Tag Archives: Development Policies

C-ville UDO – Merging (Not Fixing) Ordinances

By. Neil Williamson, President

measure twice cut onceOn Tuesday evening, Charlottesville’s Planning Commission is being asked to endorse a new “concept” that would seek to merge the development regulations and subdivision ordinances and refer to the consolidated requirements as a “Unified Development Ordinance” (UDO).

This staff driven concept is allegedly being prompted by a change in state code that no longer allows localities to mandate a preliminary AND final submission.  Therefore, staff desires City Code clearly delineate all requirements for subdivision and zoning final plans in one ordinance.

Originally presented as “housekeeping items”, the Planning Commission balked and questioned the breadth of the significant changes.  The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) also weighed in with two pages of concerns.

After meeting with BRHBA representatives, Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson dismissed their concerns suggesting now was not the time to discuss “substantive” provisions of the two ordinances being merged.  In addition she wrote that the concerns

relate to existing provisions of the City’s zoning ordinance (“Z.O.)” or subdivision ordinance (“S.O.”) and are not new within the draft UDO:

For those not following the ordinance merry-go-round already in motion – Charlottesville has initiated a “Code Audit” that will likely result in significant ordinance changes beyond (and perhaps in conflict with) the changes contemplated under this UDA “concept”.  If they move forward with the UDA this will result in two confusing massive overhauls in City Code.  Why not wait until the audit is completed before going forward with the UDA concept?

With all due respect to the Chief Deputy County Attorney, if the UDO “concept” has significant problems, it is important to raise those concerns prior to endorsing the concept.  It may be that the entire ordinance structure needs to be “substantively reviewed” prior to the Planning Commission providing their proof of concept.

Further complicating matters is the imminent departure of Jim Tolbert who has served as the Director of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) since its inception.  While we have not always agreed with Tolbert, we know him to be a pragmatic professional and will miss his wit and wisdom.  We fully anticipate a lengthy national search for Tolbert’s replacement and have heard rumors of a potential reorganization of the entire City Planning/Zoning Department.  In the interim, the departments will likely run shorthanded.

design charetteIf the Planning Commission decides now is the best time to push forward an UDO, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates this will be yet another outside consultant exercise where local understanding of the regulations and policies regarding development operations may become lost in the mirage of charettes and renderings of other localities.

It is rather sad that rather than dealing with the substantive issues raised by the very people impacted by the ordinances, the Chief Deputy City Attorney was dismissive of their concerns.

Could the staff concerns regarding the elimination of preapplication plans be solved without a massive consolidated UDA?

Of course it could.

Will Charlottesville’s Planning Commission challenge staff to deal directly with the issues raised, choose to wait for their own Code Audit to complete prior to overhauling the City Code  or will they chose to follow staff’s direction and put off the important substantive problems with the existing (and proposed) ordinances and push forward with the UDA concept?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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: Free Enterprise Forum, aggieworkshop.com, arbroath.blogspot.com

US29 Bypass – Building a Roadblock is Easier Than Building a Road

By. Neil Williamson, President

VDOT-logo_thumb.jpgOn Thursday, May 23rd, from 5 pm – 7 pm at the University Area Holiday Inn,  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be holding an open house style meeting to discuss alternative designs to the southern terminus of the US 29 Western Bypass.  But the question is will “the public” focus on the meeting topic or use this meeting as a platform for opposition to this much needed safety improvement to US29?

Based on the e-mbypass-survey-results-graphic-2012.jpgail and Facebook traffic I have seen this week, I fully anticipate the “roadblock builders” to be out in great numbers at this meeting.  Does this mean the public is opposed to the road? 

No, in fact our 2004 transportation survey, Charlottesville Tomorrow 2012 survey [graphic] (and others) as well as the 2011 Rivanna District Supervisor election all seem to indicate the pubic is in favor of the road.

However, when a cohort of any population, regardless of size, is in opposition to a project that cohort is generally more energized than the cohort that is in support of an already approved project.  Therefore, I anticipate the “road blockers” to dominate the attendance at Thursday’s citizen informational meeting.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds this vocal minority for remaining engaged, we question the structural integrity of their current six part “GO29” argument.

Please let me explain. 

On their website, The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) advocates for several steps to relieve the congestion on US29 other than the bypass. 

