Tag Archives: Comprehensive Plan

Does ‘Social Justice’ Fit in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan?


By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageLast Tuesday (6/26), the Charlottesville Planning Commission heard from a large number of citizens calling for their Comprehensive Plan process to have more public engagement, to be informed by the recently released housing needs assessment, to directly address racial inequity and to include ‘Social Justice’ throughout the document.

From my Twitter (https://twitter.com/NeilSWilliamson ) notes:

Andrea Massie tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission she supports additional community engagement asks for the comprehensive plan to focus on race. “The planning maps were drawn in the 1950s to segregate our community. There must be an intentional effort to undo this”

Annie Stump tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of her support for additional Comprehensive Plan Community Engagement. Housing Needs Assessment is a great first step. Calls out racial inequity in housing. We should be judged by how we serve our most marginalized.

Brendon Hassler #Albemarle resident tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of marginalized, historically oppressed communities that have a severe lack of trust with the government regarding Comprehensive plan outreach

Lena Seville asks for housing policy to address a long history of discrimination in the #Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan

Anna from #Albemarle bemoans the lack of organization. Suggests that the Comprehensive Plan is designed to be difficult for normal folks to read so developers can push mixed use instead of #AffordableHousing

Virginia code § 15.2-2223 clearly delineates that each locality’s Planning Commission shall draft a comprehensive plan:

making a comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The code provides a non exclusive list of plan elements including:

D. The comprehensive plan shall include the designation of areas and implementation of measures for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of affordable housing, which is sufficient to meet the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income in the locality while considering the current and future needs of the planning district within which the locality is situated.

‘Social Justice” is not a required element, but does it belong in the plan?

Perhaps it depends on your definition of Social Justice.

  • The equitable distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society?
  • The proportional distribution of advantages and disadvantages as it relates to effort?
  • The redistribution of resources from those who “unjustly” gained them?
  • The equal distribution of opportunity?
  • A virtue?

The Pachamama Alliance provides a concise background on Social Justice:

Social Justice as a concept arose in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and subsequent civil revolutions throughout Europe, which aimed to create more egalitarian societies and remedy capitalistic exploitation of human labor. Because of the stark stratifications between wealthy and the poor during this time, early social justice advocates focused primarily on capital, property, and the distribution of wealth.

By the mid-20th century, social justice had expanded from being primarily concerned with economics to include other spheres of social life to include the environment, race, gender, and other causes and manifestations of inequality. Concurrently, the measure of social justice expanded from being measured and enacted only by the nation-state (or government) to include a universal human dimension. For example, governments (still today) measure income inequality among people who share citizenship in common.

In 2015, Ashland Virginia’s Senior Planner Garet Prior penned a thoughtful post “Planning’s Role in Social Justice” calling for the industry reconsider their role and recognize their ethical responsibility to advocate for social justice.

Prior highlighted how activist planning philosophy impacted 1970s planning:

History teaches us the necessity of taking intentional steps to define our role in public service, or else we allow the entrenched powers to direct our purpose, thus making us a tool in continuing the status quo.

During the feverous pitch of the last Civil Rights Movement, in 1965, planning professor Paul Davidoff — who coined the term “advocacy planning” — instructed that “Planning action cannot be prescribed from a position of value neutrality.” Norman Krumholtz illustrated this concept as planning director for Cleveland in 1975 when he set the department’s overriding goal as “providing a wide range of choices for those Cleveland residents who have few, if any, choices.”

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the concept of developing a wide range of choices as long as those choices continue to respect property owner rights.  Prior’s argument goes further to suggest planning departments should be philosophically charged with advocating for specific outcomes rather than “opportunities”.

In his argument, Prior used the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) code of ethics for direction:

“We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs” (emphasis added).

If we are in a true pursuit of equitable outcomes for racially and economically disadvantaged groups, then history informs us that advocacy — more than an urge — will be required.

To fulfill this ethical call to advocacy, we need to better understand how change occurs. We should begin with a process of self-identification to be aware of our values, beliefs, and biases. In working with others, we need to understand that trust is necessary and will only be acquired through time. We need to get out of the office and form intentional relationships with underserved populations. . .

. . .As tensions around social inequities mount, now more than ever planners need to fulfill our ethical values by taking intentional action to advocate for equitable justice solutions. Inaction will only aid in continuing these broken systems because, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

This is a significantly higher level of advocacy than we see as appropriate from staff – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that the elected and appointed positions should be moving their planning philosophy forward and the professional staff should be following their lead.

We completely agree there is a responsibility on the part of planning commissioners and elected officials to actively seek out the opinions of those who are often under represented/underheard in our community.  This information, combined with all the other data that has been collected, should be considered.

Considering all of the above and the state mandated goals of the Comprehensive Plan document, The Free Enterprise Forum believes that while ‘Social Justice’ is an important element to our community conversation but should not be a separate chapter in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan.

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


‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?


By. Neil Williamson, President

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm as its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea.  Please let me explain.

C-ville writer Samantha Baars found in the last six years significant taxpayer money has poured into Crozet:

“But Kyle Redinger, the developer of Adelaide, a proposed 80-unit neighborhood adjacent to the Cory Farm subdivision on Route 250, disagrees. He notes that Albemarle has invested 40 percent of its capital improvement money, or at least $29 million since 2010, in Crozet, but only 5 percent of the county’s population lives there.”

Despite such investment, some vocal members of the Crozet community continue to believe the growth that is currently contemplated by the comprehensive plan is too dense and too intense.

Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach suggested at a recent Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting that the unelected Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) plans to rewrite their master plan on their own. The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that this “independent citizen activity” may become an illegally constructed defacto Master Plan that all future projects are measured against.

For those unaware, Master Plans are a part of the legally mandated Comprehensive Plan and are generally prepared by professional planners through a deliberate, transparent, public process that includes all stakeholders (i.e. neighbors, businesses, environmental activists, etc.).

