Tag Archives: zoning

C-ville UDO – Merging (Not Fixing) Ordinances

By. Neil Williamson, President

measure twice cut onceOn Tuesday evening, Charlottesville’s Planning Commission is being asked to endorse a new “concept” that would seek to merge the development regulations and subdivision ordinances and refer to the consolidated requirements as a “Unified Development Ordinance” (UDO).

This staff driven concept is allegedly being prompted by a change in state code that no longer allows localities to mandate a preliminary AND final submission.  Therefore, staff desires City Code clearly delineate all requirements for subdivision and zoning final plans in one ordinance.

Originally presented as “housekeeping items”, the Planning Commission balked and questioned the breadth of the significant changes.  The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) also weighed in with two pages of concerns.

After meeting with BRHBA representatives, Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson dismissed their concerns suggesting now was not the time to discuss “substantive” provisions of the two ordinances being merged.  In addition she wrote that the concerns

relate to existing provisions of the City’s zoning ordinance (“Z.O.)” or subdivision ordinance (“S.O.”) and are not new within the draft UDO:

For those not following the ordinance merry-go-round already in motion – Charlottesville has initiated a “Code Audit” that will likely result in significant ordinance changes beyond (and perhaps in conflict with) the changes contemplated under this UDA “concept”.  If they move forward with the UDA this will result in two confusing massive overhauls in City Code.  Why not wait until the audit is completed before going forward with the UDA concept?

With all due respect to the Chief Deputy County Attorney, if the UDO “concept” has significant problems, it is important to raise those concerns prior to endorsing the concept.  It may be that the entire ordinance structure needs to be “substantively reviewed” prior to the Planning Commission providing their proof of concept.

Further complicating matters is the imminent departure of Jim Tolbert who has served as the Director of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) since its inception.  While we have not always agreed with Tolbert, we know him to be a pragmatic professional and will miss his wit and wisdom.  We fully anticipate a lengthy national search for Tolbert’s replacement and have heard rumors of a potential reorganization of the entire City Planning/Zoning Department.  In the interim, the departments will likely run shorthanded.

design charetteIf the Planning Commission decides now is the best time to push forward an UDO, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates this will be yet another outside consultant exercise where local understanding of the regulations and policies regarding development operations may become lost in the mirage of charettes and renderings of other localities.

It is rather sad that rather than dealing with the substantive issues raised by the very people impacted by the ordinances, the Chief Deputy City Attorney was dismissive of their concerns.

Could the staff concerns regarding the elimination of preapplication plans be solved without a massive consolidated UDA?

Of course it could.

Will Charlottesville’s Planning Commission challenge staff to deal directly with the issues raised, choose to wait for their own Code Audit to complete prior to overhauling the City Code  or will they chose to follow staff’s direction and put off the important substantive problems with the existing (and proposed) ordinances and push forward with the UDA concept?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, aggieworkshop.com, arbroath.blogspot.com

“Snob Zoning” Request Returns to Charlottesville City Council?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In a blog post just under a year ago, Is the Lorax Guilty of Snob Zoning?, we raised concerns of so called snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300“Snob Zoning” in Central Virginia.  Included in that post was a quote from Councilor Dede Smith about new residential developments.

[City Councilor Dede] Smith also wanted to know what population was being attracted to Charlottesville based on the nature of the new developments.

“Who is going to live at City Walk?” Smith asked. “Our number of families is declining in the city and it has been stated as a priority that we would like to at least maintain or grow housing for families.”

Well, she is at it again.

Last week, Smith  strong armed the panel into considering a proactive downzoning in opposition to the wishes of the property owners.

Despite a majority of Councilors indicating their opposition to the rezoning, they were bullied into a public hearing process that will likely result in significant staff work, unrealistic citizen expectations as well as potential legal liability.

In The Daily Progress article written by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs, Jim Tolbert, Director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services is quoted:

“Essentially, they are asking for the properties on Stribling, Crestmont and Shamrock to be downzoned,”

The reality is this is not a new issue.  The neighborhood association has been attempting to get these properties rezoned since at least 1999.

DEDE_portrait_200Perhaps most troubling was Councilor Smith’s dismissive attitude regarding the property owners wishes (and their property rights).  According to the Daily Progress:

Tolbert said the rezoning is opposed by 16 out of 23 residents of Crestmont Avenue.

Councilor Dede Smith, a Fry’s Spring resident, said that half of those owners do not live in Charlottesville. [Emphasis added-NW]

Property rights are NOT dependent on the owner occupying the property NOR their domicile.

The Free Enterprise Forum tends to agree with the opinion of City Attorney Craig Brown in describing this action as a downzoning.  He indicated that to initiate such an action there would be a need for the Council to have a finding of some change (since 2003) that

“materially affects  health, safety and welfare to justify that downzoning.”

We also concur with Councilor Szakos who indicated her belief that the holding of these hearing will create a false expectation of the citizens that the Council is prepared to downzone these properties.

We are also concerned that one councilor suggested the research phase of this process “may uncover a legal reason why the rezoning could be permissible”.

The ultimate motivation for this move, which was approved 4-1 (Szakos opposed)  may however also be an activist litmus test to expose the reluctance of some members of Council to reach beyond their legal authority and downzone the properties. 

There are some politically active community members that have suggested this is the first salvo in the next city council election (AKA Democratic primary).  To those fully engaged in these issues, it is not hard to see how supporting illegal “Snob Zoning” may win votes in an at-large City Council primary campaign.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

 

 

Greene Planning Commission Struggles with Zoning for Recycling Center

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission heard two related issues on Wednesday, April, 16th. Larry and Barbara Hall of APEX, LLC  have found a business opportunity – recycling concrete and blacktop – to locate on their property between Lowes and Luck Stone in Ruckersville.

The property is currently zoned A-1 which does not permit the recycling center. So the request was made to revise A-1 Agricultural and M-1 Industrial to permit the recycling center by special use permit.

Planning Commissioner John McCloskey asked for a clarification on the size of the recycling center and Zoning Administrator/Planning Director Bart Svoboda said that 10 acres or less could be allowed, if over 10 acres then it would have to be located in an industrial zone. A-1 won’t fit in all cases, but where the roadway is large enough to permit truck traffic it would be an option.

