Tag Archives: Comprehensive Planning

Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan


By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has been a willing and active participant in Albemarle County’s dr strangeloveComprehensive Plan revision for over four years.  We have written extensively regarding our concerns about affordable housing, density, design criteria, social engineering via planning priorities and many other topics.

Now after three years of Planning Commission consideration and another year of Board of Supervisors editing and review, we must stand opposed to the current draft of the document based on its overarching government intervention tone, rural area restrictions and property rights infringements.  We do not take this position lightly and in fact note some of our advocated changes did make it in to the plan – but not enough.

The final scheduled Board of Supervisors public hearing is on Wednesday night (June 10).  After spending four years (and a nearly $1 million dollar HUD planning grant) of engagement, I am fairly certain the staff, the Board and even the special interest group advocates (myself included) are tired of wrestling with this document.

The easy thing would be to say “We did what we could, let’s pass this thing” but that would not be the right thing to do.

Not when the plan gives super property rights to one private entity – Monticello and punishes those land owners who have the gall to own property in that can be seen from “Jefferson’s Little Mountain”.

Not when the plan continues to apologize for economic development efforts that may provide good career ladder jobs in the development area for our kids and grandkids.

Not when the plan uses neighborhood design to increase the cost and complexity of providing housing in the development area in one chapter and then bemoans the lack of affordable housing in the next.

Not when the plan focuses more on getting citizens out of cars rather than improving the transportation network.

Not when the plan promises concurrency of infrastructure and public investment in the development areas and then threatens to deny development applications if the Board fails to find the political backbone to make such investment.

Not when the plan bombastically decries Natural Resource Protection the top priority for local government and calls for more planners less property rights.

Not when the plan threatens to remove some recreational uses and take away economic opportunity from rural land owners in the name of environmental protection and ignoring the current special use permit provisions that already address provide such protections.

No this plan must be vetoed – and it won’t be.

In reading the entire plan for the 14th time over the last month I have been struck by two somewhat allegorical comparisons to  my current predicament.

The first is the 1964 dark comedy movie Dr. Strangelove.  Few people remember that the full title of the movie was “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”.   The inevitability of the Comprehensive Plan passing is only measured by the number of times the Board of Supervisors has used the phrase “it’s only a guide” in their review even as they parsed the language.

alfred_e_neumanThe second allegorical comparison comes from MAD magazine and their cover boy Alfred E. Newman.  Newman’s philosophical position of “What? Me worry” might be the best way to understand the real meaning of this herculean attempt at planning control.

I wish I had a dollar for every time this plan has been referred to as a guide — not an ordinance.  Sure, until your ox is the one being gored, then it is up to who is interpeting the “guide”.     Considering the fact that the current Comprehensive Plan dictates that a small area plan WILL be completed prior to any transportation improvements on US29 at Rio Road and the interchange will be completed before the small area plan is really started – MAD may be the best fit.

pickens_bomb_rider1But in the end, as the Board of Supervisors positions itself to endorse the plan, I think Albemarle citizens might best identify with the Slim Pickens character in Dr. Strangelove as he rode the nuclear bomb into Russia.

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

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures, MAD magazine


Albemarle Apologetic Economic Development

By. Neil Williamson, President

While it is not the role of government to create economic development, government has the ability to create an environment that welcomes suchClosed20Sign_thumb.jpg activity.  Building such an environment requires commitment but recent actions by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) as well as a close examination of the proposed Comprehensive Plan chapters leads some to believe Albemarle may not be “open for business”.

Based on recent discussions, Albemarle seems to be much more likely to hire a planner to preserve the past than a position to help facilitate the jobs of the future.

Please let me explain.

Last Wednesday, just hours after two incumbents (Duane Snow and Rodney Thomas) lost their reelection bids, one of the other “lame ducks” on the Board, retiring Dennis Rooker, raised questions about the responsibilities and accountability of an Economic Development Department. 

Rooker was concerned about creating such a  “cost center” without specific metrics to evaluate its performance.  It would be refreshing to see this same level of accountability to some of the other County expenditures Supervisor Rooker has favored over the last twelve years (including the Historic Preservation Planner below).  While some in the audience saw this as a subtle delaying tactic designed to make the proposal come before the newly elected Board, Supervisor Snow went so far as to call it “a full retreat”.   

This Wednesday (11/13) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will consider three chapters of their Comprehensive Plan: Economic Development, Historic Resources, Natural Resources.  To be clear, we are appreciative that after 30 years of Comprehensive Planning, Albemarle County has an economic development chapter but  The Free Enterprise Forum believes it is not an accident that the Economic Development Chapter is the shortest of the three (and the shortest in the Plan).

Beyond the mere number of pages dedicated to economic development,  much of the document reads like an apology.  By means of comparison here is the Objective 1 of the Natural Resources Plan:

Protect the quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater resources in the County.

