Tag Archives: Planning Commission

Thankful, Hopeful & Skeptical in Charlottesville

By. Neil Williamson, President

In this time of Thanksgiving, I have so much to be thankful for; unexpectedly, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is now on that list.

Please let me explain.

Late in last night’s Planning Commission work session, after hearing the Free Enterprise Forum concerns with the proposed comprehensive plan and the land use map, as it existed prior to Saturday’s meeting, Chair Lisa Green asked that the map and narrative they created be shared with the 4 members of the public in attendance.  Each of us took photographs of the map and narrative with the understanding these are just drafts.

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/image2.png?w=208&h=310

Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan Map Draft Before Saturday (11/17) Planning Commission Matinee Meeting

comp plan photo 2

Revisions to Charlottesville Draft Comprehensive Plan Map from Post Planning Commission Saturday Matinee Meeting (11/17)

Comparing the two images, I see hope for increased intensity, AKA density, in many nodes.

Green expressed a desire for folks to read the narrative- something I refer to as the “Intensity Spectrum”.  Staff attempted to type in new language on the fly during Saturday’s meeting – that is the image below – it will undoubtedly change but we like the direction it is headed.

We again see hope in the draft language that was captured includes the verbiage “Missing Middle Housing”.  The previous version went from high to low with very little room for middle housing.

Comp Plan Photo 4

It is our understanding that the Planning Commission will see staff’s rendition of the changes at their regular December 11th meeting but the documents will have already been submitted for the December 17th City Council meeting.  The Planning Commission will deliver an incomplete update of the Comprehensive Plan, the Community Engagement chapter is not yet drafted and the Land Use chapter is not yet complete.

Council will provide their comments on the draft and it will return to the Planning Commission for further meetings and refinements (and completion of the two unfinished chapters).

While I remain a healthy skeptic waiting to see the devil in the details, I sincerely appreciate the direction and conversations about making the CITY of Charlottesville a “Welcoming urban environment for all people”.

So I am thankful for the Charlottesville Planning Commission for listening to the public AND sharing the draft output from their Saturday matinee session.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Respectfully Submitted,

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

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C-ville’s Height Slight Harms Affordable Housing

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments presented to Charlottesville Planning Commission November 20, 2018

I want to be encouraged, but I don’t know that I should be.

Earlier this year, City Council received the Housing Needs Assessment.  This study indicated the City needed over 3,000 affordable units added to the inventory to meet the current need.   One might think the Comprehensive Plan that was being drafted by the Planning Commission would seek to address this need by increasing density.  One might be wrong – in fact you may have done the reverse.

Based on our reading of the proposed fuzzy line maps, before Saturday’s meeting, you are designing a City with significantly fewer by right residential units than your current comprehensive plan.  We do not know what the by right density of the new plan compared with your current plan.  We again ask for that data before you move this forward to City Council.

As we imagealerted you to back in January  [Cville PC Paradox — Build Less & Increase Affordability], the plan reduces ‘by right’ building height (and therefore capacity) across nine of the City’s thirteen zoning districts.

Considering the importance of the “Missing Middle” Housing that we discussed  back in August [ Affordable Housing Policy Makes Building Affordable Housing Impossible], the Free Enterprise Forum is disappointed at the dominance of yellow “Low Intensity” land use that dominates the proposed map.

Two days ago, you held your ill timed Saturday afternoon work session  – which was required because you were unable to plan and  complete your work on schedule in the previous work sessions.   – I understand in that meeting you recolored the map to allow increasing “intensity” by right.  I do not know because I had other plans on Saturday afternoon [William & Mary vs. Richmond Football] and I missed your matinee program.

Neither does the rest of the public because as of 4 pm today, the map has not been changed on the website.

Absent any information for the public to review, we can only be hopeful that the map of your plan for growing Charlottesville will see the yellow move to higher intensity.

I beg of you to be honest with the public and tell them exactly what this plan, as drafted, will allow is  fewer units to be constructed without a special use permit (SUP).

