By Susan Gibbs
Moreover, two assessments released last year by the Skyline Community Action Partnership (Skyline CAP) indicate that new employment opportunities in the county have been outpaced by business closings. They further indicate that Greene’s residents are frustrated with stringent local regulations that they believe are contributing to high prices for both homeownership and rentals, and, that while the county’s population is expected to show an increase by about 1,000 from 2010 to 2015, its low-income population is projected to decline due to a lack of services and housing to meet their needs.
As a result, Eye on Greene asked supervisors questions about development: what are they doing to bring economic viability to the county, and what they intend to do?
The questions are based on reports posted by Eye on Greene over the course of the past year or so on sustainable development, also known as smart growth, advocated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), author of Greene County’s current comprehensive plan.
Online reports suggesting that focus groups such as those orchestrated by TJPDC and held prior to the updating of the county’s comprehensive plan were organized so to elicit pre-determined responses have also been referenced.
Eye on Greene has also referenced comments made by economists who have written that sustainable development/smart growth does not work; that it is “a misguided and, ultimately, harmful set of land-use policies” and that central planners, who operate outside of a market environment, cannot determine land use in the general public interest as effectively as the impersonal market process does; that efforts to enact legislation that would make these ideals – described, in addition to sustainable development and smart growth, as “new urbanism” and “open land preservation” — have long been resisted by some members of the community due to their negative impact on economic growth, competitiveness, and the nation’s standard of living.
Questions also referenced supervisors’ 2012 refusal to join TJPDC’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which critics, including Eye on Greene, said would subject the county to the actual implementation sustainable development accords.
In addition, the questions reference supervisors’ failure to hold a workshop with local developers – those who operate inside the market environment, who can determine land use in the general public interest effectively – since late 2010.
They also reference the county’s tap fees, which are currently set at $20,000 per residential unit to hook up to county water/sewer services, and up to $200,000 for commercial units to hook up.
Finally, they reference the county’s suggestion that a citizen representative be appointed to a panel that will review the recently updated Greene County Capital Improvement Plan for the purpose of setting priorities. The panel was proposed to consist of a finance department member, a planning staff member, a planning commissioner, a supervisor, and a citizen. Eye on Greene asked how the citizen representative would be selected.
Ten questions were sent to Board Chairman Jim Frydl, as spokesman for supervisors. Six of those 10 were sent to remaining Board members, and two were sent to former Greene County Planning Commissioner Bill Martin, who has announced that he is challenging Supervisor Clarence “Buggs” Peyton for the latter’s seat on the Board this fall. Martin was not sent the
other eight, as Eye on Greene believes that those eight are more relevant, due to timing, to sitting supervisors.
All, save for Supervisor David Cox, who represents the Monroe District, responded.
The first four questions, asked of Frydl (Midway), are:
1) What, specifically is being done to attract business to Greene County to aid its current residents in seeking employment and to give them some tax relief?
Frydl replied: “I am sure you are aware that Greene County has one of the smallest populations in the state and also has the fourth smallest land mass, one quarter of which is parkland. Add to this the lack of prebuilt or existing industrial/commercial space and there is a pretty steep hurdle to overcome to attract business. We also currently have a limited amount of water available for large users. That is being addressed through the investment in the 50 year water supply plan. You can’t just attract commercial growth just by wishing. There must be something that attracts the business. All the above mentioned factors limit the growth in commercial prospects. We have many very successful private developers that are also having trouble attracting business, even though they have demonstrated success in other areas.”
2) How many businesses that can achieve those ends were contacted by the Greene County Economic Development office in the last 12 months, apart from those that contacted the economic development office?
Frydl replied: “Thirty-five new leads were thoroughly worked in 2012 (this includes meeting the prospect, showing buildings and/or sites, and providing information or presentations via e-mail). Of the 35 leads worked, approximately 10 were contacted directly by the Economic development Authority without the EDA being referred to them through an outside source.”
3) The comprehensive plan states that tourism is to be developed as an industry in Greene County. Exactly how large is that industry in the county and how much does it contribute to the county’s economic well-being? Also, where does the money to fund this effort come from; specifically, are there donors, and if so, who are they?
Frydl did not respond to the portion of the question about the size of the industry, but did respond to the portion about funding: “Tourism is funded by a portion of the transient occupancy tax collected by our local lodging facilities. The annual tourism budget for 2012-2013 is $80,000.”
4) What, exactly, is the county’s marketing plan to bring business to Greene County, and what sort of businesses and industries are actively being sought?
Frydl replied: “The (county’s) economic development utilizes the following marketing tools: a comprehensive Web site; social media (in the form of) regular posts on Facebook and Twitter; the news media (in the form of) press releases to all local and surrounding county media outlets for events, new openings and pertinent county happenings; and a comprehensive buildings and sites database both state-wide and internally used by site selectors, realtors, new businesses and existing businesses.
“The department also maintains strategic partnerships with: the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development (formerly the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development); the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center; the Small Business Administration; SCORE; the Greene County Chamber of Commerce; the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce; Piedmont Virginia Community College; the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority; the Virginia Department of Business Assistance; the Virginia Tourism Corporation; and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
Frydl said that in addition, Greene County is promoted at industry trade shows and through networking. “Sixteen thousand Greene County maps/brochures were mailed out in 2012 which also lists all of the available parcels in Greene – a great tool for developers. We had over 100 business meetings in 2012 with the sole purpose of strategically growing Greene, cultivating existing businesses and tourism with the intention of increasing the county’s revenue stream.
“The following industries have been identified as target markets for Greene: information technology; defense and security; business and financial services; health services; arts, design, sports and media.”
5) Even though the county said “no” to joining the TJPDC MPO, everything about our comprehensive plan and ordinances seems to be in keeping with TJPDC’s sustainability
accords. Why is this happening?
Frydl replied: “We do include some of the choices that you would consider a sustainability accord, but they are options. Most of the main goals and ideas were in the previous comp plan. The presentation of those ideas, along with examples of existing applications, was provided by the author, TJPDC. The presentation does not diminish the basic idea which agrees with the former comp plan and the citizen input provided.”
Board Vice-Chairman Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) replied: “I was on the Planning Commission when the current comp plan was written. The TJPDC and Greene County held work sessions with citizen participation to develop the plan.”
Peyton (Stanardsville) replied: “The BOS unanimously agreed that no benefit would come from joining MPO in the current status and furthermore could not afford staff time for a dormant venture. The sustainability accords appear to be intrusive and have no place in the business/family friendly county atmosphere.”
Supervisor Eddie Deane (At Large) replied: “In my opinion, we have been unlearned as citizens and as board members, prior and present, on how sustainability ties in with the comprehensive plan.”
6) There is much being written online about focus groups such as those arranged by the county’s planning department and run by TJPDC and the Renaissance Group prior to the updating of the comprehensive plan ending with predetermined responses. Have you looked into that possibility?
Frydl replied: “I understand that “facilitated” meetings can have an impact on the outcome of the meeting. There were plenty of citizen participants in the group meetings who strongly expressed their opinions. It was also the responsibility of the Planning Commission to keep the project true to the wishes of the citizens. Also, if you stay home, you don’t get heard. Government cannot read minds.”
Lamb replied: “I’m not aware of any predetermined responses.”
Peyton replied: “No, but changes were made to the Plan prior to passage and it appears wasteful for the county to outsource updates when the greatest percentage is nothing more than a
rewrite. Future updates should be administered by County planning in conjunction with citizen input and avoid the unnecessary cost. It should be considered a “living-document” and subject to change by the BOS as need arises.”
Deane replied: “Considered, but not looked into.”
7) If so, will you consider having another review of the comprehensive plan?
Frydl replied: “The comp plan is reviewed every five years. It will be coming up in one to one and a half years.”
Lamb replied: “The Comprehensive Plan is a guideline for growth and development within the county and is reviewed every five years. I don’t believe it is necessary to review it until the current 5 year period is up.”
Peyton did not reply to this question.
Deane replied: “Yes.”
8) In November 2010 a workshop was held with local developers during which hookup fees were addressed and it was suggested that the county offer tax incentive financing to developers. No other such workshop has been held since. In August 2012 Davis Lamb, who is the board’s liaison to the Greene County Economic Development Authority, as well as to the county planning department, suggested holding a meeting with contractors/developers so they could bring up concerns and suggested changes away from the EDA and planning department.
Frydl, who, at the time, responded to Lamb’s August 2012 suggestion by noting that “maybe” 10 people had attended the 2010 meeting and that the amount of input had been minimal, was asked for the purpose of this report if this meant he is against holding such a workshop. He replied: “I am not against holding a workshop. I have been involved in many. I simply meant that if we hold a workshop, it needs to be organized so that there is conversation and input. Sitting in a silent room benefits no one.”
Lamb responded: “Yes, I brought it up at the March 26 (2013) BOS meeting during Other Matters from the Board. Chairman, Jim Frydl, suggested the possibility of a workshop session during one of the May BOS meetings.”
Peyton responded: “Absolutely! The BOS agreed to schedule a workshop for the purpose suggested.”
Deane responded: “Yes.”
Martin replied: “Absolutely, holding workshops to increase communication and transparency is essential and should be welcomed. Increased understanding between contractors/developers and county officials (Supervisors, EDA, Planning & Zoning) can only help; I see no downside. Additionally, I believe the county would be well served to offer significant tax incentives to attract the businesses that Greene County desires.
9) What about tap fees? It has been said that as they are now, they are a deterrent to economic development. One suggestion is that the residential fees be reduced by at least 50 percent, and that commercial should be meter-based. With prices as they are now no one will be able to afford to move in, and the county will get nothing. What are your thoughts on this?
Frydl replied: “Tap fees are high. The reality is that with the current and future infrastructure needs, it will be difficult to change them anytime soon.”
Lamb replied: “I think meter based fees for businesses would be a viable solution. More discussion about residential tap fees is needed.”
Peyton replied: “The current debt service payment model for the sewer project was based exclusively on hook-fees and is failing due in-part to the sluggish economy. Therefore, payments must be drawn down from the general fund once the reserve fund is exhausted which in-fact could occur at year end.
“The most important and immediate goal is to finalize the property acquisition for water impoundment and immediately open the gate for rooftops in approved areas. Secondarily, increase water rates for residential, revisit the residential sewer rate to consider rebates for some of the three recent increases and, most importantly, work a plan to have the Greene County Economic Development Authority assist or subsidize small businesses with hook-up fees until a conversion plan to a metered service can be implemented. Also, consideration should be given to earmarking portions of newly-generated business tax revenues to assist in support of the infrastructure.”
Deane replied: “I am open to a compromise that will make tap fees fair and affordable.”
Martin replied: “My instincts tell me that the rate that the county has set for tap fees should be revisited. The current finite supply of water for residential and commercial enterprises is limiting all growth. But access to water has a real economic cost and residents and businesses must pay that economic cost in a world where government subsidies are increasingly a thing of the past. I would support a review of the current and future cost of supplying water to this county and, if necessary, recalibrating the tap fees to reflect the new reality we face. A two-pronged approach to accommodate residential and commercial users may well be an approach worth considering.”
10) When the board approved the county’s capital improvement plan recently, mention was made of forming a panel to review. How would determination for the members of that panel be made?
Frydl, referencing the current lack of a county administrator, replied: “The board of supervisors has not voted to create a panel at this time. It is something that will be discussed when the new Administrator is selected.”
Lamb replied: “At this time, no criteria has been established for how a citizen representative will be selected.”
Peyton responded: “Honestly, the CIP has deteriorated to a pile-on wish list with no hopes for funding. Previous BOS’s conservative ways managed to build a considerable surplus for two important reasons; to support the justified CIP projects and maintain a financial safety net for the citizens. Unfortunately, both are out of question since the current BOS chose to finance operational budget requests and spend far beyond the new revenues, similar to the federal government’s policies – which will most likely will lead to the old mindset of tax and spend!”
Deane responded: “‘How’ will be addressed after a county administrator assumes position.”
Editor’s note: The two Skyline CAP community assessments referred to in this post can be accessed at: http://skylinecap.org/documents/2012-CommunityNeedsAssessmentReport-withletter.pdf and at http://skylinecap.org/documents/BuildingLivesBuildingtheFuture10-2012.pdf.