Tag Archives: Charlottesville

Fixing Charlottesville NDS Engine Light

By Neil Williamson, President

car-check-engine-lightIf you have ever driven with a “Check Engine” light illuminated, you have an idea of where Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Department has been for some time.

Everyone (land owners, neighborhood associations, developers, etc.) agrees that something is seriously wrong but no one knows specifically what it is or, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it – until now.

In 2016, the City of Charlottesville contracted the Novak Consulting Group to conduct an organizational efficiency study.  Their 152 page report reflects significant engagement by this consultant with not only City staff but also the various departmental “customers”.  For NDS that interaction included members of the development community as represented by the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe).  This type of 360 degree review is to be commended.

The report identifies structural issues with NDS and attempts to quantify the workload of the 37.5 Full Time Employees.  The report highlights five recommendations (number 26-30 of the report) to improve the NDS department.  Three of these recommendations are rather perfunctory, new software, workload tracking and fee schedule review but two of the recommendations stand out as bold and, perhaps, game-changing.  Unfortunately, in reviewing the staff responses to the recommendations (see below), the Free Enterprise Forum is not convinced the culture of NDS will change without significant outside influence.

 

RECOMMENDATION 27: Designate an Assistant City Manager as the owner of the City’s development review process and Chair of the Pre Development Meeting.

Currently all development related applications are processed and managed by staff within NDS.  Front desk staff perform intake, and then an application is assigned to appropriate Planning staff. The Planner assigned to the case reviews the application and sends hard copies of the plans to the appropriate department – such as Public Works, Parks – for comment. All comments are then sent back to the Planner who compiles them and provides them to the
applicant. Then it is the responsibility of the applicant to address all comments.
Unfortunately, this process does not provide an opportunity to resolve issues among comments.

When there is disagreement or conflict between comments, the applicant is often put in the position of mediating the resolution between departments or disciplines. The development review process in Charlottesville needs a designated owner. The owner needs to be in a position of authority in order to provide clear and consistent direction to all
development review staff, regardless of their department. This position should also be the face of the process to the development community. It is recommended that an Assistant City Manager serve in this role. [emphasis added – nw]

Staff response:

Staff agrees that a comprehensive review of the development process is necessary. Staff agrees that a consistent process that ensures responses to applicants that have been reached through a cooperative inter-departmental process is absolutely critical. Staff would like to further explore the efficacy of the model suggested and the connection to the City Manager’s office.

On the face of this recommendation it is clear that NDS lacks appropriate leadership.  This recommendation is not about personalities but about the need for a titular head that has the authority to get things done.  Reading between the lines of the somewhat tepid staff response suggests they acknowledge the lack of leadership issue but are not yet sure how such a reorganization might impact the functions (and individuals) in NDS.

 

RECOMMENDATION 26: Engage the development community in a process to identify development review reforms.

As noted, NDS under its current Director has made concerted efforts to engage more directly with neighborhoods as well as the development community (process improvements, community outreach efforts, communication efforts). Through some of these efforts a group known as the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRE) was formed. CADRE is comprised of
over 120 development community stakeholders (such as land owners, architects, engineers, builders, developers) with interest in the Charlottesville community. The group was formed in large part due to a common sense of frustration about the City’s development approval process.

To learn more about these issues, The Novak Consulting Group met with CADRE’s steering committee. The group discussed a series of key issues that they are working to address with the City generally, and NDS specifically:
• Disconnect between Council, Planning Commission, and Staff regarding vision and administration
• Need for strategic planning and urban design
• Poor interdepartmental communication and coordination
• Lack of decision-making authority among staff

It is evident by the stakeholder feedback as well as staff interviews, that the current relationship with the development community is strained. In order to improve the relationship and most importantly identify needed reforms in the development process, it is recommended that the City and the development community engage in an improvement exercise.

The staff response:

NDS initiated this recommendation in February 2016. As a matter of fact, the development community has folded the Developers Roundtable Forum started by NDS into a formal countywide interest organization. NDS Director meets with the organization from time to time. The idea is to discuss mutual ways of addressing improvement to the review process. The development review process will always be a work in process. The developer’s roundtable can be utilized to provide feedback and suggestions.

