Category Archives: Planning

The “Missing Middle”: Is it an Answer to the Affordable Housing Problem?

Older houses in the Lyon Park neighborhood in Arlington. When these houses come on the market, they will likely be replaced with a much larger house like the one below.  Whether other types of housing should be allowed is being hotly contested in Arlington.  Photo credits: top: Advon Group; bottom: DC Metro Neighborhoods

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Three years ago, in one of his periodic pleas for more flexibility in zoning laws to enable more affordable housing, Jim Bacon discussed “missing middle” housing and noted that Arlington County was beginning to consider how to address that idea. Arlington released its study late last year and the concept and recommendations have been a major source of controversy this year.

I ran across the term “missing middle” and the controversy in Arlington recently in an article in the Washington Monthly. The author, Gabby Birenbaum, is a native of Arlington. She describes her childhood growing up in the Lyon Park neighborhood in the early 2000’s with great fondness. “I absolutely loved the place.” It was a place “that everything I could desire was a walk or a short bike ride away.” She then describes significant changes in the last few years in which “growth has gone completely gangbusters.” The result has been, as the title of the article laments, “I can’t afford to live where I grew up.” Continue reading

Virginia Needs Better Information Sharing to Provide Mandated Public Services to Illegals Efficiently and Effectively

by James C. Sherlock

I am on record as a persistent advocate of improving the quality of both schools and medical services for poor and minority citizens. It has been the main focus of my work for years.

In a directly related matter, we read, with different reactions depending upon our politics, of the struggles with uncontrolled immigration on border states on the one hand and D.C, New York City and Los Angeles on the other.

We are treated to the public spectacle of the mayors of sanctuary cities deploring massive new influxes of illegal border-crossers and asking for federal assistance. It provides one of the best object lessons in being careful what you ask for in recent public life.

All of that is interesting, but Virginians know that the problem is increasing. They know Virginia can’t fix it, and they want to know how Virginia will deal with it.

By law we owe illegals services. And we need to provide them efficiently and effectively both for humanitarian reasons and to ensure that citizens are not unnecessarily negatively affected.

There is work to do. Continue reading

Home Price Volatility and Virginia Property Taxes

Case-Schiller Home Price Index – National

by James C. Sherlock

Housing prices have more than doubled since 2012, reflecting shortages of supply and the resulting speculation. The increasing slope of those curves above is not comforting.

Prices have soared over 20% in a year. Mortgage rates are up. What could possibly happen next? Most can figure that out.

But this article is about the effects on local government property taxes of what most predict will be extreme volatility in the housing market going forward.

How are Virginia real property taxes adjusted to mitigate the effects on both property owner tax bills and government receipts in this boom and very likely bust cycle?

We’ll look at the law. Continue reading

How are Virginians Preparing for the Coming Food Price Shocks?

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians have only begun to experience price inflation at the grocery store.

Price increases are in the food pipeline that will be a much bigger problem starting this summer.

Farmers and ranchers invest up front. They borrow money to do it. They are incredibly efficient at what they do, but are at the mercy of input prices. They must wait until their crops and animals are sold to recoup their investments.

Everything farmers and ranchers do with their farm machinery requires diesel. So do the trucks that move crops to those who prepare them for our use and then to market. Diesel prices are expected to reach more than $6 per gallon this summer, a 35% increase from current prices. Inventories are low.

Most fertilizer is an oil derivative and has skyrocketed up to 300% since early 2021. On average, fertilizer in March of this year was 35% more expensive than it was in the fall of 2021, with Roundup up nearly 90%. In six months.

Of course, the feed ranchers buy for their animals comes from the produce of America’s farmers.

Producer prices that reflect what they have paid for diesel and fertilizer and the trucking costs of moving those crops are predicted to reach grocery stores in the summer and fall. That hardly suggests that the 9% inflation recently seen in retail food prices is the end of it.

It is important to ask what our governments and our best charities are doing to prepare. Continue reading

Welcome to Loudoun – Just Avoid Route 7

by James C. Sherlock

Saw this headline in the Washington Business Journal.

“Toll Brothers pushes big residential plans in Ashburn — and a tribute to enslaved people who once lived there.”

Behind the headline: This is to be a development of 1,300 residences in a project named Mercer Crossing.

Since it is being built by Toll Brothers, we’ll assume they will be pricey.

Their Lenah Mill project in Aldie has homes for sale from “$1,323,895″ and from “$1,499,950,” depending upon how much space one needs and how close one wishes to live to one’s neighbor.

Six other Toll Brothers developments in Loudoun are nearing sold-out status. Continue reading

Confessions of a Virginia Whistleblower

by James C. Sherlock

State Inspector General Mike Westfall

I decided last week in a paroxysm of good citizenship to contact the Virginia Inspector General (IG) to report wrongdoing by state officials.

I have a considerable list centered around the failure of many state officials to carry out their longstanding, formally-assigned duties pre-COVID to plan for a pandemic emergency and exercise those plans to mitigate the effects of such an occurrence.  

My complaints are based on Virginia Executive Order No. 42  Promulgation of the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan and Delegation of Authority. It was issued by Governor McDonnell and reissued by Governor Northam.

An actionable component of that Order is Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical) was published in August of 2012 (the Annex).  It contained prescient predictions about the course of a pandemic and directed specific agencies to prepare and exercise specific plans. Despite the clear language of the Annex, the plans were not written, personnel were not trained, exercises could not be conducted and systems were not tested under simulated stresses of a pandemic.

Those failures cost unnecessarily severe losses of life, suffering and economic distress among the citizens.  

Continue reading

All According to Plan – the Biggest Government Scandal in Virginia History

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Mercury published  an excellent article on the difficulties being encountered in Virginia in scheduling COVID shots.

But who could have anticipated the need? Who indeed.

This story is part of the single biggest government scandal in Virginia history and the press is either ignorant of the underlying issue or has ignored it. I think ignorance is more likely. Certainly Governor Northam’s executive branch made every effort to hide it from them.

I say the executive branch because I firmly believe — and hope really — the Governor himself never had a clue.

The now-hidden-from-public-view Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical), Virginia Department of Emergency Management August 2012 (the Plan) required planning and exercise of a vaccine distribution plan and much more.

Never happened.

The Plan specified planning, exercise and operational responsibilities for
the following executive branch organizations: Continue reading

A Horse Built by a Committee

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Jan 31 at 8:46 AM

Virginia’s Attorney General has offered a bill to create a new state bureaucracy to handle the opioid settlement money about to flow into the Commonwealth to support prevention, treatment, and recovery. It is going to be a lot of money. The state opioid settlements will not be the end of it.  Federal money is coming for the same purpose. 

The Attorney General wants a new state Opioid Abatement Fund (OAF) for the money and a new state Opioid Abatement Authority (OAA) to spend it.  The AG admits he has no idea how much money will be available, yet his bill places constraints on how it may be spent and earmarks the distribution of the funds.

I disagree.

The Problem

According to the CDC, opioids—mainly synthetic opioids (other than methadone)—are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths.

East of the Mississippi river, the legal product that kills is commercially produced opioids illegally prescribed and filled.  They include:

  • Natural opioids: Pain medications like morphine and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids: Pain medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone
  • Methadone: A synthetic opioid used to treat pain, but it can also be provided through opioid treatment programs to treat opioid use disorders.

Look below at the CDC map showing Opioid prescription dispensing rate  and see the dark scar through the Appalachians showing more than 112 prescriptions per 100 persons.

2015 Opioid Dispensing Rate per 100 Persons – Credit – CDC

Continue reading

Behind Dominion’s Shift to Renewables

Image credit: Style Weekly

By Peter Galuszka

Ever wonder why Dominion Energy found religion and announced a major shift to renewable energy?

The answer is that modern, high technology businesses want it and the Richmond-based utility wants to respond to their desires.

This one of the themes in this recent cover story I did for Style Weekly that explores how Dominion’s major shift in direction is part of several dynamics that are pushing solar wind and other renewables instead of keeping on with fossil fuel.

Here’s the reporting in a nutshell:

  • Virginia’s economy is being driven more by data centers, giant box-like warehouses loaded with servers that can handle tremendous amounts of data. Northern Virginia, the incubator of the Internet, already handles about 70% to 80% of the global Net traffic and has a mature and still growing network of data centers.
  • The Northern Virginia experience is shifting downstate. Henrico County now has a partially construction data center run by social media giant Facebook. Centers have been announced or are being planned in Southside and Southwest Virginia.

Continue reading

If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

Continue reading

The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading

Why Do 58 Nursing Homes Lack PPE?

by Carol J. Bova

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) publishes COVID-19 data reported by nursing homes as of May 31. Only five Virginia facilities reported not having enough essential supplies for current use, but that still put the safety of 554 residents plus an unknown number of staff members at risk for COVID-19 or other infections.

Glenburnie Rehab and Manorcare–Imperial, both in Richmond, reported no current supplies of hand sanitizer, gloves, N-95 masks, surgical masks, eye protection or gowns.

Woodbine Rehabilitation in Alexandria reported no N-95 or surgical masks and no gowns.

Albemarle Health and Rehab in Charlottesville and The Springs Nursing Center in Hot Springs didn’t have any N-95 masks.

Looking ahead, CMS had also asked if nursing homes had a week’s supply of the five PPE items and hand sanitizer. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is It the Death Knell For Dominion’s Pipeline?

By Peter Galuszka

For more than a decade, hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas and oil has transformed the American energy picture, leading to big revivals in such energy fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the Bakken field in the Dakotas.

It has prompted Dominion Energy and its utility partners to push forward with an $8 billion or so Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will take Marcellus gas through Virginia all the way to South Carolina. The project, tied up in court fights, has been enormously divisive as property owners have protested the utilities’ strong arm methods of securing rights of way.

But now there’s clear evidence that the fracking boom is over, and that has huge implications for the ACL project. The reason? Oil and gas prices have dropped thanks to a perfect storm of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic tanking the U.S. economy, bitter energy wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that fracking gas and oil rigs are enormously expensive and wells can produce for only a short period.

The Hill reported last week: “Oil sank to $23 (a barrel) from a high of $53 in mid-February, far below the break even point that producers need to drill new wells to maintain supply, and with volumes rapidly diminishing at existing wells.”

The newspaper points out that a fracking well can cost more than $10 million while a traditional well is only $2 million. As price pressure mounts, the number of wells nationally has plummeted from 790 to 772 in one week.  At the Bakken field, reports The Washington Post, producers are cutting costs.

The situation has clear implications for the ACL project which was conceived at the height of the Marcellus boom. Dominion claimed that the gas would be badly needed in coming years while others claimed there isn’t enough demand. Continue reading

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading