Tag Archives: Master Planning

‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm as its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea.  Please let me explain.

C-ville writer Samantha Baars found in the last six years significant taxpayer money has poured into Crozet:

“But Kyle Redinger, the developer of Adelaide, a proposed 80-unit neighborhood adjacent to the Cory Farm subdivision on Route 250, disagrees. He notes that Albemarle has invested 40 percent of its capital improvement money, or at least $29 million since 2010, in Crozet, but only 5 percent of the county’s population lives there.”

Despite such investment, some vocal members of the Crozet community continue to believe the growth that is currently contemplated by the comprehensive plan is too dense and too intense.

Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach suggested at a recent Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting that the unelected Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) plans to rewrite their master plan on their own. The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that this “independent citizen activity” may become an illegally constructed defacto Master Plan that all future projects are measured against.

For those unaware, Master Plans are a part of the legally mandated Comprehensive Plan and are generally prepared by professional planners through a deliberate, transparent, public process that includes all stakeholders (i.e. neighbors, businesses, environmental activists, etc.).

It is not surprising that Loach, a longtime CCAC advocate, would be supportive of ignoring the established public process in favor of “snob zoning”.  As a commissioner Loach famously stated that he could not ever see a circumstance where he would vote in favor of a project that the CCAC did not support.  While I recall Loach voting in favor of every Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that included many Crozet items, I cannot recall a single Crozet development project that he supported during his years on the Planning Commission.  Such blind allegiance to an unelected neighborhood association precludes the planning commission process and perpetuates a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone (BANANA) planning philosophy.

It goes far beyond master planning.  Long ago the CCAC (more than any other Citizen Council) unilaterally expanded their charge from being an advisory body to a mandated hurdle for any and all Crozet development proposals.  As this change was strongly supported by the subsequent votes of elected and appointed positions, the body grown further embolden to the point of reinventing elementary school math.

Recently the CCAC opposed a development project (the above mentioned Adelaide) based on its non-conformity to the Comprehensive Plan density.  A review of the Mater Plan showed the area as 3-6 units per acre and the Adelaide proposal called for 5.5 units an acre.  I am not sure how the CCAC can find that 5.5 is not between 3 and 6.  To be clear the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this particular project but we do wonder in what universe 5.5 is not between three and six.

In an Adelaide meeting earlier this year, one planning commissioner stated that Crozet neighbors had voiced concerns about their children playing with those children from attached housing.  If this is starting to sound like class warfare (or discrimination), it should.

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgIn her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations. Prevost reports such NIMBYism clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were. [emphasis added-nw]

The question then becomes if Crozet wants to preserve its small town charm and restrict population growth – when (and how) will they pay Albemarle County back for the $29 million taxpayer dollars expended over the last six years to make it a desirable development area?

Or might they embrace the change that has been vetted by the community and work to make the anticipated population growth work well with the existing community?

Or perhaps Albemarle will rollover to the vocal NIMBY mentality and choose to recognize an illegally developed Master Plan that fails to balance the many competing priorities of the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.

As usual we are left with more questions than answers.

Only time (and politics) will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

 

How “Business 29” May Save “Places29”

By, Neil Williamson, President

Now that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has voted to fund the US29Western Bypass and the widening of US29 from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead, how will this fit with Albemarle County’s approved Places 29 Master Plan?Places-29-8

Like a glove – the new urban boulevard “Business 29 “ will allow for the private sector to embrace the Places 29 Vision– let me explain.

The Places29 Vision Statement:

Albemarle County’s four Northern Development Areas will feature compact development consisting of residential and employment neighborhoods that are organized around centers.

These neighborhoods and their centers will be pedestrian-oriented and mixed-use; they will offer a variety of housing choices, retail environments, office types, and employment opportunities.

They will be connected by an attractive, efficient, and accessible multimodal transportation system.
Integrated into this urban-style development, parks and open spaces will provide a sense of respite and contribute to an overall excellent quality of life.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Such design is often referred to as either “New Urbanism” or “Traditional Neighborhood Design” (TND).

These development designs, as well as Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model, have mixed use and pedestrian orientation as primary guiding principles.  How the traffic moves through these streets is a critical part of the design construct.

In his paper regarding New Urbanist streets, presented to the Urban Land Institute in 2000, Engineer C. “Rick” Chellman writes:

New Urbanist projects include the design of streets that create an environment where drivers will realize that to drive too fast or too aggressively is inappropriate, anti-social
and, perhaps most effectively, uncomfortable. With the appropriate design techniques, drivers will more automatically choose the lower target speeds and less
aggressive behaviors desired by the planners. In this desired “self-enforcing” environment, both motorists and non-motorists will feel more equivalent occupants of each particular New Urbanist street; this sense of equivalency should be a design goal as it will enhance the livability of the street and neighborhood.

houston-light-rail

Houston Light Rail

Working with The American Dream CoalitionThe Free Enterprise Forum has visited several of the leading new urbanists regions across the US over the last eight years.  While many of the communities visited had transit (usually light rail) in their core, none had a national highway running through the new urbanist districts.

