Tag Archives: city council

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

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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

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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.

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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

Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”?

By Neil Williamson, President

Former Charlottesville City Council candidate and Public Housing Advocate Brandon Collins is energetic and passionate, but he is rarely described as optimistic or even jubilant.

Late in Monday night’s (6/18) City Council meeting he was both as he called for Charlottesville to give up on developer incentives that produce precious few affordable housing units and instead launch a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing to meet the current shortfall of 3,318 units.

Please let me explain.

Council received two important, somewhat disconcerting,  housing reports.  Prepared by Partners for Economic Solutions, the housing needs assessment was blunt in its analysis of current and projected market conditions.  It concluded that the city had a current need for 3,318 affordable units, growing to 4,020 units in 2040. The reasons for these conditions were summarized:

The forces creating this affordability crisis and impeding fair and affordable housing include:

• The city’s constrained supply of developable land supply limits the potential for new residential construction.

• More than 200 year-round housing units have been diverted to short-term transient rentals through Airbnb and other leasing services.

• High land and development costs limit the market’s ability to build new units that could rent at levels affordable to households at less than 60 to 80 percent of AMI.

• Federal funding for construction of new affordable housing and for Housing Choice Vouchers has not kept pace with the growing need. Public housing funding to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority includes almost no support for renovating existing public housing.

• Zoning policies such as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, setback requirements and maximum residential densities can prevent more intensive development of the city’s limited land resources. Community resistance to change leads to policies that prioritize preserving existing single-family neighborhoods over the development of new affordable housing.

• The lack of predictability in the City’s development approval process has a chilling effect on developers considering projects that require City Council and Planning Commission approval. A last-minute decision can scuttle or significantly delay projects in which the developer has proceeded in good faith, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

• The approval process is expensive and time-consuming, adding directly to the total development costs and ultimate housing prices.

• The tight housing market allows landlords to discriminate against low-income households with limited financial resources, spotty or no credit histories, arrest records, children, housing choice vouchers or other perceived risk factors.

• Housing affordability for many households is an income problem. Low levels of education, limited skills training, inadequate public transit and difficulty finding quality affordable child care can prevent individuals ability to reach financial self-sufficiency.

With this report in hand, the folks at Partners for Economic Solutions examined the height bonuses currently under consideration in both the Strategic Investment Area and the Comprehensive Plan.  The concept explored was how many units could be provided and at what level of affordability.

The very detailed report included carrying costs, a 7% profit margin as well as other development costs.  This profit margin was explained as necessary or the project would not gain investors – they would instead put their money into other projects with a better return on investment.

Development costs are impacted by several factors, but most significant are the style of construction and the type of parking. Height has a direct impact on costs with lower-cost wood-frame construction limited to four stories. A fifth story can be added if the first floor is constructed in concrete rather than wood. Above five stories, most apartment buildings are constructed on concrete or steel and concrete at a much higher cost per square foot.

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.

The model assumed up to four stories of development would be served by surface parking with taller buildings requiring structured parking.

The analysis also suggests a limited ability for height bonuses to secure committed affordable housing units. Generally speaking, Charlottesville rents do not support the construction of mid-to high-rise residential buildings with the exception of student housing adjacent to the University of Virginia grounds, high-end condominiums and possible niche products such as luxury senior housing. Five-story structures are feasible only at the higher rents achievable in Downtown neighborhoods.

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In conclusion, the report found that if density is the only incentive, based on market conditions, it does not work.   Providing perhaps 15% of the incremental increase in units @ 60% AMI or 10% of the incremental increase @ 50% AMI.   The consultant went so far as to say, “some of the Planning Commission concepts have no value to the developer; it is NOT an incentive”.

After this well presented and documented report was presented, Councilor Kathy Galvin said,

This would depress a hyena

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said, “This is bad”, and continued to express concern that the economic analysis included a profit margin for the developer.  She contended that until we change that conversation we are never going to fix this.  She said that if you are willing to house just a few people at a time – that’s not a direction I support.

Councilor Mike Signer called out Albemarle County’s role in the housing affordability issue.  He indicated the politics of increasing density is very tough highlighting his affirmative vote in the 3-2 decision to rezone 10th and Jefferson.  He also pushed back on the contention that a profit margin did not matter.

Vice Mayor Heather Hill called out the Air BnB taking up some of the Accessory Dwelling Units are being pulled out of affordable housing stock.

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Brandon Collins

At the end of the meeting, Collins presented a different perspective 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.

Beyond the ironic title “Marshall Plan”, the Free Enterprise Forum has several questions.

  • If providing significant affordable units was not economically feasible with a 7% profit margin does the loss of that 7% make the economics work?
  • Considering the current political climate in Charlottesville, could a $140 million bond be supported by the citizens?
  • Would this council support the tax increases needed to service the debt issuance?
  • Does addressing Affordable Housing head on start to address some of the other socioeconomic challenges in the City?
  • Could this program actually increase the demand for affordable housing?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.  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 Credit: TV10

Business Vitality Sustains Better Communities

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In recent weeks, we have heard several calls to slow economic development and advancement in our community.  Many of these calls are accompanied by concerns of gentrification, income inequality and economic fairness. These calls have manifested themselves in vocal opposition to pro-business policies.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes a flourishing business sector is mission critical to creating a vibrant community; beyond the financial benefit a diverse, successful business community generates a positive, accepting, thriving community.  image

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released the 2017 Sales tax data.  This empirical data does not capture all local economic activity but provides an objective metric to the overall health of the economy.

The reality is, using a ten year lens, all of our localities have increased their sales tax base.  The percent increase is largest in those areas which previously had very little retail but all localities see growth in the last decade.

It is into this context, that I read this morning’s Washington Post opinion piece by economic writer Robert SamuelsonThe political consequences of slower growth”.  In his piece, Samuelson defines the import of economic growth:

The role of economic growth in advanced democracies is not mainly the accumulation of more material goods. By any historical norm, even today’s poor are staggeringly wealthy. Economic growth plays a more subtle role. It gives people a sense that they are getting ahead and are in control of their lives. It serves as the social glue that holds us together and counteracts — to some extent — the influences of race, class, religion, ethnicity and geography, which drive us apart. emphasis added-nw

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the same socioeconomic theory works on the local level and has a correlated counter theory.See the source image  The higher the citizen confidence in their local economy regarding opportunity as well as job growth, tensions between often competing factions are reduced.

If however, the political environment highlights the divisions between groups and accentuates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, then despite economic positives, citizen confidence generally drops and a drop in economic vitality soon follows.

Earlier this month, Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy was quoted by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chiding an applicant about a requested density increase in the West2nd rezoning:

“Some would say you have made a lot of money in this city and because you have already made so much, maybe you could give one back to us,” Bellamy said.

Later in the month, in a presentation to the Charlottesville’s Housing Summit City Principal Planner Brian Haluska provided an inadvertent counter to Bellamy’s Anti-Profit position:

A developer that does not make a profit is a developer that won’t be around for long

Profit has a place in our economic growth engine.  Absent the opportunity to add value, why would investors put their resources at risk.  Absent cooperation from the localities, market demanded projects (residential and commercial) will be financed and developed ‘by right’ making the well funded vision of localities comprehensive plans nothing but a mirage.

Samuelson’s piece concluded by projecting the influence a declining rate of economic growth has on society:

We should also remember the larger role played by the economy in shaping the nation’s political and social climate. Unless we are able to raise the rate of economic growth — a task whose inherent difficulty ought to be obvious by now — we face an increasingly contentious and politically strained future.

We can expect intensifying competition among Americans (the rich and the poor, the young and the old, cities and states, businesses and governments) for ever-larger shares of the nation’s slow-growing income. We’ll also miss the muffling effect that higher economic growth has on the nation’s other conflicts and grievances.

While I may differ regarding the verbiage “muffling effect”, the sentiment is clear; a community that has economic growth tends to be more cohesive, collaborative, congenial, and accepting.  The community that lacks such economic vitality tends to be more combative, restrictive and protectionist.

The question for our communities is do we want to spend resources fighting for “our” slice of the pie or should we work together to increase the size of the community pie?

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: housedems.ct.gov

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.

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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

“Snob Zoning” Request Returns to Charlottesville City Council?

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

Well, she is at it again.

Last week, Smith  strong armed the panel into considering a proactive downzoning in opposition to the wishes of the property owners.

Despite a majority of Councilors indicating their opposition to the rezoning, they were bullied into a public hearing process that will likely result in significant staff work, unrealistic citizen expectations as well as potential legal liability.

In The Daily Progress article written by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs, Jim Tolbert, Director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services is quoted:

“Essentially, they are asking for the properties on Stribling, Crestmont and Shamrock to be downzoned,”

The reality is this is not a new issue.  The neighborhood association has been attempting to get these properties rezoned since at least 1999.

DEDE_portrait_200Perhaps most troubling was Councilor Smith’s dismissive attitude regarding the property owners wishes (and their property rights).  According to the Daily Progress:

Tolbert said the rezoning is opposed by 16 out of 23 residents of Crestmont Avenue.

Councilor Dede Smith, a Fry’s Spring resident, said that half of those owners do not live in Charlottesville. [Emphasis added-NW]

Property rights are NOT dependent on the owner occupying the property NOR their domicile.

The Free Enterprise Forum tends to agree with the opinion of City Attorney Craig Brown in describing this action as a downzoning.  He indicated that to initiate such an action there would be a need for the Council to have a finding of some change (since 2003) that

“materially affects  health, safety and welfare to justify that downzoning.”

We also concur with Councilor Szakos who indicated her belief that the holding of these hearing will create a false expectation of the citizens that the Council is prepared to downzone these properties.

We are also concerned that one councilor suggested the research phase of this process “may uncover a legal reason why the rezoning could be permissible”.

The ultimate motivation for this move, which was approved 4-1 (Szakos opposed)  may however also be an activist litmus test to expose the reluctance of some members of Council to reach beyond their legal authority and downzone the properties. 

There are some politically active community members that have suggested this is the first salvo in the next city council election (AKA Democratic primary).  To those fully engaged in these issues, it is not hard to see how supporting illegal “Snob Zoning” may win votes in an at-large City Council primary campaign.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

 

 

Why 2013 is a “GOTV” or “Turnout” Election

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

BY. Neil Williamson, President

One day left.

Citizens and candidates alike look forward to the end of the election season. As one local incumbent described the process to me recently, “There’s two ways to run, unopposed or scared”.

Regionally, we have one of the most robust ballots in recent history.  While we do not have opponents to our sitting state legislators (which is regrettable), the vast majority of the local elections are contested.  Simply put contested elections make candidates explain and defend their positions thus making the public better informed and generates better policy after the election. 

By virtue of reading this post, you tend to be one of the more engaged community members.  By now, you likely know who is running for local office in your locality.  Hopefully, you know where they stand on issues that are important to you and you have selected the candidate that best represents your views. 

Here in Virginia we like elections so much we hold them every year.  This year is an “off-year” election meaning there are no Federal offices on the ballot but there is a gubernatorial race. By means of contrast the 2012 presidential election year saw 71.78% statewide voter turnout compared with the last “off” year the 2009 Gubernatorial election turnout of 40.4%.

Based on early absentee voting and historical averages, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates the 2013 statewide election turnout to hover near 40%.  Locally, we may see higher than state average but we do not believe it will exceed 50%.

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Based on this projection, roughly half of registered voters likely will not vote this cycle.  Therefore, regardless of the locality, this year’s campaign will come down to which campaign motivates their voters to show up at the polls.

Ballot BoxGet Out The Vote, known as “GOTV”, campaigns have been underway by the major parties, and special interest groups, for a number of weeks.  Likely voters are being contacted via mail, phone, and in person by party operatives and candidates.  Historically, this type of “ground game” can make the difference.  We have seen the amount of shoe leather candidates put into the campaign can have a higher return than signs and advertising in many of the local races.

Every vote matters as evidenced by several recent close elections.  In the 2009 Samuel Miller District Race in Albemarle County, Duane Snow won a three way Board of Supervisors contest by 264 votes. The same year, Shaun Kenney won his Fluvanna Supervisor race by 33 votes. In 2011, Supervisor Davis Lamb won his Ruckersville seat by just 15 votes (with 41 votes going to a candidate who had dropped out of the race). 

Typically turnout elections favor those candidates with well defined and energized constituencies.  While there are a multiplicity of local constituencies with varying levels of organization, the question of election day is which of these constituencies are both motivated and energized.  Put succinctly, what half will show up?Badge

The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization, as such we embrace elections as the political marketplace for ideas.  We sincerely thank the candidates who are making the sacrifice to run for public office.  We strongly encourage everyone to make your voice heard by voting. 

The candidates have done their job by running now it is up to you – Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 am to 7 pm.—VOTE

If you do not know where you vote, click here for your polling place.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

City Council Democratic Hopefuls Outline Their Positions

By. Amelie Bailey, 2011 Field Officer Intern

The Democratic Candidate Forum hosted this Wednesday (7/20) by Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress, featured seven democratic candidates seeking one of three spots available on Charlottesville City Council. The forum asked candidates to indicate their position on popular topics such as the Meadowcreek Parkway, the US 29 Bypass, and the Water Supply Plan. It also gave an opportunity for audience members to ask questions of the candidates as well as a chance for candidates to ask questions of one another.

Blount-ColetteColette Blount promised to give attention to education including job training, and environmental stewardship in her opening statements. She placed emphasis on meeting the needs of a cross section of Charlottesville residents, especially underrepresented groups. According to Mrs. Blount, community input, accountability, and a local economy are top responsibilities that Council should be engaged in.

Mrs. Blount does not support construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway, nor does she support construction of the US 29 Bypass as it is currently proposed. She supports dredging and water conservation efforts before construction a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Her transportation goals include improving mass transit based on population projections. However, she expressed concern that if Charlottesville becomes too accessible, it will induce additional traffic. Mrs. Blount says that she plans to address affordable housing through local solutions such as cottage industries, rather than encouraging citizens move to areas outside of Charlottesville, however she clarified later in the evening that this did not mean that she was opposed to growth.

DEDE_portrait_200Dede Smith named her top priorities as conservation of resources, accountability, respect and equal opportunity for all citizens, and education, beginning in a safe and affordable home. Her goal for the city school system is to close achievement gaps and increase graduation rates at Charlottesville High School.

Smith supports neither the construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway, nor the US Western Bypass as it is currently proposed, and has spearheaded efforts to support dredging and water conservation before construction of a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. When asked about her transportation plan for the city, Smith expressed an interest in creatively reducing automobile traffic through multiuse trails and mass transit, following examples of cities that have successfully implemented mass transit.

Satyendra Huja is the sole incumbent amongst the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         candidates. In seeking a second term, Mr. Huja stated that he intends to improve transit, and promote quality education, workforce development, and decent housing options. In response to questions about his plans for transportation improvements, Huja listed goals of creating an interconnected web of bicycle and pedestrian paths, and more dependable transit service. Mr. Huja also supports construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway for its access to downtown and its ability to reduce congestion in the Park Street residential neighborhood. However, Huja only said that he “maybe” supports a US 29 Bypass.

When asked about improving the school system, Huja stated that he would like to lower the dropout rate, and add more focus on education for very young children (ages 3-4). He also articulated an interest in making sure that every student is challenged.

Paul BeyerPaul Beyer voiced interest in the promotion of economic and cultural expression of Charlottesville, especially through job creation and small businesses during his opening statements. Mr. Beyer supports construction of both the Meadowcreek Parkway, and a US 29 Bypass if fully funded by the state along with other local projects including Belmont Bridge replacement, Hillsdale Drive Extended, Berkmar Drive Extended, widening of Route 29, and improvements to the “Best Buy Ramp”. Beyer does not support a dredging and water conservation alternative to the new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir, and later in the forum, expressed desire for City Council to move on from the issue of the water supply plan in order to make time to discuss other priorities.

When asked how he would support improvements in the Charlottesville School System, Beyer said that Council should focus on job creation and vocational training to ensure students have jobs after they graduate.

Brevy cannonBrevy Cannon emphasized the need for middle class jobs coupled with job training to solve the issue of high cost of living and affordable housing in Charlottesville. Mr. Cannon also believes in attracting and retaining businesses through tax incentives. Cannon cited the planned biotechnology park as one of the best career ladder jobs for Charlottesville residents to pursue. He supports the model it follows: investing in old infrastructure to create new industry that can grow.

Cannon supports both the Meadowcreek Parkway and the proposed US 29 Bypass as currently proposed if fully funded by the state along with other local projects listed above. However, he views dredging as a necessary maintenance measure that must happen before a new dam is built. He clarified later in the evening that he is not opposed to building the dam at Ragged Mountain, only that he believes dredging South Fork Rivanna Reservoir should be the starting point in addressing community water needs.

james halfadayJames Halfaday listed hard work, determination and perseverance as the leadership skills he plans to bring to Council. His priorities are educating community members, and equal opportunities for citizens to live prosperous and fulfilling lives. Mr. Halfaday supports construction of the Meadowcreek parkway and the US 29 Bypass if fully funded by the state along with other local projects as listed above. Halfaday also supports dredging before creating a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. When asked the top responsibilities of Council, Mr. Halfaday mentioned accountability to residents of Charlottesville, education, and making fiscally conservative decisions.

Kathy Galvin-Head-Shot-300x272Kathleen Galvin expressed during opening statements her desire to create “greener, smarter, stronger” Charlottesville, with plans to foster economic growth while minimizing urban footprint.

Galvin supports construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway, but not US 29 Bypass as it is currently proposed. According to Galvin, City Council should be engaged in visioning, strategic planning and monitoring its own performance. When asked the best opportunities to develop career-ladder jobs for Charlottesville residents, Galvin named investment in infrastructure, and promoting local industry. She reiterated these points in defense of a school configuration project (referencing Buford Middle School) estimated (according to audience member) to cost upwards of $40 million. Galvin explained that the project was an opportunity to rethink pedagogy, and create a civic center that could inspire revitalization along Cherry Avenue.

The Democratic primary is scheduled for Saturday, August 20 at Burley Middle School. At this event, three of the Democratic Candidates will be nominated for the general election ballot.

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Amelie Bailey is the 2011 Field Officer Intern for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

All photos (except  Satyendra Huja) credit:  individual campaign websites

Satyendra Huja photo credit: City of Charlottesville