Not used to NoVa traffic, are you?

In a recent post regarding the dearth of senior housing in our region, I noted a new development coming to Greene County.

One might think (as I did) that it would be a beneficial idea for this developer to provide some form of transportation for the future residents into Charlottesville. This development is being marketed as “Four Seasons Charlottesville” despite its location in Ruckersville.

I asked this question of the developer’s representative yesterday. What follows is a telling example of the direction our region is moving.

Me: Are you going to be providing any sort of transportation into Charlottesville?
She: No, that will be up to the homeowner’s association to decide; they can do anything they want.
Me: I ask because the traffic is pretty bad.
She: Well, it’s right off of 29; it’s a short drive into Charlottesville.
Me: Have you driven 29 lately? It takes a client of mine an hour sometimes to get to his home in Ruckersville from Cville.
She: Oh. You’re actually in Charlottesville. You’re not used to NoVa. traffic. They won’t be driving at peak hours.
Me: Oh.

I am still digesting and formulating my thoughts.

Residential real estate is ultimately about quality of life. Location, location, location. I have been talking about transportation and planning a lot recently. Transportation and planning are tied directly into my and my clients’ quality of life. If the only method of transportation is the automobile and the trip that used to take 20 minutes now takes 60, whose responsibility is it to plan appropriately? Perhaps this evolution is acceptable? What do you think?

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14 Comments

  1. TrvlnMn December 28, 2005 at 14:27

    Imagine 45 minutes to drive 7.5 miles. That was my daily commute in Los Angeles. People do not believe me when I draw comparisions to the sprawl there and the sprawl here in Charlottesville. But we are headed in that same direction especially if the rate of development continues as is and unabated. Unfortunately I do not see any remedies to it.

    As to your question who’s responsiblity is it to plan appropriately? I think using broad political stereotypes that question could be answered 2 different ways.

    Republican: It is the individual’s responsiblity to properly plan for what he/she needs. This includes anticipating that one day as a retired person one may no longer be able to drive, and the obligation to plan accordingly making decisions to “affect” the market by “choosing” to purchase in developments that provide alternatives like being close to “public transportation” or some similar sort of alternative. And it is not the place of government or private industry to bear the burden of an “Individuals” failure to plan. The “individual” is responsible for the consequences of their own choices.

    Democrat: It is government’s obligation to regulate private industry and plan for these sorts of eventualities. That the government should realize that with all these new developments the needs of the public for transit alternatives will be increased. That it is the governments responsiblity to require (by providing incentives and/or penaties) that developers plan their developments accordingly.

    However do not have the confidence in either the individual or government to plan as they should. Both entities seem to default to “Reactive” instead of “Proactive.” And the sensible thing would for both to be “Proactive”.

    I don’t think “this evolution is acceptable” if by that you mean that traffic and commute times should increase, and a 20 to 60 minute jump is okay. I think it’s inevitable but not acceptable.

  2. Jim December 28, 2005 at 18:02

    That there are two clear answers to the same problem is what I find so frustrating. There has to be an equitable solution to which both sides could agree; I just don’t know yet what that solution is.

    I have a real problem with inevitability.

    We as a locality/region seem wholly unable or unwilling to provide any solutions. I fear that government by its nature is inefficient and not sufficiently equipped to make the kind of decisions/planning that will effect adequate change. That leaves the private sector.

    The representative I spoke to said that the project would be completed in about four years and they would be gone. If they had to live in and commute from their developments, I would bet that developers, and planners and Supervisors for that matter, their decisions and choices would be different.

    I don’t yet have a solution to the transportation issues we are facing, but I believe that the longer we wait the more difficult change is going to be.

  3. TrvlnMn December 28, 2005 at 19:01

    Jim wrote:

    We as a locality/region seem wholly unable or unwilling to provide any solutions. I fear that government by its nature is inefficient and not sufficiently equipped to make the kind of decisions/planning that will effect adequate change. That leaves the private sector.

    My vote would be for “Unwilling to provide any solutions”. And yes I agree with you that government by it’s nature (and because of the population it serves) is inefficient and not equipt or prepared to effect change.

    Unfortunately the private sector (especially developers) have proven time and time again that they will not do the “socially responsible” thing, Which is why government is needed to put into place those regulations needed to hold the private sector responsible. (One of the things government could do would be to start making developers responsible for the cost of the infrastructure costs of those new developments.)

    Currently the only solution I could suggest for your customers is Jaunt. Right now it’s the closest thing to an “on demand” shuttle. They are a paratransit service which is designed to remove high risk riders from the city’s public transit services (by high risk I mean riders with disablities requiring extra attention beyond which cannot be given by a regular public transit driver).

    However according to their website they also act as an extention of the CTS for people who must take public transit but live outside of the city. Their FAQ answers a few questions. They seem to have service in Albemarle, Nelson, Fluvanna, and Louisa counties, and reservations must be made at least a day in advance. However right now they don’t have service in Green County and I don’t know what would be involved in getting them to set up service. Traditionally paratransit services are to some extent subsidized by the local and state governments.

    While It doesn’t really solve the issues you were attempting to address, I suppose it’s better than nothing.

    Jim wrote:

    I don’t yet have a solution to the transportation issues we are facing, but I believe that the longer we wait the more difficult change is going to be.

    I agree.

  4. Ray Hyde December 29, 2005 at 02:37

    What people don’t seem to realize is that when the arrival interval is less than the service interval by only a tiny amount, then the queue goes to infinity. The gas lines of the 1970’s were caused by a shortage of only 1%. You only need a little shortfall in traffic carrying ability to cause enormous traffic jams.

    TraqvLnMan is on the right track when he talks about on-demand shuttle. Jitney services could provide door to door service to many, with the right communication and decision making system in place. The government could provide this system and leave it up to competing independent Jitney businesses to provide the actual service. At present Jitneys are effectively outlawed.

    You don’t want to know what the statistics are for elderly people being run down in the crosswalk after they elect to move to a “pedestrian friendly” environment.

    The government historically has been willing to provide additional roads as required. But the government is us and a few of us have made a career out of being anti-road and anti-auto.

    You hear a lot about quality of life issues, but these are not very quantifiable. I have suggested that we ought to have in addition to Gross Domestic Product a measure of Gross Domestic Happiness. My measure of GDH is whether I have the energy and money left to do what I want after I pay for my home and getting to and from work.

    One thing that is interesting to me is that if a concert or store is crowded we count it as a great success and we build more stores and scehdule more concerts. But if a road is crowded we count it as a failure and say “See, this doesn’t work, let’s not do it any more.”

    The other thing that is interesting is that we think we can get someone else to pay for it. Developers don’t pay the impact fees and proffers. Economists will tell you that half the money for impact fees comes out of the price developers are willing to pay for land, and the other half gets added to the cost of the house. That half of the costs are reflected in assessments which affect existing residents, and the lower costs offered for land also affects existing residents. Furthermore, if the developer is going to offer less for land, he will have to buy it farther out, which means still more travel. Where there is strong government control over land use, as much as 30% of the cost of a home is due to regulation.

    This is a dumb idea, folks.

    Spend the money to build the roads, get the government out of the land use business, and if you want conservation land, raise the money and go buy it. Don’t expect that you can have it for free or that someone “else” will pay for it.

  5. TrvlnMn December 29, 2005 at 15:44

    Ray, you make some good points in your post.

    However I’m a one note monkey on the single issue of what the developer should be responsible for,

    You wrote:

    The other thing that is interesting is that we think we can get someone else to pay for it. Developers don’t pay the impact fees and proffers. Economists will tell you that half the money for impact fees comes out of the price developers are willing to pay for land, and the other half gets added to the cost of the house. That half of the costs are reflected in assessments which affect existing residents, and the lower costs offered for land also affects existing residents.

    I think developers should pay the impact fees and proffers.

    Real Estate in the Charlottesville- Albemarle area is now comparable in cost with Las Vegas, Chicago, and parts of the Los Angeles area. And I’m not exaggerating. Developers are reaping huge profits turning land into homes. Homes that most *real* area natives cannot afford. Most of their buyers are relocating from out of area or out of state.

    When a new development is built the cost of infrastructure should not be passed on to the area’s (county, city, town’s) existing residents. That’s a subsidized give-a-way for big developers. I think the infrastructure costs that a new development would generate should be born entirely by the developer. If that developer passes those costs on to the purchaser that’s fine with me. I can live with it. But as a taxpayer I shouldn’t have to subsidize the additional infrastructure needs of a new development so a developer can make an even larger profit. It’s an estabished practice in other states, the cost of doing business. It should be one in Virginia as well.

    My position on this issue isn’t at all about land conservation. It’s about ending the free ride developers have enjoyed in this state for way too long, and holding them financially responsible for their share of the problems they’ve helped create.

  6. Ray Hyde December 30, 2005 at 11:34

    I think the developers should pay the impact fees and proffers, too.

    The point of my comment is that they don’t, or only part of it. The rest comes from land sellers (us), new home buyers (us), and existing home owners on account of taxes paid on higher home assessments caused by the proffers. (us). This isn’t my idea, it comes from econonists who study this stuff.

    It’s OK to take the money out of the developers pocket. Just don’t kid yourself about who is really paying.

    Ask yourself who paid for the existing infrastructure. In early VA every resident was required to spen a week every year working on the roads – and to bring their own team and tools. That was a prety hefty tax, and would be today if you converted it to dollars. It seems to me that part of what is going on here is changing the rules to an us vs them concept. It is particularly easy and popular to race-bait those nasty avaricious mean old developers. It’s still the old us vs them thing.

    Old timers got their infrastructure for free. Now they want to charge everyone new. OK, what if a developer builds an entire new town, including all the infrastructure. The town is very popular and successful because of attractive shopping and jobs. But the developer holds that the town is private property, and if you want to go there you must pay a fee. With two million more people on the way, we may have a number of new towns, is this a rational solution?

    OK, tht’s an extreme case. But if If they develop and pay for infrastructure and we all use it, or if the use is blurred over time, is that fair?

    Take the case of a landowner. It is frequently said that farms pay three times as much in taxes as they cost in services. But when a farmer is driven out of the market by lack of profits and high taxes, the anti growth crowd will be the first to go histrionic about him taking short term profits at the expense of everyone else.”

    Yak Lubowsky said “Compare him to the farmer choosing instead to sell his ground to a developer, at a premium — because the farm is situated in a desirable community, with good services for which neither of them has paid much or anything — and from which sale each will profit handsomely because their respective gains will be pocketed while the additional, newly created, social costs (additional school seats, roads, law enforcement, etc.) will be paid very substantially by the citizens already there.

    Yak seems to forget that the farmer may have been there for 200 years paying taxes for which he got little in return.

    Pat McSweeney says “Where streams formerly meandered within their ancient banks, we now see huge, channelized rivers constructed with substantial taxpayer funding in a futile attempt to deal with the heightened runoff from land cleared for suburban development.” Now there are rules to control growth in areas near streambeds. In othere words the haves have changed the rules against the have-nots. Isn’t this an unpaid subsidy in favor of those who are now protected against runoff. Shouldn’t the owners get paid for providing green infrastructure? If they were being paid adequately, would they still be selling out to developers? If they were being paid, where would the money come from?

    My point is that we can stop this, but somehow some way, we are going to pay. I don’t know what’s right or wrong, but it seems to me that people like Lubowsky and McSweeny are making arguments that are either on both sides of the fence, depending on today’s argument, or else they haven’t thought them all the way through.

  7. Ray Hyde January 1, 2006 at 09:59

    Here is an example of trading one kind of transportation cost for another. Washington city paper reports a 2240 sq ft, 4 bedroom, row house for sale near 13th St NW – for $1,795,000.

    As reported by Brian Beutler-

    “You’ll have to make one or two sacrifices, though, such as accustoming yourself to the worn-out wood floors that give way to rot as they inch toward the tile in the kitchen. And the cabinets near the downstairs bathroom have come unhinged. But don’t forget the perks: The Metro is nearby, the street is quiet, and the low-end carpeting upstairs is as easy on the eyes as the faux-antique sink unit in the master bathroom is.”

  8. Ray Hyde January 1, 2006 at 10:01

    If a suburban home costs a half million, how much time and money can you afford to spend in and on your car for the difference in price, particularly considering that you will probably have a car in the city anyway?

  9. TrvlnMn January 1, 2006 at 19:04

    Ray Hyde wrote:

    If a suburban home costs a half million, how much time and money can you afford to spend in and on your car for the difference in price, particularly considering that you will probably have a car in the city anyway?

    I think I see the point you’re trying to make.

    However for half a million, I’m eating raman noodles for every meal, cooked on a propane camp stove because I’ve had to do with out electricity to make the mortgage payment. And then if there’s no public transit nearby then I’m also driving to work every day in an uninsured beater that I payed $500 dollars cash for which burn’s oil and needed new brakes 3 months ago.

  10. Ray Hyde January 2, 2006 at 00:33

    I think we agree. One way or another, we are going to pay.

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