It is not surprising that Loach, a longtime CCAC advocate, would be supportive of ignoring the established public process in favor of “snob zoning”.  As a commissioner Loach famously stated that he could not ever see a circumstance where he would vote in favor of a project that the CCAC did not support.  While I recall Loach voting in favor of every Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that included many Crozet items, I cannot recall a single Crozet development project that he supported during his years on the Planning Commission.  Such blind allegiance to an unelected neighborhood association precludes the planning commission process and perpetuates a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone (BANANA) planning philosophy.

It goes far beyond master planning.  Long ago the CCAC (more than any other Citizen Council) unilaterally expanded their charge from being an advisory body to a mandated hurdle for any and all Crozet development proposals.  As this change was strongly supported by the subsequent votes of elected and appointed positions, the body grown further embolden to the point of reinventing elementary school math.

Recently the CCAC opposed a development project (the above mentioned Adelaide) based on its non-conformity to the Comprehensive Plan density.  A review of the Mater Plan showed the area as 3-6 units per acre and the Adelaide proposal called for 5.5 units an acre.  I am not sure how the CCAC can find that 5.5 is not between 3 and 6.  To be clear the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this particular project but we do wonder in what universe 5.5 is not between three and six.

In an Adelaide meeting earlier this year, one planning commissioner stated that Crozet neighbors had voiced concerns about their children playing with those children from attached housing.  If this is starting to sound like class warfare (or discrimination), it should.

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgIn her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations. Prevost reports such NIMBYism clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were. [emphasis added-nw]

The question then becomes if Crozet wants to preserve its small town charm and restrict population growth – when (and how) will they pay Albemarle County back for the $29 million taxpayer dollars expended over the last six years to make it a desirable development area?

Or might they embrace the change that has been vetted by the community and work to make the anticipated population growth work well with the existing community?

Or perhaps Albemarle will rollover to the vocal NIMBY mentality and choose to recognize an illegally developed Master Plan that fails to balance the many competing priorities of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

As usual we are left with more questions than answers.

Only time (and politics) will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,


Neil Williamson, President


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


Greene PC Approves Comprehensive Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission held a final review of the revised Comprehensive Plan at their July 20th meeting. The Planning Commission has held public hearings to have their input into the revised document.

Per Virginia State Code Comprehensive Plans are to be updated every 5 years.

§ 15.2-2223. Comprehensive plan to be prepared and adopted; scope and purpose.

A. The local planning commission shall prepare and recommend a comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory within its jurisdiction and every governing body shall adopt a comprehensive plan for the territory under its jurisdiction.

In the preparation of a comprehensive plan, the commission shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The comprehensive plan shall be general in nature, in that it shall designate the general or approximate location, character, and extent of each feature, including any road improvement and any transportation improvement, shown on the plan and shall indicate where existing lands or facilities are proposed to be extended, widened, removed, relocated, vacated, narrowed, abandoned, or changed in use as the case may be.

Chairman Jay Willer asked the Commission if they had any revisions to add to the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner Frank Morris would have like to have seen more language to slow down housing growth in the county. But he indicated that he was happy with the draft as it was presented.

Commissioner Morris asked Planning Director Bart Svoboda if the revised Comprehensive Plan was available on the county website.


Stephanie Golon

Svoboda said that due to the size of the document that it was not yet on the website. Planner Stephanie Golon did indicate that it is currently online with the red line changes under the agenda.

When it is recommended for approval by the Planning Commission it will be added to the county website.

Willer had the only suggested change to the draft – he asked that the last sentence on page 8 which states there were no farms in the property that became the Shenandoah National Park be eliminated since there were in fact farms on that property. With that being the only change, the revised Comprehensive Plan was unanimously approved.

Willer explained that the Board of Supervisors will have at least one public hearing related the Comprehensive Plan. In addition, Willer presented two additional documents to also be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors. One was a formal resolution to forward the Comprehensive Plan to the Board of Supervisors and the second one was a transmittal letter with suggestions of how to change/enhance the process the next time the Comprehensive Plan is revised. Below are the six items being suggested to the Board of Supervisors:

· Better documentation, schedules and controls for the county’s fiscal management, both for anticipating revenue streams and accommodating future service growth and capital funding needs;

· Attention to the rigorous planning being enacted by the Board of Education and by the county’s emergency services functions to adequately incorporate future county needs, including funding possibilities and locational decisions;

· Assessment of county infrastructure and policies necessary for supporting continued growth and job creation in the designated growth areas, with funding strategies to support those needs;

· Strengthen the county’s health infrastructure, including both medical and emotional needs, particularly in light of steady increases in the number of aging residents;

· Review of the county’s needs for broadband communication, both for county services and for individual homes and businesses, evaluating county ordinances and emerging technologies that might leverage better access for all county residents; and

· Strategies for more consistent enforcement and oversight of county ordinances.

Both of these were approved 5-0.

The Comprehensive Plan will now be forwarded to the Greene County Board of Supervisors for their review and approval.

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

Greene County PC Studies Future Land Use

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County is nearing the end of work sessions regarding their state mandated Comprehensive Plan revision. As regular readers know, localities must update their comprehensive plans every five years.  The Planning Commission is charged with the development of the plan while the Board of Supervisors votes on the final document.

At the October 21st workshop the Greene County’s Planning Commission reviewed the future land use of the county including the current vision, density and population, Virginia Code requirements and an overview of the current land use map. In order to enhance the quality of life and its rural character the county plans on…..

1. Conserving farmland

2. Planning diverse housing needs

3. Modes of travel

4. Support existing businesses

5. Attract low impact, environmentally friendly industry

6. Tourism

7. Create jobs

8. Quality school and recreation areas

9. Preserve natural resources and cultural and historical heritage

It wants to encourage development in the designated growth areas and have businesses in mixed use villages and town centers. Greene County had its largest growth between 1990 and 2000 – 48% up to 15,244. At 2010 the population was 18,403 or 21% and it is projected to be at 24,000 by 2020 or a growth of 30%.