The first step in building an effective roadblock is to redefine the argument.  If you can include portions of the opposition’s solution in your solution, you will have them chasing their rhetorical tail.

By branding this as “GO29”, the SELC seems to think the public will not recognize that many parts of “their” solution are already in process at the direction of those supporting the bypass {and were included in Places29].

From the SELC website:

We can’t bypass our problems. Our community has developed an approach that addresses traffic backups directly, and also gives drivers more ways to reach destinations. Our Go29 video highlights six key pieces of the solution:       

    1. Improve the interchange with the 250 Bypass near Best Buy;  
    2. Build a compact overpass at Hydraulic Road to eliminate a major source of congestion and allow through-traffic on 29 to flow without stopping;
    3. Extend Hillsdale Drive parallel to 29 to give local drivers ways to reach destinations without having to use 29;
    4. Build a second compact overpass at Rio to solve this traffic snarl (same concept as Hydraulic);
    5. Extend Berkmar Drive up to Hollymead Town Center and beyond, so that drivers could go from Kmart to Lowe’s to Target without getting on 29; and
    6. Eliminate the bottleneck between the Rivanna River and Hollymead by widenin100_0404_thumb.jpgg 29 in both directions.

Wait a minute, four of these items are not issues.  There is community consensus (and in some cases studies completed and even funding) for:

  1. The Best Buy Ramp
  2. Hillsdale Drive Extended
  3. Berkmar Drive Extended
  4. The widening of US29 North of the Rivanna River

By suggesting these other items won’t be built, SELC is knowingly constructing a multi faceted false choice argument designed to obfuscate the simple question Expressway or Bypass?  

Should vehicles without business in the North US29 corridor be forced to go through the corridor or should they be given the option to bypass it?

But none of this is the topic of Thursday’s meeting.

According to VDOT:

The purpose of this Citizen Information Meeting is to provide an opportunity for interested citizens and organizations to review preliminary alternatives for the proposed interchange at the southern terminus of the project. . . The project will include construction of a new interchange at the southern terminus of the project that will replace the existing U.S. 250 Bypass interchange at Leonard Sandridge Road. VDOT is considering three alternative configurations for this proposed interchange. Displays showing each alternative under consideration are being presented at this meeting for public review and comment.

So the question remains, will Thursday’s meeting be about the alternatives to the southern terminus of UAlice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleS29 Bypass or a trip down the roadblock builder’s rhetorical rabbit hole?

Will the vocal minority succeed in redefining the meeting agenda to include settled issues or will VDOT be able to maintain the focus on the three proposed southern terminus options?

Clearly in Albemarle County, and many communities, building a roadblock is much easier than building a road.

Stay tuned.

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: Free Enterprise Forum, Disney

Graphic Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Greene PC Denies Proffer Amendment

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Back in 2008, Kinvara Properties, LLC received approval of their Greene County rezoning on the west side of US29 near its intersection with Cedar Grove Road (Route 607).  As a part of the rezoning, a series of voluntary proffers were offered by the developer and accepted by Greene County.   On Wednesday, May 15th Kinerva returned to the Greene County Planning Commission  to request to amendment of the proffers including interconnectivity and removal of the cash proffers 

Attorney Butch Davies spoke on behalf of the request and indicated that Kinvara has a party, Jeana Server, interested in purchasing the property if it included passage from Deer Lake Estates to the Food Lion shopping center and the elimination of cash proffers. Mr. Davies indicated that the buyer would not make the purchase without these conditions.

After hearing from the applicant, the commission opened the public hearing. Chad Womack, a resident in Deer Lake Estates, stated that the residents did not want connectivity to the Food Lion shopping center. Ed Mahoney echoed Mr. Womack’s concern and suggested that a traffic light be installed on Route 29 at the Deer Lake entrance.

Jenna Server, the prospective buyer, said that the $9,000 cash proffer  that was a part of the 2008 rezoning, was not economically feasible given the market study she recently had performed.

Matt Straus, a resident of the Willow Creek subdivision, urged the Planning Commission not to bail out the developer by waiving the cash proffer at the expense of having the residents in Greene County bear this cost. Brian Higgins from the Piedmont Environmental Council asked that the Planning Commission not start a trend of waiving cash proffers. One speaker did speak in favor of the amendment stating it would be good for business in a down economy.

