Tag Archives: Growth Issues

Fluvanna Budget Proposal Includes Real Estate Tax Increase

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Steve Nichols

Fluvanna County’s Administrator Steve Nichols presented his budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors on February 7. It included just over a three cent increase in the real estate tax rate.

The current real estate tax rate is $0.907 per $100 assessed. Steve Nichols proposed a $0.939 tax rate for FY19.
His proposed budget holds the line on county services and programs. It adds one position and includes no pay raises for staff.  Nichols’ budget increase is primarily from additional debt the county brought in for the Zion Crossroads water project. The county also has additional maintenance cost for the new radio project.  Debt service for the county went up an additional $275,000, just under the equivalent to a penny in real estate tax rate. The emergency management budget went up $225,000.  Department heads asked for four new positions and six upgraded positions. The Nichols proposal provides one position.

Don Weaver

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Don Weaver (Cunningham District) pointed out Fluvanna is still highest county for tax rates in the area and asked if a tax cut was possible.  “Unless you cut people or programs, you can’t,” said Nichols.
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The two major issues that aren’t addressed in Nichols’ budget are health insurance costs and additional money for the school system.
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Staff is awaiting final numbers for the insurance cost and it is looking to be a slight increase to steady. A finalized number will be available soon.
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Nichols level funded the schools. The superintendent, Chuck Winkler, presented his budget proposal to the School Board the same day Nichols’ proposed his. A report from NBC29 listed the school budget proposal to include increases.
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Fluvanna’s continual real estate tax raises will continue until additional tax revenues work their way into the coffers. One way to entice additional businesses to come to the county is lowering the business and public utility personal property tax. Nichols proposed to lower it from $2.90 to $2.40 per $100 assessed.  It is more a symbolic move to attract new businesses and help current businesses. Overall it isn’t a huge reduction in taxes received. The change in collections is $45,000.
The county is attracting one new business. The salvage yard operator LKQ, going behind the old Cosners’ location, will bring in an estimated $150,000 in tax revenue. That was a low end estimate, per staff.  The outlook for future years is not nearly as grim as it was a few years ago. Unless the county starts taking on additional debt, it can hold the tax rate rather steady, Nichols estimates.
“Frankly, (future) budgets…look steady state,” said Nichols.  Fluvanna had previously kept a sizable unreserved savings account, known as the fund balance. That unreserved amount is slowly being spent.
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It currently is $6.3 million but supervisors have verbally committed to spending a large portion of that to cash fund part of the Zions Crossroads water project. That is estimated to be a $3.5 million commitment.
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“It really is in a tight, tight position,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).  The fund balance accumulates when the county receives more revenue than expenditures, either through higher tax collection or budgets not be fully spent. Previous years the fund balance has been used for capital improvement plan items. Last year to the tune of $1.2 million. This year that number decreases to $1 million.
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Supervisors will have various work sessions on the budget. The next one on February 14 with the constitutional officers.

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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 covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County

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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

 

Monticello’s Comp Plan Land Grab

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

map

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

current and proposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, expansive windows facing Monticello should be avoided.

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

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

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

Employ techniques that break up massing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Image Credits:Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc.

‘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

Sarcasm and Sharp Elbows Push Albemarle Backward

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County’s efforts to be more business friendly just took a huge step backwards.  Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it and when it is said.  If future public hearings go the same way as Tuesday night’s hearing, it will put a chill on economic vitality.

The July 31st Albemarle County Planning Commission  meeting included a public hearing regarding the 5th Street Station Shopping Center in Southern Albemarle.

It is important to note that the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other specific application. 

We do however have a policy issue to the manner in which applications, and applicants, are treated.

For those who have not attended an Albemarle Public Hearing the order of business is as follows:

1. Introduction of the Application by staff reading a staff report which has previously been provided to the applicant

2. Questions from the Board/Commission of staff regarding the presentation

3. Open Public Hearing with Applicant introduction and reply to issues raised in the staff report (10 minutes)

4. Public Comment (3 minutes each)

5. Applicant rebuttal to public comments (5 minutes)

6. Close Public Hearing

7. Discussion by Board/Commission

8. Motion

9. Vote

Additional questions of staff regularly occur during the discussion phase of the hearing. At such time the chair asks the appropriate staff member to come to speak to the specific issue raised.  Rarely, is the applicant offered the same opportunity to address the question.

In this case, while the majority of the staff provided solid context to specific questions posed by the Commission with one stark exception.  Albemarle County Engineer Glenn Brooks was argumentative and combative regarding this specific application.

As the Planning Commission worked through their discussion, Brooks continued to get up from the audience, move to the podium and insert himself (uninvited)  into their deliberations. Such behavior would never be accepted by an applicant.  The Free Enterprise Forum is disappointed that Chairman Cal Morris did not stop this behavior during the meeting.  In this case, Morris failed in his responsibility to control the meeting by failing to control the staff.

In addition, while Morris did provide this applicant a limited number of opportunities to respond;  Brooks dominated the conversation, by not waiting to be invited.

Beyond the inappropriate participation in discussion, the tenor of Brooks’ comments were sarcastic and antagonistic.

When the applicant’s presentation was still on the display screen during the Planning Commission discussion, Brooks said:

“You should take down that pretty picture, they haven’t proffered it”.

Regarding a Planning Commissioner’s comment regarding recommending a critical slopes approval (against his advice) Brooks stated,

“Well if you want to give them an empty slate”.

British Poet Samuel Butler famously said “Neither irony or sarcasm is argument”.  The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes significant issues exist between Albemarle County and this applicant.  Notwithstanding any of the important issues on the table, we are troubled by the process as well as Brooks’ actions and comments.

In the end, the Planning Commission unanimously moved the application forward to the Board of Supervisors. But this application is not the issue.

In our nine years of covering the Albemarle County Planning Commission, we can’t ever remember a county employee ever behaving in this manner. 

Brooks’ presentation and demeanor created an “us vs. them” adversarial relationship with the applicant.  After establishing such a hostile environment one can imagine some reluctance on the part of applicants to upset the same person [the County Engineer] who will be responsible for signing off on their engineering and site plans. 

While we have no reason to question the technical expertise or qualifications of the County Engineer but we do believe that his Planning Commission performance brings his public policy skills into question. 

We were encouraged to see both Scottsville Supervisor Christopher Dumler and Community Development Director Mark Graham in attendance at the meeting.  This will enable them to answer our questions below with a firsthand understanding of the issue.

  • Is this the manner all applications in Albemarle will now proceed?
  • Does staff have an open mike policy during Planning Commission discussion?
  • How can applicants prepare for challenges that have not been enumerated in the staff report?
  • How will Albemarle County respond to this process challenge? 
  • Will they at all? 
  • Will such action or inaction result in a better community? 

Only time will tell.

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:

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

All Survey Questions Are Not Equal

By. Neil Williamson, President

Surveys are interesting and valuable tools for gauging public opinion.  They are limited however because as they seek to provide important contextual information to create an informed answer, they often slip, perhaps unintentionally, into a “push” poll, predetermining the outcome.

The recent  Jefferson Area Community Survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research (CSR) at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center offers some questions that in their wording or position (fixed, not randomized) in the questionnaire might prove questionable.

In a telephone interview, CSR Director Dr. Thomas Guterbock indicated each of the survey sponsors paid CSR a fee per question to be asked.  Thomas Jefferson Health District, Charlottesville Gas, WTJU (Public Radio) and the Jefferson Area Board on Aging along with Charlottesville Tomorrow funded the survey.

It is important to note, Charlottesville Tomorrow should be applauded for paying for what looks like the majority of the survey because it does provide many interesting data discussion points.  We do take issue with several of the questions.

First and foremost The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates that the survey repeated the question we posed in our 2004 Transportation Survey:

Do you believe a U.S. Route 29 Bypass around Charlottesville is needed, or not.

bypass Survey HeadlineAs survey questions go, this is a clear black and white question.  Over two-thirds (69.3%) of respondents said that such a bypass was needed.  This was even greater than the approval rating in our 2004 Survey.

The next question, however, fell into the aforementioned “contextual quandary”

As you may know, a Western Bypass of U.S. Route 29 has been approved. Some people have recommended alternative transportation investments as being both more effective in reducing traffic congestion and costing less than the bypass. Do you favor or oppose our elected officials evaluating these options as an alternative to the Western Bypass? Would you say you . . . .
1 Strongly favor
2 Somewhat favor
3 Somewhat oppose
4 Strongly oppose
8 UNABLE TO RATE/DON’T KNOW
9 REFUSED [emphasis added-nw]

Should more cost effective alternatives be considered? 

Who could be opposed to this? 

When the Free Enterprise Forum asked CSR Director Dr. Guterbock directly if he felt this question was fair, he said he believed the question was a fair “hypothetical” question.  We respectfully disagree.

This question provides as a given that such alternatives exist, and infers that funding could simply be shifted from one project to another.  The Free Enterprise Forum contends neither is the case.  In such a “What if” question It is NOT surprising that over 66% somewhat favor or strongly favor evaluation of alternatives.  What is surprising is that the rate is not higher considering the phraseology of the question.

There is a theory in survey research regardingCT Survey Graphic question ordering.  If you examine the order the questions regarding Albemarle County’s growth management strategies the survey starts with what I call an apple pie question:

“How important is the rural countryside, Albemarle County’s farms, fields, and forests, to your quality of life?

This question was asked in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s previous survey. While we can appreciate the desire for question integrity by repeating  the same questions that were asked in previous surveys, we find ourselves repeating the same criticism we raised in the earlier surapple pie sweetpeaskitchenvey.

Words like rural countryside, farms fields and forest have a positive, warm and fuzzy connotation and tend to elicit a positive result.  Considering there is no cost in the question, who doesn’t like apple pie.

After getting the majority of respondents to say, absent any cost, they value the rural countryside, the survey rolls into a series of questions about the Western Bypass and then comes back to a rural areas question:

Do you favor or oppose having the County Board of Supervisors change Albemarle’s designated growth areas to create new locations for business on land currently zoned as rural countryside?

Not only does this question not include any cost issues, it could be inferred that the entire rural area may be in jeopardy.  There really is no “right” way to ask this question without shading the answer.

I believe the answers would have been different if asked in the same tenor as the Western Bypass Alternatives Question above: 

PROPOSED SURVEY QUESTION: The Existing Development Area Boundaries were established in 1980.  Much has changed since then.  Some have indicated that Albemarle County is losing career ladder jobs, should supervisors consider alternatives to the current growth area boundaries that will promote economic development and allow new jobs to come to Albemarle?

If the question was asked, what do you think the response to such a question might be?

Do you think such a question is fair?

Compare this question to the one listed for the Western Bypass Alternatives.  Now do you think either is a fair way to gauge public opinion?

After examining the Jefferson Area Community Survey, we find we have more questions than answers.

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 Credits: graphics: Charlottesville Tomorrow, Photo www.sweetpeaskitchen.com 

 

Why Albemarle’s “Fast Track” Is Headed Off The Rails

By. Neil Williamson, President

In yesterday’s (3/7) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting there was a staff presentation and discussion of creating a “fast track” for select industries that require land use designation changes.

gettingdownunderAaron Richardson of the Daily Progress has a very good synopsis of the “bickering” story.  The real disagreement between the supervisors seemed to be a deep philosophical rift regarding how much review should be waived, or accelerated, for one particular desired business and how would businesses could qualify for the accelerated review.

The reality is that some portion of the Board is looking to set the business qualification bar so high that no business could qualify.

The Staff Report suggested only those businesses identified in the soon to be released Targeted Industry conducted by the  Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED).  In addition to being identified in the TJPED Study staff suggested additional specific objective criteria must be met to qualify for the Fast Track:

Staff recommends that a formal fast track review process be reserved for qualified target industry enterprises located within appropriately designated development areas that also meet two or more of the following criteria:
 Projects that provide a minimum (amount to be determined) number of jobs with higher wages than the prevailing County average;
 Projects that bring in a minimum (amount to be determined) capital investment;
 Projects that are anticipated to result in a minimum (amount to be determined) positive fiscal impact to the County; and
 Projects that generate over 50% of their revenue from outside the TJPED region. [emphasis added-nw]

In discussion, several Supervisors thought any qualifying business should meet all of the criteria.  Mr. Rooker was concerned that the environmental impacts of the business were not a part of the fast track qualification.

It seemed obvious from the discussion that some of the supervisors had great trepidation about creating any process that would accelerate the approval process for anyone.

Other localities in the state, those that are eager to embrace new business, have set up fast tracking of applications for specific targeted areas.  As an example, Loudoun County makes their  “modified approval process” for the following types of projects:

New construction for businesses in these targeted industries:

So Loudoun has created a list of specific industries it wants to attract and is actively providing those industries staff support and expedited review – this is not rocket science folks.  But considering the tenor of the conversation yesterday the Free Enterprise Forum believes the battle over which projects should be fast tracked is a waste of time. 

If Albemarle County is not willing to use the TJPED targeted industry study as the only filter for fast tracking projects, then they should focus all of their limited staff time on fixing the track for everyone.

If instead, the citizens of Albemarle wish to see more career ladder jobs moving into the surrounding counties, do nothing.  In that case, I predict very few, if any, of the new “targeted industries” will locate in Albemarle. 

Perhaps, that was idea all along.

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 Credits: gettingdownunder.com

 

Greene County Elects 3 New Board Members

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

With two incumbents out the door, replaced by citizens without significant board level governing experience, Tuesday’s election (11/8)  has not only altered the composition of the Greene County  Board of Supervisors; there is the potential it could change the county’s direction as well.

Greene County is governed by a five-member Board of Supervisors, four elected to a four-year term by citizens from each of the electoral districts and one elected county wide as the at-large supervisor.  Slightly more than 45 percent of voters turned out to elect three supervisors—all of whom are either natives or long-time residents.

catalanoAs Chairman Steve Catalano (photo left), whose term expires in December, expressed, “My only concern with  three new board members coming on at one time is the first budget.  It is hard for anyone to walk into a new experience and deal with a $60 million budget two months later.”

Eddie Deane, well-known in the county for his 25 years of charity fundraising through his local band The Deanes, won the only at-large seat over incumbent Carl Schmitt with 55 percent of the votes. Although he recognizes the challenge involved and said he has “a lot to learn,” Deane seems more concerned that many residents are unaware of county decisions and regulations that affect them. Deane hopes to use his position and his familiar face to encourage citizens to be more informed and involved. Also on his agenda: make the county “more business friendly and try our best to satisfy businesses within regulations.

“I’m excited about the responsibility of serving the county and inspiring the citizens to be more informed about their local government,” Deane said. “I’ve been elected to serve as supervisor, but I think it’s a collaborative effort between me and the citizens to work together for the betterment of the community.”

In the Monroe district, David Cox, a 39-year county resident and former dairy farmer, ousted Mike Skeens. Davis Lamb, who currently serves on the Planning Commission and is the only new supervisor with county government experience, won the newly redistricted Ruckersville district seat.

Catalano, who served as chairman for eight consecutive years during his 12-year term, advised the new board, “It is incumbent on the chairman to lead his board through this time, and incumbent on the new members to balance their election promises with reality.  That is the challenge for new members.”

Catalano had decided not to seek reelection before his at-large seat was eliminated due to redistricting. As he leaves the board, Catalano added, “My biggest hope is that the water impoundment project continues through the process of obtaining the permit and securing the property. This is an important piece of the puzzle and is essential to the future self-sufficiency of our county.”

Maintaining a high reserve cash position is also important, according to Catalano, who helped turn the county’s precarious financial situation around during his tenure. Based on the county’s current condition, Catalano said he is “satisfied that our county is positioned well for its future.”

The new Board will take office in January.

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

photo credit: Greene County

Apathy Increases Voter Value

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

Yes, Virginia this is an election year.

Poor Virginia – Every year somebody is running for something and this year, if historical trends hold true – your vote is even more important. 

While the balance of the country (except New Jersey) is looking towardBallot Box November 2012 for their next election, Virginians must vote on their local representation in the General Assembly, many of their constitutional officers (Commonwealth Attorney, Commissioner of the Revenue, etc.) as well as those who represent them in the County building or City Hall.

2011 is what is known as an “Off-Off” year election.  There are no federal races on the ballot and there is no Gubernatorial race either.  Such elections regularly see low voter turnout.

According to Bill McClintock of GOP Wins [as quoted in Campaigns and Elections Magazine]:

the high point for voter participation is the presidential election cycle, which sees about 73 percent of the state’s voters turn out. Next is the gubernatorial election, when about 49 percent turn out. After that comes the non-presidential federal election (Senate or Congressional seat), which sees about 45% turnout. Finally, there’s a year like 2011 when the state legislature tops the ticket and the turnout plummets to a meager 33 percent. Generalizing across states—or even within states—is difficult because individual factors will obviously impact turnout. But it’s clear that turnout falls dramatically in these years. Emphasis added – nw

From the left leaning leaning My Fire Dog Lake blog discussing the 2009 election “Off” Year election (with a gubernatorial race) turnout:

Political writer Paul Loeb summarizes the voter turnout as follows: “In exit polls, Virginia voters under 30 dropped from 21% of the 2008 electorate to 10% this year, and from 17% to 9% in New Jersey. Minority voting saw a similar decline. In both states, over half the Obama voters of a year ago simply stayed home, more than a million people in both Virginia and New Jersey. With this collapse of the Democratic base, even relatively modest Republican turnout could carry the day, and did.” Emphasis added – nw

But what does that mean for the local races that are on the ballot?

In Fluvanna County, the 2007 Palmyra District Board of Supervisors race was won by John Gooch with 364 votes just 18 vote less than his opponent Minor Eager. In fact, before counting the absentee ballots Gooch led Eager by merely 10 votes.

Albemarle County 2007 Rivanna District’s Board of Supervisor’s election, 4,667 votes were cast and Incumbent Ken Boyd beat challenger Marcia Joseph by 149 votes.

The Free Enterprise Forum anticipates higher than average turnout in Greene County and Louisa County.  Both have contested races for retiring Constitutional Officers (Sheriff in Greene and Treasurer in Louisa).  The last time there was an open Sheriff’s race in Greene (2003) there were 5 candidates and voter turnout was over 47%. 

In addition Greene County has adjusted their Board of Supervisors to four magisterial districts and one at large member (formerly 2).  The new “Ruckersville” District features a four way race.  The last multiple candidate race for a Greene Board of Supervisor the decision was made by less than 100 votes.

Yes Virginia, there is an election in 2011.

This election will select those who serve the government closest to you, your local government.  The candidates who are successful in this campaign will be the ones to determine the vision for the locality as well as the ordinances; they will develop the budgets and set the tax rate.

Yes Virginia will hold an election on November 8th; the question is will you be a part of it? 

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