Amazingly, the staff response honestly believes the creation of CADRe was a part of their outreach to the community.  I attended the February 2016 NDS developer meeting – there were specific questions about the feedback loop.  At the end of the meeting, staff suggested it was a great meeting and the  group should get together again in another year.  A meeting once a year is not engagement – it is a checklist item.

Yes CADRe is a result of NDS — it was the absolute failure of NDS to effectively communicate with the development community resulted in CADRe’s creation.  Engagement is important.  The Free Enterprise Forum strongly encourages the NDS Director to be present at all CADRe meetings not just “from time to time”.

Charlottesville should be saluted for closely examining their organizational efficiency.   In many ways now, the city has a diagnosis of what is wrong.

The question now is if anyone (City Council? City Manager? Citizens? CADRe?) will actually advocate for the fix of the NDS problem or simply ignore the engine light until it is too late.

Stay tuned.

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Carpower.com

The Banana Boat and Charlottesville’s Proposed BPOL Reform

By. Neil Williamson, President

My first car was a yellow 1976 Ford Pinto Station Wagon 1977_Ford_Pinto_rear photo credit motoburg(fondly referred to as the ‘Banana Boat’).  Over time, I upgraded the stereo and dressed up the interior but it never really changed the fundamental fact that my teenage “ride” was a yellow Pinto Station Wagon.

This car came to mind as I watch Charlottesville consider important and proper changes to their Business Professional Occupancy License (BPOL) tax.

Please let me explain.

On March 6th, Charlottesville City Council will be considering changes to their BPOL Ordinance designed to promote fairness to mid-sized businesses.  Currently, any business operating in Charlottesville is required to pay BPOL based on its gross receipts. In fiscal year 2016, the BPOL tax generated $6.9 Million dollars in revenue for the City, 4.4% of all City revenue.  All 38 cities in Virginia charge BPOL.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is an unfair tax as it is based on gross receipts and has called for it repeal.

Staff provided several examples of the challenges under the existing ordinance:

Charlottesville businesses grossing $50,000 or less per year pay a flat fee of $35 and businesses grossing more than $50,000 pay based on a rate (established in State Code and as determined by the particular type of business) multiplied by annual gross receipts.

As an example, a veterinarian grossing $49,000 per year pays $35 for an annual business license. A veterinarian grossing $51,000 per year pays according to the standard rate for veterinarians and other similar professions ($0.58/$100), and would pay a rate-based fee of $295.80.

A graphic designer grossing $49,000 per year pays $35 for an annual business license. A graphic designer grossing $51,000 per year pays according to the standard rate for graphic designers and other similar professions ($0.36/$100), and would pay a rate-based fee of $183.60. The effect is that similar small businesses with very similar gross receipts end up paying very different fee amounts.

Meanwhile in neighboring Albemarle County, businesses earning up to $100,000 pay a flat fee of $50.  Therefore the business starting out (>$50,000 gross revenue) pays less in Charlottesville until they cross the $50K threshold and then they pay much more.

The Commissioner of the Revenue has reported of hearing significant concerns from taxpayers about what can be a dramatic jump in their BPOL costs as they cross the $50K gross annual threshold.  It is important to recognize that $50K in gross revenue is the point where many businesses may be at the tipping point between viability and failure.

As the staff report outlines:

In an effort to attract, retain, and encourage small businesses in the City of Charlottesville, the Commissioner of the Revenue and City Treasurer are proposing a modest change to the fee structure used to assess BPOL:

  • Businesses grossing $50,000 and below continue to pay $35 license fee
  • Businesses grossing $50,001 to $100,000 pay a $50 license fee
  • Businesses grossing over $100,000 pay the license fee based on applicable BPOL rate

This proposed change would benefit small businesses within the City of Charlottesville by reducing the license fee paid by businesses earning between $50,000 and $100,000. Staff estimates that approximately 450 businesses would benefit from this structural change. There would also be a comparable change in the technology business incentive as well. We are recommending that these changes take place for the upcoming assessment year of 2018.

The Commissioner and Treasurer would note that this is a relatively modest proposal that seeks to provide meaningful relief to small businesses in our community within limited statutory, system, and budget constraints.

These changes do not come without cost.  Staff estimates adoption of this proposal would potentially reduce BPOL revenue by $93,000.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has consistently called for the REPEAL of BPOL, we are supportive of the reforms contained in the proposal.  In addition, we commend the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Treasurer for thinking beyond the bean counter box and seeking reform.  When properly implemented, we see these changes as leveling the playing field with adjoining localities, increasing fairness for small to mid sized businesses and promoting economic development.  1979 pinto cruising wagon

We would be remiss if we did not remind the City that regardless of changing the paint job, adding new tires and a kicking new stereo, you are still driving a Pinto Station Wagon.

Yes, repeal would be better but we support these commonsensical BPOL reforms.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Motorbug.com, Autospost.com

$2 Million of Hydraulic Planning Funds Accelerated – Now What?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In late September, the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (CA-MPO) unanimously approved a resolution that read much like a list to the Santa Claus of transportation planning:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO Policy Board recommends to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization to immediately initiate the process for planning the transportation improvements of the Hydraulic and Route 29 intersection and nearby roadways as identified in the MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan (2040 LRTP) and to enact and implement the recommendations in coordination with comprehensive land use planning including but not limited to the following:

  1. Continue the facilitated collaborative panel process to determine a potential range of reasonable options for reducing congestion and improving mobility in the general area of the Hydraulic-US 29 intersection, including the option of doing nothing.
  2. Request the CTB to combine Hillsdale South and Hydraulic Intersection planning and preliminary engineering budgets into one consolidated planning and preliminary engineering budget.
  3. Request the CTB to amend the Six Year Improvement Plan (SYIP) to advance funding for small area planning and panel discussions to begin in FY17.
  4. Request the Secretary of Transportation to authorize the MPO to lead and use transportation financial resources to conduct a small area planning process for the Hydraulic Intersection general area of the City and County, such small area planning to include transparent citizen, business and community engagement.
  5. Request the Secretary of Transportation to begin the transportation planning process so that adequate information will be available to apply for Smart Scale funding by September, 2018 should a project or projects move forward from the collaborative planning process.  Emphasis added- NW

Christmas may have come early for the CA-MPO.  On November 3rd, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, Charlottesville and Albemarle County have received “accelerated” funds for the Hydraulic Road Area Study. In his letter to CA-MPO Executive Director Chip Boyles, Layne wrote:

We look forward to the continued progress and movement, specifically with the Hydraulic Road Area Study, in order to keep Virginia moving through the Charlottesville Area…By leveraging funds between the two current projects (Hydraulic Road and Hillsdale Drive South), we will be able to commit funding in the amount of $1,000,000 for the study in this current fiscal year (FY 2017) with an additional $1,000,000 available on July 1, 2017.

The Free Enterprise Forum sincerely appreciates the forward thinking of the CA-MPO working backwards from the time of the next round of competitive funding; we also have a great deal of angst about the methodology that might or might not be used in creating this “transparent process”.   We also understand the a total of $10 million dollars for “preliminary engineering” was included as part of the approved Route 29 Solutions package.

Back in May of 2014, we wrote about Playing Dominos with a the series of interchanges resulting in the US 29 Expressway.  We have many of the same concerns we raised in that post:

No one believes that the interchange at Rio is the end, it is like putting in a 4 inch pipe on a 2 inch line, while the water will move freely on the larger connector it really does little good for the overall velocity of the water until you expand the whole line.

It is strategically important to recognize the proposed Shucet Solution is being offered as an all or nothing opportunity with a time deadline.  He (and the McAuliffe Administration) knows that is if  Domino #1 falls and Domino #2 [Hydraulic] starts to tilt – the eventual expressway will be well on its way to completion.

Once these first two dominos fall, we will start to see the calls for access management and more “grade separated intersections”.  The “depressed express lanes” will start at the Wal-Mart at Hilton Heights Road and will logically terminate with a set of flyover exit ramps to 250.

Currently the State has found the proper leverage points to “facilitate” a solution on the Charlottesville area.  The timing, strategy and tactics they have used have been nothing short of amazing.  They held an advisory panel of opinion leaders without a single vote or test for consensus, they truncated the timing of the process to elude the July 1 deadline of HB #2 that requires project prioritization and they are poised to get Charlottesville to give up almost two decades of opposition to the highly disruptive Hydraulic/US29 Interchange. 

Chess Master Bobby Fisher once said, “Tactics flow from a superior position”. Even when it is not in the best interest of the community, one must recognize the excellent gamesmanship exhibited by both Shucet and Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

Well played, gentlemen, well played indeed.

We sense gamesmanship is again at work in this acceleration process.  With the new “accelerated” funding will the CA-MPO reach out to other major users of US 29 for the panel discussions?  Considering three corners of the Hydraulic intersection are n the City of Charlottesville and one is in Albemarle County, who will drive the small area planning?  How will the City and County Planning Commissions be engaged?  Or will they?    Considering the careful wording of the CA-MPO resolution is there any community or political support for another grade separated interchange on US 29?

As usual we have more questions than answers.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson


Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org.

 

Is The Jury Still Out on Albemarle Courts Relocation?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tonight (10/24) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will take “public input” regarding the albemarle-courthousepossible relocation of their courts system.  Of the five options on the table, all but one keeps the courts in the City of Charlottesville. While the Free Enterprise Forum would like to have a favored option, we do not believe the case has been made for any option — considering how far along the process is, we are astonished at the basic questions that remain unanswered.

To review here are the five options:

OPTION 1: DOWNTOWN/LEVY EXPANSION
OPTION 2: RELOCATE COUNTY & CITY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 3: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 4: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 5: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY SITE

As we examine the decision matrix provided by the county, we have many more questions than answers.

Here are our top ten inquiries:

  1. Has the city offered any economic incentives to support any of the City based options? (see last week’s blog post)
  2. Why does option 1 (stay downtown) cost $12,500,000 more than building in option 5?
  3. Why does it cost $18,000,000 to put the General District Court at the County office building when it appears that most of the infrastructure is already there?
  4. If you build a new county admin facility, where will it be located and, how much does it cost?  Where is that cost shown?
  5. Do options 2-5 factor in the lost property tax revenue for whatever parcel is acquired?
  6. The matrix seems to indicate that options 2-5 strongly support the County’s strategic redevelopment/urban place making priorities.   Doesn’t that really depend on where the County offices are built and how?  It could eat up a bunch of property in the urban area and create little long term value.
  7. Will option 5 allow a mix of uses on their site?  What of creating affordable housing over top of the new county offices?
  8. It seems that you are assuming any new construction by the County in the County has high economic development value.  Why?  What assumptions have been made to draw that conclusion?
  9. Is taking urban county property off the tax rolls good for economic development? Will the development area be expanded to replace this lost land?
  10. Why is the construction risk higher for option 1 than any of the other options?

The public input offered can only be as good as the information provided to them to base that input.  We forwarded these questions to Albemarle County early last week and they indicated they hoped to have answers in their presentation tonight. If that is the case, the public will have limited time to process the information before the public input session closes.

Regardless, these questions need answers before anyone should make a decision on the future location of the court.

The jury is not “still out” — the full argument has yet to be presented.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Albemarle County

Is Charlottesville the $17.86 Million Court Jester?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Imagine you are a mayor or a City Manager, if a major employer and economic driver in your city was poised to leave, how would you respond?

Perhaps its just me, but I would likely fight like heck to keep them in the city.  It is much easier to retain a major employer than to attract one.

But what if the employer is actually an arm of a neighboring government, should that matter?

What if that neighboring government annually gives your city millions in revenue sharing dollars, does that enter into the equation?

As most readers know, Albemarle County is evaluating five options for the needed expansion of their courts system.  The Free Enterprise Forum is currently reviewing the cost analysis provided by Albemarle and will weigh in on Monday (10/24) prior to the public input meeting regarding our thoughts on the various options.

Only one, the most expensive, of the five options keeps the courts in their current position in Charlottesville’s Court Square.Image result for Court Jester

This summer, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce issued a report: An Economic Assessment of the Current Unified Court Square.  The report found $34 million in salaries could be tied to the courts and the related legal enterprises.  Further the report highlighted $1.6 million in employee meals spending and another $3 million in “other court attendee spending” . Accepted at face value, the combined courts complex has in excess of $38 million dollars in economic impact.

According to the Chamber report:

    • 45.9% of all 2015 General District Court hearings are Albemarle cases
    • 43% of Juvenile and Domestic Relation cases are Albemarle cases
    • 73.9% of the Depositions are Albemarle cases.

Allow me a little cocktail napkin math – A conservative estimate of the impact of Albemarle pulling both courts out of Court Square would be 47% of the case load.  Cocktail napkin math (not a true arithmetic discipline) projects the annual economic impact of moving both courts to be up to $17.86 million dollars (47% of $38 million).

With almost $18 Million dollars on the table, one has to ask – Where is the City of Charlottesville?

Where is the economic development arm that has supported businesses relocating to the city in the past?

Considering the documents released by Albemarle yesterday indicate keeping the courts in court square is the most expensive option ($42.4 million), shouldn’t the city make any offers NOW before the Board of Supervisors hears from the public and chooses to literally “leave town”?

Perhaps Charlottesville is already having such discussions with Albemarle – if so, the public should know.

If Albemarle decides to bring $17.86 million of ‘County’ economic activity back to Albemarle, Charlottesville may end up looking as wise as the Court Jester this Halloween.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: dinardaily.net

C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

By. Neil Williamson, President

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

As a part of the “six fixes” presentation Werner included #5

6) Widen the section of Rt. 29after Hol lymead Town Center       to fix the bottle neck,   & improve the intersection at  ...

Well, not so fast.

Even with all this Charlottesville seems ready to pull a Hydraulic Houdini to make the project disappear.

Last week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s lack of excitement regarding a possible small area plan for the intersection:

“I believe that, compared to the other small-area plans, this would be least prioritized,” commission Chairman John Santoski said. “I don’t think we want to invest a lot of time and energy in a small-area plan here when we have other places that we know need the attention.”

It is interesting contract considering Tubbs’ May 20, 2014 dispatch just prior to the MPO endorsement of Route 29 Solutions:

The Charlottesville City Council informally has endorsed a $203 million package of transportation projects to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29, including $10 million to begin plans for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road.

“It is a major connecting piece for the whole network and I think we don’t want to make it seem like it’s not a high priority even though it is further down in the pipeline,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

The idea of the Hydraulic Houdini appeared in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of last week’s Charlottesville PC field trip:

The Virginia Department of Transportation currently has allocated $10 million each for study of a future grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That money is not available until 2019, and it is possible a future administration could reprogram the funds to other projects or other years.[Emphasis added-nw]

So what has changed? 

Where are the supporters with their “Real Solutions Now” placards as the City performs the Hydraulic Houdini?

Could it be now that property is being sold and the Western Bypass is beyond resuscitation, the goal has been met?

While we have steadfastly opposed the Expressway [even calling for a veto of Places29 (which passed unanimously)] we are shocked to see the “solutions” proponents so quickly abandon one of their pillars.

Perhaps now, in hindsight,  we see the “integrated” transportation plan for what it really was — not an innovative effort to improve US29 congestion but a savvy political alternative to eliminate three stop lights and, more importantly,  derail any bypass for at least a generation.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits:  Piedmont Environmental Council

Singing In The Rain! Albemarle Rain Tax Going Away!

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has long expressed concerns regarding the Singing in the Rain1stormwater fee AKA “Rain Tax”.  But now we have reason to join Gene Kelly and be “Singing in the Rain”.

Please let me explain.

Across all localities, we have steadfastly supported funding  stormwater programs through the general fund [Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority]

Since 2013, in both Albemarle and Charlottesville a great deal of educational effort was made to gain an understanding of the import of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and a divisive community conversation regarding who was responsible for water “pollutants” and who would pay was pitting farmers against development area residents.