In the past five years there have been 302 multi-family dwellings built in Greene – Terrace Greene  and Lily Ridge Apartments. Urban development areas have targets of 4 single family dwellings per acre, 6 townhouses per acre and 12 apartments per acre. In addition, the following designs are encouraged – pedestrian friendly roads, interconnection of new local streets with existing streets, preservation of natural areas, reduction of front and side setbacks and reduction of street width and radii.

Greene County has three Urban Development Areas – Corner Store, Ruckersville and Stanardsville.


Stanardsville Streetscapes Project West Business 33


Stanardsville Streetscapes Project Ford Avenue



Ruckersville US 33 and US 29


Ruckersville Elementary School

In addition, there are six categories of growth areas…….

Mixed Use Village Center – centers, short set-backs, open space, office/commercial/residential

Mixed Use Town Centers – commercial and residential, short set-backs, open space

Mixed Use Residential – retail, civic and restaurants, green space

Suburban Residential – private, vehicular access, open space

Industrial – transportation access, vegetative buffer, environmentally sensitive

Senior Residential – age-restricted, close to services/activities, variety of housing


Currently Greene County has nearly 60,000 acres of A-1 Agricultural – the largest category of zoning by a factor of 3 over C-1 Conservation and a factor of 4 over the Shenandoah National Park. A proposal for C-1 is to increase the density of lot size from 8 acres down to 5 acres. There are 905 C-1 parcels in Greene and there are 162 parcels of 16 acres or more and there are 222 parcels of 10 acres or more.

The meeting concluded with a discussion on a future meeting with Rapidan Service Authority  to review needs and ability to provide water to county residents – a top priority to the county. RSA has 2 members on their board from Greene, Supervisor Jim Frydl and Matthew Woodson, but RSA have not been responsive in the past. “Since water is a huge issue” to Greene County, Chairman Jay Willer asked that Bart Svoboda request RSA to attend a work session of the Greene Planning Commission for the review of the Comprehensive Plan.

Once all work sessions have been completed then at least one public hearing will be held where citizens will have their chance to input to the Planning Commission related to the revised Comprehensive Plan.  The plan will then be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for their input and enactment.

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

Fluvanna Sets Comprehensive Plan

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County has finished its five year update to its Comprehensive Plan.  Notable changes include goals and possible future implementations. It all circles around where the county wants development.

The major focus for the next five years is development of Zion Crossroads and keeping rural areas outside of that area undeveloped.
The Palmyra Community Planning Area (CPA) shrunk with a focus to keep Palmyra village-like. The Zion Crossroads CPA expanded to include all of Route 250 from the Albemarle border and less east of the Route 250 and Route 15 intersection.

Previously Fluvanna implemented a newer zoning type, planned unit development (PUD), but still does not have an approved PUD. A PUD is mixed use and is its own zoning for the land in question. The land could have commercial next to residential with varying densities.

The 2015 update to the Comprenhensive Plan tasks the planning department to eliminate PUDs outside of the newly expanded Zion Crossroads CPA by 2016.

In 2014, Walker’s Ridge was a proposed PUD that was defeated. Two reasons it faced heavy opposition was because its location, just north of Palmyra village, and it lacked water infrastructure. It was to use community wells and mass drain fields. Its second iteration, Poplar Ridge, was approved as a zoning amendment to its R-3 zoning.
Water is on its way to Zion Crossroads, at least plans for it are on their way. County Administration staff is currently negotiating a final design and construction contract to build a water and sewer system for the CPA.  It is expected that contract will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in closed session in early October with a recommendation in public session on October 21. That would be the earliest for the supervisors to vote on it. Funding will have to be discussed.

Iif final design and approval are completed by spring 2016, construction all 2017, a functioning water system could be ready by mid-2018. That is a best case, fast tracked scenario. There are a lot of dominoes that would have to fall perfectly in place, on time for that to occur.

Once water is in, the county anticipates development to come next. With that, the county might implement more zoning options including floating zoning and hybrid zoning.

Floating zoning is overlaid on current zoning but is not attached to the land. If an applicant wants that zoning, an application and approval then brings that zoning ‘down to earth’. It still sets standards for the land but needs to be still be approved before the land is officially zoned.

Hybrid zoning allows land to be zoned two types, simultaneously. Something zoned C/I (commercial and industrial) has all the rights of B-1 and I-1 — any of those uses are permitted.  This is helpful in area with high traffic and needing to be very flexible. A warehouse could have its industrial uses but also set up a showroom for customers without needing more permits.

Also at the September 16 meeting the supervisors authorized purchased of a new ladder truck. It replaces a truck Lake Monticello Fire Department uses that was aged before the county started using it. The cost the county is covering, up to $50,000, is the same estimated amount the old truck needed in repairs to be better functioning and safe.

Supervisors also approved another landscaping business in the Zion Crossroads CPA. This type of business is low water usage and the supervisors have now approved a few in the past 18 months.

The county will pay two employees who provide surveying during regular business hours. Using the employees and paying them above their regular pay is much cheaper than contracting an outside surveying company.

Fluvanna Supervisors next meet on October 7 at 4 p.m.


bryan-rothamel.jpgThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Albemarle’s Comprehensive Disappointment

By. Neil Williamson, President Free Enterprise Forum

Adapted from comments made at the June 10th Public Hearing on Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan

happy New Year HatMy new year’s resolution was to be more positive. The current draft of Albemarle County’s  Comprehensive Plan has made this mission difficult.

There are good things in this 4 years long gestating plan including recognition of rural area farming conflicts with development and the right to farm, an enhanced chapter on economic development, as well as a plan condensing and reorganization that makes the formerly unwieldy tome slightly more user friendly.

