Tag Archives: Charlottesville

2018 Forum Watch Top 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

top ten listPerhaps the best thing that can be said about 2018 was it was not 2017.

As our community is still dealing with the very real ramifications of August 2017, The Free Enterprise Forum remained focused on monitoring local government, reducing regulatory burdens, promoting market based solutions, protecting property rights, and encouraging economic vitality.

None of this could be accomplished without the generous support of our donors and our regular readers. Thank you.  As we complete our fifteenth year of operation, we remain vigilant, and “pleasantly” persistent.

Each year, we select the top ten blog posts for our year in review.  There were many other blog posts that reached honorable mention status.  I would be remiss if I did not thank our Field Officers Brent Wilson (Greene County) and Bryan Rothamel (Fluvanna County) for their significant reportage in 2018.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2018:

clip_image002#10 Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”  “ …Representatives of the volunteer rescue squad and Fire Departments also addressed the Board of Supervisors. Their message was clear – we are getting “no clear supervision” and it goes back and forth who we are to answer to.

Several other citizens asked that the Supervisors have the courage to back up and revert to how E911 worked since 2012 and then have a committee analyze how best to address E911 services in the future. One of the final public comments was there seems to be “a failure to communicate” in Greene County”

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

#8 Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”? “…At the end of the meeting, [Brandon] Collins presented a different pers

image.png

Brandon Collins

pective on the reports.  He admonished City Council to think big.  If they are really serious about fixing the housing affordability issue, they should stop depending on developers; they should do it themselves with their existing Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  Collins’ “Marshall Plan” might include $140 million dollar bond issuance dedicated simply to the creation of new affordable units that will stay perpetually affordable. When pressed by Councilor Wes Bellamy how the city might pay for that debt service, Collins admitted he had not figured that out yet but thought it could be resolved.”

#7 Delta Response Team Rescue Headed to Fluvanna …Fluvanna County will start with a new contract ambulance service this upcoming year.Delta Response Team (DRT), headquartered in Appomattox, was selected after a Request for Proposal (RFP) process was completed by the county. It will cost the county $438,000 for 24-hour services. The county budget $600,000 for FY19.  “We are not here to make a career service,” said Susan Walton, president of DRT.

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

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

#5 Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability “…So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?…”

See the source image#4 Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout “…The Free Enterprise Forum believes BRT is dramatically better than light rail, but we are not yet convinced that a mere two years after widening North US29, the community is willing to give up a lane on US29 for bus only access.  Since the jury is clearly still out regarding BRT, should we be planning this critical infrastructure piece with the station as the center?

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

#3 Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future  “…  Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.  There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.

Please let me explain….”

#2 Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal “…The Free Enterprise Forum has learned that eight of Albemarle County twenty-one Entrance Corridors fail to meet the state requirements for such designation.  Some of these have been in violation since inception in 1990.  This revelation, made by staff, calls into question the legality and enforceability of any ARB conditions placed on properties along the eight illegal entrance corridors….”

and the #1 post for 2019  Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy “…Albemarle’s Stormwater https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/no-rain-tax-logo.jpg?w=175&h=175Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department….Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

—————————-

But most of all THANK YOU, the readers and supporters of this blog and our work in Central Virginia.  Without your generous support, we would not exist, thank you!

BRING ON 2019!

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.

Advertisements

Thankful, Hopeful & Skeptical in Charlottesville

By. Neil Williamson, President

In this time of Thanksgiving, I have so much to be thankful for; unexpectedly, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is now on that list.

Please let me explain.

Late in last night’s Planning Commission work session, after hearing the Free Enterprise Forum concerns with the proposed comprehensive plan and the land use map, as it existed prior to Saturday’s meeting, Chair Lisa Green asked that the map and narrative they created be shared with the 4 members of the public in attendance.  Each of us took photographs of the map and narrative with the understanding these are just drafts.

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/image2.png?w=208&h=310

Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan Map Draft Before Saturday (11/17) Planning Commission Matinee Meeting

comp plan photo 2

Revisions to Charlottesville Draft Comprehensive Plan Map from Post Planning Commission Saturday Matinee Meeting (11/17)

Comparing the two images, I see hope for increased intensity, AKA density, in many nodes.

Green expressed a desire for folks to read the narrative- something I refer to as the “Intensity Spectrum”.  Staff attempted to type in new language on the fly during Saturday’s meeting – that is the image below – it will undoubtedly change but we like the direction it is headed.

