Tag Archives: Regional Planning

Heavy Handed Albemarle Comp Plan is Not Ready For Prime Time

By. Neil Williamson, President

The 2013 Comprehensive Update to Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan is headed to public hearing on Tuesday (4/2) night.  The plan is available online, but the Free Enterprise Forum purchased a hard copy from the Planning Department for the princely sum of $168.

The new plan weighs in at about half the weight of the previous plan and we applaud the use of appendices rather than embedding policies and master plans into the text of the comp plan. 

We are encouraged by the brief (shortest in the Comp Plan) but meaningful chapter on Economic Development as well as the recognition of the importance of agriculture and forestry to the rural areas. We are encouraged that the document asks the question ‘How do Cash Proffers hinder density’.

But with that being said, we find the comprehensive plan to be lacking a consistent, unified voice.  For all the brevity of the Economic Development chapter, there are long winded almost evangelical undercurrents written into the Natural (and Historic) Resources chapters that have little or no concern for the cost of implementation nor property owner rights and do not belong in this planning document. 

  …the County should develop the action plan to focus on conserving ecological integrity at the scale of the landscape.  The landscape approach focuses on a wide scale (square miles rather than square feet) an the management of major land features (e.g., forest blocks, watersheds, urbanized areas) to both conserve ecological diversity and support conservation measures (such as conservation easements) or for restoration efforts.  This plan should also establish conservation approaches for aquatic conservation through land management techniques designed for a specific watershed. (5.1.14)

The concept of a historical protection ordinance has been a flaw in Albemarle County’s comprehensive plan for years.  In this iteration, the concept has been vastly expanded to use GIS technology to create a historic overlay layer and empower (likely without legislative authority) the Architectural Review Board to evaluate development proposals and by right building in and adjacent to the Historic Overlay.

Strategy 2b.3: Expand the Authority of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to include the review required under the recommended historical overlay district ordinance.  Revise the make-up of the ARB to include members with expertise in historic preservation and revise the name of the board accordingly.

Strategy 2b.4: Establish an advisory review by the ARB of all rezonings, special use permits, site plans, and subdivision plats for proposals located within or abutting a locally designated historic district to ensure that historic preservation considerations are available as part of the decision making process. (5.2.10)

The Free Enterprise Forum has already written extensively about the Monticello Land Grab that is currently drafted into the comp plan has attempted to put into the Comprehensive Plan.  To be clear there is no reason for Monticello’s viewshed to be enumerated in the Comprehensive Plan.  We encourage Monticello to work directly with their neighbors to discuss how each of them exercise their property rights and leave government out of the equation.  

Upon further study, it became clear that Monticello is not the only entity seeking to regulate aesthetics.  Under the Cultural and Scenic resources section the comprehensive plan calls for expanded (again without legislative authority) power for Albemarle County:

The County’s scenic resources are highly valued and contribute both to the quality of life and the tourism economy.  Existing regulations only go so far in protecting the resources.  Greater ability to regulate aesthetics is desired to help preserve these qualities. (5.2.14)

The Transportation chapter section of the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to reflect reality.  Without population increases exponentially above the current projection, automobiles will continue to be the dominant form of transportation and home buyers will continue to choose homes that best fit their lifestyle choices rather than being limited by transportation availability.  Highlighting an anti car/anti personal mobility bias the plan states:

Dispersed development patterns have helped promote a transportation network that is mostly focused on the automobile.  In the past, a more abundant supply of cheap land and fuel encouraged development patterns that have become hard to sustain.  Today, and n the future, the local transportation system is faced with the challenge of finding adequate revenue, an aging transportation infrastructure (and an aging population), higher energy prices, and accommodating future population and employment growth….

Since our founding, the Free Enterprise Forum has had issues with the mandated neighborhood model form of development and the manner in which the County has now codified THE MODEL rather than a model.  Considering the importance of this document and our ten years of experience with THE model shouldn’t more time be taken to see how these “principles” have turned out in real projects both good and bad?  In addition, based on all of the evidence light rail will not work in Albemarle County in the next 50 years; why then is it still on page 5.5.19 of the comprehensive plan. 

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the significant effort staff and the Planning Commission have put into the document thus far.  We believe there are positives in this iteration but we also believe it could still be better.

