Tag Archives: development

Frustrated Developer Tells Greene PC He’s Had Enough–He’s Leaving

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Last week (4/15) the Greene County Planning Commission heard a request to amend an existing Special Use Permit (SUP# 14-006) from APEX, LLC / Larry and Barbara Hall . While the end result was what the applicant requested, the discussion at the public hearing left some citizens with questions regarding Greene County’s application and zoning enforcement processes.

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Hall has a recycling center north of Lowes and he asked that the two year Special Use Permit (SUP)  be extended by eight months since he feels that the county delayed the process of issuing an approved site plan by that length of time.

As background, the recycling center initially started operations under the belief that it was a by right use, only later to learn that the use required a special use permit.

The recycling center is a unique center in that it takes concrete and grinds it down to saleable product. The original SUP was to start on 5/27/14 but it took until 2/25/15 to resolve issues so that the site plan could be approved. In addition, Brent Hall, speaking for his father Larry, asked that the landscaping requirement be waived since in two years (or less) replacing the existing trees with a berm and smaller trees will not block as much as is now blocked.

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In addition, the condition of having a dirt pile that has been removed from Rivanna Service Authority’s (RSA) right of way no longer is an issue since it has already been removed. These are the three changes to the SUP that staff and the Halls are seeking. Commissioner John McCloskey asked Svoboda if there have been any violations at the site to which Svoboda replied no.

Brent Hall  next addressed the Planning Commission and he bluntly stated he disagreed with some of the information Greene Planning Director Bart Svoboda included in his staff report and presentation.  Hall said that he has grown very frustrated in dealing with Greene County staff, specifically  Svoboda, and believes he has received contradictory directions.  Hall also said that he feels he has been lied to. Hall simply wants the SUP to be extended to 2/25/17, two years from the date when all the issues were resolved on 2/25/15.

Hall went further to state that the family would take their development to Albemarle County and are leaving Greene County. Further he stated that when Albemarle County gives a direction it is consistent and it can be relied upon as opposed to what he has experience in Greene County.

Hall explained his frustration with Greene County in that he would get a verbal ok to start work only to be told he was in violation of county regulations and had to stop and address a new issue.

IMG_20150423_081944833_HDRThere was no one signed up from the public to speak on the issue, so the discussion moved to the Commissioners. Commissioner John McCloskey  was in favor of extending the Special Use Permit to 2/25/17.

Commissioner Eva Young asked Hall if he had received answers to his questions. Hall replied that at one time he sent 8-10 emails with no reply and he felt that the process was intentionally being delayed. Commissioner Frank Morris was extremely concerned about the process being held up and he would prefer that businesses be supported in their efforts.

When Hall was questioned about future development in Greene from the commissioners he again stated that he has no plans to further develop in Greene County and he is going to Albemarle County since he doesn’t want to deal with the difficulties he has encountered in Greene.

The details of the Special Use Permit were all modified to the Halls’ request plus the elimination of the requirement of disposing of the dirt pile per RSA’s right of way. The easy part of the hearing was approving the SUP – the much harder part may prove to be researching and resolving the process issues raised by the applicant and finding a new user for the highly visible US 29 location.

Photo Credits: Free Enterprise Forum taken 23 April 2015

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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

Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

This Monday (3/2) Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) held a work session to discuss the proposed CVS for the Northwest corner of the US29 and Rio intersection.  This corner will be significantly impacted by the construction of the Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI).ARB 03022015

It was revealed that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be taking 20’ of the frontage of the parcel for a utility easement and a taper lane.  This further constrains an already physically tight site.

The applicant is proposing to unify two parcels, tear down the existing buildings and construct a compact CVS Drugstore with a pharmacy drive thru on the unified parcel.  Some of the application challenges include the change in topography on the site, the 60 car parking requirement, the placement of such parking as well as treatment of retaining walls.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on the CVS or any other application, the discussion raised a more basic question, considering the changes to US 29 at Rio Road, does that segment still qualify as an Entrance Corridor?

