome in Albemarle County.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Building Late Night Life Rafts on the Titanic

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

titanic sinking credit redbubbleTomorrow night (6/11) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be considering how to best assist businesses negatively impacted by the 2+ years of construction of the Rio/US29 grade separated intersection.

The Free Enterprise Forum is somewhat conflicted regarding “government help”.  We firmly believe in the free enterprise system and that a critical part of that system is business failure to make room for new innovations.  While we believe in the “creative destruction” concept, we prefer it is the market not the government doing the destruction.

We have also documented our belief that Albemarle County’s 22 Entrance Corridors (including US29 and Rio East)  are over regulated by the Architectural Review Board(ARB).  Given these realities we believe the best way for government to help the impacted businesses is to get out of the way, a least a little, for the construction period + six months.

While we continue our opposition to this project, we call on the Albemarle BOS to respectfully request VDOT coordinate the projects so that the planned parallel road network is available during construction of Rio/US29.

We also ask the BOS to consider a new Rio/US29 construction zone overlay to their zoning maps.  This overlay would be as wide as the Entrance Corridor overlay and will run from Woodbrook Drive on the north to Hydraulic Drive to the south.

Jiffy Lube Linton HallWithin the newly created district:

Sign ordinance relaxation – businesses would be granted double the existing draconian signage allowance.  Such signs could be internally illuminated including logos.  Sign colors would not be limited by the ARB approved color wheel.

Advertising/PR support – a “ramp up” campaign will educate the public regarding alternate routes to reach existing business.  County employees and Supervisors will take part in the education campaign with outreach into the community.

Sponsor Monthly “We’re Still Open” events at impacted businesses – such after hours events can help fight the logical tendency to avoid this important commercial corridor

The Free Enterprise Forum continues to believe the best thing for the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have been to simply not hit the iceberg and the best thing for Albemarle is to not move forward on the Expressway concept phase one.

We recognize that on June 18th the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will likely endorse the “Shucet Solution” and we will be set on atitanic-survivors credit www.titanicuniversen unavoidable collision course with the iceberg.  The cynics among you will describe these actions the same as instructing the band to continue playing as the ship sinks.

I believe these reasonable reductions in over regulation measures might save some, but not all, of the impacted businesses.

Given the choice, shouldn’t we work to increase the number of survivors?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo credits: Free Enterprise Forum, Red Bubble, Titanic Universe

Playing Chicken with Albemarle ARB

June 2, 2014 Public Comments to the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB)

By. Neil Williamson, President

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as president of the Free Enterprise Forum a public policy organization in Albemarle County.

As each of you know, Albemarle County has over twenty entrance corridors and the Planning Commission has recommended additional corridors be added via the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle’s number and geographic footprint is far beyond what I believe was the General Assembly’s legislative intent when it created Entrance Corridors.

By code, the properties in these corridors are subject to the additional review of the ARB.  Generally when a project comes before this board for approval it is granted with a number of conditions regarding landscaping, building materials or other ascetic measures.

The Free Enterprise Forum is growing increasingly concerned at the new level of detail that the ARB is now requesting from some but not all applicants.  Specifically, the need for three dimensional (3D) computer renderings seems to be above and beyond the reasonable requests from this  Board.

The concept of “requesting” is interesting considering the powerful dynamic of the ARB’s conditional approval.  I tend to consider these requests more akin to a game of chicken to see who will bend to the others will.

The game of chicken is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the worst possible outcome occurs when both players do not yield.  In the applicants case this is a lopsided version of chicken as the ARB has very little to lose. While the applicant has often already put thousands (if not millions) of dollars at risk to get the application to the ARB.

Generally  these “requests” are made during the preliminary discussion of an application when a voting member of the ARB states “it sure would be nice if we could see the 3D renderings for this project”.  As an aside, while I have been in the room several times when such requests have been made to applicants, I have yet to find such requests formally recorded in the ARB minutes.

At any rate, at this point applicants find themselves in a position of either accepting the additional time and cost of preparing such 3D models as Albemarle County’s Cost of Doing Business or put their project’s approval at risk if they were to refuse this “request”.

Much like a child with desires for a shiny new technological toy, this Board, absent any expanded authority, has significantly increased the cost and complexity of development.