We hope that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors take their time with the document that is supposed to guide our community for the next twenty years.

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



Garbage In, Garbage Out at the TJPDC


By Neil Williamson, President

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s (TJPDC) 1-community  Livability Project is at it again.

In last month’s Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting.  Livability Project Manager Planner Summer Frederick  presented a new tool that allows certain areas, states and large metropolitan areas to asses the cost of living for their geographic areas using both housing and transportation costs.  The mapping device focuses in on areas that utilize more than 45% of their income on housing and transportation. 

First and foremost, the Free Enterprise Forum questions the need for the MPO [ federally mandated to advise on transportation funding]  to be engaged in this discussion as it represents much of the mission creep we have written about recentlyIf we get past that philosophical issue, we not only question the validity of the data and but also the objectivity of the source.

The mapping device was created by the official sounding Center for Neighborhood Technologies (CNT).  A quick review of the CNT website reveals the true nature of their work is advocacy:

Building coalitions to advocate for public policies that can help address urban sustainability issues.

But clearly the biggest problem with this new tool is that IT’S WRONG!

As 30 year transportation veteran Alan Pisarski documented in his op-ed piece in Sunday’s (3/25) Washington Examiner:

The figures presented by CNT seem distant from reality. More importantly, they are inconsistent with data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one of the main sources of the Consumer Price Index. The government’s numbers suggest that the basic housing and transportation costs of suburban and rural life remain slightly more affordable than cities, and far more affordable if homeownership rates are factored in.

The BLS survey shows that CNT is just wrong about the sums of transportation and housing costs. The CNT numbers suggest that transportation spending runs about 26 percent of average household expenditures instead of the 16 percent in the BLS reporting for 2010. Their average for the Washington area is only reached by the highest income quintile of Americans, according to BLS. [Emphasis added-nw]

In the February MPO meeting, but not reflected in the draft minutes, Frederick said the purpose of our participation is simply participation and “she would not question the data”. 

The February draft minutes do reflect questions one MPO member raised about the data:

Mr. Lafferty stated that he was surprised that Scottsville was showing up under the 45% threshold. Ms.Fredrick stated that the area could be close to the 45%, or residents of Scottsville proper are not commuting as much as people who live on the route 20 corridor.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that questionable data is being accepted as fact and the maps developed from such data will then form the rationale for the development of the “livability” project that will inform both the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle Countys Comprehensive Plans.

The draft February minutes reflect this direction when they report:

[MPO Chair Kristin] Szakos stated that she thought the tool was highly informative, because it showed that living further from the urban core might not be as cost-effective as people think.

The logic of Szakos’ comment is troubling (and could be misquoted in the minutes) but would the tool be less informative if the results were different?

The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the MPO not only to  dig deeper into the data and data sources being used for creating our community’s livability project but to question the idea of using this erroneous tool at all.

Perhaps for the livability project the old saying of garbage in, garbage out should be changed to compost in, compost out.

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

MPO Policy Board Directs Staff to Release Requested Files to VDOT

By. Neil Williamson, President

A last minute item was added to the Wednesday’s (11/16) agenda of  Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting that exposed a growing rift between Mr. Stephen Williams, the Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).


VDOT District Administrator Jim Utterback

Prior to the meeting, the members of the MPO received an electronic copy of a November 14th letter addressed to Mr. Williams from Jim Utterback, Culpeper District Administrator (and a voting member of the MPO).  The letter said in part:

“VDOT has requested electronic copies of all activities covered under the 1st Quarter Progress Report, Task 2E, Data and Model Development, for review on numerous occasions. This request includes …. To date this information has not been provided to VDOT for review.

You have five (5) business days from the date of this letter to submit the requested information to VDOT for review, or risk jeopardizing reimbursement.” (emphasis added- nw)

The reimbursement language relates to invoices the MPO submits to VDOT for work conducted under the Charlottesville Albemarle MPO Fiscal Year 2012 Work Plan.  There was disagreement between Williams and Utterback whether VDOT had the authority to withhold such payment.

The primary disagreement surrounded the release of electronic traffic modeling files developed over the last 10 months by the TJPDC.  VDOT, per an existing agreement, is responsible for validating the travel demand model package. Williams had drafted a letter of agreement for VDOT to sign requiring VDOT to provide TJPDC access to all input and output files anytime the model was run for public use.