Virginia Code and Albemarle’s implementation of such code is fairly explicit in the requirement (from Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Minutes, November 2, 2005 p.25)

The entrance corridor overlay is created to conserve elements of the county’s scenic beauty and to preserve and protect corridors: (i) along arterial streets or highways designated as such pursuant to Title 33.1 of the Virginia Code found by the board of supervisors to be significant routes to tourist access to the county; (ii) to historic landmarks as established by the Virginia Landmarks Commission together with any other buildings or structures within the county having an important historic, architectural or cultural interest and any historic areas with in the county as defined by Virginia Code § 15.2-2201; or (iii) to designated historic landmarks, buildings, structures, or districts in any contiguous locality. Emphasis added – nw

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

Making the conversation even more difficult, Rio Road is also designated by Albemarle County as an Entrance Corridor (They have 21 of them).

On Wednesday, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be considering how to help businesses during the construction and the transition to life as an enterprise on an off ramp.

Considering the significant positive accolades I have heard from several GSI supporting supervisors regarding the potential redevelopment investment of this business area, one might think they would make it easier to make such investment happen.

The Comprehensive Plan calls for a  a new more urban form of development in this new “Midtown” section of Albemarle County but much of the ARB guidelines are about screening development from the traffic.  Something has to give.

We suggest the Rio ramps that are being constructed are not really part of the Entrance Corridor based on the original legislative intent.  As such, they should be excluded from ARB review.

The ARB and staff have already agreed that there is a need for more corridor specific guidelines in the multiple entrance corridors.

Perhaps, they should start with the one intersection VDOT is about to tear up?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson President

**Rio GSI image changed 2:20 pm March 4th

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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:   Virginia Department of Transportation

Fluvanna BOS Sends Walker’s Ridge Application Back to Planning Commission

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

PALMYRA — The Walker’s Ridge development took a strange turn late into the night as the supervisors voted to send it back to the Planning Commission.

The staff presentation, applicant presentation, public hearing and board discussion all occurred as planned but things changed when county attorney Fred Payne gave legal advice, three hours into the hearing.

Payne discussed the legal requirement special use permits must not adversely effect the surrounding properties. Payne raised concerns about water table impact, traffic, phasing and proffers offered.

One of the major points Payne raised was new proffers offered by the applicant, Hotel Capital LLC, included only using community wells in the first phase. In order to start the second and third phases, the development would not use onsite ground water. Most assumed this as Walker’s Ridge would use public water.

Payne suggested if the first phase of the development was complete but public water wasn’t complete, the applicant could request a change of rezoning because the land had restrictions that left it unusable. If the developer sued to remove the zoning restriction, it would most likely win removing any zoning from the property.

Supervisors chairman Shaun Kenney (Columbia District) was upset the statutory concern that the special use permit had to prove benefit based on law was not brought up earlier in the process. Payne and county administrator Steve Nichols relayed it was discussed at the Planning Commission level but perhaps not specifically said as a legal concern.

Joe Chesser (Rivanna District) is the supervisor representative at the Planning Commission. Kenney asked him if he knew of the legal concern.

“No one talked about the statutory concern,” said Chesser. Chesser did mention concerns were raised it did not benefit the county but more of opinion than law.

Chesser said, “This spells something out a lot differently.”

Planning director Allyson Finchum was asked if she relayed this specific concern to the applicant including the legal aspect. She said in her 25 years of planning experience she did not understand the importance of the requirement.

“I, myself, did not understand the seriousness of this,” said Finchum.

The agent for the applicant, Keith Smith, did not know of the requirement either. He requested the supervisors defer the application for 30 days so his client could supply more documents to the county.

The supervisors instead voted 4-1 to send it back through the Planning Commission. Booker dissented.

The application has changed since the Planning Commission recommended denying the application.

The latest proffers include only the first phase would use onsite ground water. The cash proffers were based on the latest Capital Improvement Plan of $48.5 million. The total cash proffer per unit was $4,800.

