Tag Archives: us29

Sayonara Shucet

By. Neil Williamson, President

Shucet - Photo Credit CvillepediaLate yesterday afternoon (3/30), the embattled Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) named former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Philip Shucet as their new Chief Executive Officer.

Shucet has most recently served as a consultant to VDOT as a facilitator and problem solver for challenging projects including the Route 29 Solutions panels.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said in the ERC News Release:

I know Philip personally and am confident he is the right man for the job.

It does not appear everyone in the Transportation Department was as prepared for Shucet’s sayonara as Secretary Layne.  According to VDOT’s Lou Hatter:

The Route 29 Solutions project team will work through VDOT Commissioner Kilpatrick’s office to develop a plan going forward.

While appreciative of the professionalism and speed of Route 29 solutions project management, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of the meeting tactics and lack of true public engagement offered by Shucet’s panel process.  In our 2014 post Shucet’s Charade – A Public Participation Illusion:

The Route 29 Advisory Panel is, perhaps unwittingly, playing a part in a masterfully orchestrated and expertly conducted illusion of public participation where the questions, concerns and opinions of panel members are being denied or actively dismissed. No votes are taken nor consensus measured. All the while the facilitator is complementing the panel for its incredible positive forward momentum.

In our three years of observation, we have grown to appreciate the charming manner in which Shucet manages (some might say manipulates) meetings and their outcomes.  His pioneering (for VDOT) of video streaming meetings promotes transparency but not participation.  By reviewing e-mails and phone calls received, Shucet can color the manner in which the complaint was made and how VDOT, or the contractor handled it.

As a facilitator extraordinaire, he has stayed true to the “Shucet Six” we first identified in 2014:

  1. Control who is in the group. The number of participants and their representative groups selected to provide appearance of balance of perspectives
  2. Control Content, Agenda and Release of Data Controlling when and where data is released allows the facilitator the opportunity to build “proper context”
  3. Reduce/Eliminate Outside Influences. By removing public comment from the meetings and accepting it only online, Shucet insulates the panel’s meetings from being distracted by a boisterous critic [AKA Citizen]
  4. Demurely Dominate Conversation. Shucet’s down home drawl, overzealous compliments and genteel demeanor seem to engage the entire panel in discussion while his voice is most often heard directing the conversation. In addition, strictly limiting the group meeting time to two hours also helps this technique succeed.
  5. Limit Decision Options. While the Route 29 Advisory Panel was supposedly provided nine options to consider in their first meeting, Shucet brought forward just four options to the second meeting as possibly moving forward based on the “Professional Judgment” [note the word opinion was not used] and screening of the Technical Team.
  6. No Voting and Don’t Ask for Consensus. After three years, how many votes have been taken? None. How many times has consensus been “tested”? Never. The closest is when Shucet indicated he saw a number of heads nodding.

None of this is news and it does not change the fact that Shucet has served in this role well.  Personally and professionally I consider Shucet to be an excellent public servant.  That being said, I also believe he and I see the role of the so called “advisory” panels differently.

This morning blogger Jim Bacon applauded Philip Shucet, Transportation’s First Responder:

Bacon’s bottom line: Most people working the interstices between the public and private sectors are usually looking to line their pockets by trading on their relationships. Philip Shucet is a different breed. Not to say that he hasn’t done well for himself as a businessman and consultant in recent years, but he could work anywhere in the country he chooses and probably make a lot more money. Fortunately for the commonwealth, Shucet, who lives in Virginia Beach, has chosen to dedicate much of his career to public service and tackling some of the biggest, stickiest transportation problems. We’re lucky to have him.

Recently, in a conversation with VDOT officials someone asked me if I believe the blue tourism oriented destination signs, that were offered to impacted US29 businesses made a difference during the Rio/US29 interchange construction.

I indicated that while the signs likely did not change anything significant, they were an important step to let the local businesses know VDOT was aware (and listening) to their very real concerns – perhaps such tepid tranquility is the overall goal of these panels as well.

How and who will replace Shucet in the facilitator role is the challenge for the future, for now we say Sayonara Shucet, we wish you fair winds and following seas.

Respectfully Submitted,


Neil Williamson, President


Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Cvillepedia

VDOT Panel’s Pocahontas Problem

By. Neil Williamson, President

This Sunday’s (3/12) Daily Progress Editorial discusses “Beginning Anew on Hydraulic” painting a rather optimistic picture of the regulatory and political process planned to design, secure funding and build improvements to the Hydraulic and US29 intersection.

But the Editorial forgot Pocahontas.

Please let me explain.

Regular readers are aware of the Free Enterprise Forum’s position opposing the Rio/US29 grade separated interchange.  Despite that opposition, we have been impressed with the manner the project was completed.  Now the Daily Progress editorial board is comparing the Rio intersection process with Hydraulic:

And the process through which the Rio project was completed did, in fact, contribute to its success. That process can be replicated, regardless of what kind of engineering design it eventually produces.

In fact, it is being replicated. The meeting last week of state and community leaders follows the pattern used in the Rio project: A panel of local elected officials, business owners and citizens is meeting regularly to discuss the Hydraulic venture, provide input and help guide decision-making. Their involvement is aimed at ensuring that local interests are represented in the state’s drive to speed traffic through a congested bottleneck.

disney pocaThis is where Pocahontas lesson comes in:

What I love most about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice – The water’s always changing, always flowing

Just prior to the seating of the so called “29 Solutions” panel, there was significant state and federal dollars allocated and a contract awarded to a project (the western bypass) that had enjoyed (4-2) support from Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors and then Republican Governor Robert McDonnell. In November 2013 elections, the balance of power on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors shifted left and Democratic Governor Terrance McAuliffe was elected.  Then in February 2014, the project was effectively prohibited by a letter from the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Cvillepedia described the situation in the manner:

Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, convened a panel in the spring of 2014 to suggest alternatives for money that had been allocated by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

With the project [Western Bypass] presumed dead, former VDOT commissioner Philip Shucet has recommended alternate uses for at least $200 million that had been allocated to the bypass. The alternatives include $54 million to extend Berkmar Drive across the South Fork Rivanna River, an additional $10 million to further extend Hillsdale Drive Extended to Holiday Lane in Charlottesville, and $81 million to build a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and U.S. 29. The Commonwealth Transportation Board adopted a new six-year improvement program that included the projects at its meeting on June 18, 2014. [17] That meant the Western Bypass project was defunded. [5]

In addition, in a deft politically savvy move, McAuliffe required ALL the Route 29 “solutions” be completed by October 31, 2017 (coincidentally just prior to Election Day 2017).

The Pocahontas lesson that was not lost on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contract facilitator Philip Shucet.  In the first meeting of The Hydraulic Planning Advisory Panel last week, he highlighted that unlike the previous panel which was considering how to spend a pot of money already allocated to the district the project or projects would have to compete for limited transportation dollars via VDOT’s Smart Scale evaluation program in 2018.

Secretary Layne’s charge to the Hydraulic panel includes this concern as well as hinting at the potential political in fighting at an intersection that is 3/4 in the City of Charlottesville and 1/4 in Albemarle County:

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne’s charge to the Panel:

To provide general advice and input to the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board regarding future land use and mobility improvements in the general area near the Hydraulic Road and Rt. 29 intersection.

The Secretary understands that land use decisions are in the hands of the localities, but also emphasizes that decisions to submit a future Smart Scale application for state-funded transportation improvements are also in the hands of the localities.

The multi jurisdictional work (land use, design and funding) of Hydraulic Road will be significantly more involved than the challenges at Rio Road.  While we agree that the process will be informed by the work of Rio, we are also reminded that Pocahontas quote is actually derivative of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Not only is Hydraulic a very different intersection than Rio,the land use work ahead is different and the funding is nowhere near secure.

Yes the facilitator is the same, as are some of the panel members, but this multi-jurisdictional land use and transportation effort will be a VERY different process and the outcomes (and their timing) are far from certain.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: Disney

Greene PC Recommends Approval of Church Office At US29/33

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image003At their January meeting the Greene County  heard a request for a special use permit (SUP #15-009)  to allow the northwest corner of Route 29 and Route 33 to “have meeting places for clubs, fraternal and civic organizations” as listed in Article 4-1-2-15 where the Music Store was formerly located.

Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda reviewed the request for the parcel that is oddly zoned A-1, Agricultural, even though it is on the busiest corner in Greene County. Since the parcel is not zoned business like the clip_image002other three corners, it requires a Special Use Permit in order to allow a church to have an office locate in the two story building on the corner.

While the SUP request is for the 2.41 acres, the Legacy Church (who wants to rent the building as an office) is only looking to use the building where the Music Store was formerly located.

Svoboda went on to explain that the parcel is an odd “L” shape and the building is on the narrow portion of the lot that touches the northwest corner in Ruckersville. The larger portion of the lot continues up Route 29 north and in behind the Greene House Shops and the Jack Shops Restaurant. And he clarified that he recommends that the SUP only be for the two story building, not the motel rooms running up US29 north.

Commissiclip_image006oner Vic Schaff asked Svoboda that if the property were to rezoned to B-1, would the use being requested tonight be changed to a by right use. Svoboda agreed and stated that the SUP would then be void.

Ken Lawson from Grandview Real Estate Services addressed the commissioner and addressed only an issue brought up by the Health Department. The Health Department expressed concerns about the use of the septic system but Lawson clarified that the use is only for the “Music Store” and not the motel rooms. Lawson further clarified he contacted the Health Department and clarified this issue with them and they revised their report to have no problem with using the current septic system that the Music Store used as there would be similar demand on the system.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Lawson if there were any plans to use the motel rooms in the future and he said they did not plan on using the rooms. He further explained that the owners plan on selling the property but wanted to acquire the SUP to get a tenant in the short term.

Commission John McCloskey asked if the church would hook up to the county sewer system. Lawson stated that while they could hook up with a connection line to the pump station, the less expensive option is to use the existing septic system which is their plan.

Willer asked Svoboda if a developer bought the property and built a new structure would they be required to hook up to the septic system and the answer was yes. Svoboda went on to say that the county hopes the parcel is rezoned to business which would increase the uses allowed.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the SUP request and the request will go to the Board of Supervisors for their decision. The question that remains is why is this parcel still zoned Agricultural instead of Business?

The argument goes both ways: leaving it Agricultural is less expensive to request a SUP than to have the property rezoned Business. However, many potential buyers may be attracted to a parcel that is zoned for business and that is what the county wants on the land.  This is one of many commercial looking properties that are on Agricultural land in Greene County.

The real issue is the odd shape of the parcel – the “L” shape significantly limits what can be built on the narrow portion that touches the corner of Route 29/33. Would the Greene House Shops/Jack Shop Restaurant lot, which lies to the west of the parcel, be able to use the corner piece of the property for parking?

Hopefully, a long term solution can be found for this property that meets Greene County’s and the property owner’s long term objectives for this important corner of Ruckersville.

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

Albemarle Economy Weathers the US29/Rio GSI Storm?


By. Neil Williamson, President

The early economic indicators are in.  While there are limitations in the initial data set, it looks like the significant efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) may have worked as designed.

Please let me explain our logic.

Back in 2007, Free Enterprise Forum Research Associate Natasha Sienitsky authored the Workplace 29 report that found:

The Workplace 29 study area:
• supports more than 20,000 jobs, conservatively providing more than $800 million ($874,216,408) alone in direct salaries each year.
• generates 35% of taxes by all non-residential uses in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville; approximately $ 33,019,354 in total tax revenue paid to Albemarle County and Charlottesville City in 2006.
• provides per acre tax revenue of $24,700 for non-residential uses, compared to the entire county average of $335 per acre.
•produces approximately 45% of the county’s total tax revenue in 2006.

In addition to the above economic impacts it was determined that the Workplace29 study area generated 57% of all of Albemarle’s sales tax income.  Considering this was prior to the construction of Stonefield, Costco, and several other retail establishments it is not a reach to suggest that number has remained steady.

The conclusion of Workplace 29 stated:

Non-residential uses in Workplace 29 generate significant jobs and taxes for Albemarle County. The master planning process must continue to engage owners of these properties as the economic vitality and level of government service in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City have a close relationship to revenues generated by non-residential properties in the Workplace 29 area. The current Places 29 plan calls for a reconfiguration of the road network which will cause significant business disruptions along US Route 29 during an extended construction period. Neither the extent nor time frame of disruptions has been addressed.

Although changes in the character of US Route 29 may have long term economic benefits, short term disruptions, through extended construction periods, most likely would negatively impact business and as a result the revenue stream for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the impact of master plan formulation and implementation on business.

Our 2007 hypothesis does not hold up based on recently released 2016 economic data.

Book1The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce regularly reports regional sales tax data.  Their reports provide both updates as well as historical sales tax data.

The report last week, for all of Albemarle County, indicated sales tax revenue for the first half of 2016 was up over 2015 by greater than $495,000 (+7.25%).

Considering the significant disruption to the corridor including the closure of the intersection from May 23 – July 18, 2016 [opening date corrected 12:50 8/29-nw], one must conclude the intense marketing efforts, signage and business assistance efforts had an impact.

Back in March [in our Lemonade Post], we mentioned our appreciation for the marketing efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) as well as Albemarle County.

With these early returns, it seems their mitigation efforts, which continue today, are having the intended results.  While we continue to witness economic dislocation (Better Living, PJ Networks, Sultan Kabob), much of this dislocation may have occurred with or without the new GSI.

As Albemarle prepares to produce a small area plan for the US29/Rio area, they would be wise to attempt to capture intersection specific economic data to confirm our conclusions based on county wide data.

We have not yet seen the July numbers but considering the trend for the first six months, I anticipate they will continue to be slightly ahead of 2015.

Absent a more detailed metric, I believe it would be appropriate to congratulate all the businesses involved for weathering a difficult storm; and to congratulate the speedy construction, all of the marketing and business outreach teams for a job well done.

As for our failed 2007 hypothesis, I am happy to have been wrong but one might wonder what the numbers would look like with a longer construction period and absent the unprecedented outreach efforts.

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


C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

By. Neil Williamson, President

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

As a part of the “six fixes” presentation Werner included #5

6) Widen the section of Rt. 29after Hol lymead Town Center       to fix the bottle neck,   & improve the intersection at  ...

Well, not so fast.

Even with all this Charlottesville seems ready to pull a Hydraulic Houdini to make the project disappear.

Last week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s lack of excitement regarding a possible small area plan for the intersection:

“I believe that, compared to the other small-area plans, this would be least prioritized,” commission Chairman John Santoski said. “I don’t think we want to invest a lot of time and energy in a small-area plan here when we have other places that we know need the attention.”

It is interesting contract considering Tubbs’ May 20, 2014 dispatch just prior to the MPO endorsement of Route 29 Solutions:

The Charlottesville City Council informally has endorsed a $203 million package of transportation projects to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29, including $10 million to begin plans for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road.

“It is a major connecting piece for the whole network and I think we don’t want to make it seem like it’s not a high priority even though it is further down in the pipeline,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

The idea of the Hydraulic Houdini appeared in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of last week’s Charlottesville PC field trip:

The Virginia Department of Transportation currently has allocated $10 million each for study of a future grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That money is not available until 2019, and it is possible a future administration could reprogram the funds to other projects or other years.[Emphasis added-nw]

So what has changed? 

Where are the supporters with their “Real Solutions Now” placards as the City performs the Hydraulic Houdini?

Could it be now that property is being sold and the Western Bypass is beyond resuscitation, the goal has been met?

While we have steadfastly opposed the Expressway [even calling for a veto of Places29 (which passed unanimously)] we are shocked to see the “solutions” proponents so quickly abandon one of their pillars.

Perhaps now, in hindsight,  we see the “integrated” transportation plan for what it really was — not an innovative effort to improve US29 congestion but a savvy political alternative to eliminate three stop lights and, more importantly,  derail any bypass for at least a generation.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:  Piedmont Environmental Council

Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

By. Neil Williamson, President

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

In the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

The closure of the intersection (right turns will still be permitted) will have an impact on businesses in the area.  A little over a year ago the Free Enterprise Forum asked a simple question regarding the business assistance program for US29 Rio Grade Separated Interchange:  US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

In short, VDOT and Albemarle have answered the call to make lemonade out of the challenging construction period.

The get around guide produced by VDOT (and printed locally) is quite good and available at local merchants.

An illustrated map of the Route 29 corridor.

Beyond being a helpful tool, these are not being handed out by a team of interns that do not know how to answer business owner questions.  VDOT Communications Director Lou Hatter is personally delivering these maps to retailers, hoteliers in the impacted footprint.

VDOT also has print, radio and television advertisements running in significant rotation, letting people know that the intersection will be closed but access to all businesses and neighborhoods will be maintained.

Rio 29 logoConcurrent, and coordinated with VDOT’s informational efforts, Albemarle County, working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is running radio, television, and print advertisements focused on the businesses in the Rio and 29 footprint.  The message that Route 29 is “Open for Business” during construction at Rio Road.

To be clear, The Free Enterprise Forum fought the Rio GSI because it is either the addition of a 2 inch pipe on a 1/2 inch line or it is the first step toward an expressway that will divide the community.  We lost that fight.

US29 Rio April 29 2016VDOT is taking a “tear the band aid off” approach to the construction plans for Rio GSI getting as much done as quickly as possible.  The contractor’s current trajectory seems to have the project reopening to daytime traffic on or before August 5 (and earning the contractor a $6.8 Million incentive).

Today, we are appreciative that Albemarle County and VDOT were good to their word in supporting the businesses that are most impacted by the construction.

We still believe there will be significant economic dislocation of some businesses (ie: Better Living), we also believe the combined efforts of VDOT and Albemarle County significant business outreach, advertising and communication efforts may soften the negative impacts.

I like lemonade.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

US29 Business Assistance – What Are You Willing To Do?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, July 1, 2015

Good Afternoon. My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government.

I understand you received an e-mail from my associate, Tim Hulbert of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. Tim can’t be here for public comment due to a previously scheduled medical appointment but does hope to join you later this afternoon when you are discussing the US29 Business survival program.

In a blog post yesterday, I highlighted the many expressions of support this board has provided to potentially impacted businesses throughout the Route 29 Solutions approval process.

According to the approved minutes of the May 27th 2014 meeting:

Ms. [Diantha] McKeel commented that it’s the intent of this Board to make the businesses as strong as possible during this period of construction

I am a big Sean Connery fan. Considering his many memorable roles, it is hard to believe he  only won a single Academy Award. He won as Best Supporting Actor for his role as veteran patrolman Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables.

sean-connery-as-jim-malone-in-the-untouchablesIn one of the best scenes in the movie, Malone confronts Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner and asks, “ You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?

Ness replies: “Anything within the law.”

Considering the broad support this board has indicated it would provide to the businesses impacted by the construction of the Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange and the modest plan your professional staff has created to mitigate some of the business interruption, I have just one question.

What are you willing to do?

Your answer will speak volumes.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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

US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Wayback MachineJumping into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC time machine, we travel to May, 2014 where  we find the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors over the top in support of businesses in the US29/Rio Road area as they discussed and voted in favor of moving the Route 29 Solutions forward:

Ms. [Diantha] McKeel commented that it’s the intent of this Board to make the businesses as strong as possible during this period of construction, and felt that it was critical for VDOT to work with the Board as it reaches out to businesses

Ms. [Liz] Palmer said she agreed, and stated that there were a number of business owners who stated their support for the package – and she felt it was extremely important that they start working with the business community as soon as possible.

Ms. [Jane] Dittmar added that they have a very attentive Board of Supervisors that would stand by the business community 100% as they go through the process to improve the roads in the community, and finally have the ability to attend to some other things with a full concentration – ACBOS Minutes 5/27/14 Emphasis added –nw

Fast forward eleven months and the tenor of the conversation at the June 3, 2015 meeting of the Board was decidedly different.  As the Board was discussing making what Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin called “an investment in the future”, Supervisors pushed back about spending any money on an “Open for Business” advertising campaign or even increased signage.

While he noted the Chamber of Commerce support, Supervisor Brad Sheffield questioned if business owners even cared about this issue as so few showed up for the meeting when it was being discussed. 

Supervisor Ken Boyd, long an opponent of the Rio Interchange, took a decidedly different approach to his opposition stating he felt this was the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) folly and they should pay for any marketing effort not the Albemarle County taxpayers.

Supervisor McKeel was very concerned about the potential precedent such an expenditure might create.  She stated:

I have to have a comfort level that we are being fair to all the businesses in Albemarle County

When pressed for a legal opinion regarding the precedent setting and fairness issue, County Attorney Larry Davis explained that the documents presented laid out a clear case and rationale for the Board’s decision, if they should so choose, to fund this expenditure.  He concluded by saying:

I’m comfortable with it

After a motion to fund the business assistance program fully failed (2-4), Chair Jane Dittmar (one of the two votes in favor) asked a decidedly pointed question of her fellow Board members:

Do you want to put any financial wherewithal on an open for business campaign?  If not we won’t discuss it any further

us 29 logoAfter this cajoling from the chair and some internal grumblings, there was a majority on the Board that was interested in seeing the specifics of a campaign before ruling out the “investment”

This brings us to this week’s meeting (7/1).  Staff has brought forward a combined marketing campaign that is designed to:

·      encourage customer loyalty and minimize disruption to impacted businesses and their employees

·      support the larger tourism industry in the County, as many of the visitors who support the County’s tourism destinations are from locations such as northern Virginia/Washington DC and travel to the area using Route 29 North.

·      protect tax revenues generated from the general business district along the Route 29 corridor

In addition to the marketing campaign, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce  has suggested a series of signs be erected as soon as possible to alert commuters of the enterprises that are and will remain “open for business”.  The concept is these signs be placed now and remain up during and a little after the construction period.

The Chamber even created a concept sign for the Board to consider.

chamber sign concept

Such a temporary set of signs, albeit redesigned, will certainly provide  US29 businesses with increased visibility during a difficult time.

Considering the import of this investment  issue and the importance of business in the North US29 corridor.  The question now is Will the Board put their money where their mouth is?

Sally Thomas photo credit Charlottesville TomorrowBased on their statements in the last meeting, I have my doubts but perhaps they will listen to former Supervisor Sally Thomas, a long time bypass opponent,  who also spoke at the May 27, 2014 BOS meeting regarding the  Route 29 solutions:

the Board [of Supervisors] also has the right to make businesses a priority, and encouraged them to learn from what’s just happened at McIntire in ensuring that local businesses are advertised and that alternative routes are provided, with VDOT giving them priority in their planning and engineering.  emphasis added – nw

As always, stay tuned.

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

Photo Credits: Jay Ward Productions, Charlottesville Tomorrow 

“Nero” – Albemarle’s US29 Business Assistance Program Delayed


By. Neil Williamson, President

nero-plays-while-rome-burns-w450A popular (and generally debunked) legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero played the fiddle during the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. This story has given rise to the idiom “fiddling while Rome burns”, which means to occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis.

Given the different rates of production between the public and private sectors, this idiom may be appropriate in the Albemarle County’s laborious discussion of potential business assistance for those impacted by the Route 29 Solutions.

In yesterday’s (4/30) Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) meeting, Lane-Corman, the contractor for the projects indicated currently they are on schedule and will meet or beat all the deadlines in the project timeline.

In a previous meeting, Lane-Corman indicated that their target completion date for the first project, the Rio/US29 Grade Separated Interchange is August 5, 2016.  This date is an important milestone in the “No-Excuses” incentive portion of the project contract:

The Design-Builder will receive a “no excuses” incentive payment in the amount of Eight Million Dollars ($8,000,000) if the Milestone One Completion Work is completed on June 29, 2016. For every day after June 29, 2016 the Design-Builder takes to complete the Milestone One Completion Work, the incentive will decrease at a daily rate of Thirty One Thousand Six Hundred Forty three Dollars ($31,643) until August 5, 2016 when the “no excuses” incentive payment for Milestone One Completion Work will be Six Million Eight Hundred Twenty Nine Thousand Two Hundred Nine Dollars ($6,829,209).

The Design-Builder will receive a “no excuses” incentive payment for Milestone One Completion Work in the amount of One Million Eight Hundred Fifty Four Thousand Three Hundred Sixty One Dollars ($1,854,361) if the Milestone One Completion Work is completed on August 6, 2016. For every day after August 6, 2016 the Design-Builder takes to complete the Milestone One Completion Work, the incentive will decrease at a daily rate of Thirty One Thousand Six Hundred Forty Three Dollars ($31,643) until September 2, 2016 when the “no excuses” incentive payment for Milestone One Completion Work will be One Million Dollars ($1,000,000).

US29 solutions Incentives

While the financial incentives seem to be keeping the private sector moving ahead of the agreed upon schedule, the same can not be said for the public sector.  As a part of the PDAP meeting, Albemarle County’s Community Development Director Mark Graham revealed that the county’s long anticipated Business Assistance Program that was scheduled for discussion at the Board of Supervisors in May has been delayed and now will not be on their agenda until June.  Graham cited the desire for increase business engagement as the rationale for the delay.

The Free Enterprise Forum has advocated for the business assistance program to include a relaxation of sign regulations to increase the visibility of businesses impacted by construction [US 29 Business Assistance – The Least Albemarle Can Do].

In the April 16th meeting, PDAP Moderator Philip Shucet clearly indicated that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) policy does not govern business signs on private property.

rio corners signage draft


VDOT is appropriately focused on those things it can control in its right of way.  One may have differing opinions of the signage (or place names) currently under consideration but at least they are moving forward.

Albemarle County has been discussing their business assistance program for over a year and now enterprises will have to wait another month to see what, if anything, the County will be willing to do to help them survive the construction and post construction period.

In the time the County has been discussing this program the private sector has responded to the request for bids, had bids awarded, been given the notice to proceed and these transportation  projects are underway.

Considering the significant contact over the fifteen months between county officials and businesses and the speed of the construction projects – the Free Enterprise Forum finds this latest delay, to “better engage the business community”, difficult to swallow.

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 Credits: sodahead.com, VDOT

Frustrated Developer Tells Greene PC He’s Had Enough–He’s Leaving

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Last week (4/15) the Greene County Planning Commission heard a request to amend an existing Special Use Permit (SUP# 14-006) from APEX, LLC / Larry and Barbara Hall . While the end result was what the applicant requested, the discussion at the public hearing left some citizens with questions regarding Greene County’s application and zoning enforcement processes.


Hall has a recycling center north of Lowes and he asked that the two year Special Use Permit (SUP)  be extended by eight months since he feels that the county delayed the process of issuing an approved site plan by that length of time.

As background, the recycling center initially started operations under the belief that it was a by right use, only later to learn that the use required a special use permit.

The recycling center is a unique center in that it takes concrete and grinds it down to saleable product. The original SUP was to start on 5/27/14 but it took until 2/25/15 to resolve issues so that the site plan could be approved. In addition, Brent Hall, speaking for his father Larry, asked that the landscaping requirement be waived since in two years (or less) replacing the existing trees with a berm and smaller trees will not block as much as is now blocked.


In addition, the condition of having a dirt pile that has been removed from Rivanna Service Authority’s (RSA) right of way no longer is an issue since it has already been removed. These are the three changes to the SUP that staff and the Halls are seeking. Commissioner John McCloskey asked Svoboda if there have been any violations at the site to which Svoboda replied no.

Brent Hall  next addressed the Planning Commission and he bluntly stated he disagreed with some of the information Greene Planning Director Bart Svoboda included in his staff report and presentation.  Hall said that he has grown very frustrated in dealing with Greene County staff, specifically  Svoboda, and believes he has received contradictory directions.  Hall also said that he feels he has been lied to. Hall simply wants the SUP to be extended to 2/25/17, two years from the date when all the issues were resolved on 2/25/15.

Hall went further to state that the family would take their development to Albemarle County and are leaving Greene County. Further he stated that when Albemarle County gives a direction it is consistent and it can be relied upon as opposed to what he has experience in Greene County.

Hall explained his frustration with Greene County in that he would get a verbal ok to start work only to be told he was in violation of county regulations and had to stop and address a new issue.

IMG_20150423_081944833_HDRThere was no one signed up from the public to speak on the issue, so the discussion moved to the Commissioners. Commissioner John McCloskey  was in favor of extending the Special Use Permit to 2/25/17.

Commissioner Eva Young asked Hall if he had received answers to his questions. Hall replied that at one time he sent 8-10 emails with no reply and he felt that the process was intentionally being delayed. Commissioner Frank Morris was extremely concerned about the process being held up and he would prefer that businesses be supported in their efforts.

When Hall was questioned about future development in Greene from the commissioners he again stated that he has no plans to further develop in Greene County and he is going to Albemarle County since he doesn’t want to deal with the difficulties he has encountered in Greene.

The details of the Special Use Permit were all modified to the Halls’ request plus the elimination of the requirement of disposing of the dirt pile per RSA’s right of way. The easy part of the hearing was approving the SUP – the much harder part may prove to be researching and resolving the process issues raised by the applicant and finding a new user for the highly visible US 29 location.

Photo Credits: Free Enterprise Forum taken 23 April 2015


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