Tag Archives: Planning

Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model

By, Neil Williamson, President


Almost thirty years ago,  Albemarle County decided to attempt to focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area.  On a philosophical level this policy makes perfect sense, put the population where it is most efficient to deliver government services. The promise was for a 5% bustling urban core surrounded by 95% natural beauty of (privately held) rural areas.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Albemarle Development Vision from Places29

Conceptually, the 5% development area was to develop with concurrent amenities and investments along with the development.  The idea is for the smaller more compact home have access to amenities, employment and green space to make the development area home more attractive than a home on a couple of acres in the country.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chronicled in a front page story in The Daily Progress this morning (5/1/18), Albemarle County has failed to build the infrastructure required to make the development area work.  Further, they have done a poor job explaining to residents the need for development in the development area.

Sean Tubbs reports on two developments planned for the Pantops area that went before the Pantops Community Advisory Council:

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

At one time there was some momentum for appropriate concurrent infrastructure spending along side private sector investment.

From December 8, 2004 staff report:

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat in October 2003, the Board identified the County’s growth and urbanization as a critical issue and established a new strategic planning goal related to urbanization. At this year’s retreat, the Board continued its focus on growth and urbanization by providing direction to staff regarding the desire to pursue an “Urbanizing County” level of service for the County’s transportation and streetscape needs. For transportation needs, this level of service focuses on providing “essential link” transportation projects, minimizing the use of private streets, and continuing to rely on VDOT for street maintenance. For streetscape needs, it includes the County becoming more involved in the construction and maintenance of streetscape in development areas, as determined by master plans.  For streetscape outside master planned areas, construction would be considered through the CIP process, based on the availability of funds.  In both transportation and streetscape, the County would continue to expect development to provide a significant portion of the initial infrastructure.  Emphasis added – nw

A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised.

In November 2014, then Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley acknowledged the lack of planned transportation infrastructure investment:

Mr. Foley stated that the Board has set up specific funding in the Capital improvement Program (CIP) for master planned areas but that was for new developments. He stated that there was some money designated for interconnecting streets, but there has not been a focus on infrastructure funding for sidewalks and things in existing neighborhoods. Mr. Foley noted that the County never even got to the new areas due to limited capital funding

The vision of the Neighborhood Model was to have a variety of housing types and sizes as well as owned and rented properties intermingled to promote diversity.  Interestingly, the residents don’t seem to be interested in this diversity of housing types.

Again from Sean Tubbs article:

“It’s [the proposed development] a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet. . .

…“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’.  In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.

This is just the latest example of how Albemarle’s growth management (growth restrictive) policy is undermined by existing neighborhoods (often recently built) who oppose new development via the rezoning process. Most often the rationale for the opposition is the failure of Albemarle to meet existing resident expectations for services.  The lack of political will to stand up for the concepts and aspiring density rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan is disappointing.

Tipping Point? An interesting byproduct of the Growth Management Plan and Magisterial design – about the same time the development area was designated, the magisterial districts were redrawn so that every supervisor had a portion of the growth area in their district.  With the level of development most districts are now population dominated by development area residents – mathematically speaking if you win Mill Creek and Glenmore neighborhoods, you win the Scottsville District.  Will this new electoral reality result in super representation of the development area concerns stated above?  Should it?

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the current development area reality comes close to the aspirational vision that was endorsed by the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) or DISC II (AKA son of DISC).

Despite significant private sector investment in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, parks, sidewalks, etc.), Albemarle County has failed to create the connective linkages between developments (and in existing neighborhoods) to make the community vision a reality.

Based on the comments from Pantops, it soon might be too late to ever catch up.

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.


Fluvanna Ponders Proactive Rezoning for Economic Development Prospect

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors will hear an application to rezone a property in the Zion Crossroads area at the December 20 meeting.  The rezoning was initiated by the Board of Supervisors in hopes of attracting a specific company looking to invest over $8 million in a new facility that would employ 30 to 40 people. The company’s name is not disclosed at this time.

The property is located along Memory Lane (State Route 698), approximately 0.35 miles south of the intersection of Richmond Road (U.S. Route 250). The parcel is within the Rural Residential Planning Area and is adjacent to AG Dillard and near the rear portion of the women’s correctional facility. It used to be part of the Cosner salvage yard.

The Cosner salvage yard use of the property was nonconforming to the zoning of A-1. For the property to become a salvage yard again, it would need to be I-2 plus get a special use permit.

The unnamed company would have to initiate a Special Use Permit (SUP), if the zoning change is approved. At that time, additional details would be released. The I-2 zoning does not allow a salvage yard by right but is a permitted use with SUP.