As an example, Houston, Texas is surrounded by  high speed highways that keep traffic that wants to be somewhere else moving while allowing mobility in the downtown area.

Seattle Preserving the American Dream9

Bellvue, WA "Super Block"

In Bellvue, Washington, the private sector has embraced the new urbanist design and built superblocks to increase human scale and pedestrian orientation.  While there is significant vehicular traffic around the downtown, the majority of the through trips stay on the bypass just north of the downtown district.

seattle Preserving the American Dream7

Bellvue, WA Bus Stop

Bellvue’s transit stops are designed to fit into the pedestrian streetscape. Interestingly underneath three of the four corners of this intersection is an enormous parking garage that is linked via underground tunnels to the commercial buildings.

places 29 transit friendlyLooking over the renderings included in the Places29 Master Plan it seems clear that the vision is of a mixed use urban boulevard with sidewalk cafes, bike lanes and wide pedestrian sidewalks.

This vision is consistent throughout the planning document until you get to the US29 design.

Places29 RealityOne has to feel for the planner attempting to reconcile a highway of national significance with a master plan for the north downtown commercial area.  To achieve this goal the Places29 Plan calls for a series of overpasses to effectively remove those vehicles that have no intention of stopping,  away from the commercial and pedestrian activities.

Places29 identified this concern in its third chapter:

US 29 acts as a strong spine connecting all four of the Northern Development Areas. At present, the design of US 29 generally reflects the differences in character that exist between the southern and northern Development Areas. Further, the frontage conditions along US 29 affect the overall character of the adjacent development. However, this ―spine also acts as a major impediment to connectivity for any travel mode other than the auto. This barrier effect needs to be overcome in the long range planning for the area.

To address this the plan calls for a wide design that is contrary to the urban boulevard concept.  Places29 envisions US 29 as:

Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.image

Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.

With US29 Western Bypass taking the through trips (and many others)urban frontage out of the corridor.   “Business 29” can work with a  much smaller road cross section and lower speed limit.  The old/new road will be designed to link the community rather than divide it.

As we documented in our Workplace29 report, the North US 29 Corridor is home to over 20,000 jobs and a payroll exceeding 800 million dollars.  This district produces over 40% of all local tax revenue for Albemarle County.  With the advent of “Business 29” the economic vitality of this region will significantly improve and the potential of the mixed use, pedestrian oriented reality for the corridor is clearly more attainable.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo credits Free Enterprise Forum, Other images: Albemarle County

VDOT Connectivity Regulations on “Fast Track”

By. Neil Williamson, President

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1462, requiring the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to  “fast track” their review of the proposed connectivity and review requirements for secondary roads.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported back in December 2008:

The goal of this new policy is very clear. For the first time, VDOT will require “that streets accepted into the state system for perpetual public maintenance provide commensurate public benefit.”

Although the plan includes many components, the element perhaps most likely to result in sweeping changes is a measured commitment to connectivity for all new road networks. In order to be accepted for maintenance funds, a proposed street network will have to look more like a grid and less like a series of cul-de-sacs.

As a part of this process, VDOT created a new  standard for evaluation of road systems.  This seldom used method of connectivity calculus within a development does not allow for thought given to local traffic patterns or needs.

In addition, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the prohibition on cul-de-sacs could dramatically, and negatively, impact land development trend in the rolling hills of central Virginia.  In speaking with engineers, the purpose of the cul-de-sac – in addition to being treasured by home buyers – is to take up grade on the site.  If such a high level of interconnectivity is required, one can anticipate significantly more mass grading of sites (also called “moonscaping” by some).  We believe this unnecessary removal of trees and slopes to attain link/node ratio requirements has not been properly evaluated.

The proposed regulations also run counter to the recent Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals of limiting point stormwater runoff.  The unintended (we hope) consequences is increased impervious surface cover on unnecessary roads and sidewalks and increase stormwater runoff.

imageimage

(Image credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow)

Interestingly, The Urban Land Institute in 1890 studied the various street options for the amount of lineal feet of pavement.  Prince Georges County (MD) adapted that model in 2000 to come up with the figure below.  The very type of development the regulations are trying to prohibit has the least impervious surface!

image

(Image Credit: “Impervious Surface Reduction – Best Management Practices” www.metrocouncil.org [Twin Cities])

In addition to the vehicular connectivity, the new regulations seek to promote pedestrian connectivity as well.  While the goal of pedestrian connectivity is valuable, the new regulations fail to pass the common sense test when they require sidewalks on both sides of a street in an area where homes are on large parcels and pedestrians are few and far between.