The final speaker was Carl Schmitt, former Greene County supervisor, who helped develop the Cash Proffer policy. He asked the commission not to allow the amendment and to keep the Cash Proffer policy in effect.

The Planning Commission then closed the public hearing and opened their discussion of the request. Vice Chairman Jay Willer indicated he had some concerns about the proffer policy itself, but as for this specific request, he felt there should not be a modification to the proffer policy. Chairman Anthony Herring Joel Snow stated that while he is a businessman and had sympathy with the request he did not support waiving the Cash Proffer. The remaining three commissioners were all in agreement and the vote was unanimous 5 – 0 to deny the rezoning application.

Earlier this Spring, the Free Enterprise Forum issued a white paper ‘Contradictory Consequencesregarding the impacts of cash proffers on development projects. While we do not take a position on any project, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the testimony supports that cash proffers are one (not the only) factor in the market viability of this specific project.

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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

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

 

‘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

Greene BOS Works With Citizens

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

The June 26 Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting provided several examples of how private citizens working with government can achieve community advancement.

Ethyle Cole Giuseppe, 92, was recognized for her continued generosity to the Greene County Park.  Last year, Giuseppe donated the funds for construction of a comfort station at the county park.  At this meeting she agreed to pay for a basketball court at the park which will allow Greene County to delay expenditures for the park until next fiscal year and start down the list of priorities to further enhance the park.

The renovation of the second story of the Greene County owned library building  is ahead of schedule and will be ready for Fall, 2012 semester of Piedmont Virginia Community College,  in the Eugene Giuseppe Center (this project, as well as the furnishings for the library, were also accomplished with significant private support).  While the second floor has remained vacant since the library opened in 2003, Chairman “Buggs” Peyton commended the foresight to construct the library building with the second floor that is now ready to provide PVCC classes in Stanardsville.

Roy Dye of Stanardsville Area Revitalization (*STAR*) reported thatstar logo grants to renovate the downtown Stanardsville streetscapes are making progress . All right of way required have been donated by property owners – some were only asking for 6 inches to allow wider sidewalks. Documents have been submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for review. After approval by VDOT, the project will be advertised to make selection of vendors with work scheduled to begin as early as this fall.

Considering recent discussions of an oversized reserve fund, it’s easy to forget that not long ago, Greene County was nearly bankrupt. In those days, Greene regularly borrowed funds in order to meet payroll and other obligations before the next property tax semiannual payment.  Strict financial controls were enacted to change this practice.  One BOS meeting during this time featured a constitutional officer requesting, and being denied, funds to replace a dying computer (>$1,000) outside the normal budget cycle.

The fiscal restraint that previous Boards of Supervisors utilized is evident as Greene now boasts a large financial reserve, far beyond the minimum recommended by their auditing firm.  Even as they accrued this reserve, Greene continued to continued to advance important capital projects at the same time.

The Greene County Board of Supervisors are successfully leveraging both corporate and private citizen support to enhance the quality of life for all citizens. While unfunded state mandates continue to negatively impact Greene’s budget, their strategic capital investments as well as a business friendly environment have created a new fiscal reality for local government.

How the Board will deal with this new reality will be the discussion in their next Board meeting on July 10th.  The Board has heard from some citizens advocating for maintaining a larger than required reserve, some wishing to spend down a portion of the reserve and still others that consider the reserve to be an indication they have been over taxed. 

Will Greene County create endorse a written financial reserve policy? 

How will that policy impact scheduled capital improvement projects? 

Will such a policy create a financial safety net to avoid raising taxes?

Once again the Free Enterprise Forum has more questions than answers.

Stay tuned.

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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

Albemarle’s Proposed ARB Solution is Worse than The Problem

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The other afternoon, as the sky grew dark and I heard loud rumbling in the distance, I was reminded of Albemarle County’s proposed improvements to the development review process.

Just as the rumbling prior to a summer storm, last summer thunderstorm Ann Stromber Nelson County Lifeweek’s stakeholder roundtable  provided significant warning that the proposed revisions are not embraced by those whom will be impacted, and that the provisions regarding the Architectural Review Board (ARB) may make an existing bad problem exponentially worse.

Please let me explain.

By code, the ARB has very specific and limited powers.  The ARB has been concerned that by the time they get to see the project’s “final site plan” too many decisions have already been approved (including the location of buildings on a site).