A crisp, measurable objective without conditions.  Objective 1 of the Historic Resources Plan is equally clear:

Continue to identify and recognize the value of buildings, structures, landscapes, sites and districts which have historical, architectural, archaeological or culture significance.

But the tenor of the Economic Development Objective 1 is completely different:

Ensure that economic development efforts are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with the other Comprehensive Plan goals.

Taken independently, one might find the Economic Development Objective 1 to be without objection but when compared side by side it is clear some chapters are more equal than others.

The Natural Resources Chapter speaks at great lengths regarding habitat fragmentation (including the below chart):



If it is important to educate citizens about the negative impacts of a fragmented wildlife habitat, is it not as important to educate citizens of the perils of underemployment (see chart below) and impact such underemployment has increasing the number of chronically unemployed youth?

Why wouldn’t the Comprehensive Plan seek to identify how this lack of good jobs is impacting the different segments of our population differently?

If it is an Albemarle County  strategy to “re-establish the full-time Historic Planner Position to assist in the implementation of the Preservation Plan”, is it not equally important to actually have at least one person’s full time job to be focused on the jobs of the future? 

Wednesday’s question for the lame duck BOS (and its newest member Jane Dittmar) is whether together they will fight to make economic development, and jobs, a priority in Albemarle County.

Looking at the tea leaves, I am not optimistic.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Chart credits:  www.econbrowser.com, www.thinkprogress.org

Albemarle Comp Plan Far From ‘Pitch Perfect’


By. Neil Williamson

On Tuesday July 23rd, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission will take final public comment on the Comprehensive Plan.  After working with the document for over two years, I believe the PC [and staff]would like to vote it ahead regardless of its true readiness for the stage.

The 2012 movie ‘Pitch Perfect’ follows an all-girl college a cappella group,pitch perfect The Barden Bellas, as they compete against another a cappella group from their college to win Nationals.  Along the way the “Bellas” must re-imagine their identity and find their voice by working to harmonize their very different extreme personalities and talents.

The latest rendition of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive plan fails to find this multi faceted harmony and instead sounds more like  an ill prepared middle school choir with several different talented voices but no harmony.

Remembering that this process was a part of the one million dollar planning grant the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) was awarded, one might have thought the document would be better coordinated.

Not singing from the same music 

For well over four years, the Planning Commission has effectively refused to consider most changes proposed  to the development area boundaries that were created in 1979.

Many thought that the state came in and took a significant portion of Albemarle’s planned development area with the ‘Biscuit Run’ state park acquisition was reason enough to reconsider the lines drawn during the Carter Administration.

Since about 2009, the Planning Commission promised applicants that they would consider their concepts “comprehensively” as a part of the Comp Plan process. When the time finally came to discuss potential expansion, the Commission did not weigh the merits of the potential expansion, they did (on a split vote) decide not to consider ANY potential expansion of the Development Area.

Regardless of their eventual decision to changing their tune regarding listening to the proposals was bad policy. 

Lack of balance

While we significantly appreciate the mere existence of an economic development chapter in the Comprehensive Plan, it seems almost apologetic for taking up space in the development area for jobs.

The very thin (smallest chapter in the plan) economic development chapter has one specific environmental stewardship plank:

Strategy 1c: Encourage all businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices.
Natural resource protection and conservation, including improving water quality, preserving water quantity, and reducing air pollution are established Albemarle County priorities. Encouraging sustainable business practices helps to further these priorities. The County is a sponsor of the Better Business Challenge, a friendly competition among local businesses to integrate sustainable initiatives into day-to-day business. The challenge centers on sustainability goals in the areas of Energy, Transportation, Water, Waste, Purchasing, and Leadership.

If this is appropriate why not have a portion of the Natural Resource Chapter focused on the County’s goals for Economic Development? 

If the County can team up with Better World Betty, shouldn’t equal import be placed on Better Business Betty?

The Natural Resources chapter reads like a environmental evangelism text to the extent of explaining the details and detriment of habitat fragmentation. The level of detail in the Natural Resources text is mind numbing.  While much of this seems like good information, the Free Enterprise Forum questions the need for such text in the Comprehensive Plan:

The next step in planning for biodiversity protection is a landscape-level analysis that incorporates data on the County’s landforms and on the location and quality of habitats, including fragmentation and connectivity, as well as their current level of biodiversity. Aquatic biodiversity should also be addressed through a sub-watershed analysis. The landscape approach focuses on a wide scale (square miles rather than square feet) and on the management of major land features (e.g., forest blocks, watersheds, urbanized areas) to conserve biodiversity.

The squeakiest wheels get solos

In considering this document, the Planning Commission again and again has asked “What does the Neighbnimby1_thumb.jpgorhood Advisory Council think of this?”.  While the advice of the advisory council is important, it is also important to recognize that those who serve as members of the council are “representative”.

