Struggles with Growth in Charlottesville/Albemarle and beyond

In the light of last week’s Biscuit Run hearing on adding 3000 homes to the Southern part of CharlAlbemarle, I am faced anew with the struggle our region faces, and how to cope with the challenges of being a Realtor who makes my living marketing and selling houses – across the gamut of price ranges … and the challenge of balancing that clear self-interest with the charge we all have of ensuring a high quality of life for ourselves and those who follow. As a Realtor, I recognize that people move to the Charlottesville area not necessarily because their jobs are moving, but because we are a destination with a reputed high quality of life. How do we maintain that quality of life?

What do we want this area to look like for our children? Their children? When thinking about these prospects, I look at the various special interest groups –

We are going to grow

That much is a fact (and the City of Charlottesville may be ever-so-slightly losing population, depending on which data you use).

CAAR, Piedmont Environmental Council, The Free Enterprise Forum, ASAP, the Blue Ridge Homebuilders, SELC, Farm Bureau … the list is nearly endless … each of which argues/lobbies from some extreme, in one way or another. But where is the middle? Each group is right on some points, and right on some. This should not be a partisan, “us -v- them” issue, but it is.

Someone asked me the other day* why CAAR has to have a position on growth. My response was simple – because everyone else does. If the agenda is set and proscribed without countering input, the end result will inevitably be one-sided; then, everybody loses. Believe it or not, Realtors do not advocate any and all growth. We market and sell a high quality of life, not just houses. Good growth is beneficial; but how does our region define “good growth?”

As Waldo said:

How we deal with growth is broken. Totally and utterly broken.

What are the direct consequences of growth? Limiting growth? What are the unintended consequences? We are not going to stop growing. Stop allowing people to move here? It’s America! What are the consequences when we reach some arbitrary “hard” population limit? Draw straws to see who moves out? Restrict pregnancies? Arguing from the extreme is but one step. Recognizing the extreme and negotiating from there is where successes can be gained.

Shutting down development is not a viable solution – it is reactionary, unnecessarily and unreasonably extreme. Permitting unfettered growth is equally unreasonable.

What is the win-win solution? TDRs? Even more on TDRs. Here is my question on TDRs: If there are 20,000 development rights in the new “boundary area,” what happens if there are 50,000 development rights to that could be sold in the rural area? First come, first serve? What about the 30k rights that are lost/stolen by the government? The TDR package as it stands today might pass the BoS. But is that what we really want?

So here is the question – what do we want CharlAlbemarle/Central Virginia to look like in fifty years?

*Disclosure: I sit on CAAR’s Board of Directors and am the current Chair of the Realtors’ Government Affairs Committee. These remarks are independent of those positions.

Update 7 August 2016 – I’ve been remiss in not updating this post to reflect that the Biscuit Run development is no more; now Biscuit Run is a planned State Park.

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  1. TrvlnMn April 2, 2007 at 13:08

    Didn’t the numbers crunching with regards to development and/or Biscuit Run also show that TDR would cost local government even more money by way of infrastructure demands?

    And if so- what happens to those farmers who’ve sold their Development Rights so they can get the lower tax rate? Do their taxes continue to get jacked up year after year to cover those infrastructure losses? Until at some point they’re back where they started? As it is right now it seems like it’s the rural areas covering the costs of the urban areas.

  2. UVA08 April 2, 2007 at 19:18

    “We are going to grow. That much is a fact (and the City of Charlottesville may be ever-so-slightly losing population, depending on which data you use).”

    What’s more, our job market continues to expand at a rate faster than any other in the state. According to Virginia’s Economic Indicators our metro area (Charlottesville, Albemarle, Nelson, Fluvanna, and Greene) now has over 100,000 jobs for the first time ever. We have a growing economy and wherever that occurs you are going to see population growth. The issue, as you’ve said, is where and how we grow.

    I personally would like to see the process for developing in the growth areas streamlined. Developers need to know what they need to do to get approved there and the County should provide them with the information up front. If this process is made easier I doubt we would see as many developers flocking to the rural areas where the process is less strenuous. We need to make sure we are providing adequate housing close to town so prices and a lack of options don’t push people into the rural counties. In my opinion we need to encourage growth in the urban ring and along 29 North to Ruckersville. These areas are already developed and I think we would all rather see development concentrated there rather than our rural areas. Someone somewhere has to make sacrifices. As you said growth is going to occur no matter what and advocating no growth at all only makes you look out of touch and unrealistic.

    I think the best illustrative metaphor of what I am talking about would be that scene in Vegas Vacation when Chevy Chase decided to plug the pressure leak in the Hoover Dam. He would plug one hole and then water would come out of another. He kept this process going and going with the same result. In terms of growth the pressure to grow has to be relieved somewhere. If we try to plug the hole in one area of the county it will just occur in another. If we plug it completely in Albemarle is will relieve itself in the surrounding counties. I say control the leak and concentrate it in the areas that are already urban and suburban.

  3. Jim Duncan April 3, 2007 at 10:21

    Regarding the infrastructure demands – right now, local gov’t is driving development into the rural areas, and thus increasing the eventual infrastructure demands. If we can focus the growth – in the growth areas – then theoretically we’ll focus infrastructure needs. (insert my plug for some form of efficient transit)

    If we try to plug the hole in one area of the county it will just occur in another. If we plug it completely in Albemarle is will relieve itself in the surrounding counties. I say control the leak and concentrate it in the areas that are already urban and suburban.

    I like that. Mind if I use it sometime? 🙂

  4. jm April 3, 2007 at 10:31

    This is already happening, witness the 3000 homes already approved in Greene County. Its as large as Biscuit Run without far less discussion or planning.

  5. Jim Duncan April 3, 2007 at 10:57

    I assume that that should be “with far less discussion or planning.”

    What is lacking is regional cooperation and integration.

  6. UVA08 April 3, 2007 at 14:36

    “I like that. Mind if I use it sometime?”

    Sure knock yourself out! 🙂

  7. city April 3, 2007 at 16:23

    Your statement that “local gov’t is driving development into the rural areas,” is just not true. Since 2000, there have been approvals granted or applications submitted for over 17,800 dwelling units for the city and the county growth areas (enough housing to satisfy population projections until 2039), and over 10,000 of these units have been approved. So local government is hardly constraining the supply of housing in the growth areas.

  8. Jim Duncan April 3, 2007 at 16:45

    city –

    Thanks for the comment. How do what you say and what what this data say jive?

    For the SFD permits detailed above (last 12 months), 64% were in rural areas and 18% were in the Crozet designated growth area (i.e. not all the White Hall housing shown above is in Crozet).

    Granted, this is only referencing single-family units, but it’s a good guide to show that a substantial amount of building is being done in the rural area. When it takes developers 5+ years to get approvals because of vague and ever-shifting requirements laid out by the County, of course they are going to move to where it is easier to build.

  9. TrvlnMn April 4, 2007 at 02:12

    Granted, this is only referencing single-family units, but it’s a good guide to show that a substantial amount of building is being done in the rural area.

    When you factor in “Shared Walls” (condo’s, Townhouses, and the like” how does that data change?

  10. city April 4, 2007 at 15:02

    You’re right. A good number of houses are built in the rural area every year….and 2006’s 260 units is very consistent with what’s gone on for many years prior to the thousands of growth area dwelling units recently approved. In fact, every year between 1990 and 2000, the number of rural area housing units ranged from 231 to 336.

    I don’t understand how you can ignore the fact that over 10,000 dwelling units have been approved in the city and growth areas since 2000 (over 8,000 in the County growth areas). How many more growth area DUs are you suggesting would begin to diminish the number of rural area houses being built. This myth perpetuated by the development community, and apparently the real estate community, that the County’s red tape is at fault for driving houses into the rural area is simply not supported by the available statistics.

    The County has approved nearly every major rezoning in the past five years, and speaking as a city resident, painting it as the culprit verges on misinformation and a disservice to your readers.

  11. Jim Duncan April 4, 2007 at 16:16

    City –

    I have never said (I hope) that the County’s regulations are 100% responsible for the push to the rural areas. The moving-target aspect of the regs does in fact discourage developers from building in the growth areas.

    Look at the timeframes for the rezonings. The County needs to clearly detail what the developers need to do and then work with them. It should not be (idealist point of view coming) an us -v- them mentality.

    1) part of me would like to shut down all growth, let us all catch our breath and then start back again.
    2) I don’t necessarily disagree with the Biscuit Run denial, for all the reasons that have been identified elsewhere. I look forward to seeing what the BoS ultimately does.
    3) the longer rezonings take, the higher costs will be.
    4) This is one perspective – Locked Out report (PDF)
    5) When given an option to go by-right, as Biscuit Run might versus rezoning to allow far more houses, but through which the County may extract proffers, which would you prefer? (I honestly don’t know what my answer is, but part of me leans towards “neither.”
    6) Discussions such as this help (hopefully) to clarify things on all sides, for that I thank you.

    Even more information at CvilleTomorrow

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