The Albemarle County staff even prepared a lovely video outlining the new unfunded mandates (they do not refer to them as such) as well as two of the three options currently under consideration: stormwater utility fee and a service District:

Water Resources Video

Well, Nevermind.

 

In a March 4, 2016 e-mail to the Stormwater Advisory Committee, Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper wrote:

You should be aware that staff will be making the following recommendations to the Board:

· accept the 10-year Program Plan as recommended by the Advisory Committee

· defer moving forward with developing and implementing a dedicated funding mechanism [emphasis added – nw]

What the email revealed, and some thought all along,  – Albemarle (and likely Charlottesville) are much better off on the mandated stormwater requirements than originally thought.

In late 2014, staff projected the costs to be nearly $2.5 Million a year.  During the preparation of Albemarle County’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL  Action Plan they found they would receive credits for the many stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – both private and public – that were already built.  Harper explains:

While the County is required to achieve 5% of its long-term required pollutant reductions by July 1, 2018, the current status of reductions is as follows:

pollutant reductions achieved as percent of total, long-term requirement
phosphorus 68%
nitrogen 99%
sediment 137%

All (100%) reductions must be achieved by 2028. As you can see, we are theoretically complete with required nitrogen and sediment reductions and two-thirds complete with phosphorus reductions. [emphasis added-nw].

Wait a minute, where is the parade?

Albemarle has already met the 2028 pollutant reduction goal for 2 out of 3 pollutants!

Why wasn’t there at least a media release trumpeting the good stewardship of Albemarle landowners?

Sure there is still important work to do on the phosphorous levels but the cost for this work is SIGNIFICANTLY ($2,000,000 annually) less than the original TMDL program.  Harper explains:

While we will continue to proactively achieve pollutant reductions through our capital program (in fact, we just received a DEQ SLAF to support a stream restoration project), the need to instantly and dramatically expand the program has greatly diminished. We’ve revised the estimated cost to implement the TMDL program as $500,000 per year, recognizing that this may change in the future. The lower total program cost makes it more difficult to justify investing in a discrete, dedicated funding mechanism at this time.

singing in the rain broadwayDuring the busy stressful  budget season, it is nice to have a reason to smile and enjoy the inevitable spring showers.

The Free Enterprise Forum wonders how Charlottesville, with their existing stormwater fee, is doing on their plan’s objectives and if soon citizens might be looking for City Hall to repeal Charlottesville’s Rain Tax.

Keep your eyes to the skies.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: MGM Studios, Albemarle County,  behindthefootlights.blogspot.com  

Restrictions in Charlottesville’s West Main Down Zoning May Further Gentrify the Neighborhood

By Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will hold their last meeting of the year and have the first reading of the West Main Street Downzoning.  This will be the final meeting for DedeHujaMayor Satyendra Huja and Vice Mayor Dede Smith.

There have been rumors that this Council may dispense of a second reading and enact the ordinance – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that would be a huge mistake and remains hopeful that the new council will have the opportunity to vote down this ordinance in the name of affordable housing.

Please let me explain.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading a great deal about rental housing economics.  A recent Harvard study showed that the homeownership rates dropping while the renter households increased.  The media has been very interested in the increase in the cost of rental units and its impact on the middle class.  Considering the proposed downzoning on Charlottesville’s West Main Street, one only needs to look to the larger cities to see how land use restrictions can impact the fabric of the community.

image

Interestingly, the Harvard study did not go into the reasons for the increases in rental costs.  Fortunately, The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote recently about Why it’s so hard to afford a rental even if you make a decent salary

This chart, from a report on America’s rental housing from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies published today, illustrates that only about 10 percent of our recently added rental apartments would be affordable to the nearly half of renter households in America who make less than $35,000 a year:


Note: Rents based on 30% of income affordability standard. Sources: US Census Bureau, 2015 Survey of Market Absorption, 2015 CPS. Harvard JCHS.

Badger’s article, unlike the Harvard study does speak to the reasons the rent for new apartment housing is increasing:

The number of renter households in the top 10th of the income spectrum rose 61 percent over that decade, more than for any other group. So developers are not simply building luxe apartments no one wants to rent.