On the whole the regulations will increase the cost of housing for the struggling new housing industry by the loss of buildable lots on any given parcel, the requirement of more roads and sidewalks to be built and the requirement for more environmental avoidance and mitigation to be paid.

In the long run, all of these roads and sidewalks will be turned over to VDOT for maintenance.  It is simple to calculate that if this regulation requires more roads and sidewalks (especially in large lot developments) to be built as a result of the necessary compliance with the link/node ratio, maintenance costs for VDOT will increase in the future.

The Free Enterprise Forum supports connectivity between new and existing residential developments and recognizes its value to local transportation networks, but that is not what will happen through the current link/node system.  Only inner development connectivity to nowhere will result through the link/node system.

The “fast track” review of these proposed regulations may be missing these very real concerns raised by the very businesses charged with implementing the new rules.

The comment period on these regulations is quiclkly closing (May 31) Comments can be submitted through the VDOT website, by email or by regular mail as detailed below.  In the subject line of your comments, please reference Land Development Regulations Comments”.

Comments can also be sent electronically  through the VDOT website http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/public_input_form.asp.  Written comments may be submitted by email to Robert Hofrichter at Robert.Hofrichter@VDOT.Virginia.gov.

If the goal of the new regulations is to go increase impervious surface, increase strormwater runoff and increase the cost of new housing then these new onerous regulations succeed.

If the goal is to create a regulatory burden so high that only private roads, and the commensurate perpetual roads bond, will work in new residential communities; thus freeing VDOT from costly maintenance requirements, then the new onerous regulations succeed.

If instead, however, the true goal is to promote a neighborhood design that allows for interconnectivity internal and externally, then these regulations require significant change prior to adoption.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Local Sustainability Grant Wants You (to change)

By. Neil Williamson, President

As mentioned in a previous post, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has been awarded a $999,000 for Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant.  The program will be launched late in April but last week the TJPDC provided a preview to the a joint meeting of the Planning Commissions of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

The TJPDC sees this as a 3 1/2 year program.  According to their website this federally funded program will promote sustainability:

The project will move sustainability in the region from a regional goal to actual implementation through products resulting from this planning effort:

  1. Sustainability Baseline and Performance Measurement System
  2. Common Land Use – Transportation Vision for the Charlottesville/Albemarle Region
  3. Integration of Sustainability Strategies into Comprehensive Plans and the Long Range Transportation Plan
  4. Code and Ordinance Sustainability Recommendations
  5. Plan for Behavior Change Processes

After understanding the overview of the project, the Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the TJPDC will clearly be rewriting  both the City and County Comprehensive plans.  In addition, we believe the TJPDC will be allowed the opportunity to rewrite ordinances and, according to their website, create a plan for behavior change.

Over the past few days I have been struck by the planner change agent philosophy that is often found at the TJPDC.  The philosophy was well described in a recent blog post, A War On Cars? Let There Be Peace!,  by New Urbanist Todd Litman:

Current demographic and economic trends (aging population, rising fuel prices, increasing urbanization, changing consumer preferences, and increasing health and environmental concerns) are raising demand for alternative modes. People increasingly want to walk, bicycle and use public transport, provided these modes are convenient and comfortable to use. Meeting this demand can help achieve various planning objectives, including congestion reductions, road and parking facility cost savings, consumer saving, and improved public health, to name just a few. It therefore makes sense to shift a portion of resources (road space and money) currently dedicated to automobile transport to support other modes, and to reform land use policies to help create more multi-modal communities.

But some Americans fear these changes. Many lead automobile-dependent lifestyles and have never experienced an efficient, multi-modal transport system or an attractive and successful urban neighborhood. As a result, they assume that such changes will harm them overall. Some people and groups exploit this fear by claiming that a war exists against cars and suburbs. According to this narrative, motorists are victims of unfair attacks on their rights and freedoms, and are therefore entitled to defend themselves from a devious enemy. [Emphasis added – nw]

The highlighted passage tells the reader a great deal about the arrogance of some in the planning community, ‘If you knew what I know, you would agree with me.  Since you disagree, you must be ignorant about such things’.

When combined with the fifth bullet of the TJPDC Sustainability plan, it seems clear one of the goals of this grant is to change citizen behavior [to better mirror what the planners plan for you to do].  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this will result in limiting mobility by limiting mobility choices.