Mr. Utterback indicated this was the first time he was aware of an MPO ever refusing to share traffic modeling data with the State.  He indicated the agreement Mr. Williams had drafted would require state approval and he did not have the authority to sign it.  As the agreement would set precedent, he anticipated its approval would take time.  Meanwhile the model that has not been validated by VDOT would be used by TJPDC to make transportation planning decisions.

Steve Williams TJPDC Photo Credit Greene County Record

TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams

Mr. Williams (photo left) said that the MPO Policy Board should have learned this summer (during the Western Bypass discussions) that you can’t trust VDOT unless you have leverage.

The meeting was quite tense with Mr. Williams at one point chiding Mr. Utterback asking, “How many states have you worked in Jim?”

As one MPO Board member was suggesting providing the conditions for use of the files.  Mr Williams suggested he was uncomfortable with that solution as he did not think VDOT honor such conditions.

Another idea, to copyright the models, was unworkable because public funds had been used to create these “public” but not released models.  Publicly created models ca not be copyrighted.

In the end, by a 4-1 vote (Szakos opposed), the MPO Policy Board directed Mr. Williams to release the files to VDOT along with a letter outlining their use.

Considering the importance of VDOT to the mission, and funding of operations of the MPO, the Free Enterprise Forum is curious how this latest debate will impact the relationship between these organizations.


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 Credits: Virginia Department of Transportation, Greene County Record

TJPDC Institutional Arrogance Exposed

By. Neil Williamson, President

When a public employee charged with building regional cooperation tells a visiting delegation that our local elected officials are acting like  “Space Aliens” and working with the community is like “100 warring tribes”, we have a problem.  

Please let me explain.

On the morning of  November 8th (Election Day), Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) Executive Director Stephen Williams gave a presentation to the ”Greater Mankato Inter City Leadership” at the Boar’s Head Inn.  He indicated he could be frank in his remarks because the room was filled with people “he would never see again” and he did not see any elected officials in the room. 

As I was scheduled to participate in a Public Policy breakout session following Williams remarks, I arrived early.  Williams had started his presentation and as I did not see any open seats in the ballroom, I sat outside and listened to Williams speech from the adjoining room.  I only mention this to be clear Williams did not know I was in the audience. 

What I heard was exceedingly troubling and exposed the institutional arrogance of the TJPDC.

Williams was asked to address the Mankato delegation to speak about TJPDC’s Many Communities One Plan project.  The TJPDC received a $999,000 federal grant for this planning exercise

After insulting elected officials for acting like “space aliens”, Williams said that there is “an unfortunate trend” where the region is like “100 warring tribes not concerned about the good of the community at all”.

Williams then provided his seven strategies for advancing a sustainability agenda.  His number one  strategy was to “tune out the noise”.  How does he define “noise”?

Newspapers, Elected Officials, Bloggers, Special Interest Groups

To be so dismissive of the citizens who pay for the work of the TJPDC is outlandish.  To describe “special interest groups” on the left and on the right as warring factions only seeks to create an us versus  them mentality.

But the very idea that the TJPDC should ignore these interested parties and focus internally speaks to the true institutional arrogance of the TJPDC –  We’re the planners we know best.

Consider the above remarks when contrasted with the TJPDC Mission statement:

“The mission of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is to serve our local governments by providing regional vision, collaborative leadership and professional service to develop effective solutions.”

In their Public Involvement Policy the TJPDC says:

We recognize that public involvement is an essential component of the planning and programming process and believe that input from the public and partners results in better plans and successful implementation.

Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.  Either Williams misspoke or the TJPDC Executive Director is not following his very own Public Involvement Program.

As one of the “Special Interest Groups” Williams suggests “tuning out”, the Free Enterprise Forum believes our well researched reports on Community Land Trusts, Transportation, Government Spending, and others have helped to inform the debate.  We would argue that data provided by other organizations is equally helpful to the discussion.

We are curious if the TJPDC Board of Directors, that is made up of a majority of elected officials, believes we are a community of “100 warring tribes” or share Williams’ definition of “noise”.

