By. Neil Williamson, President
The subtitle of The Friday Night Lights television program ask the question “What if a moment could change everything?”; an appropriate question considering the facts surrounding the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan Amendment decision this week.
This morning (9/21) The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce released an updated Orange Dot report on family self sufficiency. The report, which will be presented at the Chamber Jobs Action Summit on Wednesday found:
The Report update identifies that within the City of Charlottesville, 1,800 families (25%) lack self-sufficiency and within Albemarle County, 3,861 families (16%) also lack self-sufficiency. Using a realistic formula accounting for area costs for food, shelter, clothing, energy and transportation – and child care where needed, area families (depending upon the number of children) need to earn $35,000 – $40,000 a year to be self-sufficient.
This unsettling information comes as the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are poised to vote on a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to expand the development area by adding land near the intersection of US 29 and I-64 for light industrial jobs. While the timing of the expansion is being driven by a specific economic development prospect, the decision is significantly larger than any potential applicant.
In discussing the issue Planning Commissioner (and BOS candidate) Rick Randolph has inaccurately positioned the question. In addition to referring to this as the “Brewery CPA” on his campaign Facebook page he also wrote:
It is apparent from my remarks on the 18th that I opposed this proposed beer industry being located at this site at this time. This does not mean, as I stated, that had the CPA been for a 1,000 employee high-tech industry wanting to open an East Coast corporate center in this property that I would have felt the same way.
Albemarle County, not any business, is the applicant for the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment. This point, while being made abundantly clear to all attending the meeting, has been conveniently left out of Randolph’s political statement. This omission, and his apparent lack of understanding that absent this CPA approval his fictional 1,000 employee high-tech industry would be lacking space in Albemarle is regrettable. The fact he is propagating such misinformation through his campaign is enlightening.
This Sunday, The Daily Progress ran a front page story regarding the CPA and those who support jobs in Albemarle. I was quoted in the article:
“It’s beyond one applicant,” Williamson said. “This is the county as an applicant trying to expand the product base that you have to sell as economic development. If Albemarle chooses not to move forward with economic development, with this economic development Comprehensive Plan Amendment, I fear the ripple effects to be negative for perhaps a generation.”
Here in the start of High School Football season, the BOS would be wise to consider why these so called Friday Night Lights are already lit when visiting teams arrive at the stadium in the late afternoon. As with economic development, you can’t just flick a switch and turn the lights on and when they go off it takes a long time to get them back on.
We believe a moment can change everything. We continue to hope the Albemarle Board of Supervisors keeps the Open for Business light on by voting in favor of jobs in approving this CPA.
Neil Williamson, President
By. Neil Williamson, President
Buried in the “For Information Only” portion of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors’ Wednesday agenda, in an attachment to a staff report FY 15 General Fund Q1 Report; Revised FY 15 Revenue Projections Report; and Quarterly Economic Indicators Report the Free Enterprise Forum found a most interesting quote:
This piece of information, along with the recent slowdown in the decline in the County’s unemployment rate, stands in contrast with the somewhat positive collective revenue stream data. The jobs base and unemployment rate information, nonetheless, suggests that Albemarle entered an economic slowdown in the past year.
The six page report, written by Albemarle’s Manager of Economic Analysis and Forecasting, Steven Alshouse, and their Chief of Financial Management Jacob Sumner, provided several important linkages to the determination of an economic slowdown, in the face of an improving U.S. Economy. Even as we witness sales tax revenue increases, this report contends that jobs remain a real concern for Albemarle County’s long term economic health.
Those who follow the Free Enterprise Forum Blog may recall that we raised concerns in October about the employment picture when we took a hard look at Do Jobs Fit in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan?
The economic impact of Albemarle’s arrogance may very well now be coming home to roost. The latest Jobs Report from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce reported significant job growth across the region. If you look back 10 years, Albemarle’s private employment has grown by over 21% but dig a little deeper and you will find private sector employment in Albemarle County is 3.4% lower today than it was in 2007.
Now in an Albemarle County produced document the very same data set is being analyzed with similar results only with more recent data:
As shown on Table I, the average monthly total number of jobs in the County appears to have declined modestly from 42,029 in Q3 FY 13 to 48,910 in Q3 FY 14, or by 119 positions (-0.24%)….
Table I reveals that the private sector lost 73 positions between Q3 FY 13 and Q3 FY 14, but that the private sector’s share of the total number of jobs in the County remained essentially unchanged, at 67.02% of the jobs base, compared with 67.01% in Q3 FY 13. During this time frame, the public sector experienced a net loss of 46 jobs.
The report found other economic indicators that were equally foreboding:
Between Q1 FY 14 and Q1 FY 15 the County’s Inspection Fees, which reflect current development, increased modestly, by 3.76%. Other Development Fees, a measure related more to future development than to current development, dropped substantially, by 18.47%. It is not clear whether this drop represents a statistical fluke or whether the decline might indicate the start of a longer-term trend.
As Albemarle continues to move (at a glacial pace) toward the hiring of an Economic Development Director and establishment of an Economic Development Department, one might ask why was this report buried?
If it was good news would this have been a part of the regular agenda?
Based on my understanding of their meeting rules, it is the prerogative of any supervisor to have this agenda item pulled off the information section and discussed in open meeting.
So the question to the members of Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors is not if they can ask for a discussion of this agenda item but rather will they?
And if they do, what, if any, policy shifts might they consider to change this trend?
Neil Williamson, President
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: purpologydotcom.files.wordpress.com
By. Neil Williamson, President
While it is not the role of government to create economic development, government has the ability to create an environment that welcomes such activity. Building such an environment requires commitment but recent actions by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) as well as a close examination of the proposed Comprehensive Plan chapters leads some to believe Albemarle may not be “open for business”.
Based on recent discussions, Albemarle seems to be much more likely to hire a planner to preserve the past than a position to help facilitate the jobs of the future.
Please let me explain.
Last Wednesday, just hours after two incumbents (Duane Snow and Rodney Thomas) lost their reelection bids, one of the other “lame ducks” on the Board, retiring Dennis Rooker, raised questions about the responsibilities and accountability of an Economic Development Department.
Rooker was concerned about creating such a “cost center” without specific metrics to evaluate its performance. It would be refreshing to see this same level of accountability to some of the other County expenditures Supervisor Rooker has favored over the last twelve years (including the Historic Preservation Planner below). While some in the audience saw this as a subtle delaying tactic designed to make the proposal come before the newly elected Board, Supervisor Snow went so far as to call it “a full retreat”.
This Wednesday (11/13) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will consider three chapters of their Comprehensive Plan: Economic Development, Historic Resources, Natural Resources. To be clear, we are appreciative that after 30 years of Comprehensive Planning, Albemarle County has an economic development chapter but The Free Enterprise Forum believes it is not an accident that the Economic Development Chapter is the shortest of the three (and the shortest in the Plan).
Beyond the mere number of pages dedicated to economic development, much of the document reads like an apology. By means of comparison here is the Objective 1 of the Natural Resources Plan:
Protect the quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater resources in the County.
A crisp, measurable objective without conditions. Objective 1 of the Historic Resources Plan is equally clear:
Continue to identify and recognize the value of buildings, structures, landscapes, sites and districts which have historical, architectural, archaeological or culture significance.
But the tenor of the Economic Development Objective 1 is completely different:
Ensure that economic development efforts are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with the other Comprehensive Plan goals.
Taken independently, one might find the Economic Development Objective 1 to be without objection but when compared side by side it is clear some chapters are more equal than others.
The Natural Resources Chapter speaks at great lengths regarding habitat fragmentation (including the below chart):
If it is important to educate citizens about the negative impacts of a fragmented wildlife habitat, is it not as important to educate citizens of the perils of underemployment (see chart below) and impact such underemployment has increasing the number of chronically unemployed youth?
Why wouldn’t the Comprehensive Plan seek to identify how this lack of good jobs is impacting the different segments of our population differently?
If it is an Albemarle County strategy to “re-establish the full-time Historic Planner Position to assist in the implementation of the Preservation Plan”, is it not equally important to actually have at least one person’s full time job to be focused on the jobs of the future?
Wednesday’s question for the lame duck BOS (and its newest member Jane Dittmar) is whether together they will fight to make economic development, and jobs, a priority in Albemarle County.
Looking at the tea leaves, I am not optimistic.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
By. Neil Williamson, President
On Tuesday (10/11) The Albemarle County Planning Commission will be discussing the upcoming revision for their Comprehensive Plan as it relates to the size and location of the Development Areas.
While the report includes statistical census data relating to jobs, all of the discussion regarding “land capacity for growth” is focused on residential growth. Albemarle planning staff has indicated it wishes to discuss industrial land in a separate portion of the Comprehensive Plan update, The Free Enterprise Forum disagrees. Now is the time to focus on the potential expansion of the development areas to accommodate job growth (and retention).
Way back in 2008, we wrote about the lack of Light Industrial land in Albemarle County.
In 2010 when Albemarle County’s Business Facilitator Susan Stimart produced her report on the Light Industrial land it indicated only about 100 acres of Light Industrial Land was available.
In general, the report recommends the county take several steps to increase the amount of land available for industrial use. Using employment statistics extrapolated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stimart estimates the county will need between 184 and 500 additional acres of land zoned for industrial uses by 2018 in order to meet future employment needs.
The article went on to quote one local environmental advocate’s opposition to development area expansion (and the related jobs).
Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council said the county has squandered much of the land that had been zoned light industrial. During the residential and retail boom of the last decade, many properties that had been zoned for light industrial use were rezoned to make way for new developments such as Albemarle Place and Hollymead Town Center.
Werner specifically pointed to the March 2008 rezoning of 88 acres off of Fifth Street Extended to make way for a new shopping center.
“I don’t recall anyone from the development community raising any concerns about that,” Werner said
“Given that the county has been willing to rezone light industrial lands for retail, I see no need to expand the growth area.”
Mr. Werner is correct that land that was ill suited for industrial has been rezoned over the past decade. In each case the applicants successfully argued that their “stale” industrial zoned land had a higher, better use as residential or commercial should be rezoned to that use.
When such upzoning of industrial land occurs, if the community is committed to light industrial jobs, then there is a need for replacement capacity by expansion of the development area.
Earlier this year, in a meeting of industrial land users one more than one company indicated significant frustration with the lack of available industrial property and suggested they may be leaving Albemarle because of this lack of capacity.
Given that as a community we have limited funds to spend on infrastructure, doesn’t it seem silly to prohibit light industrial activity where the infrastructure already exists (or could easily be located)?
To be clear, changing the Comprehensive Plan does not change the underlying zoning on the land, it merely opens the opportunity for the land owner to request such a rezoning (and for the land owner to “voluntarily” proffer improvements required to mitigate the projects impacts).
Back in July 2008, Planning Commissioner Tom Loach indicated his preference was for Master Plans to dictate any changes to their respective development areas. The Free Enterprise Forum disagrees, the Board of Supervisors (and their appointees on the Planning Commission) are much better positioned to address county wide employment opportunity needs rather than Master Planning Groups.
When we highlighted the shift of jobs moving out of manufacturing and into Leisure and Tourism (Making Products or Making Beds), we were taken to task by some asking what did we want government to do?
Here is what Government can and should do – Plan for Job Creation and Retention. If we fail to address this need in this Comprehensive Plan update, we are destined to lose enterprises.
Tuesday night the planning staff only wants to talk about residential growth, we suggest the Planning Commission lead the process by pushing staff to consider industrial expansion, now.
In Albemarle we are asking the Planning Commission to make Jobs- Job One.
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 and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Over the years, people [including members of the Board of Supervisors] have asked why Albemarle is perceived as unfriendly to business. This week’s [July 29] Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting provides even more evidence supporting Albemarle’s disregard for existing businesses.
During the previously postponed work session on industrial service land designations in the Comprehensive Plan, staff presented a report indicating a projected shortfall of industrial service land over the planning period [20 years]. This shortage is generated by multiplying average business growth times the existing businesses already operating in Albemarle County not accounting for any new start ups or transplanted businesses.
Ms. Nora Gillespie of the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center spoke at length regarding the number of home based businesses that have had great difficulty finding land in Albemarle County to move their growing businesses.
Commissioner Eric Strucko questioned the validity of the numbers in the staff report. He was “not convinced” there is a problem. Despite testimony to the contrary, the majority of the Commission believes there are plenty of industrial service opportunities within the development areas that can easily accommodate light industrial uses.
The Free Enterprise Forum advocated for consideration of Strategic Enterprise Zones located outside the development area that could appropriately be “up zoned to allow for Light Industrial Use”.
Commissioner Tom Loach suggested any industrial service designations should be a part of the community driven Master Planning process. While appreciative of Mr. Loach’s suggestion, I have some difficulty seeing a master planning process choosing to put land for a contractor’s service yard over open space or mixed use in the development area.
Commissioner Jon Cannon compared the lack of industrial service land to the affordable housing issue. His point was we did not expand the growth area to solve the affordable housing issue, we have other mechanisms at our disposal. Mr. Cannon is referring to the “affordable housing” mandate that all new residential rezonings must provide 15% of their stock as “affordable”. The Free Enterprise Forum was the sole voice in opposition when this mandate was passed. The result of this mandate is that 85% of new housing product became less affordable.
It was not clear if Mr. Cannon was suggesting a portion of each rezoned property in the development areas should provide land for industrial service. If this was his suggestion, The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the ever rising mandates to rezonings (cash proffers, affordable housing, sidewalks, street trees, etc.) will force land not to be developed as planned communities but by right as designated by the underlying zoning.
While Mr. Loach did mention the importance of having jobs in the community, at no time, did the Planning Commission focus on the issue of existing industrial service jobs leaving Albemarle County.
Early this morning more than twenty thousand workers commuted into Santa Barbara County California. This evening, these workers will drive [the VAST majority alone] out of the county back to their homes, construction yards, plant nurseries and offices in the surrounding localities. It has gotten so bad the saying is “Santa Barbara’s for newlyweds and nearly deads”. I fear this is where Albemarle County is headed. But don’t worry, the Planning Commission does not believe we have a problem.