Is there a war against cars and the suburbs?

vanishing automobile In his 2001 book The Vanishing Automobile, Randal O’Toole highlighted the 1999 “Clinton-Gore Livability Agenda” [interestingly similar to the current HUD program] that the media immediately dubbed the war on sprawl.

Yes, there is a philosophical war on.  It is larger than bus versus car or city versus suburb.  The battle that is raging is between the concept of central planning versus individual choice.

The next 3 1/2 years, as they rewrite the text of the City and County Comprehensive Plans, the TJPDC will be promoting this sustainability grant under the tagline “Many plans, one community”.

Perhaps a stronger (more truthful slogan) would be (to change).

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Jurisdictional High Stakes Poker

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are in the midst of a series of “cooperative” projects that are more like games of high stakes poker than regional cooperation.  Each project is a different game with different poker handoutside players (Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Federal Highway Administration, US Corps of Engineers, etc.) but each game features these two marquee players and the public, as either tax payers or rate payers are funding the game.  One thing is certain the friction in one game clearly rubs off to the others in a cumulative manner. 

Meadowcreek Parkway/250 Interchange/McIntire Extended

Perhaps100_0362 the longest poker game on record (43 years), Charlottesville raised the ante by demanding a grade separated interchange be fully funded prior to any of the three independent projects moving forward (the largest in a litany of many conditions).  Despite the interchange funding secured through a Senator John Warner federal earmark,  City Council currently retains a narrow 3-2 split in favor of construction of the City project (McIntire Extended).  There has also been a federal lawsuit filed by a number of city residents. 

When the three independent projects will open is still unclear.  At this point, Albemarle County seems to have an upper hand with a full constructed, albeit closed, road.  The lawsuit is a wild card that may or may not trump Albemarle.

The Community Water Supply Plan

water supply One of the more contentious, and expensive, poker games in recent memory.  This game required each side to fund preliminary engineering on two very different proposals for expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  At the time, the Free Enterprise Forum opined regardless of who won someone was wasting money because their plan would not be used.  In the end, the jointly run Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority selected the County favored plan of an earthen dam but at a lower height than the county wanted. 

Recognizing that the lower height was the only way the project would move forward at all, Albemarle agreed to Charlottesville’s demands.  In March 2009, Mayor Dave Norris famously said, “We hold all the cards” because the City holds title to the reservoir. 

While the regulatory agencies have not yet approved the modifications to the permit, sources indicate such approval should be relatively easily attained.  This game seems to be won by Albemarle but not without giving Charlottesville a few chips.  Charlottesville played its hand beautifully and still has the dredging card yet to be played.

The “Best Buy” Ramp

Few can argue that the on ramp to westbound 250 and Emmet Street is a choke point.  Between the multiple curb cuts and the bus stop in the right lane, traffic can back up into the Hydraulic US29 intersection.  It is one of the “doable” projects the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce supported in the Places29 masterplan.

100_0402 Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville went together to get special legislation to allow proffer money in one jurisdiction be used in another for an off site improvement.  The bill passed and Stonefield (the mixed use shopping area formerly known as Albemarle Place) has promised through a proffer to provide $1,000,00 to the project.  The local match of VDOT funds is $500,000 (from the city). 

As an outsider looking in, it seems Charlottesville has all it needs to move forward with construction if it would meet the match and finance the proffer.  Considering the favorable climate for construction, why would the city wait?

In a front page story in the Daily ProgressCharlottesville Tomorrow quoted Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker:

“This improvement has been judged by the city and the county through the MPO to be perhaps the most important project in the area,” Rooker said. “My concern is that if the city doesn’t move to utilize those funds they could end up being lost to the area.”

In this game, the city is holding their cards close to the vest, leaving the other players to wonder about motivations for this delay tactic.

Woolen Mills Pump Station

In the newest project to test City/County cooperation, RWSA is seeking to increase system pumping capacity at (or near) the existing Woolen Mills Sewage Pumping Station (at the end of Chesapeake Street in the City).  When the RWSA Board was queried about their preference of location of the new pump station, Board member (and Charlottesville City Manager) Maurice Jones asked that the item be deferred until he could speak to City Council.

According to a Charlottesville Tomorrow story the options were:

Four sites have been under consideration for the upgraded pump station and each has a preliminary “concept level” cost estimate:

  • Concept A ($25 million): upgrade the pump station at its existing location
  • Concept B ($29 million): up the Rivanna River in Riverview Park
  • Concept C ($37 million): downstream near the old Woolen Mill and Moores Creek
  • Concept D ($34 million): across the Rivanna River below State Farm Insurance

Charlottesville City Council looked at the four options presented by the RWSA and selected the only option not located in the city.  Some in the community decried this as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) thinking.

