Tag Archives: land use

Who Will Decide Election 2017?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBallot Box

One day left.  Mercifully.

Citizens and candidates alike look forward to the end of the election season. As one local incumbent described the process, “There’s two ways to run, unopposed or scared”.

Unfortunately, this election we have many seats running unopposed. This is not an indictment of the candidates running, The Free Enterprise Forum strongly believes contested races make better candidates. Simply put contested elections make candidates explain and defend their positions thus making the public better informed and generates better policy after the election.

johnny RaincloudNot to be ‘Johnny Raincloud’ but the weather report for Election Day 2017 looks pretty gloomy; this generally suppresses voter participation.

By virtue of reading this post, you tend to be one of the more engaged community members.  By now, you likely know who is running for local office in your locality.  Hopefully, you know where they stand on issues that are important to you and you have selected the candidate that best represents your views.

Here in Virginia we like elections so much we hold them every year.  This year is an “off-year” election meaning there are no Federal offices on the ballot but there is a gubernatorial race. By means of contrast the 2016 presidential election year saw 72.05% statewide voter turnout compared with the last “off” year the 2013 Gubernatorial election turnout of 43.0%.

Based on early absentee voting and historical averages, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates the 2017 statewide election turnout to hover near 40%.  Locally, the lack of multiple contested races may hinder turnout. We do not believe it will exceed 50%.

virginia voter turnout photo credit Rassmuten

Credit: Rassumsen Reports

It is not a leap to predict roughly half of registered voters likely will not vote this cycle.  Therefore, regardless of the locality, this year’s campaign will come down to which campaign motivates their voters to show up at the polls.

Get Out The Vote, known in the ‘biz’ as “GOTV”, campaigns have been underway by the major parties, and special interest groups, for a number of weeks.  Likely voters are being contacted via mail, phone, and in person by party operatives and candidates.  Historically, this type of “ground game” can make the difference.  Over the years, we have seen the amount of shoe leather candidates put into the campaign can have a higher return than signs and advertising in many of the local races.

Every vote matters as evidenced by several recent close elections.  In the 2013 Samuel Miller District Race in Albemarle County, Liz Palmer on a Board of Supervisors contest by 874 votes. The same year, Jim Frydl  won his Greene County Supervisor race by 33 votes. In 2011, Supervisor Davis Lamb won his Ruckersville seat by just 15 votes (with 41 votes going to a candidate who had dropped out of the race).

Typically turnout elections favor those candidates with well defined and energized constituencies.  While there are a multiplicity of local constituencies with varying levels of organization, the question of election day is which of these constituencies are both motivated and energized.  Put succinctly, what half will show up?Badge

The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization, as such we embrace elections as the political marketplace for ideas.  We sincerely thank ALL the candidates who are making the sacrifice to run for public office.  We strongly encourage everyone to make your voice heard by voting.

The candidates have done their job by running now it is up to you – Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 am to 7 pm.—VOTE

If you do not know where you vote, click here for your polling place.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

 

Photo Credit: http://dracotempest.deviantart.com/art/Johnny-Raincloud-609304000

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Fluvanna’s Proactive Economic Development Effort

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County is preparing the way for development in the Zion Crossroads area. Water and sewer will start construction in the coming year, but Fluvanna County staff have an idea to make properties in development area ‘shovel ready.’

The proposed program, Fluvanna Shovel Ready Sites Program (FSRSP), will provide money to property owners to help them have land ready for development quicker.

Jason Smith, director of community and economic development, has vocal approval to develop the program. His idea is a play off of a similar state program, Virginia Business Ready Sites Program.

The statewide program has a minimum acreage of 100 acres. Fluvanna has two cooperating landowners who can combine to be eligible but most properties in Zion Crossroads area are smaller.

FSRSP would fill the gap for properties 2 to 99 acres.. Smith said several property owners he speaks to are willing to have their land developed, but they don’t fully know the process or what it entails.

“This is a program creates an avenue to have a conversation,” said Smith.

Virginia classifies property for development in five tiers. The higher the tier, the easier it is to develop. Most Fluvanna land is sitting in tier one.

“One of the core features of the Fluvanna Shovel Ready Site Program is rezoning. That takes two to three months. Developers don’t want to fiddle with that paperwork and two or three meetings,” said Smith.