In a May 2008 post, the Free Enterprise Forum highlighted the ARB’s desire to increase their purview:

After the staff presentations, Paul Wright of the Architectural Review Board presented a number of concerns the ARB has with the current processes.  These concerns included enforcement and an inability of the ARB under its current powers to control the skyline within the entrance corridors.

The resulting discussion changed the course of the meeting entirely.  Rather than looking for ways to streamline the development review process and improve public understanding, the members of the ARB pressed for more power.  In addition they expressed concerns that they were the last consulted regarding one of the County’s own projects Albemarle High School expansion.  One member of the ARB suggested they should be consulted on every building the County has an interest in.

Trapped in a regulatory box, Albemarle County staff has proposed placing an ARB  staff member on the site review committee.  The site review committee will review all by right site development and the ARB representative will only be consulted on projects in the entrance corridor.

In addition, as this is a by right development, the site review committee will be able to issue two types of direction – requirements and recommendations.  Most of the ARB work is directly written in the code so their comments will be recommendations.

As staff explained to the ARB last week, you would likely identify areas that, while not legally required for approval, might need additional landscaping to mitigate their impacts.

Taking this to its logical conclusion the ARB may wish to have a building on the rear of the parcel to better protect the streetscape in the entrance corridor, while the planning department may wish to have the building on the entrance corridor better to hide the sea of parking.  Since relegated parking is in the code, and ARB’s preference is not codified, the building would be placed on the front of the parcel and the site plan is approved.

Now it comes time for the final site plan approval and the required certificate of appropriateness from the ARB.  This applicant, who followed the prescribed plan clearly has ignored the ARB’s wishes because they did not move the building as ARB “recommended”.

How can the ARB move forward without malice on this application?  How can they not even if just subliminally believe the applicant is unwilling to work with them?

How exactly is this situation better than the current scenario?angry-bee.thumbnail

The angry bee theory — as a young boy, my mother told me not to swat at a bee unless I was sure I would kill it; otherwise you have an angry, focused and motivated opponent.

While understanding staff’s intent in including the ARB in the site review committee, the Free Enterprise Forum believes that since much of the ARB power is not codified, the end result would be an ARB even more ostracized (and angry) than the current approval construct.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Ann Stober -Nelson County Life, Keenkid Blog

Fluvanna to Reexamine Amendment’s Impact on Economic Development

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Despite coming late to the game, developer Charlie Armstrong and the Free Enterprise Forum persuaded Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors to reexamine the implications of a proposed zoning text amendment for economic development.

At its June 20th meeting, supervisors agreed to defer consideration of the amendment until August after Mr. Armstrong pointed out potential flaws n the ordinance that could derail potential development in the Zion Crossroads area of the county. Specifically Armstrong pointed to draft setback requirements for riparian buffers, landscape requirements, and three-year bonding for landscaping.

Earlier in an editorial comment, the Free Enterprise Forum urged a ninety-day deferral so that staff could examine the economic development implications of the proposed zoning changes. While Supervisors unanimously agreed to send the draft back to the planning staff.

The Board however did not accede to the School Board’s request to reinstate nearly $540,000 to the school budget to supplement employee health benefit costs. School officials presented data that suggested that some lower level employees would actually have to pay to work since their month health insurance premiums would exceed their net income.

The Board also unanimously rejected sending a proposed four percent meals tax to a public referendum this November. Supervisors believed that the $300,000 annual projected income was not worth it. Fluvanna does not attract many out of county diners, and is not major restaurant magnet.

Supervisors did adopt a proposal to give county (non-school) employees a five percent pay raise to offset the new five percent employee contribution to the Virginia retirement system. The decision will cost the county an additional $79,000, money that county administrator Steven Nichols said would have to be found from existing budget lines.

Supervisors also received the sobering new that there is just $8.1 million in the county’s undesignated fund balance, or “savings account”. The required minimum balance, based upon county revenues and expenditures, is approximately $7.1 million, leaving county officials with just $1 million in liquid savings. Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) noted that just a few years ago the balance exceeded $16 million.

In other matters, the supervisors:

· Approved incorporating the county’s new vision statement into the Comprehensive Plan; and,

· Endorsed the School Board’s decision to request a Commonwealth efficiency study of the school division’s operations and expenditures.