But they’re also responding to the worrisome dynamic that we’ve made it very, very difficult in many cities to construct market-rate housing that would be affordable to the middle class or modest renters. It’s economically challenging for developers to create new apartments the median renter could afford — at about $875 a month — while covering the costs of constructing them.

Height limits, parking requirements and zoning restrictions all push up the cost of construction. So do lengthy design reviews and legal battles with neighborhoods opposed to new development. Developers must also build at the densities communities allow, and in the limited places where they allow higher density. And if a given parcel of land is only zoned for about five stories of apartments, those apartments may have to command $2,500 a month each to make the project profitable. Emphasis added-nw

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s New York Times column entitled  “Inequality in the City” also identifies New York’s land use regulations as a major factor in increasing rents.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

The good news is that this is an issue over which local governments have a lot of influence. New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else. And its current mayor understands that.

But will that understanding lead to any action? That’s a subject I’ll have to return to another day. For now, let’s just say that in this age of gentrification, housing policy has become much more important than most people realize.

For all the lip service paid to affordable housing, it will be most interesting if this last meeting of this Charlottesville City Council will addresses this question before they exacerbate the situation with even more costly regulations.

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:  City of CharlottesvilleCharlottesville Tomorrow

C-ville’s ‘Stagnant Status Quo’ — using History as a Growth Control Tool

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

1997 BMWIn my garage sits a 1997 car with well over 200 thousand miles on the odometer.  It has long ago started to show its age with the telltale drooping headliner and magical mystery electrical short or two.  While the passenger side widow does not go up; the windshield wipers work (they just don’t turn off).

The car is old, and in need of some repair,  but is it historic?

Should the government have the right to tell me I can’t replace it for a more reliable machine?

If not, why should the government have that ability to limit my property rights with historic designations?

Please let me explain.

According to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s article by Sean Tubbs:

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review indicated Tuesday (1117) it will protect two buildings from demolition on West Main Street, including one that houses the Blue Moon Diner.

“Every house that we demolish on this street lessens our argument for keeping any of them,” said BAR member Carl Schwarz.

Developer Jeff Levien sought permission to take down buildings at 512 and 600 W. Main St. to make way for a new mixed-use building. Both were built in the late 19th century.
He is proposing a new four-story building with ground floor retail and with rental apartments on the higher levels. That height would be consistent with the proposed West Main rezoning changes pending before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

“Although these buildings are old and no one is going to dispute the age of these buildings, they are no longer part of the character of West Main Street,” Levien said Tuesday. “They are ripe for demolition and on an underutilized site and they no longer have any function for the tenants that are there.”

Under Levien’s proposal, the portion of 512 W. Main St. that makes up the front room of the Blue Moon Diner would be retained and incorporated into the new building. The owners of the diner supported the idea of demolition.

The city’s historic resources planner said she could not recommend demolition.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have a position on this specific request but we believe this situation shines light on a policy question regarding whether historic preservation should be used as a growth control tool?

While some argue historic preservation overlay districts (and similar tools designed to limit property rights) increase property values, we see them as yet one more expansion of government and stripping of property rights.  We are not surprised many of the cities most often cited have separate, distinct historic preservation commissions with dedicated city staff to support the work of the commission.

Architectural Critic Ada Louise Huxtable of the The Wall Street Journal asked a most appropriate question in her 2004 review of the so called “Lollipop Building” proposed demolition:

The most basic preservation question is not being asked at all. What will be lost, and what will be gained?

The proposal being rejected out of hand is a promising solution by a talented young American practitioner that will reclaim an abandoned building of debatable merit for a desirable cultural facility…

There is a great deal more at stake than this one building. When preservation distorts history and reality in a campaign of surprising savagery, it signals an absence of standards and an abdication of judgment and responsibility. It has lost its meaning when we prefer a stagnant status quo. [emphasis added-nw]

In the West Main case study Huxtable’s question “What will be lost and what will be gained?” certainly rings true.

In a city dedicated to affordable housing, how does restricting housing unit supply impact the price of already existing units?