We certainly 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

Making Products or Making Beds


By. Neil Williamson, President

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released its 2011 jobs report. The report, a virtual gold mine of data, covered from 2000-2010 and included job category growth and decline.  The numbers showed that regionally jobs in manufacturing dropped over 45% and information dropped over 24% while leisure and hospitality jobs increased over 26%.

The report goes further to indicate that in 2000 Leisure & Hospitality made up 13.7% of the region’s private sector jobs (9,986).  In 2010, that number had grown to 12,632 jobs (16.3%).

Sometime ago, local businessman Gary Henry raised a concernGary Henry regarding the area’s increased reliance on tourism and retirees.  As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported in their 2008 article:

Henry, a Board member of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, is continuing his efforts to call attention to a fork in the road that he sees approaching for the area’s future; one branch leading to an economically and culturally diverse city with a healthy middle class (Austin), the other leading to a ritzy retirement and tourism community where only the wealthy can afford to live (Aspen).

According to Henry, if the region’s planners do not take action, greater Charlottesville will slowly drift towards the Aspen model, attracting more and more wealthy retirees until those providing services in Charlottesville will not be able to afford to live there. He advocates the pursuit of the Austin model, and his suggested method is the creation of a strong technology presence that would attract young, middle class workers to counterbalance the area’s aging population.

Here we are three years later faced with empirical data that confirms Henry’s prediction of “slowly drifting toward the Aspen model”.  If the current drifting pattern holds, by 2020 one in five jobs in the region could be associated with the leisure and hospitality sector.

But are we “drifting” or does our local government funding impact this direction?

The Free Enterprise Forum asks the question how should the money (and time) we spend attracting tourists to visit the region with Albemarle/Charlottesville Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) compare to the money we spend to attract and retain high quality businesses through the Economic Development offices and the  Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED)?  How does such funding compare to other localities?

Earlier this month, Greene County Field Officer Pauline Hovey wrote about the Occupancy Tax and how this new tourism tax  is being spent in Greene County.

The Occupancy Tax in Charlottesville and Albemarle helps provides a steady, consistent stream of funding to the CVB.  It also ties the CVB to their own results, if they are successful in bringing visitors to hotels, their budget increases.  There is no clear funding mechanism for economic development funding.

In the short term, it is clear tourists who come spend their money and then leave have an immediate impact without the cost of children to educate and significant infrastructure demands but does it improve the fabric of the community?

While I appreciate Mr. Henry’s choice between Austin and Aspen, I believe Santa Barbara, California is also a fair comparison to Charlottesville.  My father once famously said, “It’s a town for newlyweds and nearly deads”.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2003:

The situation is demonstrated in a myriad of ways; Half of the city’s teachers, firemen and police forced to commute long distances.  An ever aging population.  Businesses leaving and potential arrivals looking elsewhere.  An uncertain future for minorities and the poor.

About 30,000 workers now commute to the city of 92,000, some from the north county cities of Santa Maria and Lompoc, others from such Ventura County cities as Ventura and Oxnard, where housing prices are lower.

30,000 workers (many in the Leisure & Hospitality sector) commute over an hour each way to get to work in a town of 92,000.  Businesses fleeing.

Is this where we are headed?  Is this where we want to go?

Based on the success of the Transient tax model, should local governments look at a dedicated stream of funding for economic development activities that is driven by commercial tax revenue?

Are there missing infrastructure elements that are keeping certain industries out of our region?  Is it the role of government to provide these elements?  Should we accept the “drifting” as market forces at work or implement strategies to change direction?

In 2040, will the average worker in Charlottesville be writing computer code or writing up a lunch order?

Will we be making stuff or making beds?

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: Charlottesville Tomorrow, Santa Maria Times, Hilton Garden Inn

Programming the “Livability” GPS

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon (9/20), the Charlottesville City Planning Commission and the Albemarle County Planning Commission will hold a joint meeting as a part of their “Many Plans, One Community” Comprehensive Plan update.  The agenda for this meeting includes a discussion of congruency of Environmental goals and the start of a discussion on the compatibility of land use adjacent t the City/County border.

On the surface such a planning exercise seems benign, perhaps even appropriate but it’s much more than a simple planning exercise.  This may be the first step in changing the priorities in each localities comprehensive plan.

Without being overly dramatic, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Many Plans, One Community” has predetermined the result of their three year process as if they were programming the destination on their GPS.