Only two speakers from the public addressed the Planning Commission and they both brought up concerns about pollution from the recycling center. Commissioner Vic Schaff questioned why a recycling center would not be included under B-3 zoning instead of A-1? This lead to a discussion whether B-3 could be added to the ordinance revision. Svoboda stated that the request before the Planning Commission could not have an addition but they could delete and place restrictions on the request. If the Planning Commission wanted to act on B-3 zoning it would have to be heard as a separate action and the meeting would have to be advertised.

Chairman Jay Willer addressed Mr. Hall to clarify his desire. Mr. Hall stated he preferred the A-1 zoning but would be willing to work with whatever zoning the Planning Commission decided upon. If the Planning Commission decided to pursue the B-3 zoning Bart Svoboda explained that APEX would need to request a rezoning of their property to B-3 and then request the SUP. At that point, Commissioner Schaff made a motion to approve the ordinance revision, remove A-1 from the zoning and to define recycling by excluding junk yards and hazardous materials. The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Eva Young voting against it.

The second item of the evening was the special use permit request of APEX, LLC/Larry and Barbara Hall for 5 acres of the 23 acre tract they own at the location noted above currently zoned A-1. Since the actions of the Planning Commission are recommendations to the BOS the exclusion of A-1 has not technically occurred. So the Planning Commission took a mulligan and went ahead with the SUP in case the Board of Supervisors allows recycling centers in A-1 zones. Of particular interest during Bart Svoboda’s presentation was the state requirement of 25% recycling  that this center would help the county in attaining. Svoboda also outlined the requirements of building up a berm and planting six foot evergreens near the north end of Lowes to block the view. Finally, the hours of operation would be restricted the same as Luck Stone, from 7 am to 9 pm.

Mr. Hall outlined the process that they want to start up in Greene. This recycling operation reclaims 100% of the materials taken in. Currently Virginia does not use this material, but VDOT is working on getting such recycled materials approved for use. He also stated that the volume he has of 38,000 tons when recycled would meet the 25% goal by itself. He also stated that they have closed the entrance off US 29 and would be using the entrance near Lowes that has a stop light.

The same two environmental concerns that were raised by the public in the ordinance proposal were repeated in the SUP hearing.   Dave Holtzman with the Piedmont Environmental Council felt that the location for the recycling center was appropriate especially next to the Luck Stone quarry. He raised the question if all of the materials coming into the recycling center originated in Greene and therefore would the county get credit for recycling toward the 25% requirement and what volume of truck traffic would be at the light near Lowes.

Commissioner McCloskey asked Mr. Hall how much material would be on site when in operation. Mr. Hall stated 5-6,000 tons which is much less than is stored currently (materials before recycling).

Chairman Willer asked if the business is currently registered with Greene County and Mr. Hall indicated that after the zoning issues were resolved, he would then register the business.

This lead to a rather complicated motion of denying the request in A-1 unless the Board of Supervisors allowed the recycling center in A-1, then the PC would approve the request. This was approved 5-0 and it will be passed on to the BOS as will the request for the ordinance revision.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Is the Lorax Guilty of Snob Zoning?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Let me open with a disclaimer – I love beach reading. 

I was t"Snob Zones" by Liza Prevost was released Tuesday, May 7 and covers Darien and other New England towns' zoning regs.hrilled to be able to take a few days off with the family for a beach trip late last month.  While some might have preferred the new Dan Brown novel, my  primary book this trip was  Lisa Prevost’s Snob Zoning.

Prevost is an award winning journalist who has written extensively about real estate for the New York Times.  Her articles have also appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, More, Ladies’ Home Journal , and other publications.

In this rather well researched, short tome, Prevost outlines specific New England instances where existing residents use restrictive local zoning to eliminate the potential of “undesirable” affordable housing.  

Every reader will examine this book with their own perspective but many passages reminded me of the Charlottesville region, or where some would like it to be.

“As the wealthiest town in Litchfield County, Roxbury (CT) can financially afford its pull-up-the-drawbridge mentality.  The wealthy weekenders pay far more in taxes than they demand in services, thereby making up for the town’s nearly nonexistent commercial base.  the top ten taxpayers on the town’s grand list are, in fact, homeowners. ‘That’s our industry,’ says Gary Steinman, a biomedical engineer who operates a consulting practice out of his Roxbury home. ‘If we lose our rurality, we would lose that industry.’  But by refusing to make room for any higher density housing, Roxbury is contributing to a regional affordable housing shortage that affects most of the northwest corner.”

Over the last ten years, I have heard countless times that it is the “ruralness” of Albemarle County that makes our part of the world unique.  Preservation of such rural integrity is a priority for the Board of Supervisors even as such rural protection runs in conflict with their housing affordability goals.

This passage was also front of mind this morning as I read Sean Tubbs’ Daily Progress article on development projects in the City of Charlottesville and members of City Council’s concerns over their design and projected populations.

“[City Councilor Dede] Smith also wanted to know what population was being attracted to Charlottesville based on the nature of the new developments.

“Who is going to live at City Walk?” Smith asked. “Our number of families is declining in the city and it has been stated as a priority that we would like to at least maintain or grow housing for families.”

Reading between the lines, the question seems to be ‘are the right kind of people going to live at City Walk?’.  Isn’t this the very type of exclusionary thinking that could be called ‘Snob Zoning’?

Is this really what the City should determine or should the land owner, who is taking the financial risk seek to provide what the market will bear?

The concept of using zoning to preclude types of developments, or even specific tenants, is not limited to Charlottesville.  Paula Hawthorne of The Central Virginian reports of resident objections with a proposed Family Dollar retail outlet in Mineral. Under the front page banner headline “No welcome mat for Family Dollar”: 

“Residents Debbie and James Glass are against having Family Dollar in their neighborhood.  “I don’t want it in my backyard,” Debbie said.

Prevost reports such NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) clearly fueled the density discussion in Ossipee New Hampshire where the town enacted regulation that was so restrictive the Zoning chairman Mark McConkey said:

“‘I believe the spirit of this ordinance was to deny the opportunity for multifamily housing to go forward in this town.  I believe it is the intent of the ordinance whether it is right or wrong.’

McConkey’s startling admission was as good as a gift, from Viscarello’s perspective.  First thing the next morning, he dispatched a paralegal to Ossipee.  He wanted a copy of the hearing tapes before anything could happen to them.  Two months later, after failed attempts to get the board to reconsider its denial, Great Bridge sued the town in superior court.”

I will not divulge how the court case turned out suffice it to say the twists of the case made for great reading.

Perhaps the most interesting case study in the book focused on Watch Hill, Rhode Island where an area known as Napatree is 90% owned by the Watch Hill Fire District.  The District and another Parcel owner  The Watch Hill Conservancy entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the service to manage the federally protected piping plover population.  According to Prevost:

The fire district and conservancy had taken it upon themselves to hire wardens and put up signs.

This new arrangement was necessary to protect Napatree from overuse.  Conservancy officials pointed to a study’ they’d commissioned that concluded extensive human (and canine) use was harming the dunes, along with the well-being of threatened birds like the plovers…

…If preserving Napatree was a laudable goal, the locals who regularly roamed its shores were not convinced conservation was the sole aim.  “There was a sense that somehow the conservancy and fire district were trying to exclude people,’ says Steven Hartford, Westerly’s town manager.  The warning that “permission may be withdrawn at any time” sounded like some like a threat.  

This is a concern I have often heard voiced in Central Virginia as land owners enter into conservation easements and then find they may not be able to do what they wish with the land due to the restrictive language of the easement.

Often in local public policy, an oversimplification of developer vs. the-lorax-pic09environmentalist is put forth as the story line.  Very rarely are the lines that clear. 

Regularly, the Suessical Lorax imagery is brought forth to cast the development interests in a negative light.  The Rhode Island case was demonstrative of this issue.

“Although he knows that the preservation of eelgrass beds is important for sustaining healthy fisheries populations DeGrooth is openly suspicious of the Watch Hill groups’ push for more control over the anchorage, an area the general public has freely enjoyed access,”They’re using the curtain of environmental protection for a completely different agenda,” he charges. “they are not dumb.  They are very slow, very methodical.””

In many cases, I see folks who feign environmental concern simply to restrict the lawful development of property that they do not own.  Unfortunately, I tend to agree with the author that the NIMBY or CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have the political upper hand.  

In his book review, John Ross writes on Reason.com:

Prevost sees little hope of changing entrenched attitudes about multi-family housing developments. “This is a world where facts are irrelevant,” says a demographer she spoke to. “I’ve explained over and over again that workforce housing is not Section 8 housing with welfare recipients packed in there.”

Snobs dominate local politics and are unlikely to embrace relaxed zoning codes any time soon. Change may yet come, though, as the demand for single-family homes subsides. The next generation simply isn’t as enamored of low-density living as baby boomers were.

With a subtitle of “Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate” Lisa Prevost’s Snob Zones should be required reading for all Planning Commissioners, Zoning Boards, Boards of Supervisors and City Councils. 

Beyond just a great beach read, this book has the potential to make a difference.  By spotlighting these overzealous zoning regulations and the fortress mentality of NIMBYism that created them, readers will likely reexamine  land-use drawbridge regulatory impacts (intended and unintended) on the entire community.

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.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits : Universal Pictures, Beacon Press

Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan–Deep in the Weeds

By. Neil Williamson

An open letter to the Albemarle County Planning Commission:

April 15, 2013

Mr. Calvin Morris, Chairman, Albemarle County Planning Commission

Dear Chairman Morris and members of the Albemarle County Planning Commission,

Thank you for the extended deadline to provide written comments on the Albemarle Comprehensive Plan. Staff should be commended for marshaling this process forward and seeking to limit the size of the plan (which is still too big).

Before we get to our analysis of the plan, the Free Enterprise Forum wishes to highlight the failure of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to meet the deadlines associated with the joint City/County/TJPDC/UVA livability plan. In concept this over 1 million dollar expenditure was to “inform the comprehensive planning in the City and County”, the money has been spent but the work is not yet complete. The plethora of meetings, public input sessions and joint Planning Commission meetings produced a number of benefits but absent the final work product the effort must be deemed a failure. While appreciative of the supplementary benefits, the Free Enterprise Forum remains concerned that this project was mismanaged by the lead agency.

We have reviewed the entire plan and our comments are organized sequentially with the plan.

Chapter 2 Growth Management Policy – page 2.2.2 the joint City Count statement “the scale and scope of the impacts of new development on this infrastructure necessitate greater financial participation by new development in addressing this need.” The statement infers that absent new development infrastructure would be adequate – which is not true. A lack of concurrency of infrastructure has been a concern of the Free Enterprise Forum for over ten years. If the answer to this concern is to make Development area projects even more expensive, this will force development into by right status , into the rural areas, or out of Albemarle County entirely.

Page 2.2.3 should recognize that the County Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) has not kept up with the community needs.

Page 2.2.4 The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned with the concept of priority areas within the development area. We recognize the limitation of public funds and the need to focus those funds. Where we are concerned is the language: “Land Use decisions should be made consistent with the priority areas established in the Development Area Master Plans. The County may decide not to approve new rezoning or special use permit outside of the designated priority areas as planned facilities are not in place to support the proposed project and the existing neighborhoods. If approved, however, as a part of the land development process, developers will need to provide more significant levels of improvement to ensure adequate infrastructure and services are available to the area.

If, as we contend, the County has failed to properly fund and construct concurrent infrastructure, the cost to provide adequate infrastructure to both new and existing residents is now on the private land owner whose development area parcel happens not to fall in the “Priority Area”. For the same reasons as cited above this will accelerate the kind of By Right development the Comprehensive Plan indicates it wishes to avoid.

As an aside, The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned with the growing power of appointed Community Councils. We are troubled that development proposals are regularly referred to these councils for their blessing prior to going before the Planning Commission.

Chapter 3 Comprehensive Plan and Background – Page 3.2 The 1998 Sustainability Accords these items have appeared in the Comprehensive Plan since their passage. While there has been little discussion of these accords the plan states “Goals for sustainability were most recently adopted in 2007 when the Comprehensive Plan reaffirmed the accords” Has the Planning Commission, or any other body really reviewed the sustainability accords recently? They were written 15 years ago. Should we accept these accords as if they came down from the mountain on stone tablets? Or should they be examined prior to passing the comprehensive plan that would “reaffirm the Accords”

Historic Preservation Page 3.9 (joint City County goals) “To do this the City and County will: Colloborate with the University of Virginia, Ashlawn-Highland, Monticello and other community organizations on historic preservation matters.” The Free Enterprise Forum finds the failure to include property owners in the list of collaborators is an error and speaks to an institutional bias in opposition to property rights.

Chapter 5.1 Natural Resources – Page 5.1.1 This chapter is in need of editing. It speaks to the importance of an issue that the Natural Resources chapter of the comprehensive plan is 30 pages while only 11 pages are dedicated to the economic development chapter.

Page 5.2.4 Mountain Protection – This section correctly identifies the Mountain Protection Ordinance as being rejected by the community in January 2007. IS there a reason for including this text in the plan? The issue has been resolved. This text should be removed.

Page 5.1.10 Stormwater Management – The plan states “Evidence has shown that, once constructed, many facilities are not maintained properly.” While this may be true in some areas, it is clearly not true in other areas. This text is prejudicial and should be reworded.

Page 5.1.13 Objective 1: Retain Biodiversity in the County – “This information should be used to create a database that includes both landscape features such as habitats and critical slopes areas and species occurrences from point observations. The database should then be included in the County’s Geographical Information System so that County staff and the public can use the information for conservation purposes. The information could also be used in reviewing requests for legislative approvals.” [emphasis added]

Is Albemarle County prepared to limit development in their development area based on the number of species established by a biodiversity inventory? What possible project could be approved under such a standard?

Page 5.1.14 Biodiversity Action PlanBuilding on this analysis, the County should develop the action plan based on conserving ecological integrity at the scale of the landscape” Ecological integrity is an undefined buzz word that promotes existing conditions while failing to recognize potential ecological benefits of development (or redevelopment) This entire concept should be removed from the plan

Page 5.1.15 Strategies – In no other chapter does the work of the comprehensive plan fall so directly on one group of unelected individuals. The Natural Heritage Committee is continually mentioned as a resource and an “expert” on Biodiversity. Interestingly this group has lost more than half of its members in the last year and the clerk’s office has not received any interested applicants in the last two months.

Page 5.1.19 Strategy 4d.3 – “Apply a general risk management approach to the public water supply watershed whereby land use management takes priority over design and best management practices (BMPs) to reduce or eliminate risk from land development activities.” Reading between the lines of this dense statement, it suggests regardless of placement in the development areas, any parcel should not be developed if it is within the public water supply watershed. This could be read as a call for no development. This is absurd.

Page 5.1.19 Strategy 4e.1 – The explanation of groundwater is overly verbose and at times nonsensical. The suggestion that “A new well may also draw water from the flow that is going to a different resident’s well” is gently worded enough to be technically correct but contradicts testimony provided to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors from then Water resource Manager David Hirshman.

Chapter 5.2 Historic, Cultural, and Scenic Resources – Page 5.2.3Moreover the number of resources destroyed in recent years suggests that continued reliance on solely voluntary measures would not be adequate to protect those resources. Instead a combination of strategies is necessary, including voluntary techniques, regulation, education and financial incentives.” The Free Enterprise Forum calls for regulation to be removed from the strategies listed. This community has a firm desire for voluntary measures and incentives but Historic Preservation Ordinances are unacceptable.

Page 5.2.8 – No one of the strategies for historic preservation includes the phrase with the consent of the property owner.

Page 5.2.10 Strategy 2b1: “Adopt a historic overlay district ordinance to recognize and protect historic, architectural, and cultural resources, including individual sites and districts at the local level”. We acknowledge that this language exists in the current comprehensive plan but we have not seen significant public support for a new confiscatory historic overlay. The Free Enterprise Forum asks that this language be struck from the Comprehensive Plan.

Page 5.2.10 Strategy 2.b.3: “Expand the authority of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to include the review required under the recommended historic district overlay ordinance. Revise the make up of the ARB to include members with expertise in historic preservation and revise the name of the group accordingly”. Considering our significant concerns with the existing regulatory over reach of the ARB, the Free Enterprise Forum does not support the creation of the Super ARB and ask that it be struck from the Comprehensive Plan.

Page 5.2.10 Strategy 2b.7:To discourage the destruction of important historic resources, seek enabling legislation that would allow the County to impose meaningful civil penalty for inappropriate demolition, razing or moving of any designated historic resource. This enabling legislation should also authorize the County to use civil penalties collected to fund components of the County’s historic preservation program.” The fact that the County can’t work with existing legislative authority and is seeking to develop a civil penalty slush fund to be used for preservation suggests this is not a true priority for the County. If the county wishes to preserve a historic building or landscape – they should buy it.

Page 5.2.12 Strategy 4a:The County should help protect Monticello’s viewshed using these measures:” The Free Enterprise Forum has been very outspoken on this issue. Time and again when we raise the issue we have been told this is a voluntary program. Reading the introductory statement this is not voluntary it is declarative.

While we believe all of strategy 4a should be dropped, we ask that if you consider retaining any language it be improved to recognize that the “protection” Monticello is seeking is at the cost of other tax paying property owners rights. Perhaps change this directive to encourage communication (not cooperation) between Monticello and other private property owners regarding visual impacts (not viewshed).

Page 5.2.12 Strategy 4a.5: “Staff should be aware of the Viewshed area and be especially careful when applying land use regulations to properties in the viewshed.” Again we believe the whole section should be dropped but this is ridiculous is staff NOT to be careful in applying land use regulations elsewhere in the County. This is superfluous and suggests additional special treatment that does not exist in code!

Page 5.2.14 Cultural and Scenic resources (last paragraph): “Existing regulations only go so far in protecting the resources. Greater ability to regulate aesthetics is desired to help preserve these qualities“. Recognizing the balance of this chapter calls for increased regulatory powers and aesthetic controls, the Free Enterprise Forum asks how this balances with the “desire” for economic development. Albemarle County is at a critical tipping point where over regulation, while seeking to maintain the existing condition, may forestall the economic advancement of the community.

Page 5.2.21 Plan for Scenic Resources Objective 1: Support wider enabling legislation for regulating aesthetics in specified areas of importance.” Once again the desires of the property owners will be secondary to the powers of regulations for “areas of importance” This objective and the following strategy should be dropped from the plan.

Page 5.2.21 Strategy 1a: “Support enabling legislation for Albemarle County to provide for a scenic protection and tourist enhancement overlay district”. Based on the Free Enterprise Forum’s opposition to the Monticello viewshed overlay one can imagine we are equally, if not more, concerned with the concept of a tourism enhancement overlay district that would hinder the property rights of Albemarle citizens. We do not believe this is the general direction of the Board of Supervisors at this time and question whether the Planning Commission, utilizing Zero Based Planning, has fully vetted this question. If such a proposal were to go forward, the Free Enterprise Forum promises to fight it at the local and state level.