So the question remains, what difference can we discern between old and historic?

Cities if they grow and thrive will continually remake themselves over and over again.  Adaptive reuse can play a part in historic preservation but should be done at the will of the owner, not the demand of the government.

Blind devotion to historic preservation will perpetuate Huxtable’s “stagnant status quo” and restrict economic development as well as individual economic advancement.

Perhaps if as every historical protection overlay is initiated, all property owners were provided immediate local property tax abatement, cities would be less eager to engage in growth control via historic preservation’s restriction of property rights.

If the City of Charlottesville deems a structure to be of such significant historic value that they want to control the property use, they should buy it.

Otherwise, the city should allow property owners to invest in the city, meet city building and zoning code and use his or her property to the highest and best use.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Neil Williamson, Docstock.com

December Downzoning of West Main Street?

By. Neil Williamson, President

While appearing to be preparing to celebrate the holidays as usual, Charlottesville has aggressively pushed forward their agendas to allow the current lame duck City Council play the role of the Grinch who stole Christmas by downzoning Hooville’s West Main Street just days before Christmas (12/21) and ten days prior to the end of their lame duck term.

Please let me explain.

Back in October (10/13) the City Council and Planning Commission held a joint public hearing regarding changes to the zoning on West Main Street.  This history of this zoning change goes back to the form based code discussions and the West Main Steering Committee.  As is often the case, many landowners were unaware of these City meetings and learned of the impactful changes for the first time when the City sent notices to all 114 property owners in the area.

Much of this ordinance is in reaction to the recent developments on West Main Street [especially The Flats complex]– that were approved by the City and the Board of Architectural Review.

The ordinance creates two new zoning districts separated by the railroad bridge (West Main Street –East and West Main Street –East) and squeezes the potential building size by increasing reducing building height.  Chris Suarez reports in The Daily Progress:

Currently, the zoning for the corridor is divided from north to south. Buildings on the southern side can reach as high as 101 feet if the council grants a special use permit. Development on the northern side has a maximum height of 60 feet but can go as high as 70 feet if a special use permit is secured.

The zoning ordinance as proposed would limit new buildings on the eastern end of West Main to be no taller than 52 feet. New structures on the western end — where developments such as The Flats are located — would be restricted to 75 feet.

While much of the allowable density has not changed, the height changes have effectively eliminated achieving high density with market sized units.  Built on community aesthetic desires, this height adjustment is clearly a “backdoor” downzoning.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Planning Commission decision:

“The proposed zoning amendments seek to alleviate the concerns revolving around development in the West Main corridor by establishing clear building envelopes, reducing allowable heights and encouraging adaptive reuse of existing buildings with reductions in parking requirements,” said Carrie Rainey, the city’s urban design planner. …

…A possible future for another site on West Main was revealed when an attorney expressed concern the changes would limit his client’s development opportunities.

“The details need more attention and there is more work to be done on this ordinance,” said Maynard Sipe, an attorney who represented a potential developer for land currently occupied by the Blue Moon Diner, a convenience store and a vacant lot.

Richard Dreyfuss, who also worked on the West Main streetscape, said the prospective property owners of that site want to build homes for up to 50 to 60 residents but was concerned that might not be possible under the rezoning.

When the issue was scheduled to go to Council (11/2), it was pulled from the agenda and kicked back to the Planning Commission for additional public input.  Now the commission is scheduled to hold an additional public hearing on December 8th.

Our concern is the speed and timing of the ordinance’s return to Council.  The City Council has put this on their December 21st meeting and despite a unanimous vote to defer the first reading on 11/2,  sources indicate that Council may waive their customary (but not legally mandated) second reading of the ordinance and act on the ordinance ten days before the new City Council is seated.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the current rushed schedule placing the decision the week of Christmas short changes the citizens and the land owners and hopes that this Council will have the wisdom to pushing their final downzoning decision into 2016 and the new Council.

While we will likely not agree with the downzoning, perhaps, if we can agree on a proper decision date,  we can find  a happy ending [with roast beast].

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

 

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

Photo Credits: Cat in the Hat Productions