By. Neil Williamson, President
Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission February 5, 2019
Tonight, I am disappointed.
Over the last six months or so, The Free Enterprise Forum has worked cooperatively with staff regarding the Biodiversity revisions of the Comprehensive Plan. In November, we joined with many other concerned citizens and groups (SELC, ASAP, Sierra Club, Etc.) discussing the plan and things that we felt should be included or deleted. In the end, very few of our suggestions made it into the draft plan you will hear in your work session next week.
But that’s not why I am disappointed.
Tonight, I am disappointed that the staff report you have received for that work session does not include ALL of the comments we heard at the roundtable, or the detailed letter/redlined plan that we prepared.
Public engagement does not mean all those who show up will get what they want but it does mean engagement so that all views, whether incorporated into the text or not, should be shared with you, the decisionmakers.
An e-mail I received from staff today
- Planning Commission reviewed and was generally supportive of revisions at the 11/20/18 work session.
- I wanted to remain consistent with the language and intent of the BAP as I’ve presented it to the PC, BOS, and a handful of other groups.
- I understand the desire to reduce wording overall, and that will be done over time. This revision was initiated using the previous philosophy of using more (rather than less) explanation and background, so I am not comfortable changing at this point. Especially after positive feedback at the 11/20/18 PC work session.
Staff was not comfortable making changes after the 11/20 work session but held the public roundtable on November 29th. Does this seem wrong to anyone else?
To remedy this situation and better complete your package for next week, I have provided each of you with our cordial letter to staff and our constructive criticism of the proposed comprehensive plan changes.
I regret I am unable to provide to you all of the public comments that were provided in the roundtable as I believed staff was capturing that data to share with you – obviously I was mistaken.
I ask that you provide staff your feedback regarding receiving only staff’s selected comments rather than ALL of the raw comments the good citizens of Albemarle came out to share.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
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: Flicker.com
Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years. The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations. With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing.
Today – Chapter 4 Natural Resources
By. Neil Williamson, President
Perhaps no other chapter in the Comprehensive Plan has seen more changes made by the Board of Supervisors than the Natural Resources Chapter.
Even the Goal of the Natural Resources chapter has been altered.
The Planning Commission recommended:
Albemarle’s streams, rivers, and air will be clean. Rural Area mountains, woodlands, and wetlands will provide large areas of habitat for diversity of flora and fauna.
The newly revised goal is much more expansive and interventionist in its tone:
Albemarle’s ecosystems and natural resources will be thoughtfully protected and managed in both the Rural and Development Areas to safeguard the quality of life of current and future generations.
If there was any question the direction the Chapter is headed, the BOS rewritten chapter declares
Natural resource protection is the County’s highest priority.
Natural Resource Protection is the Highest Priority?
Over the safety and protection of your citizens?
Over the education of the children where you currently dedicate 60% of your budget?
The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is philosophical hyperbole and is not supported by the facts (or four supervisors), we hope such inflammatory and incorrect language will be removed from the plan.
The Planner’s Plan Part I – We find it curious when a major strategy for a plan is to do another plan. This phenomena occurs in multiple places throughout Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan:
Strategy 1c: Develop and implement a comprehensive water resources plan that sets expectations for public water supply, surface water protection and improvement, and groundwater protection.
Many if these elements will be already completed as a part of the state-mandated TMDL Action Plans, why would Albemarle seek to go significantly further than required? Perhaps they are seeking to justify/spend a new “rain tax” similar to the City of Charlottesville
Strategy 1e: Secure funding for water resource management programs
Funding for water resource management programs is essential to their success. At present the County is considering a stormwater utility fee to help pay for the higher level of environmental protection required by the State.
This document is building the case for expanded water resource protections (often at the cost of property rights) beyond the State requirements. To be opposed to this straw man philosophy suggests you are opposed to clean water. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Free Enterprise Forum sees the ever expanding Natural Resources Chapter as symptomatic of the current Board’s direction to control more and more landowner activity. We believe securing such funding is critical to the expansion of government.
The Planner’s Plan Part II – Strategy 4a calls for an “Action Plan for Biodiversity” which we see as a property owner rights reduction plan.
The action plan can be developed from the inventory and analysis. The plan should contain the map of important landscape features and individual species occurrences that can be included in the County’s Geographic Information System. When made widely available, County staff and the public can use the information for conservation purposes as well as reviewing requests for legislative approvals. … From that action plan, the Natural Heritage Committee can develop a list of short term conservation targets.
Where are the property owners’ rights in the unelected Natural Heritage Committee’s hit list?
The curious reader might be asking how will this work be accomplished? Not to worry, the plan calls for an expansion of government into conservation biology:
Strategy 4d: Asses the need for hiring a County staff member with expertise in conservation biology, and/or training existing County staff in the principles of conservation biology to assist in the development of the action plan and coordination with other County actions.
Mountain Protection – Almost a decade ago, Albemarle County went through a very emotional and divisive process regarding a propose Mountain Protection Ordinance. Rather than letting this be settled, the Comprehensive Plan revives this property rights trampling zombie of an idea.
One of the complaints about the direction of the county at that time was the lack of respect for private property owners, whose stewardship created the beautiful mountain vistas. This lack of recognition is clear in the preamble of Objective 5: Retain Mountain Resources
Albemarle County’s mountains are the source of important natural functions, such as providing clean water, contributions of healthy air, and habitats for many of the County’s plant and animal species. The mountains are also the source of many agricultural and forest products and add to the County’s appeal to tourists. To many residents, the mountains give the County its “sense of place in the State and country.”
Nowhere in the above statement does it speak to the private ownership of the lands being discussed. It only gleamingly mentions the agricultural and forest uses of the land that have kept the land economically sustainable for generations.
Further evidence of Albemarle’s anti-property rights campaign can be found buried on page 4.37 of the Natural Resources Chapter. This concept that could significantly reduce the development potential of the majority of the parcels in the county. Interestingly it is not its own strategy or objective just a third paragraph under strategy 7a.
The second step is to prevent building in these areas. County regulations already require that buildings be located away from streams and rivers. Expanding those requirements to areas near intermittent streams and the mouths of mountain streams can help prevent debris flow impacts.
To understand the impact of this concept one must understand that an intermittent stream can be defined as A stream that ﬂows seasonally when the water table is high, such as during and after periods of heavy or steady rain. This means the swale that runs behind my house is an intermittent stream.
The Natural Resources Chapter as rewritten by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is much more a planner employment act that seeks to limit private property property rights than it is about ecosystems development and preservation.
Neil Williamson, President
NEXT – THE LOUISIANA “OVERLAY DISTRICT” – A JEFFERSONIAN APPROACH TO PROPERTY RIGHTS?
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
October 30, 2012
The Free Enterprise Forum believes Albemarle County’s Natural Resources chapter needs to refocus on natural resources and move away from the pull of biodiversity. While one school of biodiversity seeks to maintain and restore habitat to maintain the status quo another school suggests alterations in our biodiversity are continuous and humans, while having an impact, are a part of that continuous change.
In the past, we have raised significant concerns with the mission statement that is placed on Albemarle County’s website regarding the Biodiversity committee. It states there mission as ” The mission of the Natural Heritage Committee (NHC) is to maintain and restore the County’s native biological diversity and provide a healthy environment for the citizens of Albemarle County.” This is far broader than the authority granted by the Board of Supervisors.
Throughout this chapter I see the Biodiversity Committee as assisting and informing staff decisions without input from elected officials. This is a mistake.
On page 2 of the chapter it states, without scientific back up, “Biodiversity is essential to human life”. Later it indicates that humanity has an ethical responsibility to care for other life forms on earth. How can the natural resources chapter place ethical constraints on other chapters. Ethics, and religion, do not belong in the comp plan. Some might suggest that humanity has an ethical responsibility to provide adequate shelter to other humans but that does not appear in our affordable housing chapter. Both these statements should be removed.
On Page 4 there is a map referenced regarding areas for mountain protection but it does not indicate how such map is to be determined or if it is the map that was refused by the Board of Supervisors previously.
Reading between the lines on Page 12 the Free Enterprise Forum believes the Biodiversity Action Plan should be renamed the Biodiversity Downzoning Plan. We are most concerned that a biological inventory informing land use decisions might preclude landowners from exercising their property rights in the name of biodiversity with limited benefit.
While respecting the intentions of the overzealous Natural Heritage Committee we believe the introduction of biodiversity as a land use metric is simply a back door to population control and the potential extinguishing of development rights without compensation.
In addition we fear the Biodiversity action plan would be in direct opposition to much of the neighborhood model design of dense development and pocket parks in the development areas.
On Page 14 we believe Objective 1 strategy a – should include language about preservation of property rights while encouraging sensitive site selection and design ….
On Page 18 we believe the use of the term “tragedy of the commons” to be unnecessary and prejudices the document.
On page 19 under Objective 3 strategies a and b seem to be in conflict and need to be reworded or combined.
On Page 20 – The Free Enterprise Forum believes Comprehensive Plan language should suggest not dictate we ask that Strategy d be we worded as follows – “Consider watershed divides when evaluating any future changes to Development Area boundaries to coordinate land use planning and water resources policy.”
I also noticed a couple of typos which I will forward to staff. Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on this document
Neil Williamson, President