Page 5.2.22 Strategy 2f: “ Consider additional EC [Entrance Corridor] designations as appropriate, or as road classifications change for roads such as the John W. Warner Parkway, Route 614 (Sugar Hollow Road), Route 692/712 Plank Road, and Route 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike)”. Albemarle County today has 19 Entrance Corridors. The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a gross misuse of the enabling legislation. The Free Enterprise Forum asks that the number of entrance corridors be reduced to ten and that no new road may be added as an entrance corridor unless one is removed.

Page 5.2.23 Strategy 2g:Review the EC guidelines for effectiveness in protecting the integrity of exceptionally scenic EC corridors, such as Route 250 West.” Now the EC guidelines are not enough the concept is to plan for super guidelines for those “exceptional corridors”. If Albemarle County is serious about create protection for the exceptional, the Free Enterprise Forum suggests simply reducing the number of Entrance Corridors and implementing the exceptional strategies on that reduced number.

The natural progression from this concept is recognized in the last line of this section “recommendations for stricter zoning regulations in the ECs may be an outcome of this review”.

Page 5.2.24 Objective 5: Preserve important views as they relate to tourism and recreational assets. This objective and the strategies supporting it suggest a regulatory solution to the organic change of the community. How does this balance with the economic development [or ecological in the case of controlled burns, timber harvesting].

Page 5.2.24 Strategy 5b: Protect the Monticello viewshed as indicated in the historical Resources Section. – see our comments above

Chapter 5.3 Economic Development: While the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the Economic Development chapter is the shortest in the Comprehensive Plan, we applaud the inclusion of this important concept.

We are concerned that the length of the Natural Resources chapter is three times that of Economic Development chapter. While both are important, the Free Enterprise Forum believes ample opportunity exists to balance the chapters to better reflect their equal import.

Chapter 5.4 Land use for the Rural areas. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the inclusion of economic sustainability as a goal for the rural areas. The best way to keep land in agricultural and forestry uses is to allow ancillary uses to help economically support the primary uses.

Chapter 5.5 Land Use for Development Areas, page 5.5.11: Tables for remaining non-constrained land the tables were not updated by the time the document was released to the public for review. We are eager to see the new numbers and anticipate they will consider the land that is now slated to be Biscuit Run State Park to be “constrained”.

Page 5.5.11: “Several studies over the last seven years have indicated that the County has enough rezoned commercial square footage to last more than 20 years. The Studies did not include analysis of already zoned commercial areas or the potential for redevelopment. Because of the amount of work that has already been done on the topic, staff is not going to perform another retail analysis. Instead, attention will be paid to the land designated for industrial and/or employment uses ”. This is a false choice. There is no reason the Planning Commission (or the BOS) should not demand that a retail analysis be conducted for this 5 year update of the comprehensive plan. While the studies are mentioned they are not cited and in just about every case I am aware of these reports were completed with an agenda (both pro and con). Albemarle should insist a proper accounting of commercial space be conducted as a part of this plan.

Page 5.5.15: Objective 1: Achieve high quality development through the application of Neighborhood Model principles. The phraseology of this objective is troublesome. The Free Enterprise Forum believes most if not all applications that come before the Planning Commission have to balance the principles of the neighborhood model to their projects goals and site limitations. We respectfully suggest that the word “flexible” be placed between through and application to better reflect the reality of development [and redevelopment] in Albemarle County.

Page 5.5.19: “A network of streets and convenient routes for pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and other transit, including the potential for light rail in the future allows alternatives to driving”. Back in 2009, we wrote extensively regarding the population required to support the investment of light rail in any community. While we are aware of the highly popular Tide line in the Virginia Beach area, we also recognize they have significantly higher population to support light rail. This twenty year comprehensive plan does not include such population projections; therefore this reference, while fanciful to many in the planning community, should be removed.

Page 5.5.20 Relegated Parking The Free Enterprise Forum believes the parking regulations in Albemarle County are in need of review and revision. The Comprehensive Plan provides an opportunity to suggest such a review. No other principle has received more attention than so called relegated parking. We call on Albemarle County to review the parking regulations with the Albemarle County Police Community Safety through Environmental Design Officer and report back to the BOS prior to moving forward again endorsing relegated parking in the Comprehensive Plan.

Page 5.5.22Review the cash proffer policy to assess what effect it may have on density”. Earlier this year the Free Enterprise Forum provided the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors our white paper “Contradictory Consequences” on cash proffers. We encourage examining our paper, and the examples included, to evaluate the effectiveness of cash proffers on density. We anticipate your findings will be similar to ours that a cash proffer policy encourages by right development at a density and form that is contrary to the County’s approved Comprehensive Plan.

In 2007, Albemarle County looked to Chesterfield County a model for cash proffer legislation. It is interesting that Chesterfield is now contemplating repeal, or at least rolling back, its cash proffer policy. It may be time for Albemarle to take similar action.

Page 5.5.25 Strategy 6b: “Make land use decisions that are consistent with Priority Areas that are established in the Development Area Master Plans. Do not approve proposed rezonings and special use permits outside of the priority areas when planned facilities are not in place to support the project and existing neighborhoods, unless the proposed project will provide significant improvements to ensure adequate infrastructure and services are available to the area[emphasis added].

As stated above [under growth management] If, as we contend, the County has failed to properly fund and construct concurrent infrastructure, the cost to provide adequate infrastructure to both new and existing residents is now on the private land owner whose development area parcel happens not to fall in the “Priority Area”. For the same reasons as cited above this will accelerate the kind of By Right development the Comprehensive Plan indicates it wishes to avoid. The Free Enterprise Forum is opposed to the se of Priority Areas to reject land use applications that would otherwise have been approved.

Page 5.6.11: “Fund programs of the County’s Housing Department to implement housing policies.” Similar to our concerns regarding the Natural Resource Chapter mandating the County “Hire” an environmental planner, the Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the comprehensive plan is the proper place for the housing department to be requesting additional funding.

Page 5.7.3: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”. This anti automobile philosophy is prevalent throughout academic papers in planning. The reality is the automobile is and for the foreseeable future will be the primary form of transportation for the majority of Albemarle’s population. Given advances in fuel economy, hybrid vehicles and transit opportunities, we must question if the current development patterns are really “hard to sustain”?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes multi modal opportunities should be evaluated and implemented but only after recognizing that people who live, work and play in Albemarle County appreciate and invest in the independent mobility of the automobile.

If you have made it this far, thank you. The Free Enterprise Forum is appreciative of the considerable effort of staff, planning commissioners and the public to engage with this document. In addition, thank you for the extension for written comments, as the 3,000+ words above indicate this is a dense document and required time to digest.

We look forward to being a part of the continuing dialog on this issue.

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.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene BOS Approves Region Ten Rezoning

By. Brent Wilson

At the January 22nd Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting, Jennifer Hinkle, Director of Greene County’s Region Ten Community Service, requested a rezoning of a 1 acre parcel from R-1 to B-1. The site has had a special use permit for usage of the R-1 class since 1981 and for many years housed a fitness center . The acre plot is situated in a residential area just east of Stanardsville off Route 33 Business on Lambs Lane. B-1 rezoning would allow a professional office to be located on the site. The Greene County Planning Commission had approved this request at its November 15, 2012 meeting .

image

Hinkle explained that VDOT estimates fewer vehicle trips per day.

The Comprehensive Plan  supports business growth in the Stanardsville area. Region Ten has been in service to Greene County since 1972. The need to move locations is caused by the lack of space in their current facility which serves approximately 60 students and 40 adults.

Lisa Roberston, Region Ten’s attorney, spoke about Region Ten’s service to Greene. The request is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and Region Ten is a long time resident of Greene County showing an ability to coexist beside residential property. The current space for Region Ten has residential on two sides and the new space would meet most of the B-1 requirements in a residential area.

However, the majority of the speakers come out opposed to the B-1 rezoning for Region Ten. Wendell Lamb gave the history of the property, 17 acres, that dates back to his mother’s home. He got the special use permit for the fitness facility and then sold the business. He gave each of his children 2 acres of land around the facility and he still owns part of the property. His argument was – would you want Region Ten in your family plot when there are other places in Greene they could locate?

Several other speakers against the rezoning brought up issues of the B-1 class. There is not enough parking spaces, there is not handicapped parking for both levels and no elevator within the building, there is not enough set back, etc. Many believed this to be spot zoning.

None of the speakers against the rezoning spoke negatively toward the work Region Ten does, they spoke out against the location only. However, several speakers were both supportive of the organization’s work and the new location. In addition, Region Ten in Greene County provides space to the Food Bank  in Greene County.

After the public comment, County Attorney Ray Clarke, reminded the BOS that this was a land issue and not specifically about the building on the site. The site review issues related to the building should not be considered. The question of spot zoning  is valid only if the specific location receives benefit. If there are benefits beyond the specific site, then it is not spot zoning.

The BOS then spoke on the issues. Clarence “Buggs” Peyton (Stanardsville) began the discussion by stating that B-1 zoning would allow a variety of new commercial uses on the property (see page 29 of Greene County Zoning Ordinance ) whereas the SUP was for only the one use. He felt the Comprehensive Plan designated this area primarily for family development.

Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) agreed with Peyton.  Supervisor Eddie Deane (At-Large) stated he appreciates what Region Ten brings to Greene County. If the rezoning is approved then, Region Ten would have to deal with any non-conforming issue at that time, Dean suggested. 

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe)  had similar questions about what Region Ten would have to do to be in compliance. Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) echoed Cox’s zoning questions and Greene County Planning Director Bart Svoboda answered that the current building probably is non-conformance as it stands today for B-1 zoning.

Peyton made a motion to deny the rezoning request which was defeated in a 2-3 (Cox, Dean, Frydl – No) vote.  Cox made a motion to approve the request which passed 3-2 (Peyton, Lamb – No).

——————————————–

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

Want to Improve Industrial Zoning? Eliminate It!

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The idea of increasing the availability of light industrial land and reducing the level of regulation is really about the development of career ladder jobs.  So regardless of the dense arguments that follow regarding zoning regulatory burdens, one must remember the over arching goal is to locate quality jobs closer to qualified workers.

According to Younger & Associates the  “Hidden Employment Pool” reported in the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED) Targeted Industry Report is significant:

When the components of the labor supply pool are combined [recent graduates, unemployed desiring work, underemployed and part time desiring full time work], the total Hidden Potential Labor Supply can be seen. … In the TJPED region, employers have a potential labor pool of over 95,100 workers, many with past work experience and training that can be beneficial to employers in key industry groups.

With this as the demographic and economic backdrop, Tuesday night Albemarle County is considering a fairly comprehensive update of its industrial zoning ordinance.  While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds this update and asks that amendment F be adopted to allow limited industrial uses in commercial zoning, we feel that the entire concept of industrial zoning should be reexamined.

Technology advances significantly faster than regulation [This currentbiotech-eight-bottom-1 Zoning Text Amendment dates back to 2009].  Even the staff report indicates the problem with contemplating all the potential uses “it is virtually impossible to anticipate every industrial use”.  Considering that zoning is enforced on a complaint basis; it seems intuitive that the drafting of any zoning ordinance is similar to fighting the last war.

So why not scrap the entire zoning classification game and work on what really matters – impacts to the neighbors and community.  Why should Albemarle County, or any locality, care if I am making widgets, wallets or wing nuts in my light industrial facility?

It shouldn’t matter.  But since the beginning zoning has focused on what you are doing on a parcel rather than how what you are doing may impact others.

gaschromatographyWhat should matter is the development of reasonable, enforceable performance standards for any and all industrial uses.  Rather than spending months and thousands of dollars to get a piece of paper that allows you by special use permit (or special exception) to create jobs and build widgets, that money can be spent building your production facility/studio/flex space to be nimble to market demands and respectful of your neighbors regarding noise, emissions and traffic impacts.

Albemarle County’s proposal goes halfway in this direction as it requires all industrial uses provide a certified engineer’s report (Sec 4.14.5) addressing the control of emissions, discharges and other by-products of the use.  But all of this is under their very specific permitted uses – if the externalities are the same, the actual use should not matter.

This is not an entirely new idea.  Performance Based Zoning has been tested in several localities across the United States with mixed success.

What is Performance Based Zoning?

According to a paper prepared by the Minnesota Department of Administration:

Performance zoning is a land use planning concept that has its roots in building codes that established performance standards as opposed to specification standards. An example of a performance standard would be “that walls, floor and ceiling be so constructed as to contain
an interior fire for one hour”. A specification standard example would be “that walls, floor and ceiling be constructed of 4 inch thick masonry or stone”.

This concept transmuted into a system of industrial zoning by permitting defined industrial activities and locations based on measurable adverse externalities and their effects on adjoining properties. An adverse externality is an economist’s term that is defined as a harmful effect of one economic agent’s actions on another. Examples are pollution from factories (a production externality) and smoke from cigarettes (a consumption externality). Industrial performance zoning permitted the location of specific businesses and activities theoretically anywhere in a community based upon their measurable pollution impacts relative to their surroundings, human and natural, as opposed to being permitted only in established specific areas on the community’s official land use map.

In a paper published in Planning and Markets, Indiana University’s John R. Ottensmann explains the economic rationale for current so called Euclidian Zoning:

The economic justification for zoning is that the regulations prevent the negative external effects associated with the proximity of incompatible land uses (Clawson 1971, Moore 1978). By eliminating these externalities, the argument goes, zoning can produce a pattern of land use that results in greater overall economic efficiency than would occur in the absence of regulation.

By introducing controls on the private use of land, however, zoning necessarily results in land use decisions that are less efficient from the perspectives of the individual landowners. Proponents of zoning argue that these private inefficiencies would be offset by the increases in economic efficiency obtained by the prevention the negative external effects associated with unregulated patterns of land use. But the question arises as to whether the private inefficiencies created are indeed offset by the reduction in externalities (Nelson 1989). Furthermore, even if the net social benefits associated with zoning are positive, the question remains as to whether traditional zoning creates greater private inefficiencies than would be produced by alternative, more flexible forms of land use regulation.

We recognize there would be significant work to move forward with the creation of a performance based industrial zoning ordinance but we believe the economic benefits far outweigh the upfront bureaucratic costs.

A performance based industrial standard would better, and more specifically, protect adjoining landowners and could significantly improve the economic development opportunities, and employment potential, for the locality that embraces the challenge.

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.

Photo Credits- Biotech 8, Richmond, VA; Indiana University

FCI’s Greene County Development Proposal Narrowly Approved, 3-2

By Pauline Hovey, Field Officer

After a two-hour public hearing on Tuesday (2/28) evening, the Greene County Board of Supervisors approved, by a vote of 3-2, a controversial planned unit development (PUD) on Route 29 north that will bring townhomes to Greene County.

“This will put us in a unique market position that nobody’s serving right now,” Steve Jones, chief operating officer of Fried Companies, Inc., said after the meeting. “We think this is a better project that will provide more market diversity. There already are many single family options out there.”

The applicant BlueMarle LLC/Missus LLC/Fried Companies’ had requested a rezoning that would allow the developer to change its model from an approved 800 unit by-right subdivision to a PUD of 1,180 dwelling units, to include no more than 600 single family homes and 580 townhomes. This request has raised the ire and interest of local residents and businesses over the past several months, attested by the standing-room-only crowd that turned out for the public hearing.

Of particular interest here and in the Board’s recent denial of Greenecroft’s application to amend proffers is that both decisions are in opposition to the Planning Commission’s recommendations. The Planning Commission had unanimously recommended approval of Greenecroft’s request, which also would have brought townhomes to the county and created less controversy among residents, and unanimously recommended denial of the BlueMarle/Fried Companies’ request.

About a dozen people on either side of the issue addressed the board, with many local business owners supporting the rezoning request because of the anticipated increase in their business and boon to the local economy the additional homes would bring. Referring to Fried Companies’ proposal to build the additional 380 homes over a 20-year period, Alan Pyle, owner of The Lafayette Inn in Stanardsville, said, “The question is, what do we have to gain for the extra 19 new homes per year?” Pyle noted the developer already has approval for 800 by-right homes on that site, so the traffic will increase regardless. But, he argued, if supervisors did not approve this PUD, they would not only not receive needed proffers but would eventually pass on the county’s water and sewer financial needs to taxpayers.

Pyle’s sentiments were echoed by other business interests such as the owners of the local Dunkin Donuts, Fabio’s Restaurant, and Anytime Fitness; Jim Kuznar of the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association; Harry Daniel, principal of the Greene County Tech Center; and Don Pamenter representing the Economic Development Authority board.

Those speaking against the rezoning were concerned about the additional traffic, the condition and safety of Preddy Creek Road, the increased need for fire and rescue services, the impact on the school system, and the county’s growing water and sewer needs. Some suggested the board take time to consider all options, including additional proffers, before approving the request.

“The capacity of the sewer plant will be reached without these additional homes,” warned Andrea Wilkinson, of the Ruckersville Citizens Council.

carl_schmittFormer supervisor Carl Schmitt had several issues with the proposal, including the unneeded increased residential potential, noting that Greene County “is second only to Albemarle in population density,” and the public water supply. “We don’t even have the permit application approved yet,” he said of the water impoundment project. “Few people appreciate the difficult situation we’re in.”

Based on the number of townhomes expected to be built as a result of the rezoning, the applicant estimates the county will receive $7.6 million in tap fees. This amount is based on Greene’s current $20,000 combined water and sewer hookup fees. Proffers offered are $1.6 million in transportation improvements, three acres of land dedicated to public use, $570,000 in cash, and $1,500 per single family unit for the first three units. The developer is proffering a connector road running east to west, from Preddy Creek Road at its intersection with Autumn Oaks Lane through the development emptying onto Route 29. Although Jones said they would build the connector road, which was recommended in a traffic impact study, before any homes are constructed, the road is contingent upon VDOT’s approval of a traffic signal and entrance location on Route 29. Jones argued it would relieve the congestion on Matthew Mill Road that residents experience during commuter hours. “VDOT supports this connector road and is on record as saying the improvements they’re making to 607 will not be enough to alleviate traffic,” he said.

But local residents challenged that claim and many were particularly concerned about adding any vehicles to the already dangerous Preddy Creek Road—the site of numerous accidents and a few deaths. Greg Krystyniak, a licensed engineer and resident, expressed concern about the road’s current condition and suggested more proffers were needed to fix the road before allowing any increased traffic.

After the lengthy hearing, Supervisors Eddied Deane (at-large) and David Cox (Monroe) voted without hesitation to approve the project. Chairman Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville), despite noting some positive considerations about the project, voted against it, as did Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville).

jim_frydlWhen the vote came to Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway), he wavered before approving the project. When the Free Enterprise Forum asked him later about his hesitation, Frydl said, “I thought it was the least bad of two bad choices. It was a tradeoff for the county to get some things we need from this decision and obtain more than we’ll lose. With the sewer plant debt looming and the future water impoundment, this will help offset payments. We’ll get 15 to 20 water sewer taps at a time with the townhomes.”

At the same time, Frydl is concerned about the board not following any written cash proffer policy and handling this on an individual basis. “It’s setting a precedent, making it difficult to make such decisions in the future,” he said.

———————————————–

Pauline Hovey 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

Photo Credits: Greene County

Streamlining? – End the “Fake” Public Input

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson

Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors will meet on Wednesday (9/1) to discuss the Legislative Review Process including rezonings and special use permits.  While the staff has proposed a number of important shifts including codifying application requirements (to “reduce scope creep according to the staff report) but it fails to address the easiest of the issues – elimination of “fake” public input.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the public should be engaged in a rezoning as it is a change of land use.  With that being said it is important to acknowledge this change of use must be in accordance with the county’s comprehensive plan, a publically debated document seen as “a guide” for future development.

approved stampPublic engagement and discussion of whether the rezoning is in  accordance with the Comprehensive Plan is appropriate and important; but once the application decision has been made, subsequent waivers (and site plan approvals) should not be used as opportunities for the public to revisit the rezoning decision.

The level of detail required in Albemarle County for a rezoning is incredible.  Such detail could, and should be used to consider the entire parcel (and conceptually the related critical slopes waivers, stream crossings etc.) during the rezoning public hearing.  

As identified in the Resource Management study conducted last year:

Site plans and subdivision plans are primarily technical in nature, and, if a plan meets all criteria, it must be approved. These plans may be approved by staff, except for County Code (14.218). The code stipulates that the Planning Commission will review a plat plan if anyone requests they review. This is in keeping with the County’s commitment to maximum citizen participation, but may mislead citizens as to their degree of impact at this stage. (emphasis added – nw)

Currently the Albemarle Planning staff have a negative presumption when it comes to granting waivers.  That is, the answer is no unless the applicant can provide a compelling reason why the waiver should be granted.  In addition, such administrative waivers may be called up by members of the planning commission.

Considering the level of detail required and the significant opportunity for public comment during the rezoning process, the Free Enterprise Forum believes once a rezoning is approved, all waivers should have a presumption of approval and be administratively approved. 

Recognizing the need for objective performance standards to be set to allow for an administrative approval, Albemarle County should work with developers, engineers, surveyors and environmental specialists to determine and codify these performance standards.

To hold a public hearing on a waiver that clearly meets the standards set forth in the ordinance is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of applicant money and, more importantly, generates unrealistic citizen expectations that the Planning Commission has any power to deny the waiver. 

This is the type of “fake” public engagement that should be rooted out of the legislative process.

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

Greene County’s Haste Makes Waste

By. Neil Williamson, President

On May 24, 2010, the Greene County’s Board of Supervisors held a special meeting which the Free Enterprise Forum called a “Secret Public Meeting”. The purpose of the meeting was to enact a Water Service Area and mandate new homes constructed within the service area hook up to public water and sewer. The new code chapter was made effective immediately and a public hearing to be held within sixty days of the action.

Interestingly, on May 24th, the Board also took action regarding the Greene County Water and Sewer Service Area Policy and revisions to the zoning and subdivision ordinance [revised 7/06/10 6:15 pm, the County placed separate legal ads for the two ordinances] that are not up for public hearing according to the legal notice published in The Greene County Record (July 1, 2010).

With the ordinance available for review and the public hearing now scheduled for July 13th, the Free Enterprise Forum has serious concerns with the language in the Water and Sewer Service Area Policy and the Ordinance revisions.

The Policy reads in part:

Reliable public water and sewer service is essential to the welfare of many Greene County residents and businesses and is a key element in future sustainable growth within the County.  The provisions of these services is limited by water availability and the public water and sewer infrastructure.  To address these considerations, the policy herein promulgated establishes the area in the County where public water and sewer services will be nominally available.

Most localities (including Greene until May 24th) specify a maximum distance from a water main or sewer line that a property owner would be mandated to hook up. The Greene County ordinance reads “nominal” in terms of distance.

West’s Encyclopedia of American Law defines Nominal as:

Trifling, token, or slight; not real or substantial; in name only.

Nominal capital, for example, refers to extremely small or negligible funds, the use of which in a particular business is incidental.

The obvious question left by this enigmatic reference is nominal to whom? The County may judge the cost of extending a water pipe and sewer line over a half mile to reach the main to be “not real or substantial” or it may not, the ordinance is not clear on this issue.

Throughout the Zoning Ordinance revision (that does not seem to be up for public hearing on Tuesday), the term ‘New Construction” is used.

Public water and sanitary sewer hookup is mandatory for new construction within the Water and Sewer Service Area (WSSA) in accordance with these 16-17 regulations, unless the Greene County Board of Supervisors, in consultation with the Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) find that the capacity of the public water and/or sewerage system is inadequate to serve the proposed development.

What of developments that have already been developed [streets and curbs in] with water only hook ups?  A strict interpretation of this language would prohibit Greene County from issuing a building permit for any structure not hooked up to both water and sewer.  We have heard from one applicant that there is some significant confusion on the implementation of this facet of the ordinance.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the intent of the policy is geared toward new home construction but as written, if one chooses to add a deck to an existing home within the water service area, one could be mandated to tie in to the water system. While this is not the intent of the ordinance such sloppiness should be expected when such legislation is rushed.

Greene County made a significant investment in the water treatment facility and is actively pursuing additional community water supply sources. Based on this investment, and the repayment of debt required, it is clear that Greene County needs to mandate water hookups within the service area or the taxpayers (rather than the ratepayers) will be saddled with the debt.

There is a middle ground available to Greene County, constructing a mandated hook up policy built on the concept of volume and distance would be a good start. In addition, the policy should recognize (and provide credits) for over sizing infrastructure that in turn provides revenue opportunity for the authority by increasing the authority’s capacity.

Mandating water hook ups for new residential construction increases the cost of development and this cost will be passed on directly to the new home buyer.

Such a mandate alone would be a challenge regardless of process but considering the non public manner this language was developed, one can’t be surprise by the output.

It reminds me of the old saying, “If you don’t have time to do It right, when will you find time to do it over?”

—————————————————————

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