Too often the advice of such council is to change nothing.   This Citizens Against Virtually Everything (CAVE) mentality permeates many of the advisory councils and is not representative of the citizenry at large.   Elected to lead, one hopes the Board of Supervisors would put the advisory council opinions to the side and consider the good of the entire county.

Just as ‘Pitch Perfect’ isn’t over after [spoiler alert] the girls finish third in regional competition, the Planning Commission’s July vote isn’t the beginning of the end, it is merely the end of the beginning;  The yet to be scheduled big finale will be with the Board of Supervisors sometime late in 2014 or early 2015.

Beca_3If, however, the Board of Supervisors fails to fix both the lack of harmony and the intellectual inconsistencies, this document may end up like pre-Beca Bellas – All dressed up with nothing meaningful to say.   And that would be — as they say in the movie – “Aca-Tragic”.

Respectfully Submitted,


Neil Williamson, President

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits : Universal Pictures

Who’s Responsible for TJPDC Failure To Deliver Million Dollar Planning Promise?

By. Neil Williamson, President

As Albemarle County and The City of Charlottesville continue to move forward on their comprehensive plans, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) effort entitled “Many Plans One Community” is failing to meet deadlines and has lost their project manager The HUD funded “Livability Communities” Planning Project continues to disappoint citizens and decision makers alike.

The “Performance Measurement System Report” document was designed to be the first deliverable for the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant (p.4).  The work on this deliverable  was mainly completed from January 2011 to April 2011.  Yet today the draft provided to the public for consideration as a part of Charlottesvilles Comprehensive Plan includes typographical errors and is missing critical information.  Throughout the document are the terms “placeholder” (p.25,26, 26, 28) or “need updated Information from City and County” (p.37)  All of the executive summaries in the March 15, 2013 draft (almost two years since the work was completed) contain Latin placeholders.

A review of the work plan included on the “Many Plans One Community” website indicates that all text was to be completed by January 31, 2013 to coincide with the respective Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan reviews.

The TJPDC process was designed from the outset to improve, not delay, the comprehensive plan process.  In their 2011 media release kicking off the process the TJPDC described the process:

Many Plans, One Community is the portal for information exchange and public input that will inform the updates of the Charlottesville and Albemarle County comprehensive plans, the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Long Range Transportation Plan update and the development of a regional Livable Communities Plan. Many Plans, One Community will be a One-Stop Shop for all information about each of these four different plans, as well as a forum for the public to provide feedback throughout the process. It is envisioned that this process will extend limited staff resources and encourage collaboration, facilitate public information sharing and increase transparency across municipal boundaries.

Back in September, 2012 Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs reported that three “One Community” TJPDC Planners had been let go earlier than planned due to budget overruns:

Two temporary employees of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission hired to help update the Albemarle and Charlottesville comprehensive plans will leave their jobs seven months earlier than expected as money from a $1 million federal grant begins to run out. . .

…“We are anticipating that we will be able to close out the project, complete all of the products

that have been promised both to HUD, the city and the

TJPDC Exec Stephen Williams

TJPDC Exec Stephen Williams

county and the MPO within the budget and within the time frames that are proposed,” Williams said.

Then on January 31, 2013 Project Manager Summer Frederick left the TJPDC to return to work for Albemarle County.  The TJPDC media release indicates:

As of February 1, 2013, Mr. Williams, will be the primary point of contact for all project management issues related to the Many Plans, One Community Livability Project.  Mr. Williams may be reached via phone at 434-979-7310 x110, or via email at swilliams@tjpdc.org

After three years and nearly a million dollars, what do the citizens have to show for it?  A litany of meetings, a website, partially completed reports and now TJPDC Exec Williams is taking management responsibility?

One has to wonder has the TJPDC met the terms, objectives and deadlines of the HUD Federal Grant?

And if not, who should be held responsible?

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Heavy Handed Albemarle Comp Plan is Not Ready For Prime Time

By. Neil Williamson, President

The 2013 Comprehensive Update to Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan is headed to public hearing on Tuesday (4/2) night.  The plan is available online, but the Free Enterprise Forum purchased a hard copy from the Planning Department for the princely sum of $168.

The new plan weighs in at about half the weight of the previous plan and we applaud the use of appendices rather than embedding policies and master plans into the text of the comp plan. 

We are encouraged by the brief (shortest in the Comp Plan) but meaningful chapter on Economic Development as well as the recognition of the importance of agriculture and forestry to the rural areas. We are encouraged that the document asks the question ‘How do Cash Proffers hinder density’.

But with that being said, we find the comprehensive plan to be lacking a consistent, unified voice.  For all the brevity of the Economic Development chapter, there are long winded almost evangelical undercurrents written into the Natural (and Historic) Resources chapters that have little or no concern for the cost of implementation nor property owner rights and do not belong in this planning document. 