But the Free Enterprise Forum must stand opposed to the current draft. We believe this plan should be vetoed.

Ultimately, we fear that the restrictive growth tenor and regulatory direction of this comp plan will be harmful to Albemarle’s advancement and will significantly jeopardize the ability of our children and grandchildren to afford to live and find work in this great community.

While we believe the vast majority of the citizens may not be in favor of this plan, but I can count noses and I believe the majority of the Board of Supervisors is prepared to move forward.

This opposition is based on (but not limited to):

  • providing Monticello veto power over development in its so called viewshed
  • apologizing rather than fully embracing economic development
  • increasing the cost and complexity of providing housingVETO-stamp
  • mandating residential densities the citizens and market does not want
  • seeking to move people out of cars rather than moving cars
  • falsely declaring Natural Resource protection the County’s number one priority
  • makes false promises about infrastructure investments while threatening to restrict property rights based on your failure
  • removing specific rural area recreational uses without considering others.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in this process for the last four years, we are disappointed that the final document speaks to more government expansion, reduced property rights and less flexibility.

While we can not support this plan, the Free Enterprise Forum is disappointed but not disheartened.

If you choose to pass this plan, we look forward to working with you and continuing our fight for increased flexibility, economic advancement, reduced regulation and increased respect for property rights as you and staff attempt to move forward to implementation.

I really wish I could be more positive, at least I made it to June – thank you for the opportunity to comment.  Thank you to staff for their hard work on this project.  I know at times I have been a burr in their side.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing. 

Today – Chapter 10 Transportation

The Transportation chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan continues the county’s (and to a lesser extent the Commonwealth’s) increased emphasis on multimodality often at the cost of automobile spending.  What is multimodalism?  According to Monique Wahba AKA The Multimodalist:

Multimodalism is about leveling the playing field so a transportation system can safely accommodate many modes or forms of transportation rather than have one dominate. To me, it’s about putting people first. When the question is “how can we move people from place to place?” rather than “how can we move cars?” the transportation solutions abound. We can have people move on their own – walk or bicycle or use some other self-powered mode of transportation. Or we can put them in some kind of vehicle – e.g. a car, a bus, a train, a plane. And when challenges in transportation arise, we can become more creative. Towns in the US and abroad are using funiculars to connect downtowns with outlying hilltop areas rather than limit themselves to roadway solutions, saving travel time and sparing their environments.

It is clear that the Comprehensive Plan is leaning toward pushing people out of single occupant vehicles and into other modes of transportation.  From page 10:13:

Albemarle County strives to promote transit-friendly, walkable, mixed-use communities that are served by multiple transportation modes. A connected, mixed-used community can reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and, thereby, improve citizens’ health by reducing vehicle emissions. A reduction in VMT improves air quality by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles. Interconnected streets and alternatives to vehicular travel, like mass transit, walking or biking also have the potential to improve or mitigate air quality problems by reducing VMT.

Multimodalism provides for:
Cost-Efficient Use of Public Dollars which benefits travelers by moving people (not cars) while expending the same amount of money and optimizing the use of existing facilities instead of building new ones.
Energy Conservation by reducing emissions through fewer and shorter vehicle trips.
More Transportation Choices by providing alternate modes, times, locations, and route choices for travel.
Mobility and Opportunity Equity by meeting transportation needs of low income, disabled, and other minority populations and providing more opportunities for getting to work, making connections, and career advancement.
Public Health by creating a safer environment for walkers and cyclists, with fewer crashes and lower fatality rates, supporting active lifestyles through more opportunities for walking, and providing more access to a wider range of goods and services.
Economic Vitality by providing greater accessibility for existing and future workforces, attracting businesses through more multimodal transportation choices for employees, and increasing property values by making places more accessible. Reducing time in commutes time equals money
Reduced Congestion by giving more modal choices reducing overall congestion and providing greater redundancy in network choices through other modes.
Quality of Life by designing streets as places to spur social interaction, promoting pride in neighborhoods, spurring more “eyes on the street” for crime reduction, and facilitating a greater sense of community through more accessible places and corridors.

When the conversation is focused on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and not mobility, the Free Enterprise Forum sees the government engaging in social engineering.  Unfortunately, there is unsettled economic theory regarding the net benefits of multimodality (in this case transit) vs. auto dependency.  According to a 2010  Heritage Foundation paper by Wendell Cox:

The loss of productivity from relying on transit can be even greater than longer travel times for the employed. Unlike commuting by cars, it may be impossible to commute in a metropolitan area by transit. For example, a Federal Transit Administration study found that few low-income central-city residents in Boston could reach high-growth suburban employment areas within one hour by transit, a fact that reduces regional productivity.[47] University of California research indi­cates far smaller unemployment rates among African–American households where there is an automobile avail­able.[48] This is because cars shorten commute times and broaden access to jobs throughout the metropolitan area, not just to the limited areas with adequate transit service.

Other research by the Progressive Policy Institute has shown that access to cars improves minority and low-income employment and productivity, noting that “[i]n most cases, the shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car.”[49] Additionally, a Brookings Institution report concluded that, “[g]iven the strong connection between cars and employment outcomes, auto ownership programs may be one of the more promising options and one worthy of expansion.”[50] This research demonstrates that in the modern urban area, transit cannot substitute for cars for a large share of trips.

This connection between employment and automobile ownership led the Clinton Administration to ease wel­fare-program restrictions to make it easier for recipients to own a car. In announcing the new policy, the White House stated that:

“Even in metropolitan areas with extensive transit systems, studies have shown that less than half the entry level jobs are accessible by transit. One national study found that twice as many welfare recipients with cars were working than those without cars, and 25 percent more low-income fam­ilies with cars were working than those without cars.[51]

Much of the multimodalistic theology revolves around the fact that more people would be engaged in different modes of transportation if only the infrastructure existed for them to utilize.  While one admires the passionate zeal the proponents have, the reality is the “Vanishing Automobile” isn’t.  As of 2007,  Virginia ranks #22 in automobile per capita in the United States.

Joel Schwartz of The American Enterprise Institute has calculated the various portions of market share of the multimodality.  In his 2006 report to UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies Seminar he found:

market share

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the transportation chapter of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan should spend less time trying to get people out of their cars and more time making their automobile trips more efficient.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

NEXT: Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan


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

Albemarle Development Area Report Card 4 “D”s–Disappointment, Density, Delusions and Decay

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing.

By. Neil Williamson, President

To understand the conceptual underpinnings of the Development Areas Chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan, one must understand that the over arching planning goal is to drive the majority of county residents to live in the development areas where it is more efficient to provide government services.

The generally accepted methodology for encouraging this population movement is to incise new dense development by making the development areas more attractive than rural area development by virtue of better service delivery, enhanced recreational opportunities as well as other amenities.

If you accept this premise, then the question is who will provide the amenities that make the development areas more attractive than rural area development.  In the early 2000s, the Development Initiatives Steering Committee (DISC) and the Development Initiatives Steering Committee II (DISC II AKA “Son of DISC”) believed that it was a joint public private partnership to provide such infrastructure.

THE BIG LIE – Concurrency of Public Infrastructure

The private side of the equation has held up their part of the bargain mainly as required “voluntary”  proffers for rezoning applications but the public investment has been lacking.

Consider the (empty?) promises in the Development Areas chapter:

The urban neighborhoods are expected to provide a full array of residential types and densities and look and feel like a city. All levels of retail, business, and industrial activities, along with regional employment centers. In addition, extensive urban and regional public facilities and services and infrastructure are to be provided. (8.4)

Strategy 2c: Continue to promote pedestrian safety through construction of crosswalks for sidewalks. The County has developed a capital needs list which includes locations for crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety. Funding and prioritization takes place through the Capital Improvements Program (CIP). This activity should be continued to improve pedestrian safety. (8.14)

New centers should be created in accordance with Master Plan recommendations. Existing centers should be recognized and, in some cases, enhanced. Public investment may be needed to create a center, such as a new public park in or near an existing neighborhood. New centers should be created in accordance with Master Plans. As destinations, centers should be visually discernible to help create and facilitate a sense of arrival. (8.17)

Strategy 3c: Work with residents and property owners to identify property maintenance concerns, establish maintenance expectations and programs to address them, and determine the resources that will best enable the programs to be effective.(8.30)

Existing neighborhoods are also key features of the Development Areas. Investments in infrastructure, such as water, sewer, sidewalks, and drainage, help to strengthen these neighborhoods. Improved street networks, connections to employment centers, and excellent school facilities help support residential development as well as encourage businesses to expand. (Introduction 8.3)

Decaying Core?

The public infrastructure investment in existing neighborhoods in Albemarle County has been tepid at best.  Some Supervisors are awakening to the fact that it is NOT new development that is generating the demand for infrastructure investment but instead deferred public investment.

As neighborhoods age new community investment will be needed not only to provide the amenities that supposedly draw residents to the Development Areas but basic infrastructure investment to keep citizens safe.

Adequate Public Facilities?

Later in the chapter, recognizing that the county has not met its investment obligations to support the Development Areas, the Comp Plan throws what can only be described as an illegal “Hail Mary” pass suggesting it can postpone development applications based on this County failure:

Strategy 9c: Do not approve proposed rezonings and special use permits outside of Priority Areas when planned facilities are not in place to support the project and existing neighborhoods, unless the proposed project will provide significant improvements to ensure adequate infrastructure and services are available to the area.

Planning staff may want to run this passage past legal once more.  Annually, Albemarle County and other localities attempt to gain such legislative authority via Adequate Public Facilities legislation.  It has failed in each of the last 10 General Assembly sessions.  Absent such legislation, under the Dillion Rule,  Albemarle County does not have the ability to reject development proposals on the basis that Albemarle County has failed to properly provide for their existing residents.

Density Desires-Stack’em and Pack’em

Objective 5: Promote density within the Development Areas to help create new compact urban places.

Albemarle County’s Growth Management Policy relies on development within the density ranges recommended for the Development Areas. Although parts of Albemarle County’s Development Areas were developed at less than two units per acre, low-density development prevents opportunities for transit and increases maintenance costs for roads and utilities. For these reasons, Albemarle County expects new development in a different pattern so that residents can have more opportunities to walk, bicycle, or take transit to work and entertainment. To avoid expansion of the Development Areas and to help create livable walkable places, density of new development is expected at a minimum of three units per acre in places designated as Neighborhood Density and a minimum of six units per acre where land is designated as Urban Density.

New Urbanist theology revolves at the altar of density – it is little surprise however that most existing neighborhoods balk at the concept of having such high density new development built around them.

Yet, rezoning applications that need to go through the public process and hear these neighborhood concerns also must answer the Comprehensive Plan demands:

Strategy 5b: Encourage developers to build at the higher end of the density range, on greenfield sites, provided that development will be in keeping with design recommendations in the Neighborhood Model.

Even worse than being just stuck between these competing goals, the Comprehensive Plan also seeks to maintain the unelected, unregulated “advisory” role of Community Councils –

The Gatekeepers – Community Councils hinder Property Rights 

Strategy 1b: Continue to use Community Advisory Councils to help develop Master Plan updates, provide guidance on conformity of proposed projects with the Master Plan, assist in implementation of the Master Plan, and to act as a clearing-house for information that is important to the Development Area.

The Freenimby1_thumb.jpg Enterprise Forum finds these unelected councils to be superfluous to the process and often counter to the County’s stated positions and goals.  One of the largest battles at the first Community Council was over the density planned for Crozet.

In addition, the Councils provide Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors members political cover and the ability to avoid making important decisions regarding the County’s direction.  While encouraging citizens to be engaged in the legislatively mandated planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum continues to call for the elimination of the illegal gatekeepers known as Community Councils.

Design Dysfunctions

In mandating Comprehensive Plans, Virginia State Code prescribes the nature of the plan:

§ 15.2-2223. Comprehensive plan to be prepared and adopted; scope and purpose. …

The comprehensive plan shall be general in nature, in that it shall designate the general or approximate location, character, and extent of each feature, including any road improvement and any transportation improvement, shown on the plan and shall indicate where existing lands or facilities are proposed to be extended, widened, removed, relocated, vacated, narrowed, abandoned, or changed in use as the case may be.

Albemarle County has a different concept of general in nature as the Development Area Chapter goes to great length to be rather specific regarding their new urbanist philosophical positions:


It is important to visually define the center to help create and facilitate a sense of arrival. In Figure 10, the clock tower and cupola help people to see their destination. Centers should be approximately ¼ mile from homes as seen in the illustration in Figure 11. This distance can be increased up to ½ mile if a center contains a transit stop.

This granular level of design can inhibit creative street alignment.  While the above figure might work well on paper the rolling hills that we appreciate in Albemarle County often require a less grid like pattern.

In the nearly 50 pages of the Development Areas chapter of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan, several new urbanist themes are demanded of private developers increasing the cost and increasing the Development Area amenities while Albemarle County continues to fail to make similar investments allowing some neighborhoods to decay and depreciate.

A robust infrastructure investment program is needed to support the lofty (and so far empty) promises of the Development Areas Chapter.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

TOMORROW – Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?


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

Photo Credit: Source: Community Design and Architecture 2011

Albemarle Comp Plan Agritourism Fertilizer or Rural Regulatory Roadblocks?

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing.

By. Neil Williamson, President

As of 2009, most of the geographic area of Albemarle is in the rural areas (95%+) yet, by design, the population majority is in the development areas (53%).  This population/area inversion means as a community we are becoming increasingly less connected to the agricultural enterprises that make the rural areas economically sustainable.

The Rural Areas chapter of the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan is vastly improved over previous iterations.  Some of the concepts such as adaptable reuse of historic crossroads buildings and embracing the diversity of Albemarle’s agricultural products is refreshing and could be used to grow agribusiness; other portions seem to be regulatory overreach that seems to want to stunt such growth before it begins.

As an example in considering new uses for the Rural Area, the Comprehensive Plan has set forth criteria that will be incredibly difficult to meet, including:

  • relate directly to the Rural Areas and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful
  • be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns.

The first provision seems to be an impossible challenge; how to define “need”. There are successful urban wineries but, all of Albemarle’s  have proven success in the Rural Areas.  The second perverse provision reminds me of a former Albemarle County Supervisor who famously once said

 “I love the wineries, it’s their customers I could do without”.

While the disconnect with the business demands of a rural enterprise may be predictable due to our population centers shifting to the development areas, it is no less troubling.  For that reason, we were happy to read the very specific language in the Chapter regarding conflicts between agricultural enterprises and residential uses.image

Livestock produces odors and noises.  Application of fertilizer, especially manure, on crops can produce smells that are offensive to non-farming residents, especially when those residents are entertaining outdoors.

This recognition of rural enterprises as the primary function of the Rural Areas is refreshing.

Regulatory Round-up

Interestingly, on page 7.41 the Rural Area Chapter references recent legislation that limit locality regulatory power:

On July 1, 2014 State legislation became effective that expanded the opportunities for events at farms with bona fide agricultural operations and also for farm breweries.  Localities are only able to to regulate events that have a “substantial impact” on public health, safety and welfare – which the State does not define.

Albemarle has decided a significant impact is a party of 200 people:

Strategy 6a: Continue to require special permission for events at farm wineries, farm breweries, and bona fide agricultural operations for over 200 persons and for other events in the Rural Areas for over 150 persons.  These special events should promote or support agricultural production or a unique rural activity, such as a County fair, and should be limited to once or twice per year.

Not content to just limit the number of people gathered in the Rural Areas, the Comprehensive Plan is also seeking to determine what outdoor recreational activities one is allowed to do in the country.

Banning Golf, Swim and Tennis

While some on the planning commission were looking to be more permissive suggesting uses such as commercial mountain biking, cyclocross, zip lines and rock climbing activities, the tenor is much more restrictive regarding other recreational uses in the rural areas:

Clubs for swim, golf, and tennis have many suburban characteristics and typically are located in or adjacent to the development areas.  A Development Area location is more accessible to and compatible with nearby residential uses where sidewalks and road improvements are expected.  Expectations from patrons can be very different from those of nearby farmers.  Consideration should be given to removing these uses from the list of available special uses in the Rural Area.

To be clear, currently these uses require a special use permit that provides the locality the mechanism to develop conditions that mitigate impacts on the community.

Example 1: The Old Trail Golf Course in Crozet is located in the Ruraloldtrail golf Area.  This serves as an amenity to the Old Trail Community and provides a buffer between the dense residential area and the rural area.  As apart of their special use permit Old Trail and Albemarle agreed to agreed to 18 conditions that covered many important considerations including water usage and source, public accessibility to the course, the use of native plants throughout the course, minimal grading plan, extensive stream buffering system and much more.

Example 2: The Blue Ridge Swim Club.  According to their website:

The Pool at Blue Ridge Swim Club is a historic treasure. Built in 1913 by R. Warner Wood, the Blue Ridge Pool was the centerpiece of Blue Ridge Camp, established in 1909. The camp was founded by Wood, a University of Virginia graduate with a Master’s degree in Greek and History and a firm believer in developing both mind and body. According to his 1918 brochure, Blue Ridge Camp offered “symmetrical, physical, mental, moral and social development in boys, along with plenty of healthful, natural fun.” Boys slept in tents on the property and activities included swimming, calisthenics, boxing, wrestling, baseball, football and track.


Wood and his friends chose a spot where a spring fed the stream to build the pool. He is said to have hired an engineer who had worked on the Panama Canal to design the water flow system, which brings water from the stream into a nearby settling tank, where the silt separates from the water. The same system continues to supply water to the Pool today.

In 2010, about 100 years after its founding, The Blue Ridge Swim Club wanted to return to its roots offering summer camp activities similar (but updated) to those offered in 1910, the centerpiece being the pool.

In order to accomplish this task, a Special Use Permit was required which included 10 conditions that served to provide the community with a set of expectations regarding camp operation.  Those conditions included:

SP-2010-00041 Blue Ridge Swim Club subject to the following conditions:

1. Development of the SP-2010-00041 uses use shall be in general accord with the conceptual plan titled “Blue Ridge Swim Club “ prepared by Kelly Strickland and dated December 20, 2010 and revised February 2, 2011 (Attachment A) (hereafter “Conceptual Plan”), as determined by the Director of Planning and the Zoning Administrator.

To be in accord with the Conceptual Plan, development shall reflect the following major elements within the development essential to the design of the development:
• Limits of disturbance
• Location and size of pavilion building
• Location of parking areas
• Minimum clearing possible may be allowed to locate well, septic line and drainfields, parking and pavilion
as shown on the Blue Ridge Swim Club concept plan.
Minor modifications to the plan which do not conflict with the elements above may be made to ensure compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.

2. The hours of operation for SP-2010-00041 Blue Ridge Swim Club shall not begin earlier than 12:00 PM (noon) and shall end not later than 8:00 P.M., each day, seven days per week, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

3. All outdoor lighting shall be only full cut-off fixtures and shielded to reflect light away from all abutting properties. A lighting plan limiting light levels at all property lines to no greater than 0.3 foot candles shall be submitted to the Zoning Administrator or their designee for approval.

4. Food prepared off-site may be sold from a concession stand that is depicted on the Conceptual Plan.

5. Approval of the Health Department for the well, septic and food concession shall be required prior to approval of a site plan.

6. Approval by the Virginia Department of Transportation for the entrance shall be required prior to approval of site plan.

7. Prior approval by the Fire Department shall be required prior to all outdoor cooking and/or campfires.

8. No amplification of sound shall be permitted, with the exception of a megaphone used on Fridays during each season (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend) during field games, radios, and electronic sound producing or reproducing devices, provided that any such amplified sound shall comply with the applicable noise regulations.

9. Parking on Owensville Road by attendees or staff of the Blue Ridge Swim Club or the Camp shall not be permitted.

10. No more than 200 people shall be on the property for any purpose at any time.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that if the Comprehensive Plan is enacted as drafted neither of these two entities would be permitted to be constructed in the Rural Area (to be clear they would be grandfathered and permitted to continue current operations).

In Late February we queried Albemarle’s Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner regarding the impact of this change in language in the Comprehensive Plan on future applications.  While acknowledging he could not envision all possible applications, he was kind enough to opine on three possible outcomes:

In one example, a swim club SP application is received in the months right after the comp plan is adopted. Staff’s analysis would undoubtedly consider the language in the comp plan, note that it states that the County should consider that this type of use should no longer be located in the Rural Area, and likely conclude that the application is inconsistent with the comp plan. Even though the comp plan refers to “considering” the issue, staff’s conclusion could be reached because the application generated the very concerns that the comp plan was seeking to address – the proposed use would be suburban in nature and generally incompatible with the Rural Area.

In a second example, staff could note that the comp plan language provides that removing this type of use be considered for removal from the Rural Area, note that the issue has not yet been considered, evaluate the application based on what is proposed and the general context of the comp plan’s concern – swim clubs and similar recreational uses are generally suburban, not rural, in nature, identify the potential impacts on the district and adjoining properties, but then focus its analysis on the qualities of the particular application and make a recommendation accordingly.

In a third example, a swim club SP application is received a couple of years after the comp plan was adopted. During that time, the Board has considered and rejected the idea of doing away with swim clubs in the Rural Area in their entirety but has, instead, adopted a zoning text amendment that creates performance standards for Rural Area-type swim clubs (and different standards for suburban swim clubs). The comp plan language remains because its review cycle has not begun. The staff analysis for the SP likely would acknowledge the language in the comp plan, note that the County considered the issue, and decided to address it as it did in the zoning text amendment.

Because the comp plan is a policy document created to guide decision-making, it is different from an ordinance and does not compel a particular result.

Considering the unique conditions the Special Use permit provides and the unclear outcomes of such Comprehensive Plan language change, the Free Enterprise Forum recommends changing the Comprehensive Plan language to be less specific and simply recommend evaluating ALL recreational uses in the Rural Areas and their impacts.

Restricting Rural Interstate Interchange Development

Within the Comprehensive Plan Albemarle suggests development at rural interchanges is acceptable as long as it is the right kind of commercial development:

Strategy 7d: Permit uses at rural interstate interchanges that support agriculture and forestry.

So considering the above, the county is OK with rural interchange intersection development but needs to have a nexus to the agricultural community.

Albemarle County speaks at length about their desire for tourism and economic development in other chapters of the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle often touts that it is the #2 locality in the state in number of Farm Wineries.


From Late April through Late October, each and every Saturday, Albemarle also watches as thousands of winery tourists (and their transient tax dollars)  go over the mountain to Waynesboro to find a hotel room.  Part of the reason, the Rural Interstate Development Restrictions.

As tourism is important to the success of many rural agricultural enterprises, the Free Enterprise Forum believes allowing hotels located near rural interstate interchanges would be supportive of agriculture.  We suggest adding language to the plan that would “consider” under what performance based standards hotels might be allowed by special use permit at rural interstate intersection.

Albemarle County would be wise to allow more rather than less activity in the rural area and provide enforceable special use permit conditions to ensure that the 95% of the county that is designated as Rural Area remains economically viable.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

TOMORROW: Albemarle Development Area Report Card 3 “D”s – DENSITY, DESIGN, DELUSIONS AND DECAY


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

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, Old Trail Golf Club, Blue Ridge Swim Club

The Louisiana “Overlay District” — a Jeffersonian Approach to Property Rights?

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing. 

Today – Chapter 5 Historic, Cultural, and Scenic Resources

By. Neil Williamson, President

Philosophically, there is an inherent tension between public historic preservation goals and property rights.  The question is when, if ever, does the community’s value of a property’s historic value exceeds the owner’s constitutionally guaranteed rights of property ownership?

The Free Enterprise Forum has long maintained a rather simplistic solution to the property rights tension – If you want to control the property – BUY IT.

In our reading of Chapter 5 of the Draft Comprehensive Plan, it seems as though the value the community places on historic preservation is not about property acquisition but rather property control.

In a recent Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting (5/6), Jeff Werner from The Piedmont Environmental Council spoke on behalf of the Historic Preservation Committee regarding their advocacy for increased regulation around the recordation of properties they deem to be historic prior to demolition.  Suggesting that the current voluntary program lacks any “teeth”, Werner asked that more power be given to mandate these recordings.

While the Free Enterprise Forum is aware of a number of properties that have voluntarily opened their doors to such documentation, we have grave concerns regarding the mandate that could require I provide access for the government to record the details of my property.

Carrot or Stick?

Objective 2: Pursue additional protection measures and incentives to preserve Albemarle’s historic and archaeological resources in order to foster pride in the County and maintain the County’s character.

This objective (and the majority of the strategies that support it) seem to rely most heavily on developing a number of new “tools” that are designed to increase the size of government and restrict property rights.

Strategy 2b: Consider adopting regulatory measures for preservation and conservation such as those called for in the adopted 2000 Historic Preservation Plan and its updates.

The surest method of protecting the County’s outstanding collection of Historic and Cultural Resources is through the adoption of an historic overlay district in the Zoning Ordinance, as recommended in the 2000 Historic Preservation Plan.

There is a reason the historic overlay plan recommended in 2000 has not been implemented it is an overzealous use of zoning law that takes advantage of a loophole in The Dillon Rule which exempts local statutes regarding historic reservation.

Control of all I see

The Free Enterprise Forum has been very clear of our concerns regarding property rights crushing viewshed regulations.  While Monticello is seeking their own special designations via the Comprehensive Plan (more on that below), Albemarle County is seeking to gain power over all they can see.

Strategy 6b: Support enabling legislation for Albemarle County to provide a scenic protection and tourist enhancement overlay zoning district. . .

As the County pursues options to protect the visual quality of land as an aesthetic and economic resource, this legislation would provide a method to ensure greater protection of visual resources and scenic areas than currently exists.

Once again the Comprehensive Plan seeks to place government in a position that it knows best how you should handle your property rather than you.  Beyond just restricting development potential, it is not a stretch to see a tourism overlay that might prohibit the harvesting of privately held forested lands or otherwise diminish the property owners ability to utilize their land as they see fit. 

Monticello Super Citizen

Sadly this is not the most egregious flaw in the chapter; that designation clearly belongs to the Monticello  Viewshed property rights restrictions.

The most famous former resident of Monticello had many thoughts about property rights including:

“A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings.” Thomas Jefferson

In addition Mr. Jefferson (as he is so reverently referred to in Charlottesville) also suggested in another document that “all men are created equal”.  Not so according to the Thomas Jefferson  Foundation, the non profit entity that owns the former president’s mansion.

The Foundation has been successful in inserting language into Albemarle County’s Comprehensive plan that would provide Monticello “Super Citizen” status:

Strategy 5: Help protect Monticello’s Viewshed … Monticello’s elevated location near the County’s Development areas means that the view from that mountaintop is subject to significant change.  Albemarle County, therefore, has a cultural responsibility and an economic interest in helping to preserve Monticello’s viewshed….

To help preserve the view from Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has prepared guidelines for development located within the vista of the Monticello mountaintop.  These voluntary guidelines which are available from the Foundation, are intended to help property owners and land developers work with the Foundation to preserve the important views for tourists who visit Monticello.

So, Albemarle County finds that the economic interests of the foundation exceed the property rights of those property owners who dare to live within sight of Jefferson’s mansion.

Beyond just these “voluntary” guidelines, the Comprehensive plan provides two more strategies designed for the Monticello Super Citizen:

Strategy 5c:  When reviewing discretionary land proposals, consider impacts on Monticello’s viewshed and encourage mitigation measures that are keeping with the County’s Comprehensive Plan …Strong consideration of how a proposed development affects the Monticello Viewshed should be given when reviewing development proposals in the viewshed.  Impacts to Monticello should be a part of staff reports provided to the Commission and Board.

Strategy 5d:  When revising zoning and subdivision regulations, consider the impacts of new regulations on Monticello’s viewshed.

Yes, Monticello is an important part of our community but the Free Enterprise Forum does not believe it is deserving of such super citizen powers over other property owners.

Contrast this taking of others property options absent compensation  approach to The Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s actions to acquire Montalto (formerly Brown’s Mountain) in 2004.  Dan Jordan, then Foundation President was quoted in The Hook 

“It’s a very expensive approach to viewshed protection,” says Jordan. “We’re not in the real estate business, but we felt we had to act to save our viewshed and protect a community landmark.”

Just as Jefferson did not seek to grow the nation via the Louisiana Overlay District, if the Foundation is interested in determining the color of the buildings on the land beneath them, they should PURCHASE it.

Anyone who wishes to do anything ever with their Albemarle County property would be wise to read the Historic, Cultural and Scenic resources chapter of the Comprehensive Plan to see how little Albemarle County values your property rights.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson



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