The cost impactsof the selection were a source of contention between Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) and City Councilor David Brown at the RWSA meeting yesterday (3/22).  Mr. Boyd mentioned that Option “D” was $9,000,000 more expensive than Option A and asked if the City was willing to pay the difference.  Mr. Brown suggested that the RWSA Board was not charged with making the “cheapest” choice but the “best” choice.

After some unusually direct conversation regarding the Board of Supervisors role in this discussion between the two elected officials, the issue was deferred to the April RWSA meeting so Mr. Boyd could discuss the issue with his Supervisors collogues.

This particular poker game is just getting started and likely will have more twists and turns before the final cards fall.

Conclusion

One problem with seeing the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County locked in a poker game is that the stakes are very high.  In every case, the public (either tax payers or ratepayers) are providing the chips.  Another problem is that in every poker game I’ve ever played there is always a big winner and a big loser (and lesser of both).   

The Free Enterprise Forum would much prefer the community to come together and work together to build a stronger community.  While there is some natural tension between the two localities, today it is well beyond a normal condition. 

Is this contention the “new” normal? 

100_0361

Will the elected leaders find the way to lead the community to a solution or will our mutual road to success remain closed?

Will this green light ever mean go forward?

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Fluvanna Supervisors: Lurching towards Budgetary Lassitude

EDITORIAL Commentary By. William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Photo Credit Band-aid.com

Once again Fluvanna County’s supervisors opted for a small band-aid fix for serious budgetary problems, and instead of confronting long-term structural problems, punted.

Fluvanna’s debt service and infrastructure difficulties are so acute and so persistent that only imagination and creative initiatives could fix them. Some supervisors were on the right track, but in the end the Board opted to increase real estate taxes by just $.03, and personal property taxes by $.30 – both per $100 of assessed value.

Other small band-aids include:

· Assuming that overdue tax collection would amount to $700,000 (equivalent to a $.02 increase in real estate tax assessment); and,

· Anticipating about $350,000 in increased revenue from real estate growth, a one penny increase – but note: residential building permits have declined in Fluvanna every year since 2001 – and last year the value of new home construction, excluding land, amounted to less than $20 million.

That, coupled with raiding the “savings account” to cover some other obligations, will make everything all right this coming year, or so we are to believe.

One supervisor commented that the people just didn’t want their taxes raised. Well, an astute observation, but then rarely do they. One citizen, with a remarkable gift for the banal, stated at a recent Board meeting that any [emphasis added] tax increase would turn the county into a “leper colony”.

Supervisors are elected to lead, not just represent – ask Edmund Burke. And one look at Fluvanna’s difficulties demonstrates the need for leadership.

Consider that the sheriff’s office cannot always communicate with its deputies in the field because of the county’s woeful telecommunications infrastructure. Consider also that the county’s sick and dying always cannot be assured that a rescue squad can respond. The county has no water service except to Lake Monticello and Fork Union – and the Fork Union infrastructure is in dire straights.

Supervisors adopted a do nothing policy towards infrastructure and instead just made sure there was just enough money this year to pay for its debt.

One astute observer – and a conservative — has argued privately that budget cuts and tax savings should not go back to the citizens, but rather to infrastructure development: “it’s literally eating the seed corn if [supervisors] do [give the money back]”, he said.

But that is what a vocal minority seems to want.

And unfortunately, a majority of supervisors seem to be willing to do just that, in the form of lost opportunity, and lost infrastructure.

William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna 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

Tilting at Windmills – A Severe Lack of Reality Dooms Places29 Boondoggle

By. Neil Williamson, President

Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is todon quixote see life  as it is and not as it should be. – Don Quixote

The idea of Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional Don Quixote character and his passion for seeing the world as it “should be” has been foremost in my mind as Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is poised to possibly vote on Places29 master plan as early as Wednesday, February 2nd. 

To be clear, thanks to the work of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and its North Charlottesville Business Council, the document that is moving forward to approval is significantly better than what passed the Planning Commission 5-2 last year.

places29_web Despite those changes, the Free Enterprise Forum contends Places29 should be voted down because it fails to meet the most basic definition of good planning.

The first step in developing any actionable plan is understanding and defining the context of the solution.  The plan would consider and identify sources of funding and its availability, identify regulations which must be satisfied, develop a clear time frame for implementation and define the metrics for success.

Initially, Places29 was designed to be a twenty year plan.  Finding that time constraint too restrictive,  Places29 is now “A Vision Plan”:

The Master Plan guides development of the Places29 area by setting forth a vision of the desired ultimate future condition for the area. There is no timeframe for the vision; in fact it may be decades before the area builds out in fulfillment of it.