Please let me explain.

As a review, Federally funded ($999,000) “Many Plans One Community” planning exercise is being conducted to provide:

updates  to Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s comprehensive plans, the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan, and the creation of a Livability Implementation Plan for our area.

Each localities state mandated Comprehensive Plan must be updated every five years.  In their documentation, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) indicated that :

As a part of the Comprehensive Plan update process, the two localities will review current policies in existing plans.

Perhaps due to the funding source , the review of environmental goals is first up on the agenda for discussion with a number of meetings designed around solely that purpose.

Wait a minute, isn’t a comprehensive plan supposed to be, well, comprehensive?   Shouldn’t the planners (and the Planning Commissioners) seek to place the environmental goal in context to other goals (density, affordable housing, economic development)?

Taking a step back, it appears the staff has designed a “silo” based philosophy as it relates to the elements of the comprehensive plan.  silos-225x300Writing in a BusinessWeek post “Smashing Silos”, Evan Golden defined the silo mentality this way:

The term “silo” is a metaphor suggesting a similarity between grain silos that segregate one type of grain from another and the segregated parts of an organization. In an organization suffering from silo syndrome, each department or function interacts primarily within that “silo” rather than with other groups across the organization. Marketing may develop its own culture and have difficulty interacting with other functions such as sales or engineering. This manifestation of silo syndrome breeds insular thinking, redundancy, and suboptimal decision-making.

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that by leading with environmental goals the other priorities in the respective Comprehensive Plan may fall subservient.   While this may be completely appropriate and accurately reflect what the elected officials desire, the public may never know; because it is not being discussed comprehensively.

Clearly the “livability plan” GPS has been programmed with a single focus and destination in mind.

And very few citizens seem to be paying attention and fewer still are asking the hard questions:

What are the most important goals?

Are our goals in conflict?

Where is this taking us?  Do we want to go?  Why?

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

US 29 Western Bypass Chutzpah

By. Neil Williamson, President

Only in Charlottesville will you find local officials with the chutzpah to make additional funding “requests” when presented with statewide funding for a National Highway.us 29 logo

The Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is poised to send a letter to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) requesting funding for a laundry list of local projects that will help the MPO “understand the context” in which they are voting for or against the US 29 Western Bypass.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported:

After the public hearing, the MPO agreed to send a letter to the CTB explaining the conditions under which it will support a bypass. . . .

“We don’t know how much money there is or where it will be coming from,” [Supervisor Duane] Snow said. “This is just a letter to say what we want and what we expect.”

The CTB is scheduled to meet in Richmond on Wednesday of this week and as of this writing (Monday morning) the MPO letter has not yet been finalized.  The discussion at the MPO meeting on Thursday included the following “requests”:

  1. Full funding for the US 29 Western Bypass
  2. A completed design of the US 29 Western Bypass northern terminus, which will include public participation of Albemarle County citizens, particularly Forest Lakes and Hollymead citizens
  3. Full funding for the widening of US 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center
  4. Full funding for conceptual design of Berkmar Drive Extended
  5. Full funding for design and construction of a shared use (Bypass/Berkmar Extended) bridge over the Rivanna River
  6. Full funding of the US 29/250 Bypass additional entrance rams and interchange improvements (commonly refereed to as the “Best Buy ramp” projects
  7. Full funding of Hillsdale Drive Extended (being designed by the City of Charlottesville)
  8. Funding for the Belmont Bridge Replacement in the City moved forward from fiscal year 2016 to Fiscal Year 2014
  9. Funding for extension of public transit service to Hollymead Town Center
  10. A CTB resolution indicating that Charlottesville and Albemarle transportation projects currently in the MPO Transportation Improvement Program will have no funding reductions as a result of the US 29 Western Bypass.

There was also significant discussion of requesting funding for the Northtown Trail  the first continuous inter-jurisdictional biking facility in the Charlottesville/Albemarle urbanized area. The consensus at the meeting seemed to be not to request this additional funding.

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned this list of “requests” is being designed as a pretext to deny approval of the Western Bypass by the MPO.   Of the ten items on the list, numbers 7, 8 and 9 seem only tangentially related to the US 29 Western Bypass and might be perceived by some as political horse trading.

The MPO is now in a most interesting dance with the CTB.  The CTB will receive a letter of “requests” some time after Noon on Monday and the MPO expects them to have decisions in their Wednesday meeting.  The CTB may  not be able to address all the issues raised in the letter as a part of their July meeting.  They may chose to take action on some of the items or withhold action until all can be addressed.

If they defer, this would allow the MPO to hold its second public hearing on July 27th but postpone their action until such a time that the CTB answers all their “requests”.

In the Charlottesville Tomorrow article Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC)  Executive Director Stephen Williams seemed to anticipate this eventuality when:

Williams said there is a chance the CTB will not be able to reach agreement at its meeting next week as to how  to reallocate money from other projects. That would mean the MPO could not vote to amend the TIP at the July 27 public hearing.

With the CTB not scheduled to meet in August, the next opportunity for action is their September 21st meeting.  If such a scenario plays out, it would more than likely push any MPO action into October.

While generally appreciative of the sloth’s pace of most government action, Governor McDonnell’s transportation funding priorities do have a sense of urgency. The Free Enterprise Forum hopes that the lengthy, thoughtful MPO “Wish List” doesn’t result in these much needed statewide transportation dollars going to into another, perhaps more receptive community.

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

Council Votes No on US 29 Bypass

By Amelie Baily, 2011 Field Officer Intern

Charlottesville City Council met on Monday night (6/20) to discuss affordable housing, as well as to respond to the recent decision by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to reconsider construction of a US 29 Western Bypass.

Matters by the Public featured several individuals voicing frustration with the process by which the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors reached their decision to request that the Charlottesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) reconsider building the Western Bypass. These citizens described the process as lacking transparency. The decision to reconsider was made late at night, and was not included as a regular agenda item.

Several councilors echoed frustrations with the process as well as the decision itself, as they discussed whether to advise City MPO representatives (Councilors Huja and Szakos) to approve or vote against the project.

The Bypass has been estimated to cost between $250 and $300 million, and some believe to result in approximately 1 minute of travel time saved for commuters (though no one could site a specific study that claimed this).

Council members generally agreed with one another that the project was an inefficient use of limited transportation funds, and expressed concern that the project would transfer funds away from transportation projects of greater interest to the City such as Belmont Bridge. Currently, there is no clear answer as to where the funds would come from if the project were approved. Councilors voted 4-0 (with Councilor Huja abstaining) to advise the MPO representatives to vote against the project if a vote is taken at the next MPO meeting.

In the first of several discussions on affordable housing, staff recommended approval of the transfer of an Elliot Avenue lot to Habitat for Humanity, who will partner with Southern Development Group in creating a mixed income development. The proposed development includes 48 homes, 7 of which will be affordable housing units. Four units will be developed by Habitat for Humanity, while the other three will be provided by Southern Development Group. Due to an error in providing adequate notice of a public hearing on this matter, the official public hearing will not be conducted until the next City Council meeting, scheduled for July 5th.

Staff also negotiated the purchase of four town house lots located on the corner of Nunley and Paton Streets from Habitat for Humanity in order to create much needed affordable housing options for community members. Two lots are intended for special needs individuals who are Region Ten Community Service clients. One of the additional two lots is intended for a transitional housing project and the other for first time home buyers. The total cost of all four lots is 150,000 dollars. However, the total proposed cost with design and construction costs included will be $690,000. Council unanimously approved the purchase of the lots.

In Response to Council request, city staff presented a plan for greater implementation of “Section 3” in the region. Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 requires that HUD (Housing and Urban Development) financial assistance be accompanied by an effort to direct training, employment, and other opportunities to lower income individuals. This federal law applies to contractors when HUD funding is greater than $200,000 and/or the contract is over $100,000. The proposed plan contains seven goals with proposed actions to take in order to fulfill such goals. Among the changes is the creation of a temporary staff position to coordinate the proposed plan. This position will be funded out of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds and supplemented by CHF (Charlottesville Housing Fund) as well as CRHA (Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority) funds. Council unanimously voted to approve the resolution.