All amenities were proffered to be completed or in construction prior to submittal of the second and third phases’ site plan. The commercial property of phase one will also be complete before the submittal of the second and third phases’ site plan.

The development plan has also decreased from 1,180 units to 952 units. The plan also has 180,000 square feet of commercial.

Still, the changes didn’t sway the public. Over 20 speakers from the public spoke during the hearing portion. Every single one was against the proposal.

Even the streamline version of Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors timeline extends the application two or three months.

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

bryan-rothamel

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.

 

Hook Up Fees Again on The Docket in Greene

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County’s Board of Supervisors (BOS) have been discussing the cost for initiating public water and sewer service (also called “hook up fees”) for well over two years.  Most recently on August 27th, Vice Chairman Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) initiated a committee to more formally study what changes should be made to the Water and Sewer Equivalent Dwelling Unit (EDU) policy to incentivize development.

Greene County Administrator John Barkley heads up the work group that includes County Planner/Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda, County Consulting Engineer (from WW Associates) Herb White and Supervisor Lamb. The stated goal of this work group is to reduce barriers to development in Greene County.  The BOS has identified the EDU fee as a detriment to projects moving forward.

In the September 24th meeting of the Board, Barkley presented an interim report.

The Rapidan Wastewater System Purchase Policy (2004) and Ruckersville Water System Purchase Policy (2006)  each provide a current foundation for the County’s EDU process and costs. These would need to be amended if a different payment schedule is to be adopted including a meter based connection system.

Barkley outlined the assumptions the committee were given:

  • The Board wants to incent economic growth in Greene County
  • The Board believes the current fee structure limits growth
  • EDU’s (Equivalent Dwelling Unit) currently are purchased at the time of issuing of a building permit
  • The General Fund is paying for water and sewer costs
  • Ideally, Reserve Funds should only be utilized for emergency or capital needs
  • The has been no increase in the water and sewer connection fees since January, 2007
  • Fee structures should be reviewed annually in synch with the budget process

Barkley then went on to outline payment and process options. The benefit to an incremental payment schedule would make it easier for smaller customers to afford starting up. Delaying the payment of EDU’s to the time of occupancy would ease the burden for customers. The risk is that if payment is not made timely then more collection effort would be required.

Meter based connection fees were then discussed – using meter size (from 5/8 inch to 10 inch) and usage as a basis. This would allow flexibility in fee schedules and limits could be set for monthly usage – as allowed by state law.

The next steps for the committee will be to research how other localities receive payments. The committee will consult with legal counsel regarding legal and process issues. Benchmarking vs. other neighboring localities fee structures for meter based connections is to be reviewed. The hope is to make recommendations to coincide with FY 2015 Budget, Tax Rate and Fee approval process. The committee will update the BOS monthly on October 22nd, November 12th and December 10th.

Supervisor Clarence “Buggs” Peyton (Stanardsville) spoke to thank Davis Lamb for initiating this process and then thanked Mr. Barkley for reducing the plan to writing. He believes it is critical since the current EDU policy doesn’t fit with today’s economy. The current connection fees deter growth in Greene County and therefore don’t allow growth in sales tax revenue.

According to Peyton, Greene needs growth, especially in the Gateway Center in Ruckersville. It was never the intent to have residents subsidize the sewer rates, but that is effectively what is happening. We need to act quickly to get in place a new policy before the Reserve Fund is spent. Small contractors need help and a meter based system seems to be a good fit. Peyton’s final comment was that he doubted that the economy would get much better.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) believes this report is a good first step and that the hiring of Barkley as County Administrator is a good start in revising the system. Frydl recommended two things be done. First, would be to change the payment schedule and defer payment from the issuing of a permit to the issuance of the certificate of occupancy. Second, is to review the current system. The volume of fees collected today is not paying the total cost being incurred by Greene County.

When asked after the meeting if the committee would have a recommendation by the December 10th meeting, Barkley was not sure if the study would be completed by that time.

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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.

Greene PC Considers US29 Rezoning Request –Residential or Commercial ?

By Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission was requested to change a zoning from B-2 to B-3 on Wednesday, August 21st by CRBFAV, LLC/EARR I, LLC. The specific location is on the west side of US29, just north of the Food Lion shopping center below Ruckersville. Zoning Administrator/Planning Director Bart Svoboda  gave an overview of request RZ#13-002  stating that the Comprehensive Plan identifies this area as a mixed use of office and residential and that no red flags were presented by all of the agencies that review rezoning requests.Document1

Bill Gentry  represented the applicant – a local property manager and realtor – in this rezoning request. The request to change the property to B-3 (see page 33 of Greene County Zoning Ordinance ) is to allow for greater economic development in an area where many parcels are already classified as B-3. The specific rental tenant that the owner has been negotiating with has service vehicles which would only be allowed by a rezoning to B-3.

Chairman Anthony Herring opened the public hearing, all of the speakers were residents of Deer Lake subdivision west of the property requesting the rezoning. Marianne Shepard spoke first and had three areas of concern. Traffic entering the subdivision of Deer Lake Estates is already a problem since the commercial lot uses the same entry on Buck Drive off US29 Southbound. She expresses concern over the environment – both noise and run off of oil and gas (Deer Lake has a lake to the east of the development and just west of the commercial property that fronts US29 South). And finally safety of the homeowners with increases traffic on Buck Drive.

Jeff Womack spoke of a rezoning hearing in 2010 where the same lot was requested to go from R-1 to R-3 and at that time the Planning Commission along with staff recommendations, compromised with the current R-2 zoning due to the high traffic. Logically he questioned why the zoning should now be changed to B-3 when, if anything, the amount of traffic has increased on Buck Drive due to more homes being built in Deer Lake. His other concern was that even though the company that would use the lot had some concerns, the rezoning to B-3 would allow a variety of uses including nightclub that would be very disruptive in front of a residential community at night.

Holly Boggs has just moved into the development in the past 6 months and has concern for the safety of her two children. Craig Herr expressed many of the same concerns and further complained that the entrance to the commercial property off Buck Drive wasn’t up to other commercial entrances with curb and guttering – a concern for the lake.

Herring closed the public hearing and asked for discussion among the commissioners. Vice-Chairman Jay Willer spoke first and expressed concern that he has already seen several service vehicles on site.  Svoboda stated that he had been to the property several weeks ago and not seen any service vehicles.  Willer asked for a clarification as to the statement in the Comprehensive Plan for this area.  Svoboda stated that the area is identified as business/general but that there is no specific intensity assigned, this hearing tonight is what determines the specific assignment.

Commissioner Norm Slezak reported that last week he and Svoboda had gone to the site and in the morning the service vehicles were not present, but they may have been out making calls. The residential area is well kept and from the commercial property in question, there is straight view across the lake to the residential area. He also complimented the residents in coming out and expressing their views  . From an environmental aspect he agreed with the concern about the chemical possibly leaking into the lake and also had concerns over increased traffic onto US29. His final comment was there is plenty of B-3 zoned property in the same general area and he was not in support of the rezoning.

Herring indicated that Greene County wants to be business friendly. He hoped that the business would have researched if service vehicles would be allowed in B-2 before entering into a lease. US29 will become more and more congested and allowing this lot to be B-3 would only accelerate this issue. With no other comment from the commissioners, a unanimous vote was recorded recommending denial of the rezoning request.

As with all planning commission rezoning recommendations, this issue will go to the Greene County Board of Supervisors for their decision with the information from the Planning Commission hearing for final action.

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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.

‘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

Contradictory Consequences White Paper Released

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

“Contradictory Consequences” White Paper Examines Cash Proffers Unintended Negative Impacts

Charlottesville, VA – A new white paper outlines significant negative economic and ecological impacts of cash proffers on community development in Central Virginia.

The Free Enterprise Forum’s “Contradictory Consequences” draws on statewide research and case studies to illustrate the challenges implementing a cash proffer program.

The Albemarle County Fiscal Impact Review Committee is scheduled to discuss recalculating their cash proffer program in March. The committee has been instructed by staff that their role is not to consider the policy discussion but only the mathematical calculation of the proffer amount. The “Contradictory Consequences” paper calls on the Board of Supervisors to “Repeal the Rezoning Ransom”. Specific negative impacts of cash proffers illustrated in the paper include:

· reduced land value

· reduced property tax revenue

· increased “by right” development

· false financial hope

· reduced economic vitality

· reduced adherence to Comprehensive Plan

· increased pressure on rural areas

· increased leapfrog development.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “Localities across the Commonwealth are waking up to recognize the siren’s song of cash proffers is too good to be true. Now is the time to contemplate significant proffer reform. Our research suggests repeal of Cash Proffers will result in increased economic vitality and adherence to the comprehensive clip_image0024_thumb.pngplan.

“Perhaps the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and other localities, will take a fresh look at what they are really getting from the cash proffer program and how this policy negatively impacts their vision for the future. Our goal with this independent research is to reach out to the community and start this important discussion,” Williamson said.

“Contradictory Consequences” was written and researched by Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson. Tracking local government since 2002, Williamson’s examination generated a well documented, balanced review of the many legal issues and economic concerns surrounding implementation of a cash proffer policy.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization. The entire report can be accessed under the reports tab at www.freeenterpriseforum.org.

“How Do You Like Me Now?”–Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model turns 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

Ten years ago this April, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved the ordinances that created the Neighborhood Model a new planning paradigm for their development areas. 

Places29 Bistro CornerThe Neighborhood Model draws its being from a New Urbanist planning philosophy known as Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND).  Albemarle’s Land Use Plan documents define TND as:  

(TND) is characterized by street grids, a mixture of
uses, sidewalks, and parks within a walkable
distance. Called traditional because they draw from
the design of towns before World War II, the TND
is compactly designed, with a center, an edge and
a general area that is predominantly residential.
Buildings are close to the street, the streets have
sidewalks, and housing designs include porches
and other traditional elements.

The Free Enterprise Forum opposed many of the highly prescriptive aspects of the neighborhood model preferring to allow the market to dictate housing types.  In addition, we raised significant concerns regarding the high level of development demands (curb, gutter, street trees, etc.) would increase the cost of new home construction and negatively impact affordable housing.

Now ten years later, what have we learned?

oldtrailTo be fair there have been some successful neighborhood model communities, Old Trail Village embraces many of the design constructs and has sold well.  The Shops at Stonefield, under consideration in 2001 as Albemarle Place, are now moving dirt and looking to open their first phase later this year.

Others have been even slower to take off and still other approved projects remain on the drawing boards waiting, ostensibly for market conditions to ripen to support their communities (and the costly proffers that are trigged by new construction).

The significant downturn in the real estate market has made the discussion of housing affordability less critical as all housing has become more affordable.  The just released Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR ) 2011 Year end report cites:

Housing affordability is a positive aspect of this market. 596 homes, or 30% of the active listing market, were
for sale at $200,000 or less to begin 2012.

Have fewer single family homes been built in the Rural Areas?

Below is an analysis of New Single Family Home Construction based on Albemarle County’s Building Reports (note 2001 is only through the 3rd quarter) The data indicates that in the ten years after the adoption of the neighborhood model, the percentage of homes being built in the rural areas has not changed.

Single Family Home Construction   Development area Rural Area
  2001 47% 53%
  2002 50% 50%
  2003 51% 49%
  2004 47% 53%
  2005 48% 52%
  2006 36% 64%
  2007 35% 65%
  2008 37% 63%
  2009 52% 48%
  2010 57% 43%
  2011 42% 58%
TOTAL 2001-2011 46% 54%

Has Albemarle County Made Good on its Infrastructure pledge?

Interestingly the strongest rebuke of the Neighborhood Model is the issue of concurrent infrastructure.  Albemarle County envisioned making the development areas more attractive than the rural areas to live based upon amenities and efficient delivery of county services.  The long term funding issue for the Crozet Library is one example of Albemarle failing to live up to the demands of concurrency of infrastructure.

Back in August of 2003, Tom Loach, then a neighborhood representative took issue with moving forward with another master plan when the County had not fully funded the infrastructure for the Crozet plan.  He told the Development Steering Initiatives Committee (DISC II):

Mr. Loach would not agree to endorse the draft Resolution 2. He said the Board needs to “show us the money”. He said that until Crozet is shown that more money will be spent in Crozet, “how can another area expect to have payment for any infrastructure there either?” He wondered why any other neighborhood should even bother going through a master planning exercise.

The Free ENterprise Forum would tend to agree with Mr. Loach’s position.  When approving the Neighborhood Model in 2001 the additional costs of infrastructure were discussed at length.  Supervisor David Bowerman said there will come a time when future Board will need to fund the infrastructure to support this plan — They have not.

So the intended result did not occur; But what of the unintended consequences?

Unintended Consequence 1 – NIMBYism

In a recent roundtable regarding commercial development, now Planning Commissioner Tom Loach was very concerned about increasing the availability of industrial land near Crozet.  He mentioned that the Yancey Lumber Mill is in their area so “They already gave at the office” .  The empowerment of “Master Planning Groups” and the delegation of planning powers to these groups ensures more parochnimby1ial interests come to bear rather than thinking of the County as one community. 

The Board of Supervisors makes a point to indicate as a Board they represent the entire County.  It seems recent boards have endorsed the idea of attracting and retaining business as a Board Priority.  If this is the case, the Board must assert their authority over the advisory comments from the Master Planning groups.  It is unfortunate that this planning process has broken down into a battle of NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) between neighborhood groups.

Unintended Consequence 2 – Loss of Light Industrial Land

It is fascinating to read the goals of the neighborhood model as approved in 2001 with the economic vitality lens of 2012:

  1. Pedestrian Orientation
  2. Neighborhood Friendly Streets and Paths
  3. Interconnected Streets and Transportation Networks
  4. Parks and Open Space
  5. Neighborhood Centers
  6. Buildings and Spaces of Human Scale
  7. Relegated Parking
  8. Mixture of Uses
  9. Mixture of Housing Types and Affordability
  10. Redevelopment
  11. Site Planning That Respects Terrain
  12. Clear Boundaries with the Rural Areas

Only #5 AND #8  touch on the need for economic activity within the Neighborhood Model communities.  The Free Enterprise Forum would suggest that the neighborhood model is, by design,  clearly light on jobs.

Perhaps because of this residential housing centric paradigm, we have seen a number of projects be rezoned from light industrial use to Neighborhood model.  To be fair, the property owners are well within their rights to request a rezoning of property to its highest and best use. 

What about needed infrastructure for business?

The reality  many light (and heavy) industrial uses can not find an affordable location within Albemarle’s currently designated development areas.  If Albemarle wishes to attract (and more importantly retain) their employers, they need to proactively determine where these activities should be centered. 

If we accept that there is limited funding for additional infrastructure and that most industrial users have a need for transportation access it seems logical to consider where such infrastructure already exists just outside the boundaries of the development areas.

One need only look at the location of two of the largest employers in Albemarle County, Martha Jefferson Hospital and State Farm Insurance, neither of these large users are house in the second story over a retail component, instead they have located near existing infrastructure (I-64).

To consider an industrial specific expansion of the development areas will not put the principles of the Neighborhood Model on their head but they will recognize the unintended consequences of new urbanism without a proper industrial component.

Alternatively, the jobs could relocate to localities who recognize the importance of an industrial base. 

The question to Albemarle with 10 years of economic data regarding the impact of the neighborhood model –where do we grow from here?

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 Credits: Albemarle County, Old Trail Village

Charlottesville “Critical” Slopes– it’s not about environmental stewardship; it’s about control

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tuesday evening (5/10),  the City of Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing regarding their proposed amendment to the current critical slopes ordinance.  This joint public hearuing with the City Council may be the last opportunity for members of the public to speak, on the record, about the proposed zoning text amendment.

The reality is that much if not most of the environmental protection intent of the proposed critical slopes ordinance is already covered under current regulations.  What is not covered is the hidden intent of the ordinance which is to prevent further density to occur in the City.

Erosion and Sediment Control plan regulations exist for all construction in the city.  In addition, Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation require a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan for effectively all new developments disturbing earth. 

Project engineers are also required to follow Minimum Standard 19 (MS-19) regarding runoff from a site. 

Properties and receiving waterways downstream of any land development project shall be protected from sediment deposition, erosion, and damage due to increases in volume, velocity, and peak flow rate of storm water runoff . . .

DCR inspections of a site are the rule rather than the exception.  To be clear DCR clearly declares its legal jurisdiction over such matters this way:

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (Department) is responsible for the successful implementation and enforcement of Virginia’s Stormwater Management (SWM) Regulations (4VAC3-20-81) and the Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) Regulations (4VAC50-30-40.19).

Since the beginning of this process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been raising questions regarding the need for a “critical” slopes ordinance in a city of 10 square miles.  Back in March 2010  a  staff report highlighted:

Staff has uncovered no evidence that any other city in Virginia with a population over 20,000 has a steep slope ordinance.

According to the minutes (and my recollection of the March 2010 meeting) Chairman Jason Pearson asked a very telling question:

Mr. Pearson was not sure their intent was to protect critical slopes. He thought it was possible they were protecting critical slopes only to achieve some other objectives such as water quality objectives and that critical slopes, in and of themselves, have no inherent value to the city.

If the goals are to protect the contributions of critical slopes to the environment, the City has already indicated such solutions can, in most cases, be engineered. 

But if the environmental contribution is not what is being protected – what is?

While the City’s Comprehensive Plan goes to great lengths to discuss increased density as the way of the future, one prominent City resident is searching for an aesthetics metric.  Writing a question to the online community of planners, then Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Bill Emory asked:

“When we replace green infrastructure with bricks and mortar, how can we quantify the value of what is lost?”

Internal to this question is something the community has lost.  But the 100_0317community never really had ownership of this asset.  If there is a property of value that the City does not wish to see used to the highest and best use, the City should buy it.  To continue to enact further restrictive land use policies to make sites indivisible is in direct opposition to the stated goals of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

Further the ordinance is filled with subjectivity that has no business being a part of a legislative document. Much of the concern about this proposal revolves around the ambiguity of the waiver provisions and a clear presumptive denial of most waivers by the current Planning Commission.

Under section (6) Modification or Waiver:

The planning commission may grant a modification or waiver, upon making a finding that a waiver would serve a public purpose of greater import than would be served by a strict application of the requirements of these critical slopes provisions.

Any  waiver  should  be  based  exclusively  on  a  public  purpose  specifically identified in the Comprehensive Plan.

A waiver shall only be granted if the alternatives proposed by the developer are more likely to satisfy the purposes and intent of these critical slope provisions than leaving the slope undisturbed.

Then the ordinance turns on itself raising the potentiality that sound engineering practices could mitigate, or even improve the environmental conditions on a site:

No modification or waiver granted by the commission shall be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare, detrimental to the orderly development of the area or adjacent properties, or contrary to sound engineering practices [highlighting added- nw]

In April, staff provided the Commission with a list of 23 waiver applications that were reviewed under the current ordinance over the last 5 years or so.  Of those 23, the Planning Commission unanimously decided in their work session that 6 of those were “trivial” and should never have had to come before the PC.  They also decided that an additional 3 may have been trivial, but they were not unanimous on those 3.  They decided that the other 14 should be classified as critical and should definitely be subject to the new ordinance and need a waiver.

The proposed new ordinance would exempt only 4 of the projects on that list… maybe.  The remaining 19 would require a waiver.  And the 4 that might be exempt are not guaranteed to be exempt because they can be called critical and swept back under the ordinance if they contain “significant and unique natural or topographic features”.  Any group of highly intelligent and educated people is likely to disagree about what constitutes a “unique natural feature.” 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes nearly all natural features are unique for one valid reason or another.  That phrase is very troubling.

Since the new ordinance doesn’t actually exempt any slopes that previously required a waiver, the rest of the ordinance changes are even more troubling. 

If the stated intent is for this new ordinance to provide a mechanism to administratively exempt many slopes, but make it much harder, if not impossible, for the slopes that aren’t exempted to get a waiver.  It is clear based on their waiver review exercise above, this ordinance fails.

However, however if the intention of the new ordinance is to gain significant new power over privately held property, perhaps usurping state powers, than the ordinance succeeds. 

The issue reminds me of writer/philosopher Edward Dahlberg who famously stated:

The ancients understood the regulation of power better than the regulation of liberty.

In Charlottesville, they could learn a great deal from “The ancients”

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

Greene Supervisors Approve PVCC Lease to Fill Library Second Floor

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) may soon occupy office space that has sat vacant atop the Greene County library for the past several years. Tuesday night (3/8) supervisors unanimously approved leasing the county property to PVCC for use as a satellite campus. Fried Companies, Inc., drew up the term sheet for the proposed lease and is working with PVCC to build out the space for the college. Ken Lawson, representing Fried Companies, said they expect once they build out the space to use it for the full 25-year lease.

frank_friedman “We have been wanting to do this for a number of years and are very excited about providing convenient educational opportunities for the residents of Greene County,” said PVCC President Frank Friedman, who attended the meeting.

photo credit PVCC

Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe district) welcomed the decision as it will assist the numerous William Monroe High School students taking PVCC courses. Compared with surrounding counties, Greene has one of the highest percentages of high school students taking dual enrollment courses at PVCC. Opening this campus will enable these students as well as adult residents enrolled at PVCC to remain in Greene and avoid traveling south of the City of Charlottesville where the main campus is located. Residents will also benefit from onsite distance learning, especially those now using dial-up Internet service.

The only resident speaking at the public hearing on the issue was Roy Dye, representing the Stanardsville Area Revitalization Project (STAR). “This gives us a real shot in the arm in terms of our efforts to revitalize the area,” Dye said. He anticipates the presence of college students along Main Street will encourage new business, including coffee shops and other such businesses students frequent.

PVCC will pay for maintenance related to the interior of the space while Greene County will handle the exterior of the building and the site. Particulars of the lease will be worked out at a future date in terms mutually agreeable to all parties.

The Board also unanimously approved moving the Stanardsville voting precinct location from the Fire House (on Celt Road) to the American Legion Hall on Route 230, mainly because of parking and pedestrian issues along Celt Road during large turnouts for elections. County code will be amended to reflect this change.

Region Ten representatives Steven Stern and Morgan Lanier gave a presentation of services the organization provides in Greene County and discussed possible effects of proposed legislation. Expecting challenges and reductions in funding, given the state’s fiscal situation and pending federal health care legislation, the gentlemen wanted to make the county aware of the significance of the services they currently provide, including services for mental health support, substance abuse and addiction, outpatient therapy, crisis intervention, and a wounded warrior program for veterans.

In other matters from the public, resident Patsy Morris asked the board to consider changing the combined income figures and percentages of real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled. Those currently eligible for real estate tax relief must have a combined annual income of no more than $20,000.

The Board also approved the following nominations to the Economic Development Authority’s board of directors: Don Pamenter, Chad Kelley, and Bill Losiego.

Budget workshops begin Wednesday morning, March 9, and will resume on Friday, March 11, with all departments presenting their budgets to the supervisors. Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) said he wants to have the budget settled by March 21st. Supervisors expect to be conservative in their budget decisions.

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