A county official declined to release any other information on the company other than the pictures that were part of the presentation slated for the meeting.  The pictures depict a much different salvage yard than how Cosner operated. The pictures show a cemented yard of cars and a large warehouse.Recycled-green-auto-parts-info-graphic-3

The new term of art for salvage yards is “Automotive Recycling” [See infographic to the right]. The car recycling Industry is the 16th largest in the United States, contributing $25 billion per year to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The US automotive recycling industry employs around 100,000 people and earns around $25 billion a year. Nationally, there are around 7,000 vehicle recycling facilities.

During the Planning Commission meeting, officials said the company brings in cars through the warehouse for inspection then stores the cars in the parking area. Spare parts are shipped to interested buyers and there could be some local buyers. The company would pay taxes including machinery and tools.

The Planning Commission recommended denial of the rezoning on a 3-1-1 after two failed motions. First, the PC had a motion to approve that failed to get a second. Then, there was a motion to defer that did not get a second. A motion to recommend denial received a second but failed on a 2-2-1 vote. Shortly there after a motion to reconsider.

The Planning Commission had issues with the I-2 zoning in the rural planning area. The property is next to the community planning area and next to I-1 zoned property.

PC members at first started considering the economic development portion of the rezoning but then retreated to only considering the question, “Should this property be zoned I-2 on its own merits?”

One suggestion was rezoning on the possibility the zoning reverts back to A-1 if the interested company backs out of the arrangement. County officials said without the rezoning, the business would move on. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District), the Board of Supervisors liaison to the commission, said there is little concern about the company’s intentions.

The Board of Supervisors will take up the issue at the 7 p.m. session on December 20.


The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credits: Automotive Recyclers Association

An Albemarle Planning Christmas

First presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on December 13, 2016

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Twas two weeks before Christmas and all through Albemarle County

Folks were shopping and buying their family holiday bounty

The neighborhood meetings were held, public hearings advertised with care

In hopes that applicant’s final approvals might soon be theirs.


With Tubbs in his head seat and me off and tweeting

The regulars were in position for a long Planning Commission meeting

When up in the foyer there arose such a clatter

Sharon phoned maintenance to get to the bottom of the matter.


Away to the back doors, I flew up the row

With Sean, Jeff, and Morgan behind me, albeit quite slow

As I reached the ACOB back doors, of course located in front

I mumbled about relegated parking and pushed them open with a grunt


Florescent lights spilling out to the front staircase mountain

Gave brightness to the beautiful but empty decorative fountain

When what to my skeptical eyes should appear

but a BMW Mini and eight tiny reindeer


With a tall bearded driver, so sly and so tame

I knew in a moment it must be old Wayne

More rapid than zoning violations his courses they came

And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name

“Now Graham, now Gast-Bray, now Fritz and Newberry!

On Echols! On Weaver! On Benish and Sherry!

To the top of the properly stepped retaining wall!

Now dash away dash away dash away all!’


As the mud on a critical but managed slope after a summer rain flows,

when they meet with an obstacle from the ground that grows

So up to the green roof of the ACOB the coursers they flew,

With a sleigh, full of applications and Wayne Cilimberg too.


And then in a twinkling, I heard tapping noise somewhat fleeting

I thought Kilroy was updating citizens with her tweeting

As I gathered myself and turned to speak with the guys

The former Planning Director jumped off the elevator with surprise


He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and well pressed slacks

And his clothes smelled of suntan oil and perhaps the dog track

A bundle of approvals, he had slung on his back

He looked like a lost Shenandoah hiker just opening his pack


His eyes — how they twinkled, not application weary

His mind now so rested, his face rather cheeryskinny santa

He had a slight build but fit from the gym;

Tanned rested and ready, retired but slim.

Retirement clearly suited this jolly tall elf,

And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself;


A wink of his eye and his now graying mane

Soon gave me to know I need not fear from Wayne.

He spoke not a word but had an aggressive comprehensive plan

Stamping applications “approved”, saying “yes, yes you can”

And pressing the button with his red sharpie stained hand

The elevator swept him away to the upper floors of ACOB land.


He sprang to top of the building on McIntyre

And away he flew like his pants were on fire

He shouted above the din of his fine steed

“Approve applications, economic development we need.”

I heard him exclaim as ere he drove out of sight

“Merry Christmas to all — Retirement is All right!”


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: Gifs.cc

Greene Discusses Capital Improvement Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The chairman of the Greene County Planning Commission, Jay Willer, has been charged by the Board of Supervisors with updating and improving the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) process . At the first Board of Supervisor’s meeting in March he provided an update and asked for direction from the Supervisors.

Bart Svoboda, Greene’s Planning Director  started the presentation stating that the current CIP process is cumbersome and it is a “wish list”. The goal of Willer’s refinement is to fine tune the process to sort true capital expenditures vs. maintenance items.

Willer then addressed the Board of Supervisors stating that the current CIP is not a “pretty” document and it is a “pile of paper that doesn’t make much sense” that up until now Supervisors would see the millions of dollars needed and say – “Oh my God” and move on. Over the years many citizens have indicated this is not a way to plan for the future.

