FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Today’s most radical ideas, may be commonsensical tomorrow.
RADICAL IDEA 1 – What if our zoning agreed with the community vetted Comprehensive Plan?
RADICAL IDEA 2 – What if local businesses looking to expand could do so without a year+ rezoning process?
RADICAL IDEA 3 – What if such an increasing commercial development increased the community’s job opportunities and tax base?
Each of these three “RADICAL” ideas could be made possible, perhaps even probable after July 1, 2016.
Please let me explain.
As many Forum Watch readers know, several new laws go into effect on July 1st. Perhaps the most significant to the work of the Free Enterprise Forum is proffer reform. The hard fought reforms require “voluntary” proffers to have a specific, direct and material benefit to the residents who indirectly pay them.
Localities across the Commonwealth are wrestling with how to best meet the fairness demanded by the new code. Albemarle County has repealed its cash proffer policy and has indicated it will no longer seek to mandate 15% of all new housing units be “affordable”.
While we opposed all cash proffers and affordable housing proffers since their inception, we choose today not to just celebrate this important victory but to also contemplate how the removal of this new home buyer punishment might actually free the community vetted comprehensive plan and increase economic vitality.
As we have quietly discussed these ideas, there are some in local governments that are starting to recognize how removing the yoke of proffers makes PROACTIVE REZONING much more palatable.
Proactive rezoning is when a locality (with owner consent) takes the initiative and rezones land to match their comprehensive plan designation. In practice, it makes it easier to develop to the uses and densities expressed in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.
Proactive rezoning requires political will and in smaller cases (ie: Downtown Crozet District) often comes with flexible form based zoning regulations that dictate the shape of future development while preserving owners ability to utilize the code flexibly. The code is very clear:
The purpose of the Downtown Crozet District (hereinafter referred to as the “DCD”) is to establish a district in which traditional downtown development, as described for the CT6 Urban Core and CT5 Urban Center transects in the Crozet master plan, will occur.
To these ends, the DCD provides for flexibility and variety of development for retail, service, and civic uses with light industrial and residential uses as secondary uses. The regulations for the DCD are intended to promote a development form and character that is different from typical suburban development allowed by conventional zoning, and are also intended to: (i) promote the economic and social vitality and diversity of downtown Crozet; (ii) implement the Crozet master plan for the downtown area of Crozet so that it may serve as the commercial hub of Crozet and its environs; (iii) provide a greater mix of uses in downtown Crozet, including increased employment; (iv) facilitate infill and redevelopment; (v) increase the utility of the land; (vi) retain the uniquely diverse character of Crozet; and (vii) promote a pedestrian-friendly environment.
These regulations are intended to provide maximum flexibility in establishing uses and structures in order to implement the relevant policies of the Crozet master plan. [emphasis added-nw]
Prior to July 1, opponents of proactive rezoning used the incorrect rationale that landowners, through the extortion like proffer process, would fund the infrastructure needs of the entire community in order to get the rezoning they needed – the reality is that this has never been the case.
If proffers are taken off the table and a landowner still must meet all local, state and federal regulations prior to site plan approval, why then shouldn’t our zoning match our Comprehensive Plan?
Could it be that retaining the current subjective legislative review allows those opposed to specific projects (regardless of their accordance with the Comprehensive Plan) an opportunity to scuttle the community vision for the future?
Do citizens actively fight the implementation of the community approved Comprehensive Plan? — You bet.
According to the Crozet Citizen Advisory Council (CCAC) minutes (February 2017) regarding a project that met the targeted population density in the Master Plan and is in the designated development area:
Leslie said that she thought the development is not at the right place. There would be too much traffic and at some point the CCAC needs to recommend that traffic and other infrastructure issues be dealt with before there is more growth. Phil said that he opposes the project on the basis of density, and John Savage said that it is inconsistent with other uses along Route 250 there. [emphasis added-nw]
Wait a minute – I thought this was the group charged with implementing the Master Plan for increase density not opposing it?
While we take no position on this specific rezoning, this type of obstructionism prevents the vision of the comprehensive plan from becoming a reality.
Proactively rezoning land for the density and uses determined in the comprehensive plan will significantly reduce the time it takes for a project to be approved without sacrificing existing protection for the community.
The time has come to make the zoning code match the aspirational ideals of the Comprehensive Plan. Proactive Rezoning would significantly reduce the barriers to develop in the development areas and would unleash the economic power of the Community’s Vision.
Will any locality seize this powerful economic opportunity?
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.