However, to implement specific Plan recommendations, such as the recommended transportation improvements and community facilities, the plan relies on a 20-year planning horizon. This 20-year period is based, in part, on the longest realistic population projections available to the County. A 20-year period is also consistent with state requirements, the County’s Comprehensive Plan, and established planning practice. The Master Plan includes an implementation program that groups recommendations into those that will begin during the first five years, those that will begin during the second five years, and those that will begin during the second ten years of the 20-year implementation timeframe.

OK — so there is no time restriction to the vision plan, but the transportation elements will begin in 20 years – Right????

A year ago, Places29 included significant new taxing authority (the SuperTax) this as well as other “creative” funding solutions have been appropriately removed from the text.  The question remains, how will this be funded?  Places29 reports:

The implementation projects are scheduled to begin throughout the 20-year implementation timeframe. There are several reasons for this spacing: first, the projects that will support the recommended Priority Areas should begin first. Many of these projects are needed now to serve existing development and to address the backlog of infrastructure needs. Other projects are not expected to be necessary until further development takes place, and some projects are dependent on completion of an earlier one. And, as noted above, many of the projects are dependent on funding that has not been identified or may not be available for several years.

Other areas in the County also have infrastructure needs that must be met and which may be more immediate than some of the needs in the Places29 area. The County will need to balance the needs of all areas with the available funding.

OK – so we don’t have an identifiable funding source and when such a source is identified Places29 “The Economic Engine of the County” will need to compete with other areas for the available funding.

As the Free Enterprise Forum reported last month, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has started enforcing primary arterial standards on US 29 north of the south fork Rivanna River.  This “Catch29” makes it impossible to build some of the road profiles in Places29.

Places29 envisions a more “urban boulevard” than the VDOT standards would allow.    image

Figure 4.18. A photosimulation showing a local access lane along US 29. photo credit Albemarle Countyurban frontage

OK – our understanding of this “Catch29” makes it impossible to build some of the road profiles in Places29.

It is important to note that while we have been an active participant in the Places29 planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of Places29 for many years. 

While some of the concerns we highlighted have been removed, like the Supertax, others remain.

Places29 – “Don’t know Much about History”

Lack of Citizen Engagement on Places 29

US 29 Consultant Conflict?

Miscounting Cars in Places29

A False Choice on US 29

denied

In our analysis, the “plan” provides pretty renderings but fails to recognize reality.  Our back of the envelope calculation of the transportation plans costed out in Places29 put the price tag  near $200 million dollars.  It is important to note these cost do not include ALL the costs required to build out the new urbanist nirvana expressed in the plan and renderings.

We believe Places29 should be denied by Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors and this planning boondoggle ended.

But now who’s tilting at windmills?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Paradoxical Places29 Planning

By. Neil Williamson

As Albemarle County is moving toward a final vote on the North US 29 Master Plan, also known as Places29, The Free Enterprise Forum thought it might be helpful to consider the paradox of the considerable complexity of the Places29 plan and Albemarle’s stated desire to encourage development in the North US 29 corridor.

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In 1989, Albemarle County enacted its Comprehensive Plan.

That plan had four chapters and contained 276 pages (including two appendixes).  This was the document to guide the development of the entire county for ten years.

1989 Comprehensive Plan (left)  next to Places 29 (text only)

Fast forward to 2011, Places29 (which only covers the North US 29 Development Area) contains eight chapters with a text of over 130 pages, and appendix of over 200 pages and thirteen technical100_0338 memorandums of up to 75 pages each.

The real kicker is that within this rather verbose document that has endured a six year gestation period  it clearly states the need for even more planning and documents.

The plan calls for two additional small area plans, which the Free Enterprise Forum has called a Planner Employment Act.  While the Master Plan acknowledges that there are no funds identified for the development of the small area plans, it contends that these plans are recommended:

In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements

Is it possible that this recommendation itself illuminates staff’s recognition of the lack of property owner involvement in the six year Places29 process?

Beyond the lack of property owner buy in to the process, the over arching theme of Places29 is planning complexity.

places29_web While the goal of the Master Plan is to facilitate development in the development area, adding this level of complexity only adds to the cost of the very development Albemarle seeks to encourage. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about Albemarle’s Cost of Complexity regarding the increase in Community Development fees that staff indicated accurately reflected the amount of time it took staff to process an application.   Now by adding this additional layer of Master Planning and, perhaps, Small Area Plans one can only expect such fees to continue to escalate.

When a developer pressed on the issue of duplicative and delaying regulations in 2009, they were told by staff:

“Albemarle County is very proud of the time and expense of our development review process”

Since then a new Board of Supervisors has been elected, and a new “business friendly” philosophy has been evident.  Will this philosophical shift be enough to stop the insidious growth of government planning known as Places29?

Or will the momentum of six years and over a million dollars spent, carry the day, despite the fundamental flaws?