Rezoning a property from Agricultural-1, which the vast majority of Fluvanna is zoned, to a business friendly zoning jumps property to tier three.

Along with zoning, the program would help landowners take care of various other due diligence programs like surveying or environmental studies. Smith said developers don’t want to hear there is an issue that needs to be mitigated because they’ll move to another location in another locality.

Smith said, “If we can do all the red tape, if we can take care of that, [developers] want to open up and make money. They don’t want to sit around for a year.”

He briefed the Board of Supervisors of the program during a work session in September. He will bring it back for final approval in November in hopes of rolling it out by January 1.

“We can’t wait. We can’t,” said an anxious Smith.

He said his office gets request for information every few months with questions that automatically disqualify any county property. Water infrastructure will help but moving properties to tier three or four will help speed things along.

Smith proposes moving $35,000 from a microloan program to FSRSP. The microloan money has been budgeted for several years with no businesses applying or using the money.

Just like the idea behind microloans, anyone interested in getting financial assistance through FSRSP would have to apply through the Economic Development Authority of Fluvanna. Once approved, landowners would work with county staff to complete the proposal.

“[The program will] provide a financial assistance opportunity to actually do something with the property, instead of just letting it sit and watch the property two miles up the street in Louisa county be developed,” said Smith.

Smith’s intention is to get final supervisor approval during the November 1 session. If approved, he would then have community meetings to publicize to landowners.


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 Credit: Ryan Pace Communications Management, LLC

March Madness–Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Oregon_St_Utah_Basketball.JPG_t1140Imagine you are a college basketball player and in the final tournament game, the officials change the rules – calling fouls that usually would be ignored and ignoring others that would usually be called.

In addition, the basket automatically changes height dependent on which player is shooting and from where. There was no change at the rules committee, there was no open discussion amongst coaches – those charged with making the decisions just changed how they judged things – this is Albemarle County planning philosophy today.

Please let me explain.

Albemarle, in big ways and small, is changing the way they look at property where the Rural Areas and Development Area boundaries meet. The Comprehensive Plan, which is only a guideline, calls for density up to the edge of the development area (see below) but recent actions see that philosophical pillar being eroded.

On the development area side, the Adelaide proposed subdivision  on the edge of the Crozet development area provides one example of eroding, or perhaps evolving, planning philosophy.

In the Crozet master plan the land was designated for “3-6 dwelling units an acre” – the Adelaide proposal came in at 5.5 units an acre. (editor’s note the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects only policy thus had no position on this or any other application).

In her defense of her vote in opposition, Supervisor Ann Mallek wrote to the Crozet Gazette:

I stand behind my vote to deny Adelaide to uphold important features of the Crozet master plan … .The primary reasons for my vote were stated in the resolution I read as part of my motion to deny. Three supervisors thought the density was acceptable at the high end of the range. Three thought the density should be at the low end of the range. A 3-3 tie results in denial of the application.

Additional reasons for my vote:

  • New density on the edge of the growth area, surrounded by forest and rural uses, should be at the low end of the range suggested in the comprehensive plan and master plan for Crozet. …
  • The highest density buildings were placed at the highway, further encroaching on the rural nature of the State Scenic byway. Emphasis added – nw

Regarding the rural side of the line, earlier this year during a discussion of Farm Winery, Brewery and Distillery events, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said:

We’re looking at, in my district, on Hydraulic Road, in the middle of the urban ring.. an event center [winery] essentially an event center surrounded by 25,000 homes. It is in the rural area but in the urban ring.  The folks that live in the area are very patient with music from Albemarle High School, they love the band on Friday night – but to have something that brings in this type of traffic and noise and impacts without some restrictions is unnerving and I get that it is a little unusual place.

To prevent having rural enterprises adjacent to the development areas Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested:

Perhaps none of the edges of the winery parcel can be outside of the rural area.

Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kamptner informed Randolph such a provision would be in violation of state law.

All of this discussion took place despite the explicit direction of Albemarle’s Comprehensive plan that calls for clear edges between development and rural areas.  Interestingly the very neighborhood McKeel discussed was called out in the plan

8.26 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

Strategy 2r: Promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas. Part of Albemarle’s beauty and attractiveness for residents and visitors is their ability to clearly see and appreciate the features of both the Rural Area and Development Areas. Discerning the boundary between the designated Rural Area and the Development Areas is important because it affects where and how new development should take place.. . .