The political reality of the day is if an SUP is required the project is DOA because a vocal NIMBY minority, sometimes citing community values, will be empowered to show up at the public hearing and stand in the way of the additional density that could help the City meet its growing housing needs.

A Planning Commission, worthy of the name, should be planning for a future for all its future citizens not just preserving the status quo.  Failing to properly allow and plan for growth in a land locked City, will result in a failing “World Class” City.

I do hope the new map will have more purple and more intensity.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

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 Credit: www.missingmiddle.com 

 

 

 

Albemarle ARB Expansion on a Shaky Foundation

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageIf you have limited resources and a house with faulty plumbing, foundation issues, and a leaky roof, would you fix the existing house or expand it?

Indirectly, that is the question before the Albemarle County Planning Commission next week (10/30) as they consider further expanding the number of roads that are considered ‘Entrance Corridors’ and thus subject to additional review by the Architectural Review Board (ARB).

Late in January, we learned that over a third of Albemarle’s twenty-one entrance corridors are illegal.  At first we were encouraged when a Resolution of Intent to remove the impacted roadways appeared on the Board of Supervisors consent agenda, this positive energy was very brief as the item was removed from the agenda and never heard from again.

On top of the illegal roadways, members of the ARB have been discussing the need for a comprehensive update to their guidelines some of which were last revised in 2011.  The fuel pump canopy requirements have not been adjusted since Bill Clinton was president (1998).  The guidelines include specific language directed at “trademark” designs:

State law and County ordinance both require that the ARB approve only those proposals which reflect designs which are compatible with the historically significant architecture of the County of Albemarle and City of Charlottesville.  It is not intended that proposed designs mirror existing historic structures in the area. Replication of historic structures is neither required nor desired. However, developers proposing “trademark” designs can expect that significant modification will be required by the ARB before approval will be granted.

This language was used by one ARB member (in the minority) to advocate a proposed Pantops gas station’s fueling stations should be located in the rear of the building outside of the view of passing traffic (cars).  Correctly, the applicant pushed back that this would be a significant competitive disadvantage considering all the other gas stations on US 250 with pumps in front of their locations.

So into this mess, the Planning Commission wants to expand the purview of the ARB to include Rio Road East/John Warner Parkway.

Back to our house analogy, the problem is varied responsibilities of the three entities involved.

  • The Board of Supervisors, who has the checkbook, has not prioritized fixing the illegal entrance corridors See the source imagechoosing instead to “not enforce” the regulations. Similar to a family not using the hallway bathroom, this merely solves the leaky toilet symptom without fixing the plumbing problem.
  • The Board of Supervisors, via the Community Development Work Plan, has not dedicated resources to improving the Entrance Corridor Guidelines to have them better mesh with market practices and ARB precedents.  In our house analogy, the roof only leaks when it rains and it does not rain all the time, therefore I will not fix the roof.
  • The Planning Commission, empowered by the Board of Supervisors, will race forward with additional regulation the creation and enforcement will further impact limited staff time in order to expand the power of the regulators over additional property.  Let’s expand, rather than repair, this old house.
  • Interestingly it is the members of the ARB who are the semi tragic figures in this epic drama.  Absent Supervisor action, the ARB is impotent to modify the area or the outdated regulations that they are charged with enforcing.

Despite the fact that some of the reforms we advocated for in our 2010 ARB analysis The Eye of The Beholder report have occurred, the dire need to repair the existing ARB jurisdiction and guidelines far exceeds the expansionist desires of the Planning Commission.

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 Credit Hanna Barbara Scooby Doo

Charlottesville Engagement Enragement

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In private life, in order to be ‘engaged’ one person has to ask and another has to accept.   Things are not nearly as clear or complete in the public sector.

Charlottesville Planning Commission AND Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) are wrestling with the proper calibration of their independent public engagement efforts.  Hours of discussion and deliberation have been dedicated to not only with whom they engage but also the manner such engagement reaches (or fails to reach) underrepresented demographic targets.

For the Comprehensive Plan the Planning Commission has been using more traditional town hall style meetings and workshops, while almost concurrently the HAC is seeking City Council approval to spend ~$200,000 to conduct a much more involved public engagement process regarding their Housing Strategy Document.

Please let me explain.image

If you follow me on social media, you have seen my #SeatsAvailable posts from countless public meetings.

In the last year, there have been significantly more, and more diverse meeting attendees (especially in Charlottesville).  This is a good thing; but not everyone is coming to the meetings.

Much of the world of citizen engagement is now digital.  Released earlier today, the 2018 Granicus Benchmark Report analyzed 1.6 million emails, activity from 185 million citizen subscribers, and visitor behavior on over 400,000 web pages over a one-year period (June 2017June 2018).

“In today’s data-rich environment, public sector communicators are turning to digital platforms that generate real-time performance metrics and deliver insights that can enhance their approach to citizen engagement,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes. “Measured across 4,000 organizations, the Granicus Benchmark Report provides industry metrics for engagement metrics so that communicators can iterate on the strategies that are working in the public sector. Better engagement translates into better outcomes for organizations and their priorities such as program adoption, participation in public meetings, or voter turnout.”

 The Institute for Local Government defines six different types of public engagement:

imageBy defining the goal of the engagement helps determine which of these topographies best fit.

In my estimation, too often localities are in the public information /outreach mode, where they want to tell you what they are doing but are not truly listening to the response.

The other end of the spectrum is equally bad where elected (and appointed) officials are too fearful of the public response and seek to put a finger in the wind for every decision.  This is best represented in this chart by the sustained public problem solving.  In this case rather than leading, the elected officials are creating scapegoats to duck what statutorily is clearly their direct responsibility.

The Planning Commission has been working on community engagement with their Comprehensive plan work since early last year.  Starting in May 2017, the city held a series of community engagement workshops explaining the comprehensive plan process and seeking input from the public regarding the plan and the land use map.  The planning commission then held nine more public outreach sessions (July-August 2017) with more detailed maps and listening stations and a structured questionnaire.  After the initial public workshops, the commission took this public input and worked on adjusting the previous (2013) comprehensive plan with the new thoughts and concepts.

In May 2018, the commission held four identical public workshops in locations across the City. Last week, in a meeting with City Council, there was less than satisfaction regarding the level of public engagement with the plan especially with the low income community.  It was determined that an outreach document would be prepared to solicit feedback and some members of City Council (Wes Bellamy and perhaps others) would work to get that document created, printed, distributed, collected and collated in the next four weeks.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…..

Engagement is a critical part not only of the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan work but also the Housing Advisory Committee’s (HAC) Affordable Housing Strategy.  City Council and HAC will meet tomorrow (8/30) to discuss their outreach efforts.  They explain the import of such engagement to the effort:

engagement
In Charlottesville’s history, the failure of institutions and city government to be accountable to low-wealth communities, particularly communities of color, has taken many forms: violent suppression, structural oppression, neglect, half-hearted or insincere attempts that serve to manufacture consent, and well-meaning attempts that end up failing due to their assumptions, framework, and processes favoring those in power and resulting in lopsided and inaccurate information, community inaction, or community harm.
Housing is at the root of historical structural inequity and oppression in the United States, and it came to be this way deliberately. As we build a strategy to achieve a local housing landscape that is healthy, ample, high quality, and affordable, we must be equally deliberate in dismantling the dynamics and the structures that perpetuate continued inequity—structures that often go unnoticed by those of us who benefit from them or don’t directly experience their harm.
To that end, rather than relying on the existing power structure to set the narrative and define the discussion, the community engagement strategy must leverage community relationships and expertise to genuinely engage our community. This methodology is vital to the project’s success and to the quality and legitimacy of the final Affordable Housing Strategy.

The scope of the HAC public engagement plan is significantly more robust, active and expensive ($200,019) than the Planning Commission’s efforts.  The objective of this data collection is made clear in the HAC proposal:

The city will engage with a consultant to plan and execute the community engagement process, which includes community outreach and response, training of citizen-interns to engage peer-to-peer conversations within their communities, data collection, data analysis, information delivery, and stewardship. The consultant will be an advocate for eliciting, amplifying, and accurately reporting resident voices. . .

[scope of work includes]  . . . Design a community engagement process that will engage the most citizens in the most personal and most meaningful ways possible. The emphasis will be on proactively connecting and engaging with low-income residents, people of color, and others traditionally underserved, underrepresented, and/or overshadowed by citizens who are more vocal, affluent, politically involved, and deferred to.

Methods and activities could include the following:

  • community meetings (all meetings must include childcare and meals or refreshments)
  • door-to-door outreach
  • training of peer outreach workers to engage in peer-to-peer outreach that will leverage existing relationships and distribute communication efforts across the city
  • focus groups
  • distribution of self-guided discussion toolkits
  • tabling/interviewing at local gathering places, work hubs, and commercial spots
  • texting platforms for communicating with participants
  • use of social media and website

The Institute for Local Government describes three orientations of local government public engagement: Passive, Active or Sustaining.  Their experience (and ours) indicates that most local efforts to engage the public are one time events focused on one time issues a roadway (Bypass), climate provision, school budget, etc.  They advocate localities need to move toward a more sustained public engagement  and “embed” a capacity beyond these “one and done” efforts.

the benefits of sustained, effective and inclusive public engagement are significant. They include: better identification of the public’s values and ideas; more informed residents; improved local agency decision making and actions; and more public trust and confidence in local government.

In reviewing the Housing Advisory Committee Housing Strategy document, we believe this is significant outreach effort but wonder if such engagement is designed to be sustained.  Perhaps the HAC is seeing this as a pilot and if successful it could be easily reconstituted with the already trained peer-to-peer networks.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on budget line items such as the $200K HAC engagement plan. That is a value judgement for City Council to make.

We firmly believe that outreach opportunities should be provided to all citizens.

We also believe public engagement requires willingness to engage from all involved.  We are concerned that a lack of a specific, requested, action may be used to prove “The City is not listening”.

We also know, we are a representative democracy and that requires leadership not governing by survey/poll data.

You’ll never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.–David Mahoney Jr.

There is a time to listen and a time to lead, we hope Charlottesville’s leaders are able to discern the difference.

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

 

 

 

Pencils and Improving Charlottesville NDS

Adapted from Comments to Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission regarding the NDS Efficiency Study 8/23/18

I sincerely appreciate the City providing the opportunity for public feedback on Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Review  study. The Novak document is very complete and candid in its survey data regarding the department and the related approving authorities:

  • The Tree Commission has 75% positive impact
  • City Council has a 55% positive impact
  • The Planning Commission has 67% negative impact.
  • 71% did not believe the application submittal process worked well
  • a full 80% found the review process not easy to understand.

The recommendations in the Novak report do not exactly correlate with the identified issues are worthy of consideration but there are three critical components that are outside the scope of this report that must be addressed by Council to fix this broken department – Accountability, Reduction in Review, and Philosophical shift.

The report outlines a number of metrics that should be tracked to better understand, identify and fix areas of inefficiency. While laudable, absent 1 individual who will be held accountable to the targeted goals – this report will do nothing more than sit on a shelf. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for direct, individual, public accountability.

Reduction in review – Looking at the chart in the back of the report, is every level of this review necessary or are some of these items designed more to prevent the last bad thing, rather than encourage the next great thing? The Free Enterprise Forum calls for a reduction in application review items.

20180823_151742Philosophy – Several years ago, we provided the NDS Department (and other local planning departments) with pencils that outlined what we believe their marching orders should be. I brought the few pencils I have remaining to you all tonight.

The “Permit us to Permit you” philosophy does not cut corners on review nor approves everything that comes in the door. It is much more a mortgage broker mentality – this application process is tough, but I will help you, my customer, get through it. “The Permit us to Permit you” philosophy requires leadership and engagement – two areas, according to your efficiency report that are currently lacking in NDS. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for City Council and the Planning Commission to endorse NDS role in helping citizens gain needed government approvals.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight, enjoy the pencils.

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

A New Charlottesville Parking Chapter?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Back in January, we spoke out regarding the long term parking problem the City of Charlottesville is choosing to ignore.

Currently, the existing garages are effectively full, with greater than 350 potential parkers on waiting lists for the opportunity to buy a monthly parking pass.

Commercial development activity continues in downtown with four prominent parking demanding projects currently in the pipeline. Conservative estimates place the new parking deficit [parking demand less parking provided] created by these developments to be 844 spaces [(386) Charlottesville Technology Center, (213) West 2nd Street, (160) Dewberry Hotel, (85) Vault Virginia].

Then this past week, Charlottesville cut a settlement with Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown to operate both downtown garages for 16 years.  The Daily Progress Editorial this morning (7/31) suggests “Parking Deal Buys Relief at Least for Now

As a matter of public policy — that is, providing parking for those who visit or work in Charlottesville and ending the uncertainty over whether parking would be reasonably available — the settlement has merit.

So the question is parking “a matter of public policy” and does the City have a responsibility to provide parking for those who work or live downtown?

Charlottesville enacted a parking action plan (January 2017-January 2020) that may remain as current policy but has been largely ignored by City Council.

image

Currently, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is considering their long term (20 year) comprehensive plan for the development of the City.  Other than the inclusion of the Parking Action Plan internal to the 2016 Economic Development report, the draft comprehensive plan is silent about parking. 

A portion of the Bonus Height/Affordable Housing Financial Analysis prepared by the Form Based Codes Institute and Partners for Economic Solutions was presented to City Council earlier this summer and included specific parking construction costs.

Parking is a major cost factor, averaging $5,000 per surface space, $20,000 per space in an above-ground parking structure and $32,000 per space in a below-ground structure. Surface parking is the least expensive option, by far, but it consumes a great deal of land

If we accept that there is not land space available for an 844 space surface parking lot in Charlottesville, the we can project the cost for “solving” the projected parking shortfall will be between $16.8 million and $27 million dollars.

imageThe long term parking shortfall, and Charlottesville’s ostrich like response to it, creates at least two likely outcomes:

1.  The City does nothing and the parking shortfall results in development projects (or existing businesses) failing due to lack of parking for employees or customers.

2.  The City recognizes the need for significant parking investment and dedicates significant resources to it.  How they might pay for such an expenditure is unclear.

One thing is clear, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

An idea that has been discussed is to require by code that any business with more than 25 employees has to submit a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan annually.  This is a written plan on how the business would mitigate their effect on parking and traffic congestion.  It might include employee incentives to use transit, carpool or bike to work.

Planning for the future parking needs, the Planning Commission is uniquely positioned to aid in this endeavor as it seeks to revise the City’s Comprehensive Plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the Planning Commission to draft a new chapter on Parking ad clearly state if the city is accepting the responsibility for providing parking or not.  This document is the clearest place to state this critical public policy.

Or they can choose to remain silent on the issue – either way it is a choice.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully submitted,

 

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: City of Charlottesville, Community. curiosity.com

Greene Planning Has Work Session on Animal Kennels

By. Brent Wilson Field Officer

At the May, 2018 Greene County Planning Commission meeting a public hearing was held related to animal kennels and several issues were to be researched as how other counties handle some issues and these were to be discussed at the June, 2018 meeting

clip_image002

Stephanie Golon

County Planner Stephanie Golon  reviewed the issues for the three members of the Planning Commission (two members were absent from this meeting). Currently animal shelters are by right when there are 10 or more dogs are on sight. Personal dogs that are not for breeding were not included in the discussion. From May’s meeting the question was – should the level be lowered to five dogs down from ten dogs.

The issue then shifted to the age of the dog – when is a puppy no longer a puppy? Then what constitutes a breeder was discussed – does he raise dogs for sale and does he advertise in the paper and on the internet?

While the May meeting brought out a number of citizens, there was no one signed up to speak at the public hearing.  Golon stressed that a specific number needs to be identified to determine what a kennel is vs. raising dogs for a family.

Chairman Jay Willer wondered if a decision should be delayed since two commissioners were absent. Golon indicated that there are no public hearings scheduled for the July, 2018 meeting at this point. Willer proposed that the Planning Commission delay their decision until the August, 2018 meeting and, therefore, allowing the two absent commissioners time to review the information from tonight’s meeting and hold a public hearing in August.

Golon said that she would reach out to the two absent commissioners and provide the information discussed tonight and answer any questions that they may have in advance of the August meeting. With that decision, it was moved that there would be no Planning Commission meeting held in July.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Egotistical Entrance Corridor Expansion Effort

By. Neil Williamson, President

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are times when local public policy fails to follow logic.

When we learned in January the 1/3 Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors (EC) are Illegal, the Free Enterprise Forum was convinced Albemarle County supervisors would do the right thing to correct this code by reducing the number of roads designated as “Entrance Corridors”.  Imagine our shock to learn that this week, the Supervisors have a Resolution of Intent (on the consent agenda) to ADD a twenty-second road to the bloated EC list.

Please let me explain.

Late last year, according to a member of county staff, during a routine preapplication meeting, a question came up regarding the posted speed limit on the entrance corridor.  Staff researched the issue and determined both the speed limit and that the roadway was not an “arterial street”.

Virginia Code §15.2-2306 enables localities to establish entrance corridor districts encompassing parcels contiguous to arterial streets and highways found to be significant routes of tourist access to the county and to designated historic landmarks, structures, or districts within the county

This revelation, led staff to research each of the current twenty-one entrance corridor designated roadways and found eight did not meet the state “arterial” requirement.

To their credit, staff prepared a resolution of intent for the Board of Supervisors to consider in their February 7th meeting.  The purpose of this resolution is to revise the Entrance Corridor Ordinance removing those roadways that do not qualify as arterials.

In the first action of the February 7th meeting, Board Chair Ann Mallek asked that the Resolution of Intent be removed from the consent agenda:

so some technical items can be worked out before it is brought back for further discussion.

Despite multiple requests of staff and supervisors, we have not received any update regarding these “technical issues”.

As of last month, the staff indicates they are not enforcing entrance corridor regulations on those roads that do not meet the state definition of “arterial” roads.  This is not a fix, it is a band aid.

Meanwhile in February, the Planning Commission was flummoxed by its inability to mandate architectural review on proposed changes to City Church on West Rio Road.  Therefore they passed a resolution of Intent to bring West Rio Road/John Warner Parkway as the twenty second road on the bloated list of “Entrance Corridors”.  This is the true origin of the Resolution of Intent the Supervisors have on their consent agenda this week.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes any changes to the Entrance Corridors MUST FIRST fix the illegal Entrance Corridors – If not, we are left to ask

How long will Albemarle choose to ignore the law?

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 Credit: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

Does ‘Social Justice’ Fit in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source imageLast Tuesday (6/26), the Charlottesville Planning Commission heard from a large number of citizens calling for their Comprehensive Plan process to have more public engagement, to be informed by the recently released housing needs assessment, to directly address racial inequity and to include ‘Social Justice’ throughout the document.

From my Twitter (https://twitter.com/NeilSWilliamson ) notes:

Andrea Massie tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission she supports additional community engagement asks for the comprehensive plan to focus on race. “The planning maps were drawn in the 1950s to segregate our community. There must be an intentional effort to undo this”

Annie Stump tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of her support for additional Comprehensive Plan Community Engagement. Housing Needs Assessment is a great first step. Calls out racial inequity in housing. We should be judged by how we serve our most marginalized.

Brendon Hassler #Albemarle resident tells #Charlottesville Planning Commission of marginalized, historically oppressed communities that have a severe lack of trust with the government regarding Comprehensive plan outreach

Lena Seville asks for housing policy to address a long history of discrimination in the #Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan

Anna from #Albemarle bemoans the lack of organization. Suggests that the Comprehensive Plan is designed to be difficult for normal folks to read so developers can push mixed use instead of #AffordableHousing

Virginia code § 15.2-2223 clearly delineates that each locality’s Planning Commission shall draft a comprehensive plan:

making a comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The code provides a non exclusive list of plan elements including:

D. The comprehensive plan shall include the designation of areas and implementation of measures for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of affordable housing, which is sufficient to meet the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income in the locality while considering the current and future needs of the planning district within which the locality is situated.

‘Social Justice” is not a required element, but does it belong in the plan?

Perhaps it depends on your definition of Social Justice.

  • The equitable distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society?
  • The proportional distribution of advantages and disadvantages as it relates to effort?
  • The redistribution of resources from those who “unjustly” gained them?
  • The equal distribution of opportunity?
  • A virtue?

The Pachamama Alliance provides a concise background on Social Justice:

Social Justice as a concept arose in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution and subsequent civil revolutions throughout Europe, which aimed to create more egalitarian societies and remedy capitalistic exploitation of human labor. Because of the stark stratifications between wealthy and the poor during this time, early social justice advocates focused primarily on capital, property, and the distribution of wealth.

By the mid-20th century, social justice had expanded from being primarily concerned with economics to include other spheres of social life to include the environment, race, gender, and other causes and manifestations of inequality. Concurrently, the measure of social justice expanded from being measured and enacted only by the nation-state (or government) to include a universal human dimension. For example, governments (still today) measure income inequality among people who share citizenship in common.

In 2015, Ashland Virginia’s Senior Planner Garet Prior penned a thoughtful post “Planning’s Role in Social Justice” calling for the industry reconsider their role and recognize their ethical responsibility to advocate for social justice.

Prior highlighted how activist planning philosophy impacted 1970s planning:

History teaches us the necessity of taking intentional steps to define our role in public service, or else we allow the entrenched powers to direct our purpose, thus making us a tool in continuing the status quo.

During the feverous pitch of the last Civil Rights Movement, in 1965, planning professor Paul Davidoff — who coined the term “advocacy planning” — instructed that “Planning action cannot be prescribed from a position of value neutrality.” Norman Krumholtz illustrated this concept as planning director for Cleveland in 1975 when he set the department’s overriding goal as “providing a wide range of choices for those Cleveland residents who have few, if any, choices.”

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the concept of developing a wide range of choices as long as those choices continue to respect property owner rights.  Prior’s argument goes further to suggest planning departments should be philosophically charged with advocating for specific outcomes rather than “opportunities”.

In his argument, Prior used the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) code of ethics for direction:

“We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs” (emphasis added).

If we are in a true pursuit of equitable outcomes for racially and economically disadvantaged groups, then history informs us that advocacy — more than an urge — will be required.

To fulfill this ethical call to advocacy, we need to better understand how change occurs. We should begin with a process of self-identification to be aware of our values, beliefs, and biases. In working with others, we need to understand that trust is necessary and will only be acquired through time. We need to get out of the office and form intentional relationships with underserved populations. . .

. . .As tensions around social inequities mount, now more than ever planners need to fulfill our ethical values by taking intentional action to advocate for equitable justice solutions. Inaction will only aid in continuing these broken systems because, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

This is a significantly higher level of advocacy than we see as appropriate from staff – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that the elected and appointed positions should be moving their planning philosophy forward and the professional staff should be following their lead.

We completely agree there is a responsibility on the part of planning commissioners and elected officials to actively seek out the opinions of those who are often under represented/underheard in our community.  This information, combined with all the other data that has been collected, should be considered.

Considering all of the above and the state mandated goals of the Comprehensive Plan document, The Free Enterprise Forum believes that while ‘Social Justice’ is an important element to our community conversation but should not be a separate chapter in Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

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

Greene County Planning Commission Lowers Proffers

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission  heard a rezoning request at their May meeting to remove or reduce the cash proffer required for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) originally granted in 2008. For the last ten years, Kinvara Properties, LLC has tried to develop approximately 33 acres fronting Route 29 southbound just north of the Food Lion plaza.

A cash proffer is a “voluntary” financial contribution the applicant makes per unit designed to offset a project’s fiscal impacts to the locality.  The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about proffers including the 2013 white paper “Contradictory Consequences“.

In 2016, Virginia’s General Assembly passed significant proffer reform.  The legislation required that any proffer provided must be answering a specific demand created by the project.  Most localities (including Greene) have not rewritten their zoning code to reflect these changes.

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Lily Ridge Apartments

A recent Greene County project, Lily Ridge Apartments, did pay the $9,000 per unit cash proffer for those units developed above the by right number of units (prior to the rezoning).

However, Kinvara Properties, represented by Attorney Butch Davies from Madison County, argued that their PUD will be more dense and have only 2 bedroom units therefore creating less demand on the school system – one of the major drivers of the cash proffer policy.

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Butch Davies

Davies explained that Kinvara has had several clients interested in the property but they have said that the size of the proffer makes the project economically unfeasible. In addition, the developer has already made expenditures for water and sewer hookups and road improvements. Chairman Jay Willer pointed out that these items, while having value to the county, are not part of the proffer calculation.

Davies offered $1,200 per unit in cash proffers with the logic being that the change in the law starting in July, 2018 will require proffers to be specific in the items related to the project. Davies referred to several other projects where proffers in the $1,200 range had been accepted by Greene County.

The hearing shifted to comments from the public, which there were none. Planner Stephanie Golon pointed out that the rezoning would allow 50 residential units to be built and she estimated that the number of students would range between Lily Ridge, 27 students or .58 students per unit and Terrace Greene, 30 students or .11 students per unit.

If the Lily Ridge ratio is used then the development would have approximately 29 students but Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy data would only project 16 students. Commissioner Ron Williams pointed out that given the current proffer and that schools are the main contributor to the costs involved then the amount should be approximately $4,500 vs. the $1,200 offered by the developer. Williams asked how the $1,200 was calculated and Davies answered that it is based on the smaller number of students.

Willer brought up the fact that Kinvara Properties accepted the original proffer agreement  and he had a difficult time lowering the proffer.  Davies again stated that potential sales to developers have fallen through with the current proffer and he believes a reduction will allow the sale to be completed and the development to go forward.

Williams stated that he thinks the development is a good fit for the area and he isn’t sure when the $9,000 proffer would become affordable. Inversely, the $1,200 proposed proffer lacks supporting detail as how it was calculated. But the county needs commercial development and he believes more residents in Greene County will attract more businesses.

While Willer agreed that more people attract businesses, he has a difficult time in revising an agreement that the two parties made and the lowering of the proffer would cost Greene County $390,000 in proffers when the development is completed.

Williams made a motion to recommend approval of a revised cash proffer of  $1,200 per unit and it was approved 3-1, with Willer voting against it and one commissioner absent. The rezoning application now goes to the Board of Supervisors for their decision with the recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission.

The reduction of the proffer in this specific case continues to set a precedent for a lower proffer. The original proffer amount was set over 10 years and should be updated with current cost and the impact of the 2016 proffer law. Another option would be to have separate proffers for individual homes, townhomes, condos, etc. and possibly down to the number of bedrooms in each unit. These are the issues that have been discussed in past meetings.

Definitely future requests from developers will point to the $1,200 amount, if approved by the Board of Supervisors, as a basis to set (or lower) their cash proffer.

An argument could be made that since lower proffers attract more developers wouldn’t doing away with proffers altogether attract the most developers?

Is 0% of the current proffer more valuable than 100% of $1,200?

Or is more residential development worth the upside of more driving potential commercial development and increased tax revenue?

It will be interesting to see how the Greene County Board of Supervisors deal with this application and if they ever get around to adjusting their cash proffer policy to be congruent with state code.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org