Only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

VDOT Puts the Brakes on Places29?

By. Neil Williamson, President

places29_webAfter over 6 years of study, Albemarle County’s Master Plan for the North US 29 Development areas (Places29) is headed to a vote, possibly as early as  February 2nd.  At the same time the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has informed land owners and Albemarle County of its intention to enforce design guidelines that will make the Places29 Vision impossible to achieve.

VDOT logo How, and why, after 1.2 million dollars of study ($400,000 VDOT money), does VDOT leave Places29 at the altar?

It is an example of “Vision Collision”

Please let me explain.

Places29 envisions US 29 as:

Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.image

Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.

VDOT sees the roads primary responsibility for moving vehicular traffic.  To that end they are now requiring developers use the “Geometric Design Standard for Urban Principal Arterial System (GS-5)” for the US 29 corridor north of the South Fork Rivanna River bridge. Such a road is to be designed for either 50 mph (North to Airport Road) or 60 mph (North of Airport Road). 

At the heart of the issue is VDOT’s 2005 road classification map that defined US 29 as an Urban Principal Arterial which is what defines the standards to which US 29 must be constructed.

Other important design requirements include:  a prohibition of utilities from being placed under the main travel lanes (a water/sewer line currently runs through US29 median), paved shoulders of 8’ on each side of each travel way, a minimum of 6’ ditch on either side of each travel way, to provide the required “clear zone”.

The term “clear zone” is used to describe the unobstructed, traversable area provided beyond the edge of the traveled way for the recovery of an errant vehicle. The clear zone includes shoulders, bike lanes, parking lanes and auxiliary lanes (except those auxiliary lanes that function like through lanes). Clear zone distances are based upon traffic volume, speed, and embankment slopes.

A recoverable area is to be provided that is clear of all unyielding obstacles such as trees, sign supports, utility poles, light poles, or any other fixed objects that might severely damage an out-of-control vehicle (See 2004 AASHTO A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, Chapter 5). Determining a practical clear zone often involves a series of compromises between absolute safety, engineering judgment, environmental and economic
constraints. Additional information is available in AASHTO’s Roadside Design Guide.
When establishing a full-width clear zone in an urban area is not practical due to right of way constraints, consideration should be given to establishing a reduced clear zone or incorporating as many clear zone concepts as practical such as removing roadside objects or making them crashworthy. The minimum requirement for this scenario is 1.5 ft. lateral offset. [Emphasis added – nw]

In another “Vision Collision”, Places29 foresees curb and gutter with street trees along most portions of  US 29.  VDOT’s standards clearly discourage such development and wants to see light poles and other utilities pushed to the other side of the sidewalk:

Whenever adequate right of way is available, urban projects should be designed with shoulders in lieu of curbs (unless city ordinances require otherwise) and clear zone widths should be consistent with the requirements for roadways with shoulders. (See 2004 AASHTO “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”, Chapter 7). The justification for providing a curb is to be documented in the project file (e.g. Preliminary Field Inspection Report, recommendation from Right of Way and Utilities Division, etc.).

High-Speed Roadways with curb
For roadways with design speeds of > 50 mph, curb should ONLY be utilized in special situations. These situations may include, but are not limited to the following:
– Drainage considerations
– Need for access control
– Right of way restrictions
Source: AASHTO Green Book, Chapter 4
When necessary to utilize curb on a roadway with a design speed > 50 mph for one of the situations listed above, the minimum lateral offset distance is 1.5 feet measured from the face of curb. However, consideration should be given to providing more than the minimum lateral offset to obstructions (signs, utility poles, luminaire supports, fire hydrants, etc. including breakaway devices), where practical, by placing fixed objects behind the sidewalk.

After checking with a transportation engineer source familiar with VDOT regulations we were told,

North of the South Fork Rivanna Bridge, due to speed limit of 50 to 60 mph mountable curb (CG-7) would be required along the throughway and so the only way you’ll get away with the 1.5’ lateral offsite to any obstruction that is not “breakway” is with the installation of guardrail prior to the obstruction.

How many Places29 renderings included significant guardrail?

To be clear if VDOT and Places29 are in conflict, how would a developer get relief?

The Free Enterprise Forum understands that any reduction in standard would be considered a reduction in safety of the road, the approval of any waiver rests not with Albemarle County but with the State Location and Design Engineer and perhaps the  Federal Highway Administration because the road is on the National Highway System inventory.

So why now?  Why is VDOT enforcing this design standard? 

Some have conjectured this new push for throughput on US 29 is based on a realization by upper VDOT management that the US 29 Bypass is not going to happen.  If there is no bypass, there is no alternate route if US 29 becomes blocked, thus the new “clear zone” widened shoulder will permit traffic to flow even in the event of a traffic incident. 