  …the County should develop the action plan to focus on conserving ecological integrity at the scale of the landscape.  The landscape approach focuses on a wide scale (square miles rather than square feet) an the management of major land features (e.g., forest blocks, watersheds, urbanized areas) to both conserve ecological diversity and support conservation measures (such as conservation easements) or for restoration efforts.  This plan should also establish conservation approaches for aquatic conservation through land management techniques designed for a specific watershed. (5.1.14)

The concept of a historical protection ordinance has been a flaw in Albemarle County’s comprehensive plan for years.  In this iteration, the concept has been vastly expanded to use GIS technology to create a historic overlay layer and empower (likely without legislative authority) the Architectural Review Board to evaluate development proposals and by right building in and adjacent to the Historic Overlay.

Strategy 2b.3: Expand the Authority of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to include the review required under the recommended historical overlay district ordinance.  Revise the make-up of the ARB to include members with expertise in historic preservation and revise the name of the board accordingly.

Strategy 2b.4: Establish an advisory review by the ARB of all rezonings, special use permits, site plans, and subdivision plats for proposals located within or abutting a locally designated historic district to ensure that historic preservation considerations are available as part of the decision making process. (5.2.10)

The Free Enterprise Forum has already written extensively about the Monticello Land Grab that is currently drafted into the comp plan has attempted to put into the Comprehensive Plan.  To be clear there is no reason for Monticello’s viewshed to be enumerated in the Comprehensive Plan.  We encourage Monticello to work directly with their neighbors to discuss how each of them exercise their property rights and leave government out of the equation.  

Upon further study, it became clear that Monticello is not the only entity seeking to regulate aesthetics.  Under the Cultural and Scenic resources section the comprehensive plan calls for expanded (again without legislative authority) power for Albemarle County:

The County’s scenic resources are highly valued and contribute both to the quality of life and the tourism economy.  Existing regulations only go so far in protecting the resources.  Greater ability to regulate aesthetics is desired to help preserve these qualities. (5.2.14)

The Transportation chapter section of the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to reflect reality.  Without population increases exponentially above the current projection, automobiles will continue to be the dominant form of transportation and home buyers will continue to choose homes that best fit their lifestyle choices rather than being limited by transportation availability.  Highlighting an anti car/anti personal mobility bias the plan states:

Dispersed development patterns have helped promote a transportation network that is mostly focused on the automobile.  In the past, a more abundant supply of cheap land and fuel encouraged development patterns that have become hard to sustain.  Today, and n the future, the local transportation system is faced with the challenge of finding adequate revenue, an aging transportation infrastructure (and an aging population), higher energy prices, and accommodating future population and employment growth….

Since our founding, the Free Enterprise Forum has had issues with the mandated neighborhood model form of development and the manner in which the County has now codified THE MODEL rather than a model.  Considering the importance of this document and our ten years of experience with THE model shouldn’t more time be taken to see how these “principles” have turned out in real projects both good and bad?  In addition, based on all of the evidence light rail will not work in Albemarle County in the next 50 years; why then is it still on page 5.5.19 of the comprehensive plan. 

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the significant effort staff and the Planning Commission have put into the document thus far.  We believe there are positives in this iteration but we also believe it could still be better.

We hope that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors take their time with the document that is supposed to guide our community for the next twenty years.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org


Should VDOT Force Trucks to Bypass Stanardsville?

By Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

stanardsville bypassThe Route 33 by-pass around Stanardsville in Greene County  was built in 2000.  This project was first envisioned in 1964 as part of the Virginia Arterial System that was designated for 4-laning and bypasses around major towns. The connection between US-33 from I-81 at Harrisonburg to US-29 at Ruckersville was considered an important part of this plan.   Elkton’s bypass was completed in the early 1970’s.  In addition to improving traffic flow on the arterials, such bypasses also reduce the impact of through traffic on the towns bypassed, especially tractor trailers. Logically you would think that “if you build it, they will come”

The reality is for traffic headed East or West, the Bypass works well.standardsville route

But for traffic coming to and from the North, geometry wins out.

Traffic coming from the north and wanting to cross over to Route 81 have two options to get there. They can take the right triangle of Route 29 South to Ruckersville and head west on Route 33 and take the scenic bypass [16.0 miles]. However, the shorter route is the hypotenuse of the right triangle. From Madison take Route 230 South which ends on the east side of Stanardsville and then turn right through town on Main Street (old Route 33) toward the valley [12.6 miles]. Of course, this works in reverse for traffic heading north.

So, the economics of taking the shorter (less costly route) wins and one of the benefits of the bypass is significantly diluted.  The question is should through truck traffic be prohibited in Stanardsville? 

This issue is significant enough to be included in the Town of Standardsville Comprehensive Plan.