Supervisors will next meet on July 3rd, at 2:00 pm, rather than on Wednesday, July 4th.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna 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

US 29 Roadway Rope-A-Dope

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s Daily Progress banner headline touts a letter sent by Supervisor Dennis Rooker on behalf of the self selected Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee requesting an additional public hearing on the US 29 Western Bypass; a road that the a majority of the “Committee” members oppose.

This is a classic example of a vocal minority utilizing a Rope-A-Dope strategy to delay a popularly supported statewide transportation project.

Please let me explain.

Rumble-in-the-Jungle-001The Rope-A-Dope boxing strategy was most famously used in the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, known as the Rumble in the Jungle.  In that fight, Foreman was favored due to superior punching power.  During the bout Ali taunted Foreman and withstood a firestorm of punches.

ali_foreman_h boxingmemoriesHowever, far from being brutalized, Ali was relatively protected from Foreman’s blows.  When Foreman became tired from the beating he was delivering, Ali regrouped and ended up winning the match.

Outside of boxing, rope-a-dope is used to describe strategies where one seems to be accepting a losing position (i.e. actually designing the US 29 Bypass) only to delay the action and eventually overturn it.

When considering this concept first the casual observer must ask why would the task force letter be sent now, dated April 24th.  If the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) almost immediately accepted this request for a public hearing the “Committee” has specific demands regarding timing:

This includes notification to the public at least 30 days in advance of the hearing, project information being made available to the public at least 30 days in advance of the hearing and the draft Environmental Assessment being made available at least 30 days in advance of the hearing.  The public should be allowed to submit written and oral comments at the hearing as well as written comments afterwards for a reasonable period of time (at least two weeks). [emphasis added-nw]

Even if VDOT had all of this information at its fingertips (which it does not), the soonest such a public hearing could be held would be June 1st.  But June will not work for Mr. Rooker’s “Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee”.  Per the letter:

“We also request that the public hearing not be scheduled during June, July, or August since the community’s participation may be limited during these months due to vacations and community events.”

This is most interesting as Supervisor Rooker had no such issue in scheduling Albemarle County Board of Supervisors public hearings on the US 29 Bypass during the summer months last year, in fact, he strenuously advocated for such hearings.  The turnout at these summer meetings was strong with hundreds of attendees, banners, and leaflets.

In this morning’s paper, Charlottesville Tomorrows Sean Tubbs article explains the current public input process.

To comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations, VDOT is conducting an assessment to determine whether previous federal approvals of the bypass are still valid. VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said earlier this month that that process will consist of a citizen information meeting, but not a full public hearing at which comments would be entered into the public record.

“Members of the public will have the opportunity to provide comment during the citizen information meeting and during the draft environmental assessment review period,” Hatter said in an e-mail. “Public comment and questions have already been received through the two community task forces that looked at the northern and southern termini.”

Considering the turnout at last summer’s hearings, including one in Richmond, one can only surmise the true purpose of this  “Committee” request to postpone any proposed public hearing is yet another in a long string of delay tactics.

bypass survey  results graphic 2012Charlottesville Tomorrow’s recent survey confirmed the results of the 2004 Citizen Survey conducted by the Free Enterprise ForumThe public wants a US29 Bypass.  The opponents, while vocal, organized and well funded have not won the hearts and minds of the citizens.

To extend the boxing metaphor a touch further, the US 29 Western Bypass bout is clearly in the middle rounds and can still go either direction.  From this point, it looks like it will come down to the judges.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson 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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo/Graphics Credit: guardian.co.uk, boxingmemories.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

The Beginning of the End of “Smart Growth”?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

California planner, and blogger Bill Fulton suggested one of his take aways from last week’s American Planning Association (APA) annual meeting was the concept that Smart Growth at least as a planning term is on its way out:

“We are truly at the cusp of the next big thing,” said presenter Tim Chapin, a planning professor at Florida State. “We are living in a time when planners and economic development are much more together than they have been in, gosh, decades.” [emphasis added-nw]

20071018-garden_city_detailHold the presses – at a meeting of 5,000 planners, someone admitted that smart growth does not adequately address economic development!  AND they admit that planners and economic developers have been at odds for decades!!!

