Adapted from remarks provided to Albemarle County Board of Supervisors June 11, 2014
By. Neil Williamson, President
The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in the Comprehensive Plan discussions over the last 36 months. We continue to find the Historical, Cultural and Scenic Resources chapter is fundamentally flawed in so much as it continues to reference the County’s 2000 Historic Preservation Plan. While the Free Enterprise Forum believes in incentivizing historic preservation we balance this desire with property rights. Several items in the 2000 plan have been rejected by this Board and the community at large.
Specifically, the property rights trampling Mountain Top Ordinance as well as a proposed historical preservation ordinance have repeatedly rejected. Should these flawed ideas from the 20th century continue to be referenced in this document?
As is often the case with Comprehensive Plans, this chapter seems to focus significantly on creating new regulations, often called “protection measures”. We firmly believe voluntary measures along with incentives are a better methodology to achieve historical preservation. Specifically we oppose Strategy 2b on page 5.9 calling for new regulations including a historical overlay district in the zoning code.
The concept that every property under such an overlay would be subject to additional regulation is a less than subtle attack on property rights.
We also take issue with the idea that the community has a “common responsibility for these resources” as mentioned in the third objective. Privately held homes [historic or not] are just that privately held, the community does not have a responsibility or relationship with these private properties.
On a positive note, we are happy to see our active work with the Planning Commission and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation resulted in significant changes to now voluntary Monticello viewshed strategy. We do request the word “voluntary” be added for clarity in the last sentence of Strategy 4c.
Just as we often worry about expansion of government, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that via this Comprehensive Plan Albemarle County is actively seeking “Greater ability to regulate aesthetics” on page 5.11
Specifically under Strategy 5b: Albemarle County is seeking “enabling legislation… to provide for a scenic protection and tourist enhancement overlay district”, the Free Enterprise Forum is opposed to the inclusion of this language in the Comprehensive Plan and will work to defeat any such legislation in the General Assembly.
Just as we said in our discussions with Monticello, if you want to preserve the view – BUY IT.
The Free Enterprise Forum respectfully asks that you reconsider Strategy 7f calling for adding roads to your existing list of 21 Entrance Corridors. When does it stop? When all roads are under ARB review?
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
Comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan Update Public Hearing April 2, 2013
Mr. Chairman, members of the Planning Commission my name is Neil Williamson and I work for the Free Enterprise Forum a public policy organization based in Albemarle County.
We find many positives in this revised Comprehensive Plan. The inclusion of a chapter on Economic Development is a welcome shift. The plan length, while still too long, is probably half the size of the previous iteration. We also applaud the use of appendices to catalogue important supplementary material.
Even with those positives, throughout the Comprehensive Plan Update the Free Enterprise Forum has raised significant concerns with the general direction of the plan. It is only now, when viewing the plan in total that we have identified a critical flaw in the Plan’s development.
While we remained concerned about several of the proposed changes in the Plan, we are most concerned that the entire plan has not been fully vetted by this commission.
Staff has continued to highlight the changes to the Comprehensive Plan but has this body fully evaluated those items that remain in the Plan?
Did this commission hold a vote to retain the Historical Preservation Ordinance and related Architectural Review Board expansion to cover all parcels within or adjacent to the historic overlay? It’s in there
Has this Commission been briefed by counsel on the legal standing or lack thereof regarding the word Viewshed? It’s in there
Speaking of viewshed, prior to this hearing had you even seen the new land grab language that The Thomas Jefferson Foundation strong armed into this draft document? It’s in there
Does this Commission really believe in the next 50 years there will be the population density required to support light rail? It’s in there
Does this Commission believe the Comprehensive Plan should demand the hiring of an environmental planner? It’s in there
Unlike the special interest groups that have drafted much of the proposed comprehensive plan, the Planning Commission is charged with representing the entire community.
This plan lacks a unified voice that balances community needs with property rights. Previous plans did not fully meet this standard.
The Free Enterprise Forum is asking the Planning Commission not to accept the Current Comprehensive Plan as the baseline but to practice zero based planning.
Examine the whole document.
Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan Update Deserves a Comprehensive Review.
Thank you for your service to the community.
Neil 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
By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer
Property rights in Stanardsville’s “historic district” appeared to be the main concern in the comprehensive plan, as the Greene County Planning Commission discovered Wednesday night during a public hearing on a draft to update the town’s current plan.
At issue is the consideration of a Historic District Ordinance to protect and preserve structures designated within the town of Stanardsville’s historic district and what such regulations might mean to property owners.
Doris Snow, a Greene County native who, along with her husband Phillip, owns one of the homes designated as historic, said that she advocates the plan’s vision statement but is against establishing such an ordinance because it would restrict property rights and impose regulations that could be costly to owners.
“We don’t want to put undue restrictions on businesses coming into the county,” Snow said, adding that imposing strict regulations on structures deemed historical would discourage potential investors. She also was concerned about limiting what current homeowners can do to improve their homes. “My husband and I have spent a decade making renovations in our house, many of them ‘green’ improvements that would not have been allowed under this regulation.”
Stanardsville Supervisor Buggs Peyton, who is also a town resident, agreed that the ordinance is “the most bothersome item” of the comprehensive plan and strongly objected to any regulations that would interfere with homeowners’ rights.
Another Stanardsville historic homeowner, Jackie Pamenter, had a different opinion, citing that the ordinance “doesn’t need to be restrictive, but people have a duty and a responsibility to keep up their [historic] buildings. The ordinance could be worded in such a way to not be so restrictive, but to simply state the need to protect buildings from careless neglect.”
One of the new business owners in town, Matt O’Varanese, who recently opened The Standard Eatery restaurant on Main Street, brought up other concerns such as speeding on the 25 mph road and evidence of criminal activity on the street, suggesting both be addressed to improve the town’s appeal. He also expressed concern about regulations and the need to ensure owners keep up their properties, but added, “The trick is in the balance.”
After listening to further public input, commissioners agreed that a balance needs to be found in imposing any restrictions on personal property rights. “The end goal is the revitalization of Stanardsville,” said Commissioner Anthony Herring.
Commissioners unanimously agreed that the public’s recommendations, including concerns about the town’s infrastructure and inaccurate population estimates that affect Stanardsville’s ability to apply for grants, be turned over to the working committee to be incorporated into the final plan.
The working committee, which includes Planning Director Bart Svoboda and several town residents, prepared the initial draft in conjunction with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. They will now meet to revise the draft before presenting it to the Stanardsville Town Council.
Sharp readers of the Free Enterprise Forum blog will remember the TJPDC was recently was awarded an almost $1 million dollar grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate comprehensive planning revisions for City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia.
Stanardsville Mayor Gary Lowe emphasized, “This is a draft. We’re in the process of getting more suggestions, getting more eyes to look at it. We will have at least one more public hearing and would like to receive input from all walks of life.”
In addition to the historic ordinance, the 31-page comprehensive plan addresses issues such as economic development, infrastructure, and community design and land use. It is available for viewing at http://www.tjpdc.org/pdf/Community/StanardsvilleComp_5-6Draft.pdf
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 Credits: Greene County, The Lafayette Inn
By. Neil Williamson, President
UPDATED 2:33 pm 7/28 additional information provided at end of post – nw
As the word got out regarding Coca-Cola Mid-Atlantic closing its Preston Avenue facility in Charlottesville and consolidating operations in Sandston, the Daily Progress quote from Curtis Etherly Jr., vice president of public affairs for the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co. caused me a case of déjà vu:
Part of the company’s decision to close the Charlottesville sales center on Preston Avenue is size and the inability to expand there, Etherly said. The building has had two expansions, according to city records, in the 1950s and 1980s.
It seems I had heard this sentiment previously. A quick review of the Charlottesville Planning Commission August 8, 2008 minutes, when the Commission was considering a historic overlay designation for the Coca-Cola Building found the following:
Mr. Curtis Southerly was present on behalf of Charlottesville Coca-Cola Bottling Company. He expressed concerns about the inclusion of the additions to the property at 722 Preston Avenue. He also expressed concern that this would limit their ability to make changes in the future to allow for better traffic access and circulation
Mr. Southerly was not the only property owner concerned that his property rights were being impinged by this new designation. Several others raised concerns and asked the commission not to create the overlay.
Interestingly, Commissioner Cheri Lewis raised the issue of property owner objections:
Ms. Lewis felt the fact that the owners were not in complete agreement with the designation was a vexing factor. She noted the City Attorney had advised that was not a reason to deny. She cited the Staff report that their standard for review was to make an advisory recommendation to the City Council as to whether the proposed amendment would serve the interests of public necessity, convenience, general welfare, or good zoning practice. To determine that they were to ask whether the existing zoning of the property is reasonable and whether the proposed zoning would be reasonable and a relevant factor to look at was the Comprehensive Plan designation for the property.
What does it mean if the city considers a property “historic”? The city, either through staff or the BAR, will have to approve additions, renovations and especially demolitions. Charlottesville’s BAR has earned a reputation for being particularly tough on building owners wanting to alter design-controlled property [emphasis added-nw], which means many property owners aren’t going to be enthused by seeing their addresses on the list.
To add local design control, owner consent is not absolutely necessary—it’s legally like a rezoning—but any Council decision must involve public hearings and meetings by the BAR and the city Planning Commission, as well as Council.
The Planning Commission was split on their final vote:
The motion passed, 4-3; Mr. Mitchell, Ms. Lewis, and Mr. Rosensweig voted against.
Summary: In August 2008, Coca-Cola Mid-Atlantic asked not to have their property saddled with this historic designation; the City of Charlottesville ignored their wishes and enacted the overlay. In July 2010, the company announced it was closing the plant.
The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the consolidation decision rests solely on the historical overlay designation, but it certainly was a factor in the decision making.
The City of Charlottesville’s choice of historic preservation over property owners wishes helped usher 42 good career ladder jobs out of Charlottesville.
The question is, was it worth it?
UPDATE 7/28 2:33 pm – One regular reader of the blog, who was involved in this issue, indicated the City changed their position and (on a 3-2 vote) only designated the front of the building as historic. Further this reader suggested the Coca-Cola company was comfortable with this change. A review of the minutes of City Council show that the City did change the designation to be only the older section of the building but there is no public record of the property owner support (that does not mean it was not the case). The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates this clarification.
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 and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
By. Neil Williamson
According to the article, the building’s owner Michael Zarlenga worked with Alexandria since acquiring the property in 2006 to try and expand his business in the space.
Zarlenga spent $350,000 on plans to expand his hunting and fishing store, the Trophy Room. He worked with city officials for almost two years and thought he had their support — until the architectural review board told him he couldn’t alter the historic property.
Furious and out of money, Zarlenga rented the space to its newest occupant, Le Tache. …
The store opened in January to both horrified and curious passersby at 210 King St., next to an art gallery and two doors from a boutique that sells children’s clothing. Le Tache owner Bo Kenney said sales are booming, even in this economy.
The Board of Architectural Review was able to preserve the traditional “flounder”, or shed roof structure and in the process Historic Old Town Alexandria now has a sex shop located next to an art gallery and just blocks from Gadsby’s Tavern and the boyhood home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
To some, the actual use of the building is less important than the preservation of the building itself. To others, the strong hand of the Board of Architectural Review has pushed out a growing business and the business has been replaced with one that is “so out of place”.
The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on projects. While we have no opinion on this particular project, we consider this example to be an extreme condition.
Historical Preservation continually ranks low on Citizen Surveys. Given the potential for adaptive reuse of historical structures and our current economic conditions, the Le Tache example raises several questions:
Across our region, how many businesses have chosen to move out of preservation or high regulatory environments?
Should government do more to retain such businesses?
Should Government be involved in Historic Preservation?
If so how does one balance the business needs vs. the historical preservation?
There are no easy answers but it is helpful to look at the outliers, like Le Teche, as examples of unintended consequences of inflexibility.
In yesterday’s (10/8/08) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting, the supervisors received a preview of the biennial survey results that will be released in December. The purpose of the preview is to provide some context for the supervisors as they move into their strategic planning retreat on October 24th.
The survey, again conducted by the Center for Survey Research of the Weldon Cooper Center at UVA, asked residents about their opinions of County Government, Quality of Life, Transportation and County priorities. The Albemarle County School Board also paid to add a few questions about education but the answers to those questions were not shared in yesterday’s meeting.
There were many interesting takeaways from this presentation. The first is when you change the question from should the county “Devote resources” to should the county “Spend tax dollars” the number of respondents indicating the issue was very important dropped in 30 of the 38 categories. In some cases the drop between the two questions was dramatic
While 53% of respondents believed it was very important to “devote resources to preserving historic buildings”, only 36.6% of respondents felt it was very important to “spent tax dollars to preserving historic buildings”.
The survey, conducted from August 20 to September 14, provides a snapshot of a community that is not monolithic in thought. One question that was new this year asked about a willingness to pay taxes to fund transportation:
48.8% said yes, 9.4% said yes but depends, 39.9% said No, 0.8% said No but depends and 1.2% said something else.
Another new question asked respondents to choose one of four strategic objectives as the most important for Albemarle County to pursue:
- 22.8% chose Slow Down Population Growth
- 23.2% chose Increase the number of jobs
- 18.1% chose Protect Natural Resources
- 16.8% chose Lower Taxes
- 19% chose Other
Almost 1/5 of the respondents indicated their priority was not on the list. How many others simply decided not to suggest an “other”. Obviously these four issues are not mutually exclusive but this answer does indicate a wide array of views are expressed in Albemarle County and all who participate in public policy should be careful of being swayed by those who indicate they speak for the majority of citizens. Based particularly on this question no such “majority” likely exists.
It will be most interesting how the answers to the surveys are used to justify different initiatives within Albemarle County.
The survey indicated one of the areas of low importance to the survey respondents was the preservation of historic buildings. Will this result impact the current efforts of the Historic Preservation committee to put forth an ordinance?
While the Free Enterprise Forum is appreciative of the changes in which the questions are now being asked, we continue to believe the questions could be quantified further to ask if the taxpayer would be willing to pay an additional $100 a year in taxes to help fund intiative A or initiative B. We will wait until the full report comes out in December to provide a more complete analysis of the data points achieved.