Tag Archives: Legal Review

Charlottesville Resolution: Ignore Public Comments

By. Neil Williamson, President

Woody-Allen Photo Credit Evening Standard.Getty ImagesWoody Allen once said “Eighty Percent of Success is showing up”  Charlottesville Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson is taking it one step further to 100 percent and on time or your voice does not matter.

Please let me explain.

On tomorrow night’s (9/12/17) Charlottesville Planning Commission Consent Agenda is a resolution to amend the zoning code [Page 145 of 266 page agenda download]. 

This resolution contains the most anti engagement language I have ever seen in my thirteen years of public policy work; the resolution directs staff to ignore public comments received after the middle of June:

Amendments set forth within the “Legal Audit” draft dated February 28, 2017 (other than those referenced in (1)-(6), above) as to which no objections were received from the public as of 5/24/2017; for these text amendments, the proposed ordinance shall incorporate items noted in the “Questions and Corrections” document updated through 6/13/2017

In the last three Planning Commission work sessions on this issue, there have been less that ten citizens in attendance.  The Free Enterprise Forum has provided input after the May 24th date.  Why should our comments on July 25th or anyone else’s be ignored by staff?  Was that meeting not a work session on the zoning code amendment?

Equally troubling is the roundabout manner in which the staff seems to want the discussion of building height to go away.  Even as the City’s own PLACE Design Task Force is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on a preferred solution this Thursday.  This resolution, if passed on Tuesday, would likely circumvent some of the discussion by proactively eliminating code language:

Deletion of the following words from the definition of “building height” set forth within sec. 34-1200 of Article X (Definitions): “This distance is calculated by measuring separately the average height of each building wall, then averaging them together.” Also: delete the diagram included in 34-1200 as part of the definition of “building height.”

The charge of the PLACE Design Task Force:

To guide the community in making decisions about place making, livability, and community engagement.  Act as an advisory body to the Planning Commission and City Council in matters pertaining to urban design and place making.

Yet Charlottesville’s legal staff feels empowered to push forward this amendment before the design professionals have an opportunity to formally weigh in on its impacts.

Make no mistake, staff is embolden to keep this moving forward on their terms but the Planning Commission does not have to accept the language in the proposed resolution. 

A courageous Planning Commissioner could, and SHOULD, step up and suggest that the item be removed from the consent agenda and the language be revised by the commission.

But will anyone step up?

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: Evening Standard/Getty images

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Bad ‘Housekeeping’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Image result for alice brady bunchGrowing up in the 1970s, the only ‘housekeeper’ I knew was Alice from the Brady Bunch.  She was an important part of the family who helped out getting everything accomplished for a busy family with six children.  She was well respected by the children, the community and her employers.

Now, in separate, equally disturbing, actions both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are giving Alice a bad name.

Please let me explain.

Under the auspices of literally “Housekeeping” AlbemarlePC Legal notice plans, by my count, nearly 30 code revisions.  The legal ad for the June 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing (right) was dense, even by Albemarle standards.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds some of the changes proposed, we remain concerned that other items are clearly being pushed through for political expediency and are being “hidden in plain sight”.

Yesterday, I literally took out my magnifying glass to read the small print.  Policy wonks may read the legal ads this closely but by putting thirty largely unrelated code revisions into Zoning Text Amendment, the opportunity for obfuscation is great.

In a municipal game of “Where’s Waldo” see if you can find the second amend statement in the ad above.  If you were able to find it, you would find this innocuous legalese:

Amend Section 18-32.6 to clarify that specifications for recreational facilities comply with Sections 18-4.16-4.16.3;

Reading the text above, Alice (and pretty much everyone else) might think this is just “cleaning up” some legal stuff to make it comply with some other legal stuff.  But in reality, these twelve words eliminate special use permits for golf and swim clubs in the rural areas, effectively banning new golf courses in Albemarle County.  [correction June 13 10:46 am  this language is to clean up the ordinance, a separate SUP (and public engagement plan) will be submitted to eliminate golf courses in the rural area – per e-mail from Albemarle’s Bill Fritz- the Free Enterprise Forum regrets this error – nw] This is just one of the “housekeeping” items buried in the proposed Zoning Text Amendment

Albemarle is not alone in burying changes in “housekeeping” activities.  Charlottesville Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson took City Council’s charge of a “Legal Review” to mean anything her office wanted to change should be a part of the review.

Luckily, the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) took a long look at the “Legal Review”. As CADRe stated in their May 23rd letter to the Planning Commission:

In the case where a revision represents a substantive change that we feel is inappropriate for the Legal Review and better served by potential Amendments following the update to the Comprehensive Plan, we have noted as Substantive Change. [emphasis added-nw]

Much more than just “Housekeeping” CADRe’s letter outlined 16 pages of Substantive Changes; including the elimination of non residential uses in residential districts:

Also, what about all the other non-residential uses that are currently permitted in residential districts per the residential matrix? Is there a proposed replacement matrix that maintains these uses?

Examples: Houses of worship, temporary outdoor churches, cemetery, Health clinic, private clubs, wireless facilities (antennas, attached facilities, etc.), day care facility, schools (elementary, high school, college) funeral home, library, municipal govt. offices, property management, parking garage/lot, indoor health/sports clubs, parks, utility facilities, utility lines, consumer service business.
If these uses are eliminated from the residential districts this too is a SIGNIFICANT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE

Regardless of your position on the issues buried in these Zoning Text Amendments, it is difficult for us to understand how one would find these changes as “Housekeeping”.  Instead, we see it as an attempt, albeit a legal attempt, to circumvent the normal process and implement significant changes without proper public engagement.

Alice would indeed be disappointed in this shaming of the word “Housekeeping”.

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: WJBQ.com