As applicants generally do not want to play chicken with the ARB, the Free Enterprise Forum “requests” that the ARB formally consider when three dimensional computer modeling is truly needed to understand an application versus simply nice to have.

If the ARB can not clearly delineate between when the pretty pictures are nice to have rather than truly and needed, such “requests” should be eliminated.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: readthehook.com, USA Today

Another Day of Panes at Albemarle’s ARB

By. Neil Williamson, President

This week’s Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting was long, tedious and at times troubling.  The results of the meeting included mandating a change of the shade of orange in a small business logo, thinly veiled (unreasonable) demands regarding window functionality and an overarching architectural arrogance regarding other professionals.

Please let me explain.

To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum does not have any position on these specific projects but we do have concerns regarding the manner the applications moved forward.

First a primer, according to Albemarle County:

The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and is charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. Entrance Corridors are streets that provide routes of tourist access to the County and to historic landmarks, structures, and districts. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.

The concept of protecting the entrance corridors make sense to many folks.  Care to guess how many “entrance corridors” there are in Albemarle County? – Twenty One.  Along each of these “Entrance Corridors” there is an overlay that gives the ARB (and staff) the ability to dictate design decisions.

Based on testimony to the Board of Supervisors, it is anticipated that The new John Warner Parkway/Meadowcreek Parkway will be the 22nd Entrance Corridor when it is completed.  The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the number of Entrance Corridors far exceeds the legislative intent of the General Assembly.

pj networksChanging Colors – In attempting to gain an approval of a sign for their new Rio/US29 location PJ Networks submitted an application to include three colors on their sign to mirror their corporate identity.  The company actually has a temporary sign already in place that uses their corporate colors (see photo). 

The ARB however took issue with the shade of orange used in the sign as it was not from their approved list of colors for this shopping center. Staff suggested that the applicant use red instead of orange.   Recognizing the import of the orange and blue theme, the applicant accepted an ARB compromise that he change the shade of orange to match an approved shade elsewhere in the corridor. 

Window Panes – In another application considered in Monday’s ARB meeting, a business owner is acquiring the iconic Pizza Hut Building on Pizza Hut 3US29.  The owner contemplated several modifications to the building to make it better suit her business needs.  One of those considerations was the replacement of the Pizza Hut roof with a more traditional roofline and the replacement of the angular windows with more traditional box windows.  The owner also wanted to add faux windows to the roofline and reduce the number of windows on the north face of the building to allow for backroom operations.

ARB Member (and architect) John Quale took great umbrage at the concept of “fake” windows.  Despite the applicant concern that real windows could not be supported by the existing truss system, Mr. Quale was adamant about his desire that real windows be used.  He cited his “duty as an architectural professional” to speak up about such a travesty.  In addition he was concerned there would not be enough light in the backroom from the two windows that were targeted to remain.

While I am not an architectural professional, I do believe that the ARB purview should be limited to the visual impacts of the design NOT the functionality.  I understand there is a school of thought in architecture that form follows function.  Too often I see the ARB actions (and relegated parking requirements) where design is in conflict with function.

Pet Supply Shelves windowIn driving down US29 to the intersection with Greenbrier, one can see how such how conflicts between design and function are resolved. Pet Supply Plus has their front picture windows on US29 providing a great view of their shelving.  Would screened “fake” windows been so bad in this case?

Throughout Monday’s meeting, Mr. Quale continued to express what can best be described as an undercurrent of “architectural arrogance”.  When an applicant brought forward changes to an approved plan, Mr. Quale questioned what the original architect thought of the changes.  When informed the changes were being made by the construction professional, Mr. Quale was visibly upset. 

To his credit, ARB Member (and architect) Bruce Wardell corrected Mr. Quale suggesting it did not matter who prepared the plans, “the applicant could have a gorilla do it if the plan could be approved”.

The Free Enterprise Forum remains concerned that Albemarle County’s ARB regularly overreaches its somewhat limited authority and applicants have little or no recourse beyond not moving forward with projects.  One is left wondering what economic vitality projects have chosen not to locate in Albemarle County due to the twenty one entrance corridors and their overlay design restrictions.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org