The Carver Precinct voting location will be moved temporarily due to a 15-month renovation project on the Carver Recreation Center, which will begin in July of this year. Staff proposed that the precinct be moved to the Virginia Institute of Autism building, which is located off of Rose Hill Drive, approximately one mile from the Carver Recreation Center. The benefits of such location are the accessibility, size, and sufficient parking available. Council expressed a desire for significant signage on both Rose Hill Drive and 250 Bypass, as well as near the Carver Recreation Center. They also requested that staff consider creative ways of shuttling voters from the Carver Recreation Center to Virginia Institute of Autism. The new location was approved to be further discussed at a second reading.

Staff updated Council on the progress in designing the new Belmont Bridge. The aim is to create a safe, attractive, and multi modal access bridge. Initial designs include pedestrian access on both sides of the bridge, on-road bike lanes, two northbound lanes, and one southbound lane. At least one lane of traffic in each direction will remain open during construction, as will pedestrian access. Staff emphasized that they are carefully considering aesthetics of the bridge, as was requested by citizens. Council member Kristin Szakos inquired if a sound barrier (between the Pavilion and Belmont) would be constructed, however staff admitted that it was most likely not possible, given funding.


Amelie Bailey is the 2011 Field Officer Intern for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Jurisdictional High Stakes Poker


By. Neil Williamson, President

The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are in the midst of a series of “cooperative” projects that are more like games of high stakes poker than regional cooperation.  Each project is a different game with different poker handoutside players (Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Federal Highway Administration, US Corps of Engineers, etc.) but each game features these two marquee players and the public, as either tax payers or rate payers are funding the game.  One thing is certain the friction in one game clearly rubs off to the others in a cumulative manner. 

Meadowcreek Parkway/250 Interchange/McIntire Extended

Perhaps100_0362 the longest poker game on record (43 years), Charlottesville raised the ante by demanding a grade separated interchange be fully funded prior to any of the three independent projects moving forward (the largest in a litany of many conditions).  Despite the interchange funding secured through a Senator John Warner federal earmark,  City Council currently retains a narrow 3-2 split in favor of construction of the City project (McIntire Extended).  There has also been a federal lawsuit filed by a number of city residents. 

When the three independent projects will open is still unclear.  At this point, Albemarle County seems to have an upper hand with a full constructed, albeit closed, road.  The lawsuit is a wild card that may or may not trump Albemarle.

The Community Water Supply Plan

water supply One of the more contentious, and expensive, poker games in recent memory.  This game required each side to fund preliminary engineering on two very different proposals for expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  At the time, the Free Enterprise Forum opined regardless of who won someone was wasting money because their plan would not be used.  In the end, the jointly run Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority selected the County favored plan of an earthen dam but at a lower height than the county wanted. 

Recognizing that the lower height was the only way the project would move forward at all, Albemarle agreed to Charlottesville’s demands.  In March 2009, Mayor Dave Norris famously said, “We hold all the cards” because the City holds title to the reservoir. 

While the regulatory agencies have not yet approved the modifications to the permit, sources indicate such approval should be relatively easily attained.  This game seems to be won by Albemarle but not without giving Charlottesville a few chips.  Charlottesville played its hand beautifully and still has the dredging card yet to be played.

The “Best Buy” Ramp

Few can argue that the on ramp to westbound 250 and Emmet Street is a choke point.  Between the multiple curb cuts and the bus stop in the right lane, traffic can back up into the Hydraulic US29 intersection.  It is one of the “doable” projects the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce supported in the Places29 masterplan.

100_0402 Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville went together to get special legislation to allow proffer money in one jurisdiction be used in another for an off site improvement.  The bill passed and Stonefield (the mixed use shopping area formerly known as Albemarle Place) has promised through a proffer to provide $1,000,00 to the project.  The local match of VDOT funds is $500,000 (from the city). 

As an outsider looking in, it seems Charlottesville has all it needs to move forward with construction if it would meet the match and finance the proffer.  Considering the favorable climate for construction, why would the city wait?

In a front page story in the Daily ProgressCharlottesville Tomorrow quoted Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker:

“This improvement has been judged by the city and the county through the MPO to be perhaps the most important project in the area,” Rooker said. “My concern is that if the city doesn’t move to utilize those funds they could end up being lost to the area.”

In this game, the city is holding their cards close to the vest, leaving the other players to wonder about motivations for this delay tactic.