The Main Street of Stanardsville currently sustains an excessive amount of truck traffic, 9% of all vehicles.  This leads to heightened safety concerns, increases need for roadway maintenance, and generates pollution and noise in close proximity to businesses and homes. The route is utilized as a shortcut by trucks travelling eastbound on Route 33 to northbound on Route 29, although there is little evidence that this alternative route saves time on average.

At the February 26th BOS meeting Supervisor Davis Lamb brought up a citizen’s request to hold a public hearing to discuss the Town of Stanardsville’s  request to consider the restriction of truck traffic in Stanardsville 

Chairman Jim Frydl said the BOS would be willing to hold a public hearing if there were any facts regarding safety issues and concerns.

Fast forward to the March 26th meeting. Stanardsville Mayor Gary Lowe  was one of 14 people addressing the issue of truck traffic in Stanardsville. Speaking under “other matters from the public” Lowe explained that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  has four criteria to check before they will consider redirecting tractor trailer traffic of which the first three have been met. The fourth step is to have the BOS hold a public hearing and then decide if they will pass a resolution of support that would then be forwarded to VDOT. VDOT would then have up to 9 months to render a decision based on a study of alternative route safety, impact on trucks and does it benefit the community. VDOT must also have support and commitment of local law enforcement before they agree to redirect truck traffic.

Sherriff Steve Smith  addressed the BOS and stated that his department is neutral on the matter but that he could enforce the new restriction if VDOT approved.

The other speakers expressed concerns from safety issues, the streetscape expenditures  to happen this year, noise issues, aesthetic issues, etc. Only one speaker, after listing five negatives about the truck traffic in Stanardsville, offered up a positive – it is less traffic on the bypass.

The BOS made no comment in response to the issues raised under “matters from the public” session of their meeting. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the public’s participation and encourages the BOS to go forward with the public hearing to allow comments from both sides of this issue.


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

Photo Credits: http://www.wrx900.com/, bing maps 

Monticello’s Comp Plan Land Grab


By. Neil Williamson, President

“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:36

Considering Thomas Jefferson’s strong belief in personal property rights, one must wonder what Jefferson would think of the Foundation that bears his name seeking to use Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan to enact ‘voluntary’ restrictions on the property rights of landowners whose properties might be visible from Monticello.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees this as an effective land grab via comprehensive plan.

Please let me explain.

According to Merriam-Webster, the term land grab was first used in the middle 1800’s  “to describe a usually swift acquisition of property (as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force”.

Today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc., owner and operator of Monticello, is calling for the creation of a “Monticello Protection Area” overlay in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.   The Foundation contends that the view from Monticello is an important part of their dual nonprofit mission of education and preservation.  They are seeking to have input on any development/construction activity that occurs within this “Protection Area”. 

The map below, prepared by Foundation staff and included in the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, illustrates the vast area Monticello wishes to exercise their ‘voluntary’ design control.


The current iteration of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan includes a significantly smaller Monticello view shed map.  The map below includes both the current (in blue) and proposed (in gray)  view shed maps:

current and proposed

This is a huge increase in area and includes parcels that, due to topography can not be seen from Monticello (example: portions of Avon Street Extended).

Foundation staff provided both the verbiage and the map to be included in the just released Albemarle Comprehensive Plan.   The word voluntary does not appear anywhere in the documents provided.

From the draft Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (as drafted by the Foundation):

The Monticello Protection Area is defined by the GIS map on file with Albemarle County which depicts all property visible from the Monticello mountaintop.  The intent of the Guidelines for Development within the Monticello Protection Area (MPA) is to protect the historic character of Monticello and the rural character of entrance corridors, particularly as it relates to the visitor experience. The implementation of these guidelines is intended to maintain the historic and rural character of the area for both visitors and residents to improve the economic vitality of this community resource.

Members of the Foundation staff have indicated property owners will not have to abide by their ‘voluntary’ restrictions.  They simply want to make the landowners aware that the view from their very important community asset might be negatively impacted by something the landowner could lawfully do with their property.  The Foundation also wants to suggests ways property owners could change their plans to better suit the desires of the Foundation.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes if included in the Comprehensive Plan, the regulatory reality (different from the true legal standing) is that the Foundation would have effective design control power over all development in the “Monticello Protection Area”. 

The guidelines the Foundation has proposed are exceedingly specific and overreaching.  The Foundation wants to weigh in on the color, arrangement, lighting and even placement of windows on properties they do not own.  They are mandating a seat at the table at every rezoning Albemarle considers in their view shed.  In addition, while they want to have the ability to enjoy the view of properties they don’t own, they specifically do not want windows facing their property.  Lest you think we have overstated these voluntary restrictions, here is exactly as they appear in the Draft Comprehensive plan:

Bright pastels and whites on exterior faces of buildings and roofs can be distracting when viewing the natural landscape from Monticello. Muted colors for roofs and walls that blend with the natural landscape (ie. mid-spectrum browns and greys, sandy tones) can be substituted for bright pastels and whites on building faces and roofs.

To minimize impact, avoid large roof expanses, especially those of one color—mottled coloring that combines light and dark elements for roofs is preferred.

Surfaces that are prone to glare and reflection increase visibility and should be avoided whenever possible.

For example, expansive windows facing Monticello should be avoided.

Flood lights, up- lights and exposed bulbs are more apparent in the night sky than shielded fixtures. Lighting for buildings and parking areas can use shielded fixtures at lower heights to reduce impacts. Whenever possible lighting should not be placed higher than the tree line.

Lighting on the tops of cellular towers should be avoided when possible.

Lighting for buildings and parking areas should use fixtures that reduce/eliminate glare.

Employ techniques that break up massing.

Development that breaks the mature tree line is more apparent than development that is lower than the mature tree line. Special consideration should be given to development which is higher than the mature tree line to camouflage impacts.

Parking can always be broken up with interspersed plantings of trees and other landscaping.

When there is no conflict with Entrance Corridor or Neighborhood Model guidelines, the preferred location for parking is on the far side of buildings as viewed from Monticello.

Landscaping to screen buildings and parking should employ trees which will generate a mature canopy of trees.

Monticello welcomes the opportunity to assist homeowners and developers who are contemplating construction in the MPA. Please contact Monticello with any questions about these guidelines.

Projects that require discretionary land use permits should consider offering a proffer that addresses protection of the views from Monticello. Albemarle County could consider conditions that protect the views from Monticello when special use permits are issued.

Considering the revised map and the voluntary restrictions listed above, development (that the Comprehensive Plan seeks to encourage) just got a great deal more difficult in the Monticello visible development areas of Albemarle County.  In addition, The Free Enterprise Forum questions the legal standing for the existing Monticello view shed protection in the current Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan.   

In 2004, we cheered when the Foundation purchased a neighboring 334 acre parcel now known as Montalto.  This purchase is the proper way to control view shed – you want it — buy it.

When President Thomas Jefferson looked west to the expansion of the United States, he initiated the Louisiana Purchase.  I firmly believe Jefferson would advocate for the protection of property rights over the view shed protections currently proposed.

Despite the fact that they wrote it, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation should now ask the Albemarle County Planning Commission to remove the “Monticello Protection Area” map and the associated  ‘voluntary’ land grab language from the Comprehensive Plan before prior to sending it on to the Board of Supervisors.

As Jefferson wrote “Nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of.” –[Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 1786. ME 5:440]. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Image Credits:Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc.

Why Didn’t Somebody Call The Police

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County just released its latest draft of their comprehensive plan.  A large portion of the plan regards land use.  Interior to the land use portion is the concept of the “neighborhood model”.  The Neighborhood Model is a form of New Urbanism that promotes pedestrian orientation, building mass, interconnected streets, multi modal transportation options and even public art.

But what about crime?  There is an increasing volume of research indicating some elements of new urbanism promote criminal activity. 

So we were most interested when Albemarlecrime scene tape County announced in July 2011 that a new Crime Prevention Officer position (click here for the media release).  Ten year Albemarle Police veteran Steve Watson, a CEPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) Certified Police Officer was selected for this position.  According to the County media release:

Officer Watson’s duties and responsibilities will include managing community related events, and coordinating the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program and the Neighborhood Watch Program.  Officer Watson will be the liaison between the community and the police department as it relates to crime prevention.

In a telephone interview with the Free Enterprise Forum, Officer Watson indicated he has had no interaction with the Planning Department regarding Crime Prevention and the Neighborhood Model but he would welcome such a conversation.  Frankly, Officer Watson seemed almost evangelical about his passion for CPTED.

Considering this newly acquired talent, why didn’t somebody call the Police? 

During the discussion of relegated parking (once merely a part of the Neighborhood Model, now written into County Code), the Free Enterprise Forum asked what the Albemarle County Police Department thought of this planning concept.  Based on our limited understanding of CPTED, hidden parking lots created a fertile environment for criminal activity.  Our calls for police involvement fell on deaf ears.

Basic CPTED theory focuses on examining the built environment and how CPTED principles apply to problem solving, community planning, and safety and security assessments. 

NCPClogo.gifThe National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) offers certification in CPTED and indicates the basic coursework provides:

The Basic CPTED course covers the theory behind CPTED and give an overview of the history of crime and the physical environment; the basics of CPTED principles and how they work; applying successful applications and techniques of CPTED to specific crimes; how to consider CPTED principles in plans to secure key public places and facilities; and how to conduct a community safety assessment using CPTED principles.

  • CPTED applications to specific crimes and “hot spots” locations
  • Specific practical techniques including street and security lighting, landscaping, barriers, traffic calming, and target hardening
  • Role of maintenance, ordinances, and other local laws in strategies to prevent crime and improve quality of life
  • How to conduct a community safety assessment using tools based on CPTED principles
  • How to consider CPTED principles in plans to secure key public places and facilities
  • How to link neighborhood volunteers to local crime prevention, community building, and homeland security initiatives.

Naively perhaps, the Free Enterprise Forum believed that the Albemarle County Planning Department would know that the Albemarle County Police Department had this new position dedicated to Crime Prevention and would utilize this resource to evaluate the Comprehensive Plan review.  [Remember this Comprehensive Plan revision included a Million Dollar Grant to help Albemarle coordinate planning work with Charlottesville and the University].

There is mention of CPTED in the Current Comprehensive Plan under Parks and Open Space:

The design and location of open space determines how fully it will be used. For example, a public space framed by building fronts, surrounded by neighborhood thoroughfares, and accessible to nearby residents is inviting and safe. Such principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) can improve siting decisions, as can such criteria as locating parks near paths or major destinations like schools and other public facilities

But nowhere in this state mandated document is there significant consideration of crime prevention through better community design.

For a government dedicated to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,  that is a crime.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

‘Rezoning Ransom’: Repeal cash proffers

Rezoning Ransom OpEd Headline Daily Progress 3 March 2013This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday March 3, 2013.  The full “Contradictory Consequences” white paper can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org under the reports tab.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government in the Central Virginia region.


By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

There are times you have to say no to one thing because you said yes to something else. Such is the case with cash proffers.

If a community believes in citizen vetted comprehensive planning, preserving rural areas by densification of development areas and economic vitality, then such a community must say no to the fatally flawed cash proffer system.

In the recently released “Contradictory Consequences” white paper, the Free Enterprise Forum research and case studies explain the impacts of cash proffers. Sold to the public as a way to make growth pay for itself, the unintended negative economic and planning impacts have caused localities across the Commonwealth to repeal this “rezoning ransom” and replace these funds with more dependable and equitable infrastructure funding options. Today, rather than simply recalibrating their cash proffer calculation, as Albemarle County is doing, full repeal is a much more economically and ecologically sensible and sustainable alternative.

Cash proffers are per unit fees “voluntarily” extracted from applicants seeking to rezone their property. In theory, such “voluntary” proffers would be directly tied to the costs associated with the increased density of a rezoning. In reality, cash proffers lower land values, encourage development contrary to comprehensive plans, and create false hope for outside infrastructure funding.

Lower land values, lower property tax revenue – In concept, cash proffers are voluntary payments made by landowners to mitigate the impacts of changing the prescriptive zoning on their property. The concept works best when the rezoned value exceeds the increased cost of the proffer. Such a symbiotic relationship is difficult to achieve with automatic inflation increasing cash proffers and fickle housing markets not keeping pace.

Albemarle Single Family Detached $19,753Townhouse $13,432Multi Family $13,996
Charlottesville No cash proffers
Greene $5,778 per unit
Fluvanna $6,577 per unit
Louisa $4,362 per unit
Nelson No cash proffers

Basic economic theory indicates any increased cost must be paid by an entity that is a part of the transaction. Many believe the increased cost of a cash proffer will be borne by the end user, the new homebuyer. This can only occur in a housing market that has constant upward motion.

If, due to market conditions, the end user is not available to accept the cost of the cash proffer it is the land owner, whose land will be discounted by the increased entitlement costs that cash proffers create. In turn, such reduced land values reduce the locality’s real estate tax assessed value and revenue (absent an increase in the tax rate).

‘By Right’ Development Encouraged Charlottesville and Albemarle are currently updating their State mandated comprehensive plans. These community vetted plans suggest the manner in which the locality wishes to grow in the next twenty years.

In many, if not most, cases the zoning in a locality’s development area does not match the comprehensive plan designation. While the property owner does not have to agree to the comprehensive plan changes, they cannot act on those new designations until they have rezoned the property. Alternatively, if the land owner chooses to move forward with the existing, some might call “stale”, zoning, which likely does not agree with the locality’s comprehensive plan, they can do so immediately without paying any cash proffers.

In 2011, a developer acquired the rights to a project that included property in The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Charlottesville does not have a cash proffer, while Albemarle’s exceeds $19,000 per single family home. After calculating the increased value of the land with the rezoning in each locality, the developer chose to rezone the property that was in the City (without cash proffers) and chose NOT to rezone the property in the county. This calculated decision was based on calculation of the cost (in money and time) of rezoning the County land exceeded the increase value.

Therefore, the land owner is incentivized to not to follow the community vetted comprehensive plan vision but instead to construct lower density, less thoughtfully designed developments. These projects are built to meet local building and zoning code but absent the enhancements and flexibility a rezoning might allow.

False Financial Hope – Forecasting cash proffer revenue is much like predicting snow in Central Virginia, localities do not know when it is coming, how much they are actually going to get or when it will stop. Cash proffers rarely, if ever, total the amounts localities are banking on.