Visual clues are also helpful in identifying the Development Areas-Rural Area interface. Land use on Rural Area Edgeboth sides of the boundary should be so distinct that residents and visitors know they are in the Development Areas or the Rural Area. Theses visual differences help to define expectations and appreciation for the different areas. Figure 20 clearly shows that the left side of Rio Road is in the Rural Area and the right side is in the Development Areas. . .

Transitions of large-lot subdivisions at the boundary are discouraged, as they are neither rural nor urban.They are too small for agricultural uses and muddy the edge. Emphasis added – nw

One easy solution would be to expand the development areas to encompass what McKeel calls the urban ring.  Dependent on the size of the expansion it could create, for a time, a buffer area of non conforming uses.

The larger core question revolves around the duality of two comprehensive plan land types, Development and Rural. A plurality of planners today see the world in a less binary reality.  The most popular planning philosophy of the day deals with the concept of “Transects” which is taken from the environmental sciences.

The Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) Explains transects this way:

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

transect

 

A similar picture appears in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.  Interesting question – where would you say the development area starts in the image above?  T-3?  T-4?

Based on recent actions, it is difficult to say where the Supervisors believe the Development areas begin and the rural areas end.

  • The question is how does this now shaky planning philosophy pillar impact the community vetted master plans and how does the rural area gain a voice in the discussion since by design they are outside of the master plan areas?
  • Should Albemarle consider abandoning its density dogma across the entire development area and seek to create a new comprehensive plan category?
  • A further question would be if Albemarle should consider proactively rezoning all the development areas land to make the community supported densities occur rather than the adversarial nature of the current rezoning process.

Once again we have more questions than answers, let March Madness begin.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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.

Photo Credits: Denver Post, Albemarle County, Center for Applied Transect Studies

Albemarle Prefers Pigs over Pinot

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has a large number of wineries and vineyards as a part of its agricultural economy.  The Monticello Wine Trail, which includes all of Albemarle, produces roughly 1/2 of all the wine produced in the Commonwealth.

According to the Washington Post:

Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in the number of wineries — with more than 255 — and is the nation’s fifth-largest wine grape producer, officials said. According to a 2011 economic impact study, the wine industry contributes almost $750 million to the state’s economy on an annual basis.

More than 1.6 million tourists visited Virginia wineries in 2013.

Albemarle County’s official website includes a page to “Discover your Albemarle Crush”

pigsWhy then is Albemarle now proposing new regulations that prefer swine over wine?

If the proposed regulations are adopted, a landowner may have a pig pen directly on the property line but a tasting room, parking lot or even a tent for a winery event must be set back 125’.

Rather than valuing the viticultural operations and allowing these rural farms to operate most efficiently (including events), Albemarle is seeking to dictate many of the business decisions including, tent setbacks, hours of operation and even how they bottle their product.

But this is FAR beyond the Supervisors original intent.

Please let me explain.

Last March, the Board of Supervisors determined that they wanted to create a more direct linkage between Albemarle County agricultural use and the ability to hold events at farm wineries, farm breweries, and farm distilleries (FWBDs).

The 1979 Virginia state law, which was designed to promote viticulture in the state, allows farm wineries to utilize leased vineyards anywhere in the state.  Albemarle, seeing to promote viticulture in Albemarle and prevent “faux” farm wineries from becoming by right event spaces in the rural areas, asked staff to address this concern in new event regulations.

WHEREAS, conducting such activities and events on lands designated Rural Area in the Comprehensive Plan and on lands zoned Rural Areas where there is little or no connection to agriculture is contrary to the policies in the Rural Area section of the Comprehensive Plan and the purposes of the Rural Areas zoning district; and

WHEREAS, in order to address these concerns, it is desired to conduct a new study of the relationship between activities and events at FWBDs, their agricultural nature, whether the activities and events are usual and customary as agricultural activities and events, whether and under what circumstances the activities and events are creating adverse impacts on other properties, and the economic impact of any such regulations that may be considered to address these concerns; and

WHEREAS, if the study so warrants, it is desired to consider amending the zoning regulations by strengthening the requisite relationship between agriculture and the activities and events at FWBDs, reasonably addressing any adverse impacts by performance standards or other means identified in the study in order to protect the public health, safety or general welfare, and to address any other issue identified in the study deemed to be necessary and appropriate. Emphasis Added – nw

Staff used the last line in the last Whereas to be a blank check to impact the very business operations of the FWBDs.