Willer stepped the Supervisors through the CIP’s latest draft.


Annual Totals by Function: FY15 FY16 FY17 FY18 FY19 Total
Gross totals $10,535,805 $10,520,394 $11,855,523 $58,264,973 $67,631,638 $158,808,333
Federal / State Required $68,836 $5,000 $0 $0 $0 $73,836
Maintenance of Existing Capital Assets $583,000 $312,400 $277,400 $447,400 $25,000 $1,645,200
Replacement of Existing Capital Assets $6,272,753 $4,240,000 $4,615,000 $2,420,000 $0 $17,547,753
Upgrade of Existing Capital Assets $136,000 $380,000 $1,420,000 $9,515,000 $12,000,000 $23,451,000
Improvement of Existing Capital Assets $207,453 $261,815 $328,123 $539,773 $16,101,323 $17,438,487
New Capital Projects $3,267,763 $5,321,179 $5,215,000 $45,342,800 $39,505,315 $98,652,057

The first grouping of the projects is sorted by function, six in all. The first grouping is projects that either the federal or state government requires. The rest of the categories go from maintenance projects progressively to new capital projects. Maintenance vs. replacement projects go together in that maintaining an asset may preclude or delay the replacement of an asset, such as, fix the leaky roof or replace it later if it is not maintained. Upgrading, improving and new equipment are categories that are either volume driven or a new approach to solving a problem.

The second chart identifies how the projects above can be funded. The majority of funds come out of the General Fund. The other four categories are a variety of different sources of funds from outside the county.

Annual Totals by Source of Funds:  FY15  FY16  FY17 FY18  FY19  TOTAL
Gross totals $10,535,805 $10,520,394 $11,855,523 $58,264,973 $67,631,638 $158,808,333
General Fund $10,328,352 $8,237,181 $11,497,400 $49,627,400 $12,275,000 $91,965,333
Proffers / Grants $0 $21,398 $30,000 $8,097,800 $255,315 $8,404,513
Rustic Rural $0 $0 $0 $0 $960,000 $960,000
VRA $0 $2,000,000 $0 $0 $39,000,000 $41,000,000
6 Year Plan $207,453 $261,815 $328,123 $539,773 $15,141,323 $16,478,487

The rest of the draft showed the detail of all projects sorted by departments within the county.  Willer used the analogy that his former boss used which was “kill the closest snakes” – meaning what needs to be done first. He also wanted the Board to be clear that the document they had in front of them was not a CIP, some of the projects are 1 to 2 years old and some have been completed. The question is – is the format ok?

In addition to the CIP format that has been drafted, forms have been developed to input each project with significantly more data being required instead of just what and when. Also, determining who will decide what to cull out of the submissions needs to be determined.

Willer hoped that part of the benefit of the new CIP formatting would be helping the county group like expenditures – such as packs for all the fire departments – in order to combine the purchase and leverage the buying power of the county and driving the cost per unit down and thereby saving the county money. However, the timing is too late for this CIP format to be used in the 2016/2017 budget cycle.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) thanked Willer for the work to date and liked the format of the draft and believes it will be easier for department heads to understand the process. Willer encouraged the Board to provide “small victories” in approving some projects so that departments will have some credibility in the process.

Vice-Chairman, Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) hoped that the forms could be distributed and submitted electronically. Willer answered that the draft is a hardcopy but can be converted in the future.

Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) asked what the time frame is for this process? Willer replied that the Board sets the time frame but assumes that it would be needed early in the budget process so that the impact of any expense items can be realized as well as the capital required by the county’s departments. In addition, projects in some cases need to be identified in a county’s CIP in order to qualify for grants. The real question is – when will County Administrator John Barkley want the data in order to feed the budget process.


Greene County Administrator, John Barkley

Supervisor Chairman Bill Martin (Standardsville) asked Barkley if he had any comments and he stated it is incumbent of staff to lead this process and the goal is to get this ready by the end of the summer to use in the next budget cycle. Being able to see the data sorted as presented is very helpful even though it won’t help with the new budget but it is a step in the right direction.

Willer suggested that the Supervisors keep the CIP in mind as they go through the budget process as they may find needs that can be incorporated in next year’s budget process. Martin asked Willer if he would prepare a one page guide of key questions/actions and dates, including who is to maintain and decide the process, the transmission of the data to the Administrator and finally to the Board.  Willer agreed to prepare this document.

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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Forest Lakes Outlaws


By. Neil Williamson, President

outlawThe Brookhill development that is in the early planning stages is located north of Polo Grounds Road and East of US29.  To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on projects and has no position on the Brookhill proposal.  Our concern is focused on planning policy and how those policies stifle creativity and consumer choice.

This project is located just south of the Forest Lakes South development, that has been well received by the market since its inception over twenty years ago.  Considering Forest Lakes appeal and the location of the project, one might think a thoughtful applicant would attempt to mimic some of Forest Lakes “desirable” characteristics.

But as I was sipping my morning coffee reading Elise Cruz’s Daily Progress/Charlottesville Tomorrow article about the neighborhood meeting concerning Brookhill, I found myself nodding in agreement with the quote from Alan Taylor of Riverbend Development:

“This is the new way that communities are developed,” Taylor said. “If I tried to build a development like Forest Lakes now, … it wouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Taylor’s comments reflect the reality of development in Albemarle County.  Over the last decade, via ordinance changes and policy direction, residential development has been forced into a new urbanist form that includes a higher level of density than the neighbors or the market wants.

The Neighborhood Model, which originally was sold as A model not THE model includes several concepts many of which are not only required in rezoning applications but are mandated by code:

Pedestrian Orientation
Mixture of Uses
Neighborhood Centers
Mixture of Housing Types and Affordability
Interconnected Streets and Transportation Networks
Multi-modal Transportation Opportunities
Parks, Recreational Amenities, and Open Space
Buildings and Space of Human Scale
Relegated Parking
Respecting Terrain and Careful Grading and Re-grading of Terrain
Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

The reality is that no longer can an applicant put forth the imageneighborhood design that they believe is best, will best sell or best fits the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. 

They are forced into new urbanist designs that prefer mixed use products, density over distance and pocket parks over parkways.

The buyer that is seeking a more traditional design, is left to look to existing housing stock, rural area development or to the surrounding localities with less restrictive design parameters. 

That how Albemarle is forcing the new housing market forward.  

Yes, when Albemarle County planning officials outlawed Forest Lakes, Forest Lakes became outlaws.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Is Charlottesville Catching the Albemarle Flu?


By. Neil Williamson, President

Over the last twenty years or so, the City of Charlottesville has beenflu-man-200x300 politically left leaning but has recognized the import of business contribution not only to the tax revenue but also to the fabric of the community.

As a land locked 10 square miles, the City determined to make it easier to increase density where it wanted such density to occur. By right reduction of parking requirements in certain University zones is just one of the many ordinance revisions the City designed to be more open for development. Today, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that recent actions may have the City moving away from this philosophical paradigm.

We fear the city is moving in the direction of Albemarle County [Also known as the Albemarle Flu] who has made development applications so expensive and time consuming that they have not seen a significant residential rezoning in many years.

On Tuesday night, the Charlottesville Planning Commission considered a resolution of intent to require almost all development proposals greater than six units to hold public neighborhood meetings prior to being processed. This includes site plans that are utilizing existing zoning.

The Free Enterprise Forum has significant questions regarding the legality of these provisions especially the site plan review.

Considering the import of hearing from members of the public and development community we found it interesting that the staff report admitted that they moved this public engagement initiative forward absent ANY public engagement:

Community Engagement:
There has been no community engagement prior to preparation of this Resolution for your consideration; however, the purpose of the proposed text amendments is specifically to provide for enhanced community engagement on an ongoing basis.

On the face of this it seems like increased public engagement would be a good thing, and many property owners already conduct such meetings and find them to be competitive advantages to getting projects approved. When such meetings are mandated – or worse delegated to a super citizen “advisory” panel – this empowers that unelected group of citizens with defacto veto power over the project.

The result of such power can be changes to the project design that benefits the neighborhood but may weaken the projects impact on the region. Over our dozen years of operation, the strongest voices in opposition to projects tend to be opposed to the increased density such a project may bring. At the Planning Commission level, there is an understanding and acceptance that the density of any rezoning should mirror the designation in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan. This is rarely the case at Neighborhood Meetings where the focus tends to be on reducing the density proposed and reducing the impact of such density on the surrounding community.

The Free Enterprise Forum has significant questions regarding the legality of these provisions especially the site plan review.

No application seeking approval of a site plan, preliminary or final, for property that will be used for any commercial or industrial purpose, or that will contain six (6) or more residential dwelling units, shall be accepted for review, unless and until the applicant has participated in a pre-application conference and has held a community meeting in accordance with guidelines established by the director of neighborhood development services in accordance with sec. 34-41(c)(2). Any application that fails to demonstrate compliance with these requirements shall be rejected as incomplete. The director may waive the requirement for a community meeting, if a community meeting was previously held for the same development at the time of city council’s consideration of an application for approval of a special use permit or petition for a zoning map amendment.

Unintended consequence 1- Loss of density and innovative design — If an applicant must complete the neighborhood meeting prior to their application being complete, the Planning Commission will see significantly fewer innovative higher density projects because the neighbors will not approve of the density or the creative design.

Unintended (?) consequence 2 – Increased application time – Virginia state code mandates completed applications must be considered by the Planning Commission and Board within 90 days of submittal. By inserting language that the results of a neighborhood meeting must be a part of a completed application, the staff is able to hit “snooze” on the so called 90 day shot clock until the meeting has been held. In addition, the proposed ordinance contains a not so veiled threat, considering the applicant has a subjective review in from of the Planning Commission/City Council:

The applicant’s consent to a work session is required, if the work session would extend the time for action by the board or commission beyond applicable deadlines established by law.

The proposed ordinance also provides for more favorable treatment of some applications if the Planning Director wants to waive the meeting requirement. While the Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the flexibility such a provision provides, we wonder if the criteria for waiving the meeting is objective enough to meet the Virginia Supreme Court’s Sinclair decision regarding staff determinations:

The director may waive the requirement for a public meeting, upon a determination that the meeting is not likely to achieve the public purposes intended to be served, after consideration of the following: (i) the nature of the approval requested, the acreage affected, the proposed density, the proposed scale, and potential impacts, (ii) any other factors deemed relevant upon applying sound zoning principles, (iii) whether other public work sessions or meetings have already been held regarding the application, so as to make a community meeting unreasonably duplicative.

Unintended consequence 3 – Increase cost and use of “stale” zoning – If adding a mandated neighborhood meeting increases the approval time on a rezoning by 1 month and adds another set of plan revisions, the cost of the project increases due to financial carrying costs and design fees. Dependent on the size of the project this increase in cost could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Rather than subject themselves to such cost and uncertainty, many property owners will calculate the value of developing the land not as it is in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan but as the land is currently zoned and move forward in six unit phases. The result is no neighborhood involvement and reduced density in direct conflict with the Comprehensive Plan.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that Charlottesville’s well intentioned desire for increased public engagement results in several significant unintended consequences and may be legally challenged. Further, we believe this new layer of review will significantly reduce the number of applications that come forward and reduce the economic vitality of the development sector. We fear this may be the intended consequence of the proponents of this ordinance change.

Tuesday night’s resolution may be the first sneeze of Charlottesville catching the Albemarle Flu, I sure hope not.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credit: Donlon Healthmart Pharmacy

Albemarle Knows Best – Comprehensive Plan Mission Creep

By.  Neil Williamson, President

Through the use of zoning, architectural design guidelines, regulations and overlay districts, local governments already control the size, appearance and type of activity conducted on any given parcel, now in Albemarle they want government to dictate when the market is ready for a permitted activity (see first bullet below).

Please let me explain.

One of the primary philosophical issues with government comprehensive planning is government comprehensive planning.  While state code mandates that all localities have such plans and they be updated every five years, the level of detail of these plans differs widely.

Albemarle County has been engaged in this comprehensive plan update for well over two years.  Late on Wednesday evening, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan.  After the public hearing, they plan to hold future work sessions, where public comment may or may not be permitted prior to adoption of the plan.    We strongly encourage the Board to accept public comment prior to each of their work sessions.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been engaged in this effort since the beginning and continues to find significant issues.   Here are just a few:

  • In what can only be described as government overreach, page 7.34 outlines that Albemarle should only approve a permitted land use “when a significant unmet need can be established for this type of use”.  This concept is outlandish and fundamentally flawed.  While government can, and should, consider the impacts of uses on the larger community, the business decision of need or viability should be placed squarely with the landowner who is taking the risk.
  • In addition to being a planner employment act (calling for significant increase in planning staff), the comprehensive plan regularly fails to recognize property rights and the positive stewardship of private property owners.
  • Last year at the Planning Commission, we led the fight with Monticello and successfully got the “veiwshed” preservation regulations removed from the document.  Surprisingly despite that very public victory, the plan still calls for enabling legislation for new overlay powers designed for “scenic protection and tourist enhancement”.
  • In the mid 200s, the community was engaged in a rancorous debate over property rights and mountaintop “protection” ordinance.  The ordinance effort failed yet is mentioned in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan no less than four times.
  • The transportation chapter cites a reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a goal.  This is nonsense.  The goal should be efficient and effective transport not a multimodal anti-mobility metric.  Conceptually, this misguided goal would be met if no one ever went anywhere.
  • The number one objective in the Economic Development chapter [the shortest chapter in the plan] is to “Ensure that economic development goals are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with other Comprehensive Plan goals”.  This is a misplaced priority.  Objective 1 should be focused on making sure there is work for those who want to work.
  • Strategy 1d in the Economic Development chapter is “Encourage all businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices”.  Such a strategy may be appropriate in another chapter but I am at a loss to understand how this will help economic development.  It seems like a “feel good” tack on that has no nexus to economic vitality.

With much of the community now focused on the Western Bypass public hearing next week, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates few speakers on this critical five year philosophical planning document.  Absent significant public outcry, the Supervisors will choose not to review the plan chapter by chapter but to enact it with little or no changes.

