Tag Archives: zoning text amendment

Bad ‘Housekeeping’

By. Neil Williamson, President

Image result for alice brady bunchGrowing up in the 1970s, the only ‘housekeeper’ I knew was Alice from the Brady Bunch.  She was an important part of the family who helped out getting everything accomplished for a busy family with six children.  She was well respected by the children, the community and her employers.

Now, in separate, equally disturbing, actions both Albemarle County and Charlottesville are giving Alice a bad name.

Please let me explain.

Under the auspices of literally “Housekeeping” AlbemarlePC Legal notice plans, by my count, nearly 30 code revisions.  The legal ad for the June 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing (right) was dense, even by Albemarle standards.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds some of the changes proposed, we remain concerned that other items are clearly being pushed through for political expediency and are being “hidden in plain sight”.

Yesterday, I literally took out my magnifying glass to read the small print.  Policy wonks may read the legal ads this closely but by putting thirty largely unrelated code revisions into Zoning Text Amendment, the opportunity for obfuscation is great.

In a municipal game of “Where’s Waldo” see if you can find the second amend statement in the ad above.  If you were able to find it, you would find this innocuous legalese:

Amend Section 18-32.6 to clarify that specifications for recreational facilities comply with Sections 18-4.16-4.16.3;

Reading the text above, Alice (and pretty much everyone else) might think this is just “cleaning up” some legal stuff to make it comply with some other legal stuff.  But in reality, these twelve words eliminate special use permits for golf and swim clubs in the rural areas, effectively banning new golf courses in Albemarle County.  [correction June 13 10:46 am  this language is to clean up the ordinance, a separate SUP (and public engagement plan) will be submitted to eliminate golf courses in the rural area – per e-mail from Albemarle’s Bill Fritz- the Free Enterprise Forum regrets this error – nw] This is just one of the “housekeeping” items buried in the proposed Zoning Text Amendment

Albemarle is not alone in burying changes in “housekeeping” activities.  Charlottesville Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson took City Council’s charge of a “Legal Review” to mean anything her office wanted to change should be a part of the review.

Luckily, the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe) took a long look at the “Legal Review”. As CADRe stated in their May 23rd letter to the Planning Commission:

In the case where a revision represents a substantive change that we feel is inappropriate for the Legal Review and better served by potential Amendments following the update to the Comprehensive Plan, we have noted as Substantive Change. [emphasis added-nw]

Much more than just “Housekeeping” CADRe’s letter outlined 16 pages of Substantive Changes; including the elimination of non residential uses in residential districts:

Also, what about all the other non-residential uses that are currently permitted in residential districts per the residential matrix? Is there a proposed replacement matrix that maintains these uses?

Examples: Houses of worship, temporary outdoor churches, cemetery, Health clinic, private clubs, wireless facilities (antennas, attached facilities, etc.), day care facility, schools (elementary, high school, college) funeral home, library, municipal govt. offices, property management, parking garage/lot, indoor health/sports clubs, parks, utility facilities, utility lines, consumer service business.
If these uses are eliminated from the residential districts this too is a SIGNIFICANT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE

Regardless of your position on the issues buried in these Zoning Text Amendments, it is difficult for us to understand how one would find these changes as “Housekeeping”.  Instead, we see it as an attempt, albeit a legal attempt, to circumvent the normal process and implement significant changes without proper public engagement.

Alice would indeed be disappointed in this shaming of the word “Housekeeping”.

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 Credit: WJBQ.com

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Greene PC Reviews Special Use Permit Process

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

With a new commissioner, William Sanders, on board the Greene County Planning Commission held a public hearing to review the ordinance for issuance of Special Use Permits (SUP) in their February  meeting. The process was last revised when Gerald Ford was in the White House (1975).

Last year, the Planning Commission held two meetings focused on the topic and the Board of Supervisors held a November public hearing  on the proposal (OR#15-002).  Many of the public comments at the Board Public hearing were concerned with the scope of the information required from applicants and others questioned if the ordinance was “business friendly” as written.  After the public hearing, the Board unanimously referred the issue back to the Planning Commission.

According to the staff report:

Additional research performed since the Board of Supervisors meeting has indicated that the wording for special use permit regulations vary greatly from one locality to another.  it is clear from the review of other localities regulations that all possible variations of the special use permit uses cannot be accommodated in an ordinance.  The General Assembly appears to agree because special use permit uses are considered by the governing body to have greater impacts on neighboring properties than those permitted by right.  Special Use Permits are “special” in that they may be approved in one area of a zoning district but not in another.  The impacts from noise, traffic, storage, pollution, etc. of a special use permit use located on 10 or 20 acres varies greatly from the same impact located on a quarter acre lot or within a neighborhood area.

Special use permits are reviewed using reasonable standards, some of which may be contained within local, state, or federal regulations.  However, there may also be other standards based on reasonable zoning principles that arise from impacts created by the type, location and nature of the proposed use.

Planning Administrator Bart Svoboda presented proposed revisions that staff worked on adding 16-2-6 and 16-2-7 and to have them in synch with Va. State code 15.2.28B.

The Planning Commission discussed several other portions of the regulations, in particular, did all the conditions for the SUP need to be listed and what takes precedent – the zoning ordinance or the SUP, if they are different? Saunders asked if Greene County code needs to specify what the state code states or just refer to the state code.

Commissioner Frank Morris asked who is to inspect and enforce the SUP’s that are approved.  Svoboda stated that the building official may inspect situations but that the enforcement would be the responsibility of the Zoning Administrator – himself.

The hearing then shifted to the Public Comment section and former Planning Commissioner Eva Young asked about 16-2-1 the noncompliance notification process. She stated that other localities allow up to one year to be notified and she would like to see the Planning Commission be more stringent in contacting applicants.

The hearing then shifted back to discussion among the commissioners. Commissioner John McCloskey asked about code 16-2-6 and if it were to be more restrictive than the SUP allowed. Svoboda stated that what would be in force would be the code that was in place at the time of the action and ordinances passed after would not be required to be followed. But if an addition or change was requested the applicant would be held to the current ordinance.

Discussion then shifted to 16-2-4 with Commissioner Frank Morris stating he felt this was confusing while Commissioner Vic Schaff liked it and thought it was more streamlined. The next issue addressed what the process of revising code and what role the Planning Director should play in developing proposed new codes. Svoboda stated that currently he and staff prepare a draft as a starting point for discussion. The thinking is that this takes the task off the “to do” list of the Planning Commission. Chairman Jay Willer agreed that the Planning Commission could make any changes they would like.

Willer also brought up in section 16-2-4 and other sections where it is stated that the ordinance is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the county – he proposed adding “to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan”? Svoboda said that normally ordinances are changed to match the Comprehensive Plan.  McCloskey agreed that the statement should include the comment of the Comprehensive Plan.  Morris stated that he would prefer more time to review the changes however, McCloskey felt that changes should be made in a timely manner if possible and Schaff agreed.

Lastly, Willer addressed code 16-2-1 and suggested that items a, b, c, and d be listed first and then followed with what is currently leading the code – i.e. the Zoning Administrator may ask for additional information. Also, Willer suggested revising 16-2-3a to state that the SUP should not change the pattern of the area to include – shall not “adversely” change the pattern of the area.

A motion to recommend approval of the changes was made and seconded with a 4-1 vote in favor of the changes, with Morris voting against. The changes will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for their review and possible action.

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

Charlottesville City Council Initiates Development Review ZTA

Late Monday evening (10/6/08), Charlottesville City Council unanimously approved a resolution to improve the development review process and, in turn, potentially improve the supply of affordable housing in the city.

Over the last twenty four to thirty six months, Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert has been discussing potential improvements to the City’s approval process with the applicant community.  He has also been meeting with the Planning Commission Chair, Jason Pearson, to discuss ways to improve the Development Review Process and improve the Planning Commission function.  According to the staff report:

This effort has three objectives:

  1. Focus more of the Planning Commission’s (and staff’s) time on strategic issues.
  2. Streamline the site plan review process while maintaining adequate oversight.
  3. Provide incentives for affordable housing

The manner contemplated to address number 3 is elegant in its simplicity and significant in its potential application:

  • Ask Council to pass a resolution that guarantees a three week turn around on all site plans containing affordable housing as outlined in the new legislation that has recently been passed.  This will be effective if complete plans are submitted and may be suspended if the plans are not complete
  • Frame the overall streamlining as an effort to produce economic efficiencies that will enable the development community to offer affordable housing in their proposals.

There is a great deal more in this well thought out Zoning Text Amendment; but the bold logic of the affordable housing provision is evidence of a clear understanding of the needs of the applicant community, their desire to produce affordable housing product and a recognition of the regulatory obstacles to such production.

In a discussion shortly after the vote, one applicant suggested it was likely all his future applications in the city would include the required amount of affordable housing to receive the “fast track” once this measure is enacted.  He indicated that with a guaranteed three week approval time frame, his savings on interest (carrying) costs on many projects would make building affordable housing economically viable.

To be clear this is only a first step.  The Planning Commission has been charged by City Council to:

initiate a study of proposed amendments to Chapter 34 (zoning) of the Charlottesville City Code, 1990, as amended, to provide for an improved development review process and allow the Planning Commission to focus on other priorities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Planning Commission will submit its findings and recommendations to the City Council no later than January 14, 2009.

City Council even took the logical step so often missing in government action to create a deadline as a part of the resolution. 

If this process works as envisioned, the City of Charlottesville will have much more efficient plan review and increased affordable housing stock while the Planning Commission can focus on larger issues. 

Laudable goals indeed.

Charlottesville to Make New Housing Units LESS affordable

Sometime after 10:00 pm this evening, Charlottesville’s Planning Commission will likely pass the “Affordable Housing Zoning Text Amendment” which will require 5% of the square footage in certain projects (Special Use Permits and Rezonings) be offered as “affordable”, or offer cash equivalent. 

The concept is that applicants that wish to receive additional density will do so at a cost of providing affordable housing.  The reality is the economic result of this action will be an increase of cost of the 95% of the project [or 100% if the cash option is used] to subsidize the non market rate units [or cash equivalent].

In his July 30 Memorandum to the Charlottesville Planning Commission, Neighborhood Planner Nick Rogers delineates the standard of review required for such a change:

The Planning Commission must make an advisory recommendation to City Council.  Council may amend the zoning ordinance upon finding that the proposed amendment would serve the interests of “public necessity, convenience, general welfare, or good zoning practice.”  [Italics in original-nw]

Rogers continues in his analysis:

Staff has not yet developed an effective strategy for implementing or monitoring the 30-year, long term affordability Innovative Ideas are being used throughout the country in similar situations, such as a community land trust, a limited-equity cooperative, or resale-restricted individual ownership.  ….. Given the current economic downturn, and the minimal number of qualifying projects in discussion, staff is comfortable that a solution to guarantee the 30-year term of affordability can be generated in the near future.

In owner-occupied situations, the initial sale of the unit can be ensured affordable by requiring the developer to submit documentation that the sale price was at or below the 60% income threshold to obtain a certificate of occupancy.  Deed restrictions that require compliance with the 30-year affordability term offer another solution.  However, based on preliminary feedback from the development community,most developers will likely opt to use the cash formula.

….Cash contributions made to satisfy this ordinance’s requirements would aid Council’s strategy to raise “significant resources” for the City’s Housing Fund.

Charlottesville is actually a little late getting in on this stealth new home buyer tax.  Governor Kaine signed the requiring enabling legislation earlier this year.  Albemarle County [which has had such authority] has mandated affordable housing in its new projects for a number of years. As The Free Enterprise Forum predicted when Albemarle considered their ordinance, the costs have been passed on to the end user.  In addition for those new affordable units that have come on-line, it has been VERY difficult to find buyers that meet the income restrictions with quality credit history to permit financing.

Charlottesville City Council has stated their vision for affordable housing to offer housing “that is affordable and attainable for people of all income levels, life stages, and abilities”.   If this is a stated community goal, why is the cost burden being placed clearly on the new residential unit buyer?