Where does this leave Places29?

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are so sick of discussing Places29 that they may pass it on as early as February 2nd. 

If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors does pass Places29, without fundamental changes (including real consideration of a bypass option), we believe VDOT will continue to press the arterial standards.  If forced to meet this “new” standard, many approved developments may not be able to be achieved. urban frontage

Places29 will then be nothing more than an expensive book of pretty pictures that hindered rather than enhanced development opportunities in the development areas. 

Maybe that was the idea all along.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

Places29 – “Don’t know Much about History”

By. Neil Williamson, President

When someone is sworn in as a witness in a court of law, the question is always asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

In discussing the Western Bypass, Albemarle County’s Places29  Master Plan fails on the second point “the whole truth”.

The Albemarle’s Planning Commission wanted to have something that spoke of the Western Bypass to provide historical context regarding the decision not to consider the potential roadway as a part of the “vision” plan.

[Photo Credit Cvillepedia.org]

The Free Enterprise Forum understands the desire to provide context for the County’s decision to eliminate one potential solution from ever being considered in the Places29 plan. But we ask, if such context is desired shouldn’t the WHOLE truth be included?

Nowhere in this “history” is there  mentionVDOT logo that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) already owns much of the required right of way for the Western Bypass.

Nowhere in the “history” is it mentioned that a public information session was held in 1994 about interchanges that were a part of the three party agreement (that the “history” does mention).  According to court documents:

In October 1994, a public information meeting was held to discuss the design of the grade separated interchanges to be constructed as Phase II of the Route 29 project. At the meeting, many citizens, a great number of whom represented the business community, expressed opposition to the interchanges being built at all. In fact, of the 4,372 citizens who submitted comments during or after the meeting, 3,270 opposed the construction of any of the interchanges, and 2,297 of those individuals recommended that the western bypass be constructed in lieu of the interchanges. VDOT also received correspondence requesting that the interchange phase be abandoned in favor of proceeding with the construction of the bypass. In January 1995, the City of Charlottesville passed a resolution requesting that the interchange at Hydraulic Road be abandoned. In addition, those in favor of the interchanges also voiced their opinions on the subject. On February 16, 1995, the CTB passed a resolution terminating the design and development of the interchanges and assigning the funds allocated to the interchange study to Base Case improvements and bypass development. [Emphasis added –NW]

Nowhere in the “history” is it mentioned the considerable support the western Bypass has received from both Danville and Lynchburg.

Nowhere in the “history” is it mentioned that the Western Bypass remains in the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Six Year Transportation Improvement Plan. 

The “history” [currently unavailable online from the Places29 website] now reads:

A Note about the “Western Bypass.” The US 29 North Corridor Transportation Study has shown thatplaces29_web the set of transportation improvements recommended in this Plan will be an effective and efficient means to address existing and future transportation demands for all users of the US
29 Corridor during the 20-year implementation timeframe. While the originally proposed Western Bypass would have served most of the regional traffic (the 12% of drivers moving through the Places29 area without stopping), the Bypass would not have helped local traffic (64%) or served
many of the subregional vehicle trips (24%). It was recognized in 1990 after VDOT’s consultant study of alternatives to relieve congestion in the US 29 corridor that a western bypass was not preferable to or a substitute for improvements in the corridor. In fact, in the early 1990s, the City, County, and University signed an agreement concurring with a 1990 Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) resolution that sequenced improvements such that the Western Bypass would be constructed only after completion of projects such as the widening of US 29 from Hydraulic Road to the South Fork of the Rivanna River, the Meadow Creek Parkway, grade separated interchanges on US 29 at Hydraulic Road, Greenbrier Drive, and Rio Road, and the
North Grounds Connector, and only ―when traffic on Route 29 is unacceptable and economic conditions permit.  It was in the spirit of this agreement that the County actually worked to preserve the ultimate alignment of the Western Bypass in its land use decisions for several years. It was only after a subsequent decision by the CTB in 1995 to rescind the previously agreed-to sequencing of projects that the County withdrew all support for the Western Bypass, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted unanimously to withhold federal funding for construction of the Western Bypass until the agreed-upon sequencing of the projects was restored.

An alternative route from the 250 Bypass north to Greene County that would have functioned as a longer bypass to the west of US 29 was considered during the early phases of the Places29 transportation modeling, but such an alternative route would have been significantly more expensive and, most importantly, would not have served more than about 12 – 20% of the traffic on US 29.

Clearly, the “history” presented in Places29 is truthful but it is not the whole truth.  Absent the whole truth, this concept of providing ideologically slanted selective “history” is a mistake and should be removed from the Places29 Master Plan.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org