We again see hope in the draft language that was captured includes the verbiage “Missing Middle Housing”.  The previous version went from high to low with very little room for middle housing.

Comp Plan Photo 4

It is our understanding that the Planning Commission will see staff’s rendition of the changes at their regular December 11th meeting but the documents will have already been submitted for the December 17th City Council meeting.  The Planning Commission will deliver an incomplete update of the Comprehensive Plan, the Community Engagement chapter is not yet drafted and the Land Use chapter is not yet complete.

Council will provide their comments on the draft and it will return to the Planning Commission for further meetings and refinements (and completion of the two unfinished chapters).

While I remain a healthy skeptic waiting to see the devil in the details, I sincerely appreciate the direction and conversations about making the CITY of Charlottesville a “Welcoming urban environment for all people”.

So I am thankful for the Charlottesville Planning Commission for listening to the public AND sharing the draft output from their Saturday matinee session.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

C-ville’s Height Slight Harms Affordable Housing

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments presented to Charlottesville Planning Commission November 20, 2018

I want to be encouraged, but I don’t know that I should be.

Earlier this year, City Council received the Housing Needs Assessment.  This study indicated the City needed over 3,000 affordable units added to the inventory to meet the current need.   One might think the Comprehensive Plan that was being drafted by the Planning Commission would seek to address this need by increasing density.  One might be wrong – in fact you may have done the reverse.

Based on our reading of the proposed fuzzy line maps, before Saturday’s meeting, you are designing a City with significantly fewer by right residential units than your current comprehensive plan.  We do not know what the by right density of the new plan compared with your current plan.  We again ask for that data before you move this forward to City Council.

As we imagealerted you to back in January  [Cville PC Paradox — Build Less & Increase Affordability], the plan reduces ‘by right’ building height (and therefore capacity) across nine of the City’s thirteen zoning districts.

Considering the importance of the “Missing Middle” Housing that we discussed  back in August [ Affordable Housing Policy Makes Building Affordable Housing Impossible], the Free Enterprise Forum is disappointed at the dominance of yellow “Low Intensity” land use that dominates the proposed map.

Two days ago, you held your ill timed Saturday afternoon work session  – which was required because you were unable to plan and  complete your work on schedule in the previous work sessions.   – I understand in that meeting you recolored the map to allow increasing “intensity” by right.  I do not know because I had other plans on Saturday afternoon [William & Mary vs. Richmond Football] and I missed your matinee program.

Neither does the rest of the public because as of 4 pm today, the map has not been changed on the website.

Absent any information for the public to review, we can only be hopeful that the map of your plan for growing Charlottesville will see the yellow move to higher intensity.

I beg of you to be honest with the public and tell them exactly what this plan, as drafted, will allow is  fewer units to be constructed without a special use permit (SUP).

The political reality of the day is if an SUP is required the project is DOA because a vocal NIMBY minority, sometimes citing community values, will be empowered to show up at the public hearing and stand in the way of the additional density that could help the City meet its growing housing needs.

A Planning Commission, worthy of the name, should be planning for a future for all its future citizens not just preserving the status quo.  Failing to properly allow and plan for growth in a land locked City, will result in a failing “World Class” City.

I do hope the new map will have more purple and more intensity.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: www.missingmiddle.com 

 

 

 

The Countdown — Time to Think About 2019

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recognizing today is the ‘Morning After’ Election Day 2018, it may seem premature to start talking about 2019.  It’s not.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the vast majority of the candidates for the 2019 races will make their decisions in the next 60 days.

That’s right, by the time you watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, who will be on the ballot in November (and the primaries) will likely already be determined.

Wait, we just had an election.

Yes, this is Virginia, we love elections so much we vote EVERY year.  What are we voting for in 2019?  So glad you asked — from Virginia’s Board of Elections:image

Some might look at that list (on the left) and believe this is not that important an election, we think otherwise.

While the Federal and statewide offices get a significant amount of publicity (and paid advertising), it is the local races that bring government home.  These are the elected officials you run into at the grocery store AND who control your property taxes, school spending as well as the majority of your land use decisions.

Who is up?

In addition to the House of Delegates, Virginia Senate, School Boards and Constitutional officers, here is the list for Board of Supervisors and City Council –

Albemarle County: Board of Supervisors Ann Mallek, White Hall; Rick Randolph, Scottsville; Norman Dill, Rivanna

Charlottesville:  Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer [important note Primary Date is June 11th]

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors Mozell Booker, Fork Union; Patricia Eager, Palmyra

Greene County Board of Supervisors David Cox, Monroe;  Michelle Flynn, Ruckersville; Dale Herring, At Large

Louisa County Board of Supervisors Willie Gentry, Cuckoo; Troy Wade, Louisa; Toni Williams, Jackson;

Nelson County Board of Supervisors  Thomas Bruguiere, Jr, West; Larry Saunders, South

Without question local (and state) government impacts your life.

The question is who will step up to fill these important leadership positions.

  • Will the current incumbents run again?
  • Will they have any opposition?
  • Who will step up?
  • Will there be a primary challenge?
  • Do you know someone who should run?
  • Should you run for office?

Once again we have more questions than answers but this much we do know – the candidates (and their families) will likely decide by NYE 2019.

The Free Enterprise Forum maintains an open door policy to talk with anyone regarding running for local office and what is required to serve.

As a non-partisan organization, we do not endorse candidates but we do support contested elections.  We believe uncontested elections make untested officials.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

The Hindsight Report Back in the News

The Free Enterprise Forum’s 2017 ‘Hindsight’ Report was mentioned in Allison Wrabel’s  Daily Progress  article this morning. 

For context, we are reposting our original post on the topic.  The Free Enterprise Forum welcomes the community discussion of the agreement.

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.

Charlottesville Engagement Enragement

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In private life, in order to be ‘engaged’ one person has to ask and another has to accept.   Things are not nearly as clear or complete in the public sector.

Charlottesville Planning Commission AND Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) are wrestling with the proper calibration of their independent public engagement efforts.  Hours of discussion and deliberation have been dedicated to not only with whom they engage but also the manner such engagement reaches (or fails to reach) underrepresented demographic targets.

For the Comprehensive Plan the Planning Commission has been using more traditional town hall style meetings and workshops, while almost concurrently the HAC is seeking City Council approval to spend ~$200,000 to conduct a much more involved public engagement process regarding their Housing Strategy Document.

Please let me explain.image

If you follow me on social media, you have seen my #SeatsAvailable posts from countless public meetings.

In the last year, there have been significantly more, and more diverse meeting attendees (especially in Charlottesville).  This is a good thing; but not everyone is coming to the meetings.

Much of the world of citizen engagement is now digital.  Released earlier today, the 2018 Granicus Benchmark Report analyzed 1.6 million emails, activity from 185 million citizen subscribers, and visitor behavior on over 400,000 web pages over a one-year period (June 2017June 2018).

“In today’s data-rich environment, public sector communicators are turning to digital platforms that generate real-time performance metrics and deliver insights that can enhance their approach to citizen engagement,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes. “Measured across 4,000 organizations, the Granicus Benchmark Report provides industry metrics for engagement metrics so that communicators can iterate on the strategies that are working in the public sector. Better engagement translates into better outcomes for organizations and their priorities such as program adoption, participation in public meetings, or voter turnout.”

 The Institute for Local Government defines six different types of public engagement:

imageBy defining the goal of the engagement helps determine which of these topographies best fit.

In my estimation, too often localities are in the public information /outreach mode, where they want to tell you what they are doing but are not truly listening to the response.

The other end of the spectrum is equally bad where elected (and appointed) officials are too fearful of the public response and seek to put a finger in the wind for every decision.  This is best represented in this chart by the sustained public problem solving.  In this case rather than leading, the elected officials are creating scapegoats to duck what statutorily is clearly their direct responsibility.

The Planning Commission has been working on community engagement with their Comprehensive plan work since early last year.  Starting in May 2017, the city held a series of community engagement workshops explaining the comprehensive plan process and seeking input from the public regarding the plan and the land use map.  The planning commission then held nine more public outreach sessions (July-August 2017) with more detailed maps and listening stations and a structured questionnaire.  After the initial public workshops, the commission took this public input and worked on adjusting the previous (2013) comprehensive plan with the new thoughts and concepts.

In May 2018, the commission held four identical public workshops in locations across the City. Last week, in a meeting with City Council, there was less than satisfaction regarding the level of public engagement with the plan especially with the low income community.  It was determined that an outreach document would be prepared to solicit feedback and some members of City Council (Wes Bellamy and perhaps others) would work to get that document created, printed, distributed, collected and collated in the next four weeks.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…..

Engagement is a critical part not only of the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan work but also the Housing Advisory Committee’s (HAC) Affordable Housing Strategy.  City Council and HAC will meet tomorrow (8/30) to discuss their outreach efforts.  They explain the import of such engagement to the effort:

engagement
In Charlottesville’s history, the failure of institutions and city government to be accountable to low-wealth communities, particularly communities of color, has taken many forms: violent suppression, structural oppression, neglect, half-hearted or insincere attempts that serve to manufacture consent, and well-meaning attempts that end up failing due to their assumptions, framework, and processes favoring those in power and resulting in lopsided and inaccurate information, community inaction, or community harm.
Housing is at the root of historical structural inequity and oppression in the United States, and it came to be this way deliberately. As we build a strategy to achieve a local housing landscape that is healthy, ample, high quality, and affordable, we must be equally deliberate in dismantling the dynamics and the structures that perpetuate continued inequity—structures that often go unnoticed by those of us who benefit from them or don’t directly experience their harm.
To that end, rather than relying on the existing power structure to set the narrative and define the discussion, the community engagement strategy must leverage community relationships and expertise to genuinely engage our community. This methodology is vital to the project’s success and to the quality and legitimacy of the final Affordable Housing Strategy.

The scope of the HAC public engagement plan is significantly more robust, active and expensive ($200,019) than the Planning Commission’s efforts.  The objective of this data collection is made clear in the HAC proposal:

The city will engage with a consultant to plan and execute the community engagement process, which includes community outreach and response, training of citizen-interns to engage peer-to-peer conversations within their communities, data collection, data analysis, information delivery, and stewardship. The consultant will be an advocate for eliciting, amplifying, and accurately reporting resident voices. . .

[scope of work includes]  . . . Design a community engagement process that will engage the most citizens in the most personal and most meaningful ways possible. The emphasis will be on proactively connecting and engaging with low-income residents, people of color, and others traditionally underserved, underrepresented, and/or overshadowed by citizens who are more vocal, affluent, politically involved, and deferred to.

Methods and activities could include the following:

  • community meetings (all meetings must include childcare and meals or refreshments)
  • door-to-door outreach
  • training of peer outreach workers to engage in peer-to-peer outreach that will leverage existing relationships and distribute communication efforts across the city
  • focus groups
  • distribution of self-guided discussion toolkits
  • tabling/interviewing at local gathering places, work hubs, and commercial spots
  • texting platforms for communicating with participants
  • use of social media and website

The Institute for Local Government describes three orientations of local government public engagement: Passive, Active or Sustaining.  Their experience (and ours) indicates that most local efforts to engage the public are one time events focused on one time issues a roadway (Bypass), climate provision, school budget, etc.  They advocate localities need to move toward a more sustained public engagement  and “embed” a capacity beyond these “one and done” efforts.

the benefits of sustained, effective and inclusive public engagement are significant. They include: better identification of the public’s values and ideas; more informed residents; improved local agency decision making and actions; and more public trust and confidence in local government.

In reviewing the Housing Advisory Committee Housing Strategy document, we believe this is significant outreach effort but wonder if such engagement is designed to be sustained.  Perhaps the HAC is seeing this as a pilot and if successful it could be easily reconstituted with the already trained peer-to-peer networks.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on budget line items such as the $200K HAC engagement plan. That is a value judgement for City Council to make.

We firmly believe that outreach opportunities should be provided to all citizens.

We also believe public engagement requires willingness to engage from all involved.  We are concerned that a lack of a specific, requested, action may be used to prove “The City is not listening”.

We also know, we are a representative democracy and that requires leadership not governing by survey/poll data.

You’ll never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.–David Mahoney Jr.

There is a time to listen and a time to lead, we hope Charlottesville’s leaders are able to discern the difference.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

————————————————-

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

 

 

 

Pencils and Improving Charlottesville NDS

Adapted from Comments to Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission regarding the NDS Efficiency Study 8/23/18

I sincerely appreciate the City providing the opportunity for public feedback on Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Review  study. The Novak document is very complete and candid in its survey data regarding the department and the related approving authorities:

  • The Tree Commission has 75% positive impact
  • City Council has a 55% positive impact
  • The Planning Commission has 67% negative impact.
  • 71% did not believe the application submittal process worked well
  • a full 80% found the review process not easy to understand.

The recommendations in the Novak report do not exactly correlate with the identified issues are worthy of consideration but there are three critical components that are outside the scope of this report that must be addressed by Council to fix this broken department – Accountability, Reduction in Review, and Philosophical shift.

The report outlines a number of metrics that should be tracked to better understand, identify and fix areas of inefficiency. While laudable, absent 1 individual who will be held accountable to the targeted goals – this report will do nothing more than sit on a shelf. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for direct, individual, public accountability.

Reduction in review – Looking at the chart in the back of the report, is every level of this review necessary or are some of these items designed more to prevent the last bad thing, rather than encourage the next great thing? The Free Enterprise Forum calls for a reduction in application review items.

20180823_151742Philosophy – Several years ago, we provided the NDS Department (and other local planning departments) with pencils that outlined what we believe their marching orders should be. I brought the few pencils I have remaining to you all tonight.

The “Permit us to Permit you” philosophy does not cut corners on review nor approves everything that comes in the door. It is much more a mortgage broker mentality – this application process is tough, but I will help you, my customer, get through it. “The Permit us to Permit you” philosophy requires leadership and engagement – two areas, according to your efficiency report that are currently lacking in NDS. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for City Council and the Planning Commission to endorse NDS role in helping citizens gain needed government approvals.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight, enjoy the pencils.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

————————————————-

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

Affordable Housing Policy Makes Building Affordable Housing Impossible

By. Neil Williamson, President

Back in 2005, when Albemarle County instituted its 15% inclusionary housing regulation on all new residential rezonings, Overton McGee, then Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity CEO stated “It was a good first step”.  I was quoted in The Daily Progress “You just made housing less affordable to 85% of new home buyers”.    My larger economic point seemed to be lost on the reported but time has proven this paradoxical prognostication to be correct.

Please let me explain.

Considering the previous Habitat CEO’s position on mandated 15% affordable housing requirements, it is interesting what the current Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity CEO, Dan Rosensweig said at an Albemarle County work session last week.  From my Twitter feed:

image

Recent news reports have highlighted the impact of inclusionary zoning.  The Economist Booming Seattle Struggles to Stay Affordable spoke of “the grand bargain”

Seattle’s proposed solution to this deadlock, unveiled in 2015, is known as the “grand bargain”. It would reduce restrictions and unleash building on big patches of city. In exchange, developers would have to reserve a few units for renting below the market rate or pay into an affordable-housing fund. Such schemes, known as “inclusionary zoning”, are increasingly common in progressive American cities. They can lead to more mixed districts and placate left-wing critics. But they are not without problems.

By reducing future earnings, inclusionary zoning acts as a tax on new development. If the affordability requirements are set too high, many new projects will not be built. Bill de Blasio, New York City’s progressive mayor, championed requirements that at least one-fifth of new units should be offered below the prevailing market rate. San Francisco sets the threshold as high as 30% and imposes a clutch of added “impact fees”. Developers complain that these fees suffocate all but the most lucrative projects—which then invite criticism as “luxury high-rises”.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County have heard the cry of building only high end product.  The perverse reality is that the affordable housing fees actually push against housing affordability.

Due to regulatory hurdles and outright prohibitions, there is a lack of price variety (and format) in the new products being constructed.  In Late July, Daniel Herriges of www.StrongTowns.org wrote of the oft mentioned ‘missing middle’ housing in his article “Why Are Developers Only Building Luxury Housing”.

Missing Middle housing—buildings containing anywhere from 2 to 19 units—can be a sweet spot when it comes to construction cost. Duplexes through fourplexes in particular are built in much the same way as single-family homes, but the cost of the land is distributed across multiple households. Even cheaper to build than a duplex or fourplex is an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). It’s no accident that a disproportionate share of America’s existing “naturally occurring” (i.e. without subsidy) affordable housing takes Missing Middle forms.

Unfortunately, we’ve pretty systematically outlawed the Missing Middle in many neighborhoods. Single-family homes are the only thing that can be built on 80% of residentially-zoned land in Seattle, 53% even in renter-friendly San Francisco, and 50% in Philadelphia, to name just a few cities. In suburbs, it’s common for over 90% of land to be zoned for single-family residences exclusively.