But wait, Fulton also heard from the Federal government at this conference

Shelley Poticha, head of the Office of Sustainable Communities at the Department of Housing & Urban Development, agreed that economic development is a vital part of the emerging new trend. “We need to turn this around to a place-based ED strategy that is very multi-layered,” Poticha said. “Many communities we are working with had economies based on one or two strong sectors and one or both crashed. And so they don’t have much to stand on.” At the same time, she said, place-based strategies can strengthen downtowns and neighborhoods in a way that reinforces local businesses and allows wealth to stay and circulate in a community rather than leaving town.[emphasis added-nw]

Now we are seeing the new lexicon come in “Place Based ED Strategy that is multi-layered”.  Haven’t we seen this move before?

Dr. Chapin, one of the lead presenters at the APA Conference identified three historic eras in growth management:

  • The “growth control” era (1950-75) where growth was viewed as a problem – a cancer to be restricted and boxed in.
  • The “growth management” era (1975-99) where growth was considered a fiscal problem – permissible so long as it paid for itself.
  • The “smart growth” era (1999- ) where growth has been viewed as “an opportunity for achieving desirable development patterns,” Chapin said.

For all this discussion, I do not see a significant difference in the regulatory environments each of these philosophical positions suggest.  In each and every case, growth (and economic development) are being steered into a limited area with little or no concern for the chilling aspects of such regulations on business formation, location and relocation.

Tim_Chapin_mediumBut now that Dr. Chapin sees Economic Development and Planning working in concert surely it will be different; perhaps rather than looking at prescriptive zoning categories that restrict flexibility and limit opportunity, the planners could consider objective performance based standards that protect the citizens and the environment by dealing directly with the impacts of the building uses.

No, that’s not really what the planners had in mind.  According to Fulton’s report, a true philosophical review of planning was not what Dr. Chapin had in mind at all:

…. Chapin added, it may be time for a rebranding. “There’s some sense out there that this concept of SG is a bit stale – that it has lost its resonance with the public and political leaders.” He suggested that the next era of growth management will include a focus on jobs, regionalism, and other factors. He called this new era – admitting that he doesn’t particularly like this term – the era of “sustainable growth”.

Not only does the Free Enterprise Forum not like the moniker “Sustainable Growth” we do not believe the planning community is ready for the shift needed to rip off the regulatory tourniquet that is clearly restricting economic development in many communities across the nation.

The APA needs MUCH more than a rebranding, they need to refocus their energy on their mission statements that includes the creation of vibrant communities.

OpportunityKnocksRather than sustainable growth, perhaps a better philosophical banner would be ‘Rising Tide – Empowering Opportunity’.  Under this mantra, applications and plans would be considered under a much more flexible criteria that permits appropriate mitigation but also gives significant credits for economic impact of a proposal.

Alternatively, perhaps by simply reducing or eliminating the regulatory burdens that have been constructed to prevent economic expansion would have an even better impact.

In 2009, Emily Washington of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University wrote a great post regarding smart growth’s potential for cities:

Again, it is easy to explain hypothetical, ideal zoning practices, and to imagine flawless outcomes, but the idea such policy would come out precisely as theorists imagine is reflective of nirvana fallacy. When zoning came into practice in the early 20th century, it was touted as a way to protect citizens from living near the dangers of industrial land uses. However, zoning has an ugly history of being abused by policy makers and community activists to oppress groups of residents based on income or race.

In short, policy makers can easily verbalize how their imagined programs could be an improvement upon development realities, but unfortunately history demonstrates that government action often takes urbanities further away from their imagined ideal.  There is no reason to believe that policies in vogue today will have greater success, even if they are championed as “smart growth.” [Emphasis added-nw]

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds many of the goals of the Smart Growth movement the tactics being used to achieve these goals often undermine their original intent. 

In our world view, communities should have the ability to organically develop (and redevelop) into a tapestry of diverse homes and businesses that to support citizens lives and their livelihoods.  It is not the proper role of government to dictate the specific shape, speed or direction of these neighborhoods.

In their promotional materials, the APA highlights that planning is about choices.   Too often the choices the planners make (and localities approve), restrict (or eliminate) the viable options available to landowners.

If the end of Smart Growth is near, it will not be because planners have grown tired of the name it will be because as communities we can’t afford for it to continue.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson 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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Florida State University, RTOHQ.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow