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October 28, 2011

Albemarle Supervisors candidates on county rural areas

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In the run up to Election Day on November 8th, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out our in-depth nonpartisan voter guide, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council.  In the weeks before the election, we will feature one to two questions a day so that citizens like you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice November 8th.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2011 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, as well as links to videos of candidate forums, copies of our 2011 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more.  All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, FIRST IN A SERIES

image from cvilletomorrow.typepad.com How will you support preserving the rich agrarian tradition and texture of our rural areas? 

 


 

Rivanna District

Ken Boyd (R) – Incumbent

Protection of our rural areas is very much a priority with all of our citizens here.  I have, and I still do, support the [Acquisition of Conservation Easements] (ACE) program during times when the local economic engine is humming, so to speak, and when there’s money in the coffers to support it.  In recent economic times my emphasis has been based upon support of our agribusiness and our improved ordinances allowing for more farm markets, local food sales, and success of our wineries.  All very positive, free-market means of maintaining a vibrant rural economy.  Protecting our rural areas will continue to be a high priority of mine, along with protecting personal property rights.

 

Cynthia Neff (D) - Challenger

Continue reading "Albemarle Supervisors candidates on county rural areas" »

December 05, 2010

West Virginia company buys 4,500 acres in Albemarle near Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, December 5, 2010

The family that owns The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia has acquired 4,500 acres in Albemarle County south of Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello.

The James C. Justice Cos. purchased 55 parcels from MeadWestvaco Corp. for $23.75 million in a deal that closed last week.

20101205-MeadWestvaco James C. Justice II is CEO of the family-run West Virginia company known for its coal mining, farming and timber operations. Justice bought The Greenbrier in 2009 when it was facing bankruptcy. Justice company representatives did not respond to a request to comment on their intentions for the property in Albemarle.

James H. Hill, a MeadWestvaco vice president, confirmed the sale and said the property was no longer needed for the company’s timber operations.

“Several years ago, MeadWestvaco launched a rural land sales program,” Hill said in an e-mail. “These properties have been managed for decades to the highest standards … ideal for investors or outdoor enthusiasts. This 4,500-acre tract has been managed for fiber supply and is no longer strategic for the company’s needs.”

MeadWestvaco’s land sales website advertised the property as the “Presidential Estates” given its location near the homes of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson. The advertised price was $38.5 million and the land, zoned for rural use, has an assessed value of $21.5 million. It sold to the Justice Cos. for $2.25 million over the tax assessment.

Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land conservation officer for Albemarle County, said he thought the land had the potential for about 450 residential units.

“That’s a best-case scenario, not accounting for critical slopes and road access,” Linville said. “That said, I don’t know what they intend to do. We would like an opportunity to work with an owner like this on preservation of the property, and we hope that’s the new owner’s intent.”

‘Historically significant’

Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, said in a prepared statement that “the land to the south of Monticello is historically significant, since it remains largely as Jefferson saw it.”

“We are committed to working with our community partners to ensure protection of the viewshed from Monticello,” Bowman added. “We welcome our new neighbors and look forward to working together to protect Jefferson’s views for future generations.”

Christopher Owens, a historic preservationist from Spotsylvania, has been working since 2004 to complete a mapping project of land once owned by President Monroe.

“Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, is a 535-acre remnant of what was a 3,500-acre estate,” Owens said. “The MeadWestvaco tract has 700 acres of Monroe’s original Highland estate.”

“Ecologically and historically, it is really an historic piece of property,” Owens said. “The use has remained unchanged throughout civilized history. Owners have always used this land for timber. In fact, Monroe had a sawmill on the property and it is likely that his old grist mill was there too.”

Bigger than Biscuit Run

At 4,500 acres, the MeadWestvaco parcels combined are 3 1/2 times the size of the Biscuit Run development that the state bought last year for a future state park. The commonwealth paid $9.8 million for the 1,200 acres, plus an unspecified amount of Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits.

Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy, said the MeadWestvaco land had been identified as an attractive site for a park prior to the state’s acquisition of Biscuit Run. His organization got involved soon after MeadWestvaco put it on the market in 2006.

“We were involved in trying to find a way to protect the MeadWestvaco property either through state ownership or conservation easements with private ownership,” Kittrell said. “I think whatever timber liquidity there was, they have already extracted what was of any value. Given its location near Monticello, the value is less in timber and more in other forms of development, like residential and estate land.”

In 2008, The Nature Conservancy had local Charlottesville-based Nelson, Byrd, Woltz Landscape Architects prepare a master plan for a public park and nature preserve. At that time, Biscuit Run was poised to become Albemarle’s largest residential development in history, having already been approved for up to 3,100 homes.

The conceptual master plan for “Jefferson Monroe Park” was shared with state officials and potential investors. Ridge Schuyler, a former member of the local Nature Conservancy staff, said he toured the property when the park concept was being developed.

“It has beautiful bones,” Schuyler said. “It’s a nice, rolling piece of property with spectacular views back towards Monticello and the Southwest Mountains. In its post timbered state, it’s not the most attractive, but you could see the potential.”

“I don’t know how much value it has as timber property,” Schuyler added. “MeadWestvaco sold it because it wasn’t close to their sawmills, and it hasn’t moved any closer.”

Hopes for the future

Owens observed that a unique opportunity exists with the University of Virginia’s ownership of the adjacent Morven Farm.

“My goal was to at least get [Monroe’s] 700 acres back somehow,” Owens said. “One could easily create an almost 12,000-acre park unifying the land with Morven, Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello. It’s a very historic landscape. Mr. Justice could still harvest timber and do that.”

The PEC’s Linville questioned such a high price being paid for a long-term timber investment.

“I called contacts in the timber business, and they said that the price didn’t make sense from a timber investment perspective, you wouldn’t recoup your investment on timber alone,” Linville said. “It’s also equally unlikely someone would pay that price from a residential development angle. Since neither scenario really makes sense in today’s market, my hope is it’s a conservation transaction.”

Besides The Greenbrier, the Justice family has owned or developed other large recreational properties. According to Marshall University’s website, where Jim Justice received his undergraduate and MBA degrees, the family developed the Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve in West Virginia’s Monroe County.

November 23, 2010

Meetings sought to conclude unfinished US 29 corridor study

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board is calling for a series of meetings of localities along U.S. 29 to build consensus on projects to improve travel times on the highway.

In 2009, the CTB commissioned the Parsons Transportation Group for a $1.5 million study of the entire 219 mile U.S. 29 corridor. The goal was to develop a blueprint to guide planning for future infrastructure improvements for the road, which is considered a “highway of national significance.”

Originally expected to be completed in November 2009, the study has been in limbo after several potential alternatives were removed from a draft at the request of Albemarle County supervisors.

One was the extension of Leonard Sandridge Road from the University of Virginia’s North Grounds using right of way originally purchased by the state for the U.S. 29 western bypass.

“[The study] failed to note that [it] would be a secondary road and there’s no visible means to ever fund such a road,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker at Monday’s meeting of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

20091007-BOS-Center-State
This map depicts the eastern bypass alternative removed from the corridor study. Click through for a larger image (.PDF) (Source: VDOT)

Another was the consideration of a new road that would travel north-south near Albemarle’s eastern border. Supervisors expressed concern that the route would require the use of many properties that are under conservation easements.

In a vote last December, the CTB expressed dissatisfaction with the way the study was undertaken. A subcommittee was tasked with developing “a plan to improve mobility and accessibility north of Charlottesville.”

The subcommittee’s recommendation, outlined in a Sept. 15 draft report, is to hire a professional facilitator to conduct a series of meetings, including a joint workshop in which Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville area officials would participate.

“The outcome of this workshop should be the identification of … potential solutions and new ideas and approaches into outcomes that have cross-jurisdictional support,” reads the draft outline.

Download Download subcommittee's draft recommendations

However, the different localities along the corridor maintain widely divergent positions about the future of U.S. 29.

Earlier this month, the Lynchburg City Council passed a resolution calling on the CTB to restore the alternatives that Parsons removed at Albemarle’s request.

Mark Peake, Lynchburg’s representative on the CTB, supported the resolution.

“I think it’s an excellent proposal and we have to keep the heat on them,” Peake said in remarks to the Lynchburg council at its Nov. 9 meeting.

Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne acknowledged in his presentation that the existing bypass route is obsolete.

“Anybody who’s been out there lately realizes the amount of development that has occurred in that corridor in the last 25 years,” Payne told his council. “The need for the bypass certainly hasn’t gone away, but the utility of that corridor that was set aside … is now greatly in question.”

Payne said his city’s resolution was intended to send a message that Lynchburg wants a long-term transportation solution that supports statewide and national interests.

“The work that went on last summer came up with a number of ideas about what a bypass alternative might look like,” Payne said. “I think it was the expectations of the stakeholders that those ideas were going to make it through the report and be in the final published report.”

Since the 1990s, the Charlottesville MPO has consistently stood against funding construction of the western bypass, which remains in VDOT’s long range plans. The MPO’s preference has been to increase traffic flow by widening U.S. 29 and synchronizing traffic signals, building the Meadow Creek Parkway and building a series of grade-separated interchanges on U.S. 29.

This approach, which said the western bypass should be considered only after these improvements had been completed, was codified in the so-called “Three Party Agreement ” signed in December 1991 by Charlottesville and Albemarle, and then in February 1992 by the University of Virginia.

However, the future of the grade-separation on U.S. 29 is now in doubt. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has directed staff to de-emphasize the role that the interchanges will play in the 20-year Places29 master plan.

The transportation priorities still remaining in the draft plan are to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River, as well as to build parallel roads to remove local traffic from U.S. 29.

Supervisor Rooker said he questioned the wisdom of developing corridor-wide plans.

“If you’re trying to make decisions on what to do in the corridor, at some point you have to get down into the weeds instead of looking at it from the top up,” Rooker said. He added that the changes made to the plan were made to reflect reality.

The full Commonwealth Transportation Board will vote Dec. 8 on whether to pursue the meetings-based strategy.

James Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, said it was possible the full CTB board could take another approach.

“What comes out of this meeting will dictate how this goes forward,” Utterback said.

The CTB’s contract with Parsons has now expired, and so any additional work to prepare the facilitator will be done by CTB staff with assistance from MPOs in the participating communities.

June 08, 2010

Albemarle’s program to acquire conservation easements celebrated in the face of major budget cuts

By Bridgett LynnDailyProgress
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Albemarle County spent $1 million or more per year between 2000 and 2008 on a program designed to permanently protect rural land from development through conservation easements.

“After 10 years running the [Acquisition of Conservation Easements] program, we’ve protected 37 properties and 7,200 acres from future development,” program coordinator Ches Goodall told county supervisors at a recent meeting. “Seventy percent have been working family farms. For many of these landowners, I feel like ACE has been a real godsend for these people.”

The economic downturn, however, has reduced the overall level of funding for ACE.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100603-ACE

20100603-Hughes
Hughes Farm; an Albemarle County property protected by ACE
Source: Albemarle County
According to county officials, the budget for next fiscal year only includes $366,000 for ACE, which is coming from the county’s capital improvements funds.

The easements are voluntary agreements that allow landowners to permanently limit the type and amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership and gaining access to state tax credits.

“At the state level, the General Assembly made this Virginia land preservation tax credit program, a program that was explicitly designed to be able to benefit landowners across the economic spectrum by making these tax credits transferable,” said Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

“If you don’t have a high income, you are actually able to sell your tax credits to somebody else who might have a high income and might be able to use them,” added Linville. “So even landowners of lower income levels are able to get a lot of benefit out of putting a conservation easement on their properties and selling those tax credits to other landowners.”

20100603-Vieille
Vieille Farm; an Albemarle County property protected by ACE
Source: Albemarle County
In the year 2000, there were only 17,000 acres of permanently protected private land in the county. Ten years later there are more than 81,000 acres of protected land.

“That’s largely as a result of great financial incentives either through sale of easement, through the ACE program, or for donated easements,” said Linville.

“We can’t use that success to think that we can now sit back … and say we’ve done a great thing,” said Linville. “Virginia is losing farm and forestland at the rate of 50,000 acres per year… . Permanent conservation easements are one of the few tools that we have available to preserve those resources.”

At last week’s board meeting, Goodall said the county had received an additional grant of $61,000 from Farmland Preservation to supplement efforts to obtain easements.

Properties that qualify for easements are chosen by a ranking evaluation system created to award points for a number of different values such as open space resources and threat of conversion to development. There are a number of options available for a person to do a conservation easement.

“The ACE program is a means-tested program. You get more money if you’re in a lower income bracket than if you’re in a higher income bracket,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.

However, there are generally more applicants for the ACE program than money. County staff recently wrote in a report that the program will suffer if additional funds cannot be found to accommodate demand.

The county’s goal is to qualify 90,000 acres of public parkland and conservation easements by June 30, 2010. There are currently 81,000 acres in conservation easements alone.

“I think we feel confident that we will be very close to the goal when we take everything into account,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin.

February 10, 2010

Natural Heritage chair delivers annual report, pawpaw pie

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The pawpaw tree, with its tear-drop leaves and edible berries, is one of Albemarle’s natural treasures. The chair of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee (NHC) recently presented a pawpaw custard pie to the Board of Supervisors in order to demonstrate why his group’s mission is crucial.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100203-BOS-NHC

"Pawpaws are a fruit that grow along our rivers and since colonial times, people along the Rivanna and the James would serve pawpaw custard at inns and lock-houses,” Murray said at the last week’s meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

Murray said because the delicacy is no longer sold in grocery stores, many people do not know that it even exists. He said this is one example of how urban and suburban residents can lose sight of the benefits of preserving the rural countryside.

20100203-Murray Lonnie Murray
“One of the primary goals of this committee is to help identify the natural resources in the county that help make us unique and work with landowners and policy makers to find ways to preserve those resources,” Murray said.

In the past year, the committee has provided input into a new county ordinance on weeds, evaluated the effect wind turbines could have on wildlife, and has worked with the Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) Committee on a new ranking system that prioritizes properties with rare and unique species.

The NHC is also seeking new ways to engage the public. At last year’s Earth Week, the group asked people to report wildflowers and other flora and fauna on their property.  The NHC is recruiting volunteers to work with Albemarle’s Parks and Recreation Department to analyze the 600 acres that make up the future Byrom Park in the northwestern corner of the county.

“In the coming year, we feel the skills we’ve developed will be very useful as we continue to provide input on the comprehensive plan,” Murray said. He said in these tough economic times, the county should call upon the expertise of NHC Committee members during planning in order to maximize proffered green space.

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) said she appreciated the work of the NHC, and very much enjoyed the slice of pie she was given.

“It had the consistency of pumpkin pie and was very fruity,” Mallek said in an interview. She said she also wanted the NHC to help work on the master plan for the future Biscuit Run state park.

January 08, 2010

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 08, 2010

Governor Tim Kaine appeared at Monticello today to formally announce the Commonwealth of Virginia’s purchase of the 1,200 acre Biscuit Run tract formerly owned by Forest Lodge LLC. Two-thirds of the property had been zoned for development of up to 3,100 homes, but now all of the land will be turned into a state park.

Download the podcast: Download 20100108-Kaine-BiscuitRun

20100108-Kaine-Audience Governor Kaine spoke to a packed crowd at Monticello
The purchase of Biscuit Run by the state helped Kaine reach a goal of conserving over 400,000 acres during his term as governor. He told the audience the idea was inspired by the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

"The idea was to try to conserve 1,000 acres for every year since [1607],” Kaine said. The goal was reached through a combination of land purchases and conservation easements. In all, over 424,000 acres have been permanently protected from development in Virginia since July 1, 2005.

The state paid $9.8 million to purchase the property from Forest Lodge LLC. Just over half of that amount came from bonds specifically issued to raise money to purchase land for state parks. Voters approved the bond issue in a 2002 referendum. The rest of the money came from federal transportation enhancement funds.

Kaine said he first learned of the opportunity to purchase Biscuit Run when he received a called from former Congressman L.F. Payne. He said negotiations were handled by Natural Resources Secretary Preston Bryant, but he said he understood the reasons why investors in Forest Lodge LLC wanted to sell Biscuit Run, which they reportedly paid $46.2 million for in 2005.

“The real estate market, the desire to do something positive for the region, and an awareness that open space disappears every day,” Kaine said were all motivating factors.

The owners of Forest Lodge LLC, including developer Hunter Craig, will now be eligible to apply for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. The exact value of these credits will be a matter between Craig and the department of taxation.

“Our tax department really goes over these assessments very, very carefully, and there’s no guarantee what the tax credits will be,” Kaine said. “The only guarantee was the purchase price.”

20100108-Kaine-Close-Up Governor Kaine speaking to reporters
Kaine acknowledged the land is worth a lot more than what the state paid for it. In 2009, Albemarle County assessed the property at $44 million. This is the third state park acquired during the Kaine administration, and the first ever to be located in this part of Central Virginia. The new state park will not be programmed until a public master planning process, which could take up to a year.

“The reason we’ve not been able to purchase a state park in the Charlottesville area is that the land costs have been too high,” Kaine said.

Ann Mallek, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said the acquisition of Biscuit Run helps soften the blow that comes with the reduction in funds for the County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program.

“It is a harsh financial reality that our ACE program must shrink at a time when our purchasing ability would be the best in many years,” Mallek said. County funding for ACE was cut in half for this fiscal year and will likely be eliminated entirely for next year. In October 2009, Supervisors directed staff to consider cutting all local funding of the ACE program and to only appropriate the $350,000 that comes from the Virginia Department of Tourism.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Opening remarks from Leslie Green Bowman, President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
  • 04:30 - Comments from Ann Mallek, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • 08:50 - Comments from Preston Bryant, Secretary of Natural Resources
  • 12:30 - Comments from Governor Tim Kaine
  • 28:00 - Comments from Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band
  • 35:50 - Kaine answers questions from reporters

December 31, 2009

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle

DailyProgress

Download

Download Deed of Bargain and Sale

Download

Download 12-1-09 DEQ Environmental Impact Report

Download

Download 11-30-09 Albemarle County comments

20091209-BiscuitRun-DP


Related Stories:

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/09
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/09
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Biscuit Run property in Albemarle County has been acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia for $9.8 million for use as a future state park. On Wednesday, Forest Lodge LLC transferred the 1,200 acres to the state, land that had once comprised the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County.

“When developed as a state park, this extraordinary piece of land will benefit the citizens of Albemarle, Charlottesville and the Commonwealth for recreation, natural resource protection and the preservation of open space in a fast growing area,” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said in a media release.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the state to acquire such a valuable property which offers spectacular mountain views, abundant flora and fauna and is in the viewshed of Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello estate and farms,” said Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant Jr.

Forest Lodge LLC and its principal, local banker and developer Hunter E. Craig, have been in discussions with the state for the past several months. Susan Payne, of Payne, Ross & Associates, a public relations firm representing Craig, said the sale was a very exciting outcome for everyone involved in the project.

“The investors believe that preserving 1,200 acres of land for generations to come will be a tremendous benefit to the County of Albemarle,” said Payne in an interview. “Giving a gift was in the best interest of all concerned.”

Asked about the financial impact on investors who paid a reported $46.2 million for the land in 2005, Payne said “the investors will not come out whole and no one is getting a windfall.”

According to the deed records, Craig intends to pursue Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. The state credits are an incentive for property owners to permanently protect undeveloped land and are available for 40 percent of the appraised value of the property. The property is currently assessed by Albemarle County at almost $44 million.

‘Bargain sale’

“This is what is known legally as a ‘bargain sale,’ when there is a reduced cash payment and the seller applies for tax credits,” said Bryant in an interview. “We have determined that this project is eligible for land preservation tax credits. The seller will have to apply in the 2010 calendar year and it will be up to the state Department of Taxation to act on their application.”

The amount of those tax credits has not yet been determined, according to Bryant, and will be a matter for Craig to resolve with the department of taxation.

Since this story was first reported by The Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow earlier this month, Albemarle County officials have also expressed concerns about the loss of a quality neighborhood project and the loss of proffers that would help build community infrastructure.

The 800 developable acres, and 400 acres originally proposed for a county park, are between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road south of Charlottesville, in one of the county’s designated growth areas. Urban development is only permitted in about 5 percent of the county’s land.

“The county has not been involved in the recent Biscuit Run transaction and did not have any authority or ability to influence the decision one way or another,” said County Executive Robert W. Tucker Jr. “We will work cooperatively with state officials to create the most positive possible outcome for the community and to realize the maximum benefits of the park, which include protected land for our residents and a boost to our tourism industry.”

In September 2007, Biscuit Run was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors for 3,100 homes on about 800 acres, representing about 3.5 percent of Albemarle’s designated growth area. Another 400 acres of rural land was going to become a local park.

“We do remain concerned about what we consider to be substantial impacts to the county which include loss of tax revenue and proffers including a school site and a major road connection,” said Tucker. “The loss of significant acreage in our designated development area will create pressure for development elsewhere in the county.”

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Group lauds park idea

John Cruickshank, head of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, said he thought the new park would be supported by the “vast majority” of area residents.

“This is a wonderful development for the greater Charlottesville community and for the whole state of Virginia,” said Cruickshank in an interview. “The Sierra Club commends all those who made this possible.”

Asked about the County’s concern that pressure may build for replacement land in the growth area, Cruickshank said he did not expect that to be a problem.

“I don’t see that this is a reason to open up new areas for growth. There has already been plenty of growth and other areas zoned for new development,” said Cruickshank. “A lot of that growth is already going to occur north of town and there is plenty of room for people who need homes.”

Secretary Bryant was asked how the state reconciled its 40-year goal to have a new park in central Virginia with Albemarle’s existing comprehensive plan designating Biscuit Run for development.

“Albemarle has among the most progressive land use planning processes of any jurisdiction in the state,” said Bryant. “The County had an opportunity to weigh in and we are very cognizant of this land being in the growth area.”

Bryant also emphasized that, while Albemarle would lose some short-term property taxes since the property is now tax-exempt, there would be other economic benefits from tourism.

‘Economic benefit’

“I think this is going to be a very good recreational and economic benefit to Albemarle County,” said Bryant. “The 2009 figures for the revenue generated from all state parks show they created about $180 million in positive economic impact to localities.”

The state funding to purchase the property is coming from two sources. According to Bryant, $5 million is left over from a 2002 voter-approved bond issue for the purchase of state park lands. The balance of $4.8 million is federal transportation enhancement funds.

“The federal government gives VDOT funding each year for enhancement projects like land acquisition and beautification,” said Bryant.

Both the Federal Highway Administration and the Commonwealth Transportation Board have already approved the use of funds for the purchase.

Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council helps negotiate many local conservation easements. He said PEC had initially been approached to help with the donation of the property.

“Given the magnitude of the project, we thought it was best left to the state because of the implications for local planning,” said Linville who was also at the courthouse to witness the transaction. “The way they have prepared this deed ties their hands in a positive way for the community. The state has formally agreed to only use it for park land.”

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will launch a master planning process for the future park, a process that can take as long as a year. Beyond that, Bryant said the General Assembly would also have to appropriate operating funds consistent with the park’s master plan.

The deal was negotiated throughout December and Payne said it was a challenge to pull it all together before the Albemarle County Circuit Court closed for the calendar year. The Biscuit Run deed paperwork was brought to the courthouse by Lori Schweller, of the firm LeClair Ryan, late Wednesday afternoon.

Schweller stood patiently for about thirty minutes while she waited for a final phone call giving her authorization to make the transfer. Once the call came in at 4:23 p.m., the documents were recorded. With the New Year’s holiday beginning today, Clerk Debra M. Shipp said it was the last deed recorded in Albemarle for 2009.

Kaine is expected to attend a news conference on Jan. 8 in Charlottesville to formally announce the purchase.

October 26, 2009

County candidates square off on growth issues at final forum

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, October 26, 2009

Population growth, transportation improvements and protecting the watershed were the three topics discussed at the final candidate forum for the six men vying for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. The forum, held on October 22, 2009, was sponsored by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP), Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation (ACCT), the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Rivanna Conservation Society.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091022-Final-County-Forum

Watch the video:

Albemarle County Candidates Forum from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

The forum was moderated by Bob Gibson, Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

The sponsors asked three long questions in advance of the forum, each of which was backed up with facts and footnotes.

Download Download the full list of questions here

Question 1: In light of ASAP’s survey on the area’s ecosystem services capacity, what policy implications do you envision for the pending revision of the Comprehensive Plan? What additional facts would be necessary to help you form your opinion about the desirability of capping County growth at an optimal sustainable population size?

20091022-ASAP-Thomas Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I think the research for this study was flawed because it didn’t take into consideration technological advances and the increase in growth and density proposed by the master plan… After the last drought, many residents stepped up and worked to reduce the amount of water they used.... We can continue to be good stewards of the land and not handcuff future generations… I don’t believe in population control.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “The comprehensive plan is a beautiful statement of intent, but intent is empty, if you will, without process to support it, and we are limited in our process elements to our comprehensive plan… We need to strengthen policy choices that would lead to rural area protection….”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “Some of the additional information we need is really what I would call geographic specific information about the areas that we need to focus on to better protect areas where natural resources are housed. One of the things we do know is that forest protection is incredibly important.”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “The facts presented should give us all pause regarding the future size of our population. The study gives us time to address the possibility of rampant growth… If we can keep the growth in the urban ring… we’ll be able to mitigate the potentially harmful effects on our water, forests and fields.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “The study is valuable from the standpoint of helping to illustrate the needfor us to continue to set clear-cut policies in terms of zoning… I asked the question if the study took into account conservation easements… [the Consultant] said no… Right now some of the things we can continue to do is fund the [Acquisition of Conservation Easements] program…”

20091022-ASAP-lowry John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “I did see some things in the study that didn’t seem quite right. I am in North Garden, only 6.5% developed, and the study said the population could go from 6,800 to 60,000, and I don’t see that happening… It’s good to have the discussion in a conceptual and abstract sense because it’s better to plan for your future than not plan for your future…”




Question 2: Do you support the approach taken in the Places29 Master Plan to address traffic congestion through parallel roads, bus rapid transit, grade-separated interchanges and better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians? If so, how will you secure funding? If not, what is your plan for addressing the transportation problems of the County?

20091022-ASAP-slutzky David Slutzky (D-Rio): “If we’re going to have traffic, meaning people moving from place to place, I think we need to disperse and diffuse that energy across modalities… We’ve got to get people out of cars and into alternative modes of transportation… To the extent that people are in automobiles, we need to create a network of parallel roads… How we pay for them is a whole other matter….”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I know of no place in the United States where a community our size has significantly increased alternative transportation by throwing massive amounts of taxpayer dollars at it, so I am inclined to think that throwing money at a fleet of empty buses is not the answer.... We need some of the parallel roads that are on the drawing board put in place, but at this time there does not appear to be any money for them…”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “We sought a bill at the legislature last year that would have allowed us to have a public referendum on whether or not we could add up to a penny on the sales tax for dedicated transportation funding for this area. The legislature did not allow that to get out of committee. Had we done that… we would have had adequate transportation funds to do most of the things that we know need to be done.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “If we have the seed money that we can raise on our own, that will allow us to do debt issues of long term capital to finance our improvements in the transportation system. After all, they’re long-term investments and they’ll pay us back… We really need to have the Sunset Avenue/Fontaine Avenue connector….”

20091022-ASAP-cummings Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “We must find ways to get out of our cars…If the General Assembly were to at least allow the localities to choose what improvements their citizens would desire and how to fund them by means of local referenda, I believe we would do the responsible thing.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “I think that we need the parallel roads… I’m not interested in seeing in seeing a through-way with U.S. 29 with grade-separated interchanges and increasing the speed limit to 60 miles an hour….”


Question 3: The County’s comprehensive plan calls for a number of policies to protect the Rivanna watershed, but a number have not been implemented. Can you comment on the County’s willingness to approve developments that are consistent with the plan, but its unwillingness to support policies such as the Mountain Overlay District? Do you agree with the County passing ordinances to make sure clean water flows towards the Chesapeake Bay?

20091022-ASAP-rooker Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “The County amended the zoning ordinance to include driveway standards… The County amended the water protection ordinance to require stream buffers and all intermittent and perennial streams… The County amended its process for development in the rural areas to require that building permits include critical resource reviews….”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “I do feel like Albemarle County is very effectively managed… I do support ordinances to protect the watershed… I think we need to have firm policies that we will not expand our growth area….”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “There should be equal respect given to protecting the natural environment as there is to development… I feel like we’ve made a promise to our fellow citizens in this community and the other states that feed into the Bay… We all need to do a better job… I feel like we must protect our forests because they clean the air, they hold the soil from erosion, and they enhance the quality of the water….”

20091022-ASAP-snow Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “Working on the Architectural Review Board, we started taking a really close look at how these projects were developing and making sure they got the controls in place… In large-scale development we need to make sure we have the runoff that we’ve had in the past… I’ve spent my life trying to educate people on how to take care of their land  and how to improve water quality… I look at myself as one of the original environmentalists in the area….”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I think the solutions arrived at by the Board of Supervisors over the past several years were a reasonable balancing of the rights of property owners and improved steps to preserve our ecosystems…100 foot buffers on streams, required timely vegetation on development sites, driveway requirements in rural standards… We must be careful not to make farming impossible by making rules that limit our farming heritage….”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “The comp plan gives us guidance… but it’s the Board’s job to carry out that will… How do we get further? I tell you when we sit there at a Board hearing and the folks who are there to defend their property rights are out in numbers, and the folks that want to have ecological systems protected for the benefit of future generations are at home talking about it among themselves, the political will isn’t there for our Board to be more proactive and assertive….”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Introduction from Bob Gibson, Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership
  • 04:50 - Gibson introduces the candidates
  • 07:00 - Question 1
  • 08:30 - Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) responds
  • 10:30 - David Slutzky (D-Rio) responds
  • 14:30 - Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) responds
  • 17:30 - Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 20:00 - Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 22:20 - John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 24:15 - Gibson reads additional information to set up Samuel Miller rebuttal
  • 25:30 - Cummings rebuttal to Question 1
  • 27:15 - Snow rebuttal to Question 1
  • 30:20 - Question 2
  • 32:10 - David Slutzky (D-Rio) responds
  • 34:10 - Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) responds
  • 36:00 - Slutzky rebuts Thomas
  • 37:00 - Thomas rebuts Slutzky
  • 38:20 - Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) responds
  • 41:45 - John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 43:45 - Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 45:45 - Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 47:45 - Lowry rebuts Snow and Cummings
  • 49:40 - Cummings rebuts Snow on the idea of zero based budgeting
  • 51:15 - Snow uses his rebuttal time to call for economic development
  • 52:45 - Question 3
  • 54:00 - Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) responds
  • 57:30 - Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 59:45 - John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 1:01:00 - Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 1:04:00 – Samuel Miller candidates rebut on question 3
  • 1:09:40 - Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) responds
  • 1:10:30 - David Slutzky (D-Rio) responds
  • 1:12:00 - Rio candidates rebut on question 3

October 15, 2009

Supervisors get strategic plan update heading into annual retreat

By Tarpley Ashworth
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, October 15, 2009

At their annual retreat this Friday, members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will meet with County staff to grapple with the challenge of creating a balanced 5-year financial plan. Supervisors will be asked to weigh in on possible service level reductions and financial assumptions revenue sources such as the real estate property tax rate. The County’s strategic plan, which is revised every four years, is a collection of long-term goals meant to direct County staff in their daily operations. The strategic plan is also expected to guide the Board’s recommendations  and it includes five central objectives:

  • Enhance quality of life
  • Protect natural resources
  • Develop infrastructure
  • Manage growth and development
  • Funding the future

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Lori Allshouse, the County’s Manager of Strategic Planning and Performance, briefed the Board of Supervisors at their meeting on Wednesday, October 7th on how well the County has met the goals outlined in the FY 2007-2010 Strategic Plan.

Overall, she said the County completed several important objectives, including increasing collaboration with the school system and developing a comprehensive funding strategy. But significant challenges remain, such as rising unemployment and meeting transportation needs in the wake of budget cuts from state agencies such as the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Regarding collaboration with the school system, Allshouse cited the County’s recent receipt of a $6 million Safe Schools, Healthy Students grant which required a strong relationship between schools and County staff to qualify. She also said that the Board’s adoption of its first five-year financial plan last year satisfied the goal of creating a joint future funding plan.

Allshouse identified several objectives that were nearly complete as well. The County’s focus on affordable housing in recent years has yielded some benefits such as receiving a $700,000 grant for improvements to Crozet Meadows, a housing development in Crozet intended for low-income elderly residents, and increased enrollment in the Homebuyer Education Program.

The goal of adopting master plans for all five designated growth areas is well underway, too. Two master plans are complete (Pantops and Crozet), two are scheduled to be adopted this fiscal year (Village of Rivanna and Places29) and one is scheduled for completion by FY 2012 (Southern Urban Area).

Strategic plan image
Source: Albemarle County
According to Allshouse, other issues are proving more difficult, but she estimates that these goals will also eventually be met. Only 23% of local streams meet Virginia’s aquatic life standards (in line with the state average).  The County has met 87% of its goal for conservation easements. Currently, 77,899 acres of County land, or 17%, is under easement and the County has received approximately 20 applications for easements that it has not yet processed.

The County has struggled to meet its public safety goals. The construction of the Ivy and Pantops fire stations has been delayed by funding and site location issues. Albemarle County is 18 police officers short of its target for 1.5 officers for every 1,000 citizens. Additionally, officers respond to Priority 1 emergencies in five minutes or less only 57% of the time, while the goal is 85%. Priority 1 emergency calls are classified as those where life and safety are suspected to be threatened. In rural areas, officers are responding to all calls in an average of 13 minutes when the goal is 10 minutes.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) explained these metrics by pointing out that these slower than hoped for response times were a direct product of the acknowledged officer shortage. “Obviously there is a correlation between the reduction in number of officers and the opportunity to respond in a timely fashion,” he said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) raised the issue that Priority 1 emergencies included responses to home alarms, and since many of these responses were false alarms, it skewed the data to make response times seem worse than they actually were.

“Police response to private emergency alarm systems going off is one of the biggest government subsidies to private business in the world,” said Rooker. “The amount of money spent on police departments doing this is immense.”

County Executive Bob Tucker said that there had been discussions in the past about instituting a false alarm penalty, and that such a proposal could  come before the Board later this year if they chose to reconsider the issue

The most significant challenges, however, loom for transportation and the job market. Allshouse reported that even though transportation had seen some bright spots in the region, such as a 9% increase in ridership for JAUNT and the 18% increase in ridership for the Charlottesville Transit Service, the 74% budget cut from VDOT towards Albemarle County projects since 2004 remains a substantial hindrance to transportation improvements within the County. 

Steve Allshouse, the County’s Coordinator of Research and Analysis, presented an economic climate summary to the Board as well. He reported that the County experienced a net loss of 487 jobs between 2007 and 2008 and that the unemployment rate increased from 3.4% to 4.9% between August 2008 and August 2009. This compares to 6.5% and 9.6% unemployment in Virginia and the United States respectively, but Allshouse warned that this gap between Albemarle County and the state and national averages was lessening during the current recession. He also reported that the County’s taxable sales declined between 2007 and 2008 as well.

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said that unemployment statistics, by their methodology, does not count those unemployed who have given up searching for jobs. Slutzky added that unemployment didn’t adequately measure the under-employed rate either.

Friday’s Retreat to discuss changes for the FY 2010-14 Strategic Plan will be held at the Virginia Department of Forestry in the UVA Fontaine Research Park from 9:00 am-to 3:00 pm.

September 25, 2009

Experts discuss ways to boost Albemarle County farming enterprises

DailyProgress
By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, September 25, 2009

One of the best ways to help improve the business of agriculture is to connect consumers with food producers. That was one of the  main points raised during a panel discussion on the business of agriculture held Thursday by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Free Enterprise Forum.

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Agriculture is the number one industry in Virginia, with an estimated annual impact of $55 billion according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In 2007, 895 farms in Albemarle County brought in nearly $4.5 million in gross income according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

However, many farmers would like to restore the place that farming once played in Albemarle. In his opening comments, Chamber Chair Bryan Thomas told the crowd that in 1940, half the population of Albemarle County was involved in some form of agriculture. However, he said by 1970, that number had declined to less than 6%.

Panel

The panel consisted of Agriculture Commission Todd Haymore, author Frank Levering and Chad Zakaib of Jefferson Vineyards
One of the panelists was Todd Haymore, Virginia’s Commissioner of Agriculture. Haymore, who grew up on his grandfather’s farm in Pittsylvania County, said today’s farmers need to capitalize on every opportunity, and he said the role of state government is to help facilitate those opportunities.

“What I’ve tried to do with precious taxpayer dollars is to make sure we’re putting them to the best use possible trying to create jobs and as much opportunity as we can,” Haymore said. He added that programs such as “Buy Fresh, Buy Local" and his department’s own “Virginia Finest” help connect Virginia farmers with Virginia consumers.

According to Haymore, agricultural development and farmland preservation are crucial elements to the future of the family farm. He lauded Albemarle County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program, which purchases development rights from landowners, but still allows them to use the land for agricultural purposes.

“If we can have all that come together, I see Virginia’s agricultural enterprises being number one for another 400 years,” Haymore said. 

Another panelist was Chad Zakaib, the General Manager of Jefferson Vineyards.  He said his winery’s land is under a conservation easement, which preserves it for future agricultural use - at a cost.

“As an entrepreneur, I look at placing properties under easement with skepticism because there may come a time when I have to liquidate that asset,” Zakaib said. “I’m not particularly interested in having someone tell me what I am or am not able to do.”

Frank Levering, author of a book on the divide between rural and urban Virginia, owns an orchard in Carroll County. He said agricultural tourism can educate people about the challenges and hardships of farming, which could in turn help more people support them.

“For years people have just gone and bought their food at supermarkets having no inkling of where that food came from,” Levering said. “All of a sudden, people are now very interested in who the guy was who grew it.”

Zakaib said that the vast majority of Jefferson Vineyard’s money comes from retail sales sold on premises.

“The reality is that the direct to consumer market is so much more profitable than a business-to-business relationship with a wholesaler or distributor,” said Zakaib. “The flip side is that there are legitimate issues with local government with the idea of people driving around the country buying wine.”

Recently, Albemarle County Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) directed County zoning officials to look at ways to give more flexibility to allow farmers to sell their produce on land they don’t own.

One of the people attending the event was Carl Tinder, President of the Albemarle County Farm Bureau.

“The future of farming in Albemarle County is very bright, but we need to make sure that agriculture has the ability to prosper,” Tinder said. He says the number one thing the County can do to help is to preserve land use taxation, a program which lowers the tax burden for land used for agriculture, open space and forestry.

Another attendee was Sarah Henley of the advocacy group Forever Albemarle. She said she would like state and local laws changed to extend land use taxation to farmers who own less than 5 acres of land. She also called for local schools to boost agricultural education.

Zakaib said he saw a bright future for farming if more people knew about the challenges and benefits of farming.

“Overtime, I think farming will become cool because everyone has to eat,” Zakaib said.