Robert Steuteville writing on www.CNU.org highlights the work of Dr. Arthur C. “Chris” Nelson of the University of Arizona regarding the market demand for the ‘Missing Middle’ housing:

This supply and demand mismatch is behind the need for “missing middle” housing, often built by small developers and builders. Meanwhile, the demand for large-lot single-family housing, the mainstay of the US building industry from the 1960s through 2008, is declining. Nelson’s research comes up again and again in discussions with thoughts leaders in small-scale urbanism. . .

. . .Nelson has been saying much the same thing for more than 10 years—yes, even before the housing crash—and he has been right so far. His numbers are based on demographics, demographic trends, market trends, and housing supply and construction data.

 

If we accept that the majority of the land available for development is designated to single family residential, and that there is a market demand for a different, more intense form of development, can regulations be relaxed to allow such increased density and perhaps increase the supply of missing middle (affordable) housing?

Over the last few years we have seen significantly more multifamily housing units come into Albemarle County Development Area housing mix:

image

According to Adam Beltz of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis is now considering fourplexes as part of their affordable housing solution:

In a cityscape dominated by single-family homes, a proposal to allow four-unit residential buildings virtually everywhere in Minneapolis is stirring strong and conflicting feelings among neighborhood leaders.

A draft of the city’s updated comprehensive plan won’t be published until March 22 or completed until December, but the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey were recently briefed on the high-level concepts, one of which is a historic rewriting of the zoning rules that would allow property owners to build fourplexes on any residential property in the city.

Middle Housing www.missingmiddle.com describes the fourplex as a medium structure that consists of four units typically two on the ground floor and two above with shared entry.  Typical unit size is between 500 – 1,200 square feet with a net density of between 15 to 35 dwelling units per acre.

How might such a proposal be received in the City of Charlottesville or Albemarle’s development areas?

  • How could reducing the regulatory requirements increase housing affordability?
  • Would increasing the developable area of Albemarle positively impact affordability?
  • Would relaxing Charlottesville’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations assist in providing a bulwark against gentrification and revenue for the existing homeowner?

We find ourselves agree with Albemarle Planning Commissioner Pam Reilly who last week said, “We are lacking an affordable housing policy to guide our decision making”.

If the community wants to address the market need for affordable, accessible housing, policies and regulations should permit, but not require, the market to respond to consumer demand for denser development AND redevelopment without mandated affordable units.

Ironically, getting rid of the affordable housing mandate will make housing more affordable.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

————————————————-

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

Photo Credit: www.missingmiddle.com

A New Charlottesville Parking Chapter?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Back in January, we spoke out regarding the long term parking problem the City of Charlottesville is choosing to ignore.

Currently, the existing garages are effectively full, with greater than 350 potential parkers on waiting lists for the opportunity to buy a monthly parking pass.

Commercial development activity continues in downtown with four prominent parking demanding projects currently in the pipeline. Conservative estimates place the new parking deficit [parking demand less parking provided] created by these developments to be 844 spaces [(386) Charlottesville Technology Center, (213) West 2nd Street, (160) Dewberry Hotel, (85) Vault Virginia].

Then this past week, Charlottesville cut a settlement with Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown to operate both downtown garages for 16 years.  The Daily Progress Editorial this morning (7/31) suggests “Parking Deal Buys Relief at Least for Now

As a matter of public policy — that is, providing parking for those who visit or work in Charlottesville and ending the uncertainty over whether parking would be reasonably available — the settlement has merit.

So the question is parking “a matter of public policy” and does the City have a responsibility to provide parking for those who work or live downtown?

Charlottesville enacted a parking action plan (January 2017-January 2020) that may remain as current policy but has been largely ignored by City Council.

image

Currently, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is considering their long term (20 year) comprehensive plan for the development of the City.  Other than the inclusion of the Parking Action Plan internal to the 2016 Economic Development report, the draft comprehensive plan is silent about parking. 

A portion of the Bonus Height/Affordable Housing Financial Analysis prepared by the Form Based Codes Institute and Partners for Economic Solutions was presented to City Council earlier this summer and included specific parking construction costs.