In November 2012, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors was presented a staff report outlining cash proffers that were in excess of $49.3 million dollars quite literally off the chart.

albemarle proffer 2012 chart with biscuit runAs one looks at this chart (right) and sees almost $50 Million dollars proffered, one might anticipate the cash proffer program is answering the very need it was designed but the Free Enterprise Forum estimates at least 28% of those proffers will never be collected as they are associated with the now defunct Biscuit Run Development.

It is interesting that while the State of Virginia acquired the property for a state park on December 31, 2009, Albemarle County continued to calculate those proffers as receivable in November 2012.

Rural Areas Jeopardized – According to the Piedmont Environmental Council, Albemarle County has in excess of 10,000 units already rezoned for residential development. Why have these not moved forward?

Have the embedded costs of development in Albemarle County, including cash proffers, created a cost burden the market is unable to bear?

If growth trends continue, won’t these embedded costs push residential development out of Albemarle County’s designated growth areas and into the rural areas?

The reality is that cash proffers contribute to the paradigm that rural residential development remains the least expensive, most profitable development option in Albemarle County.

If the cash proffers are pushing development into the rural areas and surrounding localities, what are the community costs of increased traffic, more costly government services delivery, as well as loss of ecologically contributing farmland, and productivity?

Cash proffers have produced a plethora of Contradictory Consequences without achieving significant benefit. Now is the time to repeal this rezoning ransom and replace it with a more sensible and equitable alternative.

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Comments on Albemarle County’s Rural Areas Rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan

October 30, 2012

Sunset at Pippen Hill Vineyards - North GardenThe Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the efforts of Albemarle County staff in the rewrite of the rural areas chapter but there is a consistent tension in the document between rural area residential uses and rural area agricultural uses.   On page twelve, the chapter identifies the 1994 recommendations of farm operator that state “County Policies that support farmers regarding nuisance conflicts generated by residential uses in the Rural Areas” later on that same page it discusses ancillary “non-agricultural” to use the comp plan term “can have physical and nuisance impacts on surrounding rural land.”  I am confused which is the nuisance the agricultural use or the residential use.

The Free Enterprise Forum requests that landowner rights be included in those items the plan seeks to protect on Page 7.  It is important to recognize the rural areas are in their current state not because of government action but because of landowner stewardship.  We suggest the words inserting after protect “land owner rights and” the key elements that give the area its character.

The chart for residential uses on page 2 in the rural area is accurate, but misleading.  The rural area units do not compete with the condos and apartments.  A more accurate chart would compare Single Family Detached housing in the rural area vs Single Family Detached in the development area.

Under Conservation easements the Comp Plan notes 18.6 percent of the county is now under conservation easement.  What is the goal? 

If ¼ of the County’s land mass was tied up in perpetuity would that be enough? 

Is Albemarle County spending on such easements a proper metric for success? 

The chapter cites 70 farms in Albemarle County that sell local products to local consumers (Page 4).  I anticipate this number was taken from the Piedmont Environmental Council’s  Eat Local Campaign (Which is a great program).  Later in the document (and on the county’s website) the plan cites 26 wineries (there are 2 that I know of not yet listed) I believe this metric needs to be checked as only 7 Albemarle wineries are included in PEC’s list.  I suggest coordinating with Albemarle County Farm Bureau on this issue.

 We have spoken to staff regarding the objectives on Page 19 as being too broad.  Any new use, beyond a hayfield, would generate more demand on police and fire, will change the character of the area, and based on our understanding of the fractured aquifers and Virginia water law the concept of drawing groundwater from others should be removed.

Considering the fastest growing form of agriculture is farm wineries, we were surprised to see the assertion on page 20 “This situation is complicated by the tendency of winery events (which often include weddings and other gatherings to use their rural surroundings as an attraction without significantly supporting or promoting agricultural production”.  Nothing could be further from reality, as countless winegrowers have testified weddings and events generate new customers, sales and provide economic support for the agricultural uses.   These types of events were deemed as “usual and customary” by the General Assembly in HB 463. We ask this offending language be removed.

 We ask for a minor modification on Page 21 where the comp plan states Additional measures are needed to resolve issues, such as requiring a sound management plan.  We suggest changing to read “Additional measures need to be evaluated …”

 On Page 23, we ask you to drop 3b — the limitation of one or two special use permit events is too limiting.  Each special use permit should be considered on its own merit and conditions.

 We ask you reconsider the groundwater language in strategy 4b

 In Objective 5 we don’t understand why you are expanding some recreational activities while limiting others.  As the County is 95% rural areas we wonder why you would preclude a swim or tennis club in the rural areas to serve those residents as a special use permit.

Again we appreciate staff’s work on this document and hope you bring forward a comprehensive plan chapter that respects landowner rights and preserves rural enterprise economic sustainability.

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.