Woolen Mills Pump Station

In the newest project to test City/County cooperation, RWSA is seeking to increase system pumping capacity at (or near) the existing Woolen Mills Sewage Pumping Station (at the end of Chesapeake Street in the City).  When the RWSA Board was queried about their preference of location of the new pump station, Board member (and Charlottesville City Manager) Maurice Jones asked that the item be deferred until he could speak to City Council.

According to a Charlottesville Tomorrow story the options were:

Four sites have been under consideration for the upgraded pump station and each has a preliminary “concept level” cost estimate:

  • Concept A ($25 million): upgrade the pump station at its existing location
  • Concept B ($29 million): up the Rivanna River in Riverview Park
  • Concept C ($37 million): downstream near the old Woolen Mill and Moores Creek
  • Concept D ($34 million): across the Rivanna River below State Farm Insurance

Charlottesville City Council looked at the four options presented by the RWSA and selected the only option not located in the city.  Some in the community decried this as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) thinking.

The cost impactsof the selection were a source of contention between Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) and City Councilor David Brown at the RWSA meeting yesterday (3/22).  Mr. Boyd mentioned that Option “D” was $9,000,000 more expensive than Option A and asked if the City was willing to pay the difference.  Mr. Brown suggested that the RWSA Board was not charged with making the “cheapest” choice but the “best” choice.

After some unusually direct conversation regarding the Board of Supervisors role in this discussion between the two elected officials, the issue was deferred to the April RWSA meeting so Mr. Boyd could discuss the issue with his Supervisors collogues.

This particular poker game is just getting started and likely will have more twists and turns before the final cards fall.


One problem with seeing the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County locked in a poker game is that the stakes are very high.  In every case, the public (either tax payers or ratepayers) are providing the chips.  Another problem is that in every poker game I’ve ever played there is always a big winner and a big loser (and lesser of both).   

The Free Enterprise Forum would much prefer the community to come together and work together to build a stronger community.  While there is some natural tension between the two localities, today it is well beyond a normal condition. 

Is this contention the “new” normal? 


Will the elected leaders find the way to lead the community to a solution or will our mutual road to success remain closed?

Will this green light ever mean go forward?

Stay tuned.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org


CTB Punts on US29 Corridor Study

By. Neil Williamson, President

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has again failed to address the recommendations of their Route 29 Corridor Study subcommittee.  This inaction leaves the communities along US29 in limbo regarding the conclusions from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) $1.5 Million dollar study.

By means of background, the CTB is appointed by the Governor and is charged with establishing the administrative policies of Virginia’s transportation policies.  The 17 member panel allocates highway funding to specific projects and locates routes.  In addition the CTB provides funding for airports, seaports and public transportation.

In December of 2009, the CTB did not care for the Route 29 Corridor Study report they received and sent the consultant back to the drawing board.  In their resolution at that time they said, in part:

WHEREAS, the Board, while acknowledging the work of the consultant team, has determined that the process used to develop the Blueprint and recommendation of specific improvements was flawed, in that:

• the Blueprint fails to include several recommendations of the consultant team that were removed prior to presentation to the Board, some of which were apparently initially opposed or favored by the localities affected, which removal the Board views was premature;

The following January, the CTB appointed a subcommittee to get this process to a conclusion.  After a series of meetings, the subcommittee recognized they would not be able to meet the CTB’s stated deadline, so they requested an extension.

On September 15, 2010 the CTB extended the extended deadline with yet another resolution that read in part:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Commonwealth Transportation Board does modify the previously approved resolution and hereby directs the Board Subcommittee to continue work on the Board’s directives and present its recommendations at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board on December 8, 2010.[emphasis added]

In an ironic twist the Charlottesville Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was scheduled to present to the CTB at their December 8, 2010 meeting. 

But somehow, the CTB did not see fit to add the Route 29 Corridor study to its December 8 agenda. 

Noting this omission, The Free Enterprise Forum planned to attend the January 19th meeting of the CTB in Richmond to hear the subcommittee report.  On January 18th, we were contacted by CTB staff indicating the issue would not be on the January agenda.  When pressed, staff was “hopeful” that it would be on the February 16 agenda.

US 29 is a highway of National Significance,  The Free Enterprise Forum calls for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to accept or reject  their subcommittee’s report on the February agenda. 

The community deserves better than yet another punt.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org