While the Free Enterprise Forum is understanding of mandating 5 acres of on site planted acreage to hold events, therby tying agriculture to the events,  the balance of the proposed ordinance goes too far:

1.  Increasing setbacks from 75’ front/25’ side/35’ rear to 125’ from property line.

This relatively arbitrary increase seems to be directed at mitigating impact on the neighbors.  Proper enforcement of existing regulations would seem to be a better less property rights limiting manner to achieve the same result.

In addition, when queries via email regarding agricultural setbacks the Zoning Administrator:

There is no Albemarle County zoning setback for those things [livestock].  We also don’t have setbacks for fencing in general.

Clearly, if enacted as drafted the setbacks portion of this code would significantly favor slopping hogs over sipping hops near the property line.

2. Mandating and not defining “regular hours open to the public”

The concept behind this suggestion is good; any winery seeking to hold events should have enough wine to sell to the public regularly.  Unfortunately, the concept does not hold up to close examination.  Today there are nearly 300 Napa Valley (CA) wineries operating on a ‘By Appointment only’ including such industry stalwarts such as Opus One and Duckhorn Vineyards.  There are a number of high end wineries with significant production in Virginia operating under a similar business model (RDV, Boxwood Estate, etc.).  One local winery (Mountfair Winery) is now closed to the public selling the majority of their production via their wine club.  From their website:

Mountfair Vineyards A private club winery! Mountfair Vineyards, nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge near Charlottesville, is a family owned and operated Club Winery serving our club members through appointment and special events. Mountfair is no longer open for regular tasting room hours.

Considering the reduced neighbor impact of an appointment only winery, why should Montfair (or other properties like them) be excluded from holding events?

This market reality raises the question why Albemarle would seek to require wineries that need not be open to make their business model work open their doors to hold events.

Further, a lack of definition of “regular hours” allows the zoning administrator (and her successors) significant latitude in their interpretation of the code.

3.  Punishing the Sunday Bride – Curfew on amplified music.

Currently there is no curfew on amplified music beyond the noise ordinance.  Staff heard loud and clear (pun intended) in the Joint Board of Supervisors/Planning Commission meeting that current practice is to stop all amplified music at 11 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  Rather than accepting a self imposed industry practice and adopting it as code staff selected 10 pm on Sunday night to be the cut off.

One winery, who has been commended for their noise cancelling practices, indicated 20% of their wedding business is Sunday weddings.  If we assume the wedding season runs from May – October (6 months), allowing an 11 pm Sunday cutoff would amount to 24 additional hours of operation (if all dates were booked).  Why not accept the market reality and be done with this – enforce the noise ordinance without punishing the Sunday bride.

Albemarle wineries and cideries (more than breweries and distilleries) have a long history of being good neighbors and benefiting the local economy with their events.  Albemarle can tie the event ordinance to the land but should step away from the mission creep of dictating the business activities on the land.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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.

Photo Credit: http://www.droid-life.com/2014/08/13/t-mobile-identifies-data-hogs-p2p/

 

Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The past few months, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors have discussed how the land use program works and information regarding it. On September 7, the supervisors voted to keep the program as is. The vote was contentious at 3-2 with Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) and Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) voting against it.

The program helps keep the county rural by reducing real estate taxes for property owners who use the land for agricultural, horticultural or forestry uses. The fourth section of the land use program is called open space.

Last month, the supervisors had a work session regarding the program but didn’t vote on it. On September 7th in the regular session the supervisors returned to the subject during unfinished business.

As soon as the item came up, Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) immediately moved to reaffirm the program as it currently is stated. Don Weaver (Fork Union District) seconded the motion. O’Brien then requested the item be discussed.

OBrien2014-photo-credit-Fluvanna-County_thumb.jpg

Tony O’Brien

“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien said he wanted the item to be tabled until he could get answers to 17 questions he had sent to Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan. Mel Sheridan was not at the meeting.

O’Brien requested the supervisors hire a third party to investigate if residents utilizing land use are complying with the rules of the program. The third party could rule if residents qualify.

From there the residents could make amends to become compliant, change to a section of the program they do comply with or just pay full taxes and no longer be in the program.

Booker said she had no problem having an audit performed by a third party saying residents might not know they aren’t in compliance, herself included.

“We want land use. This county wants to be rural,” said Booker.

O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.

Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.

Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.

Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.

O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.

Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.

Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.

O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”

Following the vote O’Brien made a motion to put the full rules of the land use program on the county’s website.

Payne then gave a legal opinion the motion was out of order because the issue was already voted on. Mike Sheridan then ruled the motion out of order thus not allowing it. O’Brien asked for a clarification of the opinion.

Payne said the motion was continuing an item that was discussed and voted on therefore a second vote was not necessary. The original vote was to ‘reaffirm and retain current Fluvanna County Land Use Program ordinances, policies, and procedures.’

O’Brien then asked the county administrator Steve Nichols who makes decisions regarding information on the website. Nichols said staff does not make decisions on content on the portions regarding the constitutional officers. Commissioner of Revenue is a constitutional officer.

As checked on the evening of Sept. 7, the Commissioner of Revenue’s portion of the website has a land use program section. There is a brief description of the program and another PDF page of instructions of the program.

As part of the PDF, there is citation of the exact county ordinance regarding land use and told to look for the ordinance on the county’s website. The PDF also says residents can call the commissioner’s office for further information.

Mel Sheridan was unavailable for comment regarding the Board of Supervisors meeting.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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

“Missed It By That Much” – Albemarle Neuters A Good Idea

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

maxwellsmart_missed_it_by_that_much

It only took only ninety days to neuter a good idea.

Back on January 6th – in their very first meeting as a newly constituted board, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution of intent that promised to reform and streamline changes to rezoning applications.

The resolution was eminently clear:

WHEREAS, in order to improve the efficiency of applications that do not affect use or density, it may be desirable to amend the regulations in Albemarle County Code 18-33.4 and 18-35.1 pertaining to the application and procedural requirements as well as the fees for such rezonings.

The Free Enterprise Forum saw this as a huge step forward.

If there were adjustments to a rezoning that did not affect use or density a streamlined process could accelerate projects and in term foster positive economic development.  We believed that the state mandated revisions to cash proffers (both 2013 and 2016) clearly fell into this category.

This would mean their would be a fair and efficient manner to amend existing rezonings to fit current state law regarding cash proffers – that’s a good thing right?

Imagine our surprise when staff much more narrowly interpreted the Supervisors’ action and came out with a gauntlet of conditions to be applied to applicants seeking a simplified review:

To be consistent and objective in determining whether to grant a request that is eligible for a simplified application process, the Board will consider the following factors relevant to the proposed proffer amendment:

o Was the proffer as originally provided material to the approval of the original rezoning?

o Does the proposed proffer amendment have a potential impact on adjacent properties not anticipated with the original rezoning?

o Has development already occurred within the rezoned area for which current residents/businesses would have relied on the proffer or for which an amendment to the proffer would materially affect them?

o Is there a general public interest in the proffer as originally accepted that would be materially affected by the requested amendment?

Surely, by this ridiculously high standard, the staff must not think many applications would meet this standard?

Nope.

In public testimony to the Planning Commission, staff indicated they thought this might be used twice a year.  Specifically, Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner stated Cash Proffer amendments would not be recommended by staff for the more efficient review.

As the only member of the public to speak on this issue at the Planning Commission last month, I was dumbfounded by staff’s limitations on what seemed like a really good idea.  Quite honestly, it is like building a car and leaving off the wheels.Car-Without-Wheels-013

Rather than streamlining the onerous and cumbersome rezoning amendment process, staff’s interpretation discourages use of the expedited review AND further encourages the use of the Planning Commission (and the Community Councils) as political cover for the Board of Supervisors.

Further, such a preponderance of public hearings on state mandated proffer amendments, creates a false citizen expectation as Albemarle is restricted by state law on their cash proffer calculation.  But the Planning Commission will hear from citizens that the rezonings, that are an actualization of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan, do not pay for themselves and should be rejected.

The Planning Commission, if past is prologue, will ignore the law and send an improper (and potentially illegal if acted upon) recommendation for denial to the Board of Supervisors. (See Spring Hill)

But all is not lost.

At the public hearing Wednesday night, the Board could see the error in the staff interpretation and request all proffer amendments regularly be sent directly for Board action?

This would certainly streamline getting to the Board but would not guarantee a decision.

Based on this Board’s proclivity for Planning Commission input (and political cover), the realist in me anticipates few if any amendments would be approved but would rather be referred back to the Planning Commission for their consideration – thus neutering the entire streamlining idea.  “Missed it by that much” as Maxwell smart used to say.

Perhaps making it easier to build in the development areas wasn’t such a good idea after all – of course by right rural area residential parcels have no such regulatory barriers.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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 Credits: Kolzmen.kz, CBS Television Distributor

Albemarle PC – “I Got You Babe”

By. Neil Williamson, President

Groundhog Day PosterWhile being nowhere near as funny (or good looking) as Actor Bill Murray, I must say that thanks to cash proffer inaction by  Albemarle County, I can closely identify with one of his more famous roles.

Please let me explain.

In the seminal 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s weatherman character, Phil Connors, wakes up every day in the same small Pennsylvania hotel to the same song by Sonny and Cher – “I Got You Babe”.

Regardless of what occurs the day that follow – literally no matter what he does,  every morning is the same — Murray is magically transported back to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and the alarm clock’s warning on Groundhog Day.

[HER:] They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow
[HIM:] Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
[HIM:] Babe
[BOTH:] I got you babe I got you babe

[HER:] They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent
[HIM:] I guess that’s so, we don’t have a pot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got

In January 2013, the Free Enterprise Forum commissioned the Contradictory Consequences study that showed how cash proffers were causing residential projects to move forward by right rather than rezoning along the lines of the Comprehensive Plan.  The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors asked us to present the paper to the Board in May.  Nothing happened.

[HER:] They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow
[HIM:] Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
[HIM:] Babe
[BOTH:] I got you babe I got you babe

[HER:] They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent
[HIM:] I guess that’s so, we don’t have a pot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got

In 2014, the Virginia passed a law that restricted localities to only murray groundhoginclude infrastructure projects that increased capacity in their cash proffer calculations.  Surely this will prompt significant action in Albemarle.  In September, the Supervisors sent the issue to the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) for their review. Nothing happened.

[HER:] They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow
[HIM:] Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
[HIM:] Babe
[BOTH:] I got you babe I got you babe

[HER:] They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent
[HIM:] I guess that’s so, we don’t have a pot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got

A full year, and 18 meetings, later (September 2015) the Committee forwarded their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Over the Fall and early winter, the Free Enterprise Forum spoke in six different public meetings in the following three months admonishing Albemarle to make the changes demanded by state code.

For months, there was no action.  But then in November, a glimmer of light, the Chair of the BOS told me it would be on their December agenda.

It was on the December BOS agenda, as an information item that the FIAC report was being sent to the Planning Commission for their review. Nothing happened.

[HER:] They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow
[HIM:] Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
[HIM:] Babe
[BOTH:] I got you babe I got you babe

[HER:] They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent
[HIM:] I guess that’s so, we don’t have a pot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got

Last week, the Planning Commission (with several new members) took up the issue and decided [despite having a subcommittee study it for 18 meetings] they did not have enough information to make a decision and that since the General Assembly is considering additional proffer reform this session, maybe they should just wait.  In the meantime, let’s work on our Fantasy Island CIP. Nothing happened.

[HER:] They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow
[HIM:] Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
[HIM:] Babe
[BOTH:] I got you babe I got you babe

[HER:] They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent
[HIM:] I guess that’s so, we don’t have a pot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got

So tonight, just as Phil Connors gave his forecast every morning,  the Free Enterprise Forum will again ask Albemarle County to follow state law and reform their “voluntary cash proffer policy”.  I am pretty sure I know what their redundant response will be.groundhog day 1993

I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of the same old song out of Albemarle.

But just like Phil Connors, I don’t know when it will possibly get better.

[HER:] They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow
[HIM:] Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
[HIM:] Babe
[BOTH:] I got you babe I got you babe

[HER:] They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent
[HIM:] I guess that’s so, we don’t have a pot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, Columbia Pictures

Albemarle Land Use Decision, Orange Dots and Friday Night Lights

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 econopen-for-business_thumb.jpgomic 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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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.

Albemarle’s Economic Development Tipping Point

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Public Hearing September 9, 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

Good evening, my name is Neil Williamson and I serve as President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization focused on the local governments of Central Virginia.

The decision before you tonight is whether you wish to open a portion of well located land into your development area as a new center for light industrial jobs.  This is likely a tipping point in Albemarle’s economic development history.  The crux of the discussion of this Comprehensive Plan Amendment is about three things: Jobs, Revenue and Growth ControlEverything else is a designed distraction.

Go Big or Go Home.  There have been some who have suggested shrinking the proposed development area expansion to just one or perhaps two parcels.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the larger the expansion the more flexibility the county will have if and when rezonings come before the board and, perhaps most importantly,  the bigger the expansion, the more career ladder jobs can be located in Albemarle.

JOBS are the building blocks of a community.   Economic diversity helps a local economy weather market cycles. A number of academic studies show that a city’s or region’s economy will perform better with more diversification because risk and market effects are spread out. This CPA will help diversify the job base.

two centsMy Two Cents.  As a Board you are intently aware of the significant demands on your budget.  You have even appointed a Citizen Resource Advisory Committee (AKA CRAC Committee) to find new sources of revenue.  . You spent this afternoon with the School Board discussing funding the future.

If the numbers that have been leaked are correct, the use of just part of the Development area expansion could equate to $.02 on the residential tax rate.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?  For years Albemarle’s economic policy was that applicants were lucky we are even considering your application regardless if it was an expansion or a new business.

It was not unusual to see other localities market themselves as “not Albemarle”  In recent months, we have seen a warming in favor of economic development and a positive business climate – a positive vote on this CPA will be a strong signal to the world – “ALBEMARLE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS”

Please know, a negative vote will be equally enlightening.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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.

Fluvanna Supervisors Fly Through Light August Agenda

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

In the quickest meeting in recent memory, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved a new restaurant in the Cunningham District.

Fluvanna Supervisors typically hold a 4 p.m. meeting on the first Wednesday and a 7 p.m. meeting on the third Wednesday of each month. August has just one meeting scheduled on the first Wednesday as it typically is a slower time of the year.

The afternoon session had appointments to two boards, a budget amendment, reclassification of an open maintenance position and two appropriations to the Department of Social Services.

The evening session had just two public hearings, for the same property. The property is located on Route 6, near the intersection of The Cross Road (Route 733). Interestingly, the property was originally zoned R-1 in the 1970s when the county adopted zoning. It is only 300 feet wide.

The applicant asked to rezone from R-1 to A-1, which was granted unanimously. The applicant then also asked for a special use permit to operate a small restaurant. It was also approved unanimously.

No one from the public, other than the applicant, was present at the public hearing.

The earlier session finished up some fiscal housekeeping for action the supervisors took in late 2014. The supervisors voted to refinance two loan payments. It changed the FY15 budget by more than 1 percent, thus requiring public hearing and formal action on the budget changes.

The public hearing was held the meeting prior but Don Weaver (Cunningham District) asked staff to include a total recap of the 2014 action. The refinance of the 2005 courthouse bond saved the county $117,822 over the course of the debt. The refinance of the 2006 library bond saved the county $217,712 over the life of the loan.

The Department of Social Services requested two FY16 supplemental appropriations from state and federal funds. One of the appropriations allowed the hiring of a new benefit specialist, part time to help reduce the Medicaid backlog. The second one allows for additional overtime to help with the aforementioned backlog. No new money was expended. The DSS budget provided the required match.

Supervisors are looking to save money by spending more on a maintenance position. They voted to raise the pay but also increase the requirements of an open position. The net salary difference might be a few thousand a year, but the position now requires a specialty. This will allow the county to stop more costly contract services of the hired specialty, whatever it might be.

Chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) was absent from the meeting so vice chair Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) handled the gavel. Booker, on planned vacation, is expected back for the September meetings. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) was present for the 4 p.m. session but left before the 7 p.m. session.

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bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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