By. Neil Williamson
Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors April 5th, 2017
Wow, did you fit a great deal into today’s consent agenda.
The sheer number of resolutions of intent required almost the entire alphabet for attachments. Clearly what started as “Code Housekeeping” has been greatly expanded to a seismic shift of Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy. In the interest of time I will highlight only two of these shifts.
#1. Banning golf courses. Perhaps it is fitting that this week, the week of the Masters golf tournament, the Board of Supervisors is voting on effectively eliminating new golf courses. Attachment T of your consent agenda item item 8.4.
While this proposal would eliminate golf, swim and tennis club special use permits in the Rural Areas, it really would ban golf courses in Albemarle County. The concept of putting a golf course in the development area would be an economic challenge and would eliminate roughly 200 acres of developable land. The Free Enterprise Forum notes earlier in this meeting you thanked the donors of 1,500 acres of rural area land for a park – does not parkland recreation have many of the same impacts as a golf course? Perhaps Albemarle wishes to eliminate your rural park policies as well.
#2 Shrinking the Development Area using Net vs. Gross density – This deep in the weeds issue will have the likely intended consequence of lowering by right residential density therefore increasing the demand for rezonings and increasing the cost of housing in the community. For two decades, we have heard that placing residents in the development areas provides more efficient delivery of government services. Why now are you going the other direction? The perhaps unintended consequence of this action will be to significantly reduce the carrying capacity of the development areas and therefore accelerate the need for an expansion of the development areas.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes these two examples can trace their lineage to individual applications (or proposals) that ended up not moving forward. In these cases the NIMBY’s (Not In My Backyard) won. Now these same forces are pursuing regulatory changes that are counter to Albemarle’s planning philosophies but suit their needs; rather than pursuing an anti economic development spot zoning decision they are pushing the NIABY (Not In Anybody’s Backyard) agenda.
In this election year, I know this Board will not reject any of the alphabet soup attachments on the consent agenda. I can only hope that these proposed ordinance changes will be fairly researched and debated by all and that the Board of Supervisors stands up to the CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) agenda and consider the impact of your decisions on the basic pillars of your planning philosophy.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Old Trail Golf Club
By. Neil Williamson, President
Imagine you woke up one morning and you learned, through no fault of your own, your property was worth 50% less than when you went to bed the night before.
What if you also found housing was less available, less diverse and more expensive?
And what if your neighbors were behind the change?
Thee fundamental question at hand is seeking to redefine the land use calculation from gross density to net density.
In an oversimplification, this moving of the goalposts reduces the density possible on most parcels.
The New Designs for Growth Guidebook correctly identifies the impact of the different planning paradigms:
The method communities use to calculate density can dramatically impact development patterns. For instance, while densely arranged homes on one portion of a large parcel would have the same gross density as the same number of homes spread out evenly over the parcel, the two developments have substantially different net densities. Hence lot size and building arrangement can result in very different residential densities.
When revising ordinances, local jurisdictions should take into consideration the implications inherent with the different methods of calculating density. Net density produces a more visually recognizable density for the developed portion of the site, while gross density allows for more flexibility in developing sites (e.g., cluster developments, PUDs) as well as projects evaluated in the context of average density of adjacent developments (i.e., a development fitting within a density continuum).
Gross density = Total residential units / total development land area
Net density = Total residential units / total residential land area (excludes roads, open spaces, and other uses)
While accurate, the definition above fails to address the clear concern of property owners the numerator in the calculation. Currently under the gross density concept if you have 10 acres in R-2 zoning in the development areas, you have the by right ability to build 20 homes on the 10 acres. Under net density, the applicant must discount any land deemed “unbuildable by regulation”.
What would be included as “unbuildable by regulation”? The City of St. Helena in Oregon has the following considerations:
- All sensitive land areas:
- Land within the 100-year floodplain;
- Land or slopes exceeding 25 percent;
- Fish and wildlife habitats;
- Archaeological sites;
- Federal or state protected areas for listed threatened or endangered species; and
- Designated open space and open space-design review areas;
- All land dedicated to the public for park purposes;
- All land dedicated for public right-of-way:
- Single-dwelling units: allocate 20 percent of gross acres for public facilities; and
- Multiple-dwelling units: allocate 15 percent of gross acres for public facilities;
- All land proposed for private streets;
Considering the topography of the Piedmont, one can easily see the aforementioned 10 acres losing significant portion of its by right density.
But the demand for housing will not go away.
As seen in the residential Capacity Analysis discussed in the Development Areas Chapter, projections suggest that by the year 2030, approximately 15,000 additional dwelling units will be needed to accommodate the County’s future population. According to the Development Area Master Plans, the Development Areas can accommodate a range of approximately 13,800 to 29,000 new dwelling units.
Under current zoning, approximately 13,400 to 19,900 new dwelling units can be built.
If Crozet is able to move the goal posts by changing the density calculation, this would result in a less dense community, more expensive delivery of government services and a loss of property value to development area land owners.
Further as fewer homes will be able to be constructed in each development the cost of the infrastructure required for those homes would be spread across fewer units increasing cost to the end user.
As development area lots become more expensive, rural area development will become more economically attractive encouraging sprawl. When coupled with the dearth of available new units to meet the forecast demand, cost of all housing (rural and development areas) will increase.
But it will reduce the population density allowed in Crozet – could this be the overarching goal?
Regardless of cost?
As usual more questions than answers, stay tuned.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org.