Parking is a major cost factor, averaging $5,000 per surface space, $20,000 per space in an above-ground parking structure and $32,000 per space in a below-ground structure. Surface parking is the least expensive option, by far, but it consumes a great deal of land

If we accept that there is not land space available for an 844 space surface parking lot in Charlottesville, the we can project the cost for “solving” the projected parking shortfall will be between $16.8 million and $27 million dollars.

imageThe long term parking shortfall, and Charlottesville’s ostrich like response to it, creates at least two likely outcomes:

1.  The City does nothing and the parking shortfall results in development projects (or existing businesses) failing due to lack of parking for employees or customers.

2.  The City recognizes the need for significant parking investment and dedicates significant resources to it.  How they might pay for such an expenditure is unclear.

One thing is clear, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

An idea that has been discussed is to require by code that any business with more than 25 employees has to submit a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan annually.  This is a written plan on how the business would mitigate their effect on parking and traffic congestion.  It might include employee incentives to use transit, carpool or bike to work.

Planning for the future parking needs, the Planning Commission is uniquely positioned to aid in this endeavor as it seeks to revise the City’s Comprehensive Plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the Planning Commission to draft a new chapter on Parking ad clearly state if the city is accepting the responsibility for providing parking or not.  This document is the clearest place to state this critical public policy.

Or they can choose to remain silent on the issue – either way it is a choice.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credits: City of Charlottesville, Community. curiosity.com

Charlottesville Needs Strong Voters

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

imageThe current question floating around Charlottesville City Hall centers around the concept of a strong mayor or a weak mayor form of governance.  While a majority of Council is seemingly disposed NOT to deal with this question now, the discussion is continuing.  In 2010, The Free Enterprise Forum advocated for such a discussion [Does Charlottesville Want To Elect A Strong Mayor?].  Today, we continue to believe the mayor discussion is healthy and useful, but it must also include the idea of a strong voter.

Please let me explain.

Today, each Charlottesville City Councilor is elected At-Large and then the Council votes amongst itself who will serve as the Weak Mayor. Rather than focusing the question of mayoral power, what if we instead focused on increasing the power of the individual voter.   The time has come for ward representation on City Council.

imageChanging from an at-large to a ward system is not a new idea.  In the late 1970’s there was an unsuccessful effort led by the NAACP.  Republican City Councilor (now radio host) Rob Schilling pursued such a change in the mid 2000s.  In 2006, several different maps of potential wards concepts were created by the City.

Local blogger Blair Hawkins who has  tracked this issue for many years links at-large elections to dilution of minority representation on council:

By itself At-Large is not enough to oppress blacks if blacks are 52% of the population. You need Annexation of white suburbs to dilute black power. Since the late 1800s black population has been fairly steady in the old town, called the inner city today. Under the Ward system, annexations would not matter much because the inner city would still have a representative on Council. Under At-Large the 80% whites determine all decisions and all discussion.

In February, Charlottesville Tomorrow hosted a panel discussion regarding the future of Charlottesville governance.  Joan MacCallum, the first woman elected to the Lynchburg City Council in 1978, spoke about their shift to the ward system:

“Until 1976, all seven members were elected at-large,” said MacCallum, “In that year, Lynchburg doubled its area by adding portions of Campbell and Bedford Counties. Both of these areas were overwhelmingly white, and it was recognized that this action diluted the black vote in Lynchburg.”

Lynchburg switched to a ward system to ensure there would be at least one African-American on Council.

MacCallum said the combined system has served Lynchburg well.

“We recognize that we do have a large black population, and it was necessary for them to be recognized,” MacCallum said.

To be clear, we do not believe the ward system is a panacea to all that currently ails Charlottesville.  We understand that many localities that have ward systems often complain about the number (and expertise) of candidates.  We are well aware of the turf battles that such representation can create.  In addition, we recognize the significant legal obstacles that exist to making this change.

The Free Enterprise Forum still believes you can have an elected Mayor AND Strong Voters (ward system).

We suggest an even number of ward elected councilors (4,6,8) and an at large elected mayor, who is also a member of Council.  We tend to believe neither extreme (Strong or Weak) is the exact fit for Charlottesville and a hybrid will likely develop.  Over the next few months, we hope the discussion will focus on how to get all of the citizens reconnected with Charlottesville and reengaged in the political process.

A good first step would be putting the elections more directly back into the hands of the governed.

Strong voters make strong cities.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

————————————————-

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

Photo Credits: City of Charlottesville, Blair Hawkins, Politicalpolicy.net