Considering the perceived import of this plan if the BOS fails to fully vet the document, that’s planning to fail.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

clip_image0024.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Monticello’s Comp Plan Land Grab


By. Neil Williamson, President

“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:36

Considering Thomas Jefferson’s strong belief in personal property rights, one must wonder what Jefferson would think of the Foundation that bears his name seeking to use Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan to enact ‘voluntary’ restrictions on the property rights of landowners whose properties might be visible from Monticello.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees this as an effective land grab via comprehensive plan.

Please let me explain.

According to Merriam-Webster, the term land grab was first used in the middle 1800’s  “to describe a usually swift acquisition of property (as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force”.

Today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc., owner and operator of Monticello, is calling for the creation of a “Monticello Protection Area” overlay in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.   The Foundation contends that the view from Monticello is an important part of their dual nonprofit mission of education and preservation.  They are seeking to have input on any development/construction activity that occurs within this “Protection Area”. 

The map below, prepared by Foundation staff and included in the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, illustrates the vast area Monticello wishes to exercise their ‘voluntary’ design control.


The current iteration of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan includes a significantly smaller Monticello view shed map.  The map below includes both the current (in blue) and proposed (in gray)  view shed maps:

current and proposed

This is a huge increase in area and includes parcels that, due to topography can not be seen from Monticello (example: portions of Avon Street Extended).

Foundation staff provided both the verbiage and the map to be included in the just released Albemarle Comprehensive Plan.   The word voluntary does not appear anywhere in the documents provided.

From the draft Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (as drafted by the Foundation):

The Monticello Protection Area is defined by the GIS map on file with Albemarle County which depicts all property visible from the Monticello mountaintop.  The intent of the Guidelines for Development within the Monticello Protection Area (MPA) is to protect the historic character of Monticello and the rural character of entrance corridors, particularly as it relates to the visitor experience. The implementation of these guidelines is intended to maintain the historic and rural character of the area for both visitors and residents to improve the economic vitality of this community resource.

Members of the Foundation staff have indicated property owners will not have to abide by their ‘voluntary’ restrictions.  They simply want to make the landowners aware that the view from their very important community asset might be negatively impacted by something the landowner could lawfully do with their property.  The Foundation also wants to suggests ways property owners could change their plans to better suit the desires of the Foundation.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes if included in the Comprehensive Plan, the regulatory reality (different from the true legal standing) is that the Foundation would have effective design control power over all development in the “Monticello Protection Area”. 

The guidelines the Foundation has proposed are exceedingly specific and overreaching.  The Foundation wants to weigh in on the color, arrangement, lighting and even placement of windows on properties they do not own.  They are mandating a seat at the table at every rezoning Albemarle considers in their view shed.  In addition, while they want to have the ability to enjoy the view of properties they don’t own, they specifically do not want windows facing their property.  Lest you think we have overstated these voluntary restrictions, here is exactly as they appear in the Draft Comprehensive plan:

Bright pastels and whites on exterior faces of buildings and roofs can be distracting when viewing the natural landscape from Monticello. Muted colors for roofs and walls that blend with the natural landscape (ie. mid-spectrum browns and greys, sandy tones) can be substituted for bright pastels and whites on building faces and roofs.

To minimize impact, avoid large roof expanses, especially those of one color—mottled coloring that combines light and dark elements for roofs is preferred.

Surfaces that are prone to glare and reflection increase visibility and should be avoided whenever possible.

For example, expansive windows facing Monticello should be avoided.

Flood lights, up- lights and exposed bulbs are more apparent in the night sky than shielded fixtures. Lighting for buildings and parking areas can use shielded fixtures at lower heights to reduce impacts. Whenever possible lighting should not be placed higher than the tree line.

Lighting on the tops of cellular towers should be avoided when possible.

Lighting for buildings and parking areas should use fixtures that reduce/eliminate glare.

Employ techniques that break up massing.

Development that breaks the mature tree line is more apparent than development that is lower than the mature tree line. Special consideration should be given to development which is higher than the mature tree line to camouflage impacts.

Parking can always be broken up with interspersed plantings of trees and other landscaping.

When there is no conflict with Entrance Corridor or Neighborhood Model guidelines, the preferred location for parking is on the far side of buildings as viewed from Monticello.

Landscaping to screen buildings and parking should employ trees which will generate a mature canopy of trees.

Monticello welcomes the opportunity to assist homeowners and developers who are contemplating construction in the MPA. Please contact Monticello with any questions about these guidelines.

Projects that require discretionary land use permits should consider offering a proffer that addresses protection of the views from Monticello. Albemarle County could consider conditions that protect the views from Monticello when special use permits are issued.

Considering the revised map and the voluntary restrictions listed above, development (that the Comprehensive Plan seeks to encourage) just got a great deal more difficult in the Monticello visible development areas of Albemarle County.  In addition, The Free Enterprise Forum questions the legal standing for the existing Monticello view shed protection in the current Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan.   

In 2004, we cheered when the Foundation purchased a neighboring 334 acre parcel now known as Montalto.  This purchase is the proper way to control view shed – you want it — buy it.

When President Thomas Jefferson looked west to the expansion of the United States, he initiated the Louisiana Purchase.  I firmly believe Jefferson would advocate for the protection of property rights over the view shed protections currently proposed.

Despite the fact that they wrote it, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation should now ask the Albemarle County Planning Commission to remove the “Monticello Protection Area” map and the associated  ‘voluntary’ land grab language from the Comprehensive Plan before prior to sending it on to the Board of Supervisors.

As Jefferson wrote “Nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of.” –[Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 1786. ME 5:440]. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Image Credits:Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc.

Sarcasm and Sharp Elbows Push Albemarle Backward

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County’s efforts to be more business friendly just took a huge step backwards.  Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it and when it is said.  If future public hearings go the same way as Tuesday night’s hearing, it will put a chill on economic vitality.

The July 31st Albemarle County Planning Commission  meeting included a public hearing regarding the 5th Street Station Shopping Center in Southern Albemarle.

It is important to note that the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other specific application. 

We do however have a policy issue to the manner in which applications, and applicants, are treated.

For those who have not attended an Albemarle Public Hearing the order of business is as follows:

1. Introduction of the Application by staff reading a staff report which has previously been provided to the applicant

2. Questions from the Board/Commission of staff regarding the presentation

3. Open Public Hearing with Applicant introduction and reply to issues raised in the staff report (10 minutes)

4. Public Comment (3 minutes each)

5. Applicant rebuttal to public comments (5 minutes)

6. Close Public Hearing

7. Discussion by Board/Commission

8. Motion

9. Vote

Additional questions of staff regularly occur during the discussion phase of the hearing. At such time the chair asks the appropriate staff member to come to speak to the specific issue raised.  Rarely, is the applicant offered the same opportunity to address the question.

In this case, while the majority of the staff provided solid context to specific questions posed by the Commission with one stark exception.  Albemarle County Engineer Glenn Brooks was argumentative and combative regarding this specific application.

As the Planning Commission worked through their discussion, Brooks continued to get up from the audience, move to the podium and insert himself (uninvited)  into their deliberations. Such behavior would never be accepted by an applicant.  The Free Enterprise Forum is disappointed that Chairman Cal Morris did not stop this behavior during the meeting.  In this case, Morris failed in his responsibility to control the meeting by failing to control the staff.

In addition, while Morris did provide this applicant a limited number of opportunities to respond;  Brooks dominated the conversation, by not waiting to be invited.

Beyond the inappropriate participation in discussion, the tenor of Brooks’ comments were sarcastic and antagonistic.

When the applicant’s presentation was still on the display screen during the Planning Commission discussion, Brooks said:

“You should take down that pretty picture, they haven’t proffered it”.

Regarding a Planning Commissioner’s comment regarding recommending a critical slopes approval (against his advice) Brooks stated,

“Well if you want to give them an empty slate”.

British Poet Samuel Butler famously said “Neither irony or sarcasm is argument”.  The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes significant issues exist between Albemarle County and this applicant.  Notwithstanding any of the important issues on the table, we are troubled by the process as well as Brooks’ actions and comments.

In the end, the Planning Commission unanimously moved the application forward to the Board of Supervisors. But this application is not the issue.

In our nine years of covering the Albemarle County Planning Commission, we can’t ever remember a county employee ever behaving in this manner. 

Brooks’ presentation and demeanor created an “us vs. them” adversarial relationship with the applicant.  After establishing such a hostile environment one can imagine some reluctance on the part of applicants to upset the same person [the County Engineer] who will be responsible for signing off on their engineering and site plans. 

While we have no reason to question the technical expertise or qualifications of the County Engineer but we do believe that his Planning Commission performance brings his public policy skills into question. 

We were encouraged to see both Scottsville Supervisor Christopher Dumler and Community Development Director Mark Graham in attendance at the meeting.  This will enable them to answer our questions below with a firsthand understanding of the issue.

  • Is this the manner all applications in Albemarle will now proceed?
  • Does staff have an open mike policy during Planning Commission discussion?
  • How can applicants prepare for challenges that have not been enumerated in the staff report?
  • How will Albemarle County respond to this process challenge? 
  • Will they at all? 
  • Will such action or inaction result in a better community? 

Only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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 Credit:

The Beginning of the End of “Smart Growth”?


By. Neil Williamson, President

California planner, and blogger Bill Fulton suggested one of his take aways from last week’s American Planning Association (APA) annual meeting was the concept that Smart Growth at least as a planning term is on its way out:

“We are truly at the cusp of the next big thing,” said presenter Tim Chapin, a planning professor at Florida State. “We are living in a time when planners and economic development are much more together than they have been in, gosh, decades.” [emphasis added-nw]

20071018-garden_city_detailHold the presses – at a meeting of 5,000 planners, someone admitted that smart growth does not adequately address economic development!  AND they admit that planners and economic developers have been at odds for decades!!!

But wait, Fulton also heard from the Federal government at this conference

Shelley Poticha, head of the Office of Sustainable Communities at the Department of Housing & Urban Development, agreed that economic development is a vital part of the emerging new trend. “We need to turn this around to a place-based ED strategy that is very multi-layered,” Poticha said. “Many communities we are working with had economies based on one or two strong sectors and one or both crashed. And so they don’t have much to stand on.” At the same time, she said, place-based strategies can strengthen downtowns and neighborhoods in a way that reinforces local businesses and allows wealth to stay and circulate in a community rather than leaving town.[emphasis added-nw]

Now we are seeing the new lexicon come in “Place Based ED Strategy that is multi-layered”.  Haven’t we seen this move before?

Dr. Chapin, one of the lead presenters at the APA Conference identified three historic eras in growth management:

  • The “growth control” era (1950-75) where growth was viewed as a problem – a cancer to be restricted and boxed in.
  • The “growth management” era (1975-99) where growth was considered a fiscal problem – permissible so long as it paid for itself.
  • The “smart growth” era (1999- ) where growth has been viewed as “an opportunity for achieving desirable development patterns,” Chapin said.

For all this discussion, I do not see a significant difference in the regulatory environments each of these philosophical positions suggest.  In each and every case, growth (and economic development) are being steered into a limited area with little or no concern for the chilling aspects of such regulations on business formation, location and relocation.

Tim_Chapin_mediumBut now that Dr. Chapin sees Economic Development and Planning working in concert surely it will be different; perhaps rather than looking at prescriptive zoning categories that restrict flexibility and limit opportunity, the planners could consider objective performance based standards that protect the citizens and the environment by dealing directly with the impacts of the building uses.

No, that’s not really what the planners had in mind.  According to Fulton’s report, a true philosophical review of planning was not what Dr. Chapin had in mind at all:

…. Chapin added, it may be time for a rebranding. “There’s some sense out there that this concept of SG is a bit stale – that it has lost its resonance with the public and political leaders.” He suggested that the next era of growth management will include a focus on jobs, regionalism, and other factors. He called this new era – admitting that he doesn’t particularly like this term – the era of “sustainable growth”.

Not only does the Free Enterprise Forum not like the moniker “Sustainable Growth” we do not believe the planning community is ready for the shift needed to rip off the regulatory tourniquet that is clearly restricting economic development in many communities across the nation.

The APA needs MUCH more than a rebranding, they need to refocus their energy on their mission statements that includes the creation of vibrant communities.

OpportunityKnocksRather than sustainable growth, perhaps a better philosophical banner would be ‘Rising Tide – Empowering Opportunity’.  Under this mantra, applications and plans would be considered under a much more flexible criteria that permits appropriate mitigation but also gives significant credits for economic impact of a proposal.

Alternatively, perhaps by simply reducing or eliminating the regulatory burdens that have been constructed to prevent economic expansion would have an even better impact.

In 2009, Emily Washington of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University wrote a great post regarding smart growth’s potential for cities:

Again, it is easy to explain hypothetical, ideal zoning practices, and to imagine flawless outcomes, but the idea such policy would come out precisely as theorists imagine is reflective of nirvana fallacy. When zoning came into practice in the early 20th century, it was touted as a way to protect citizens from living near the dangers of industrial land uses. However, zoning has an ugly history of being abused by policy makers and community activists to oppress groups of residents based on income or race.

In short, policy makers can easily verbalize how their imagined programs could be an improvement upon development realities, but unfortunately history demonstrates that government action often takes urbanities further away from their imagined ideal.  There is no reason to believe that policies in vogue today will have greater success, even if they are championed as “smart growth.” [Emphasis added-nw]

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds many of the goals of the Smart Growth movement the tactics being used to achieve these goals often undermine their original intent. 

In our world view, communities should have the ability to organically develop (and redevelop) into a tapestry of diverse homes and businesses that to support citizens lives and their livelihoods.  It is not the proper role of government to dictate the specific shape, speed or direction of these neighborhoods.

In their promotional materials, the APA highlights that planning is about choices.   Too often the choices the planners make (and localities approve), restrict (or eliminate) the viable options available to landowners.

If the end of Smart Growth is near, it will not be because planners have grown tired of the name it will be because as communities we can’t afford for it to continue.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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 Credit: Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Florida State University, RTOHQ.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow