The Housing Crunch in Charlottesville-Albemarle

Affordable and accessible housing is the Achilles heel of the smart growth movement. The latest demonstration of that fact is a report from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, authored by researchers at Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research. As summarized by the Daily Progress: “The Charlottesville area has a ‘severe’ dearth of affordable housing – and the problem is likely to grow worse.”

According to the report, the region has a shortage of at least 4,200 apartments that are affordable for families earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income, or about $28,500.

The top five jobs in the Charlottesville region – including cashiers, restaurant workers and retail employees – all have an annual average salary of less than $25,000, according to the report.

In a now-familiar pattern, workers find less expensive housing in outlying areas and drive long distances to work, adding to traffic congestion on the arterials serving the region. Charlottesville’s solution is to add another layer of regulation over the layer of regulation that caused the housing shortage in the first place. The city, reports the newspaper, is seeking authority to ask developers to contribute cash proffers for affordable housing funds.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. The solution isn’t forcing developers to subsidize “affordable” housing for a handful of lucky low-wage earners, it’s to allow developers more latitude to build housing of whatever type is in demand. That will require allowing more density, more townhouses, more apartment buildings and more condos to the extent supported by market demand. Ideally, these places would be located where roads, utilities and other infrastructure already exist.

Of course, the conversation will come down to schools. More families mean more school children, and lower-wage earners will mean insufficient tax revenues to cover their costs… as if public schools were a profit center, not a public service.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


35 responses to “The Housing Crunch in Charlottesville-Albemarle”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Out where I am, there are about 98 new townhomes getting ready to be built, and 250 single-family homes as well.

    Town concepts have always seemed “the out” when it comes to the affordable housing dillema, because if pushed developers towards townhomes for families just getting started. The plywood palaces come later, and not first.

    The upside is dense development, better planning, more open space, fewer trips on the roads (if the town has walkable commercial), and more affordable housing.

    Downsides? Only if you don’t like people.

    Town concepts seem to be the best way out, especially if they accomodate commercial and potential educational parts too (i.e. a 500 home development sets aside 10 acres for public schools).

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    I agree that the practice of Smart Growth leads to folks paying a whole lot MORE for a whole lot less.

    That has been one of the reasons I have found that the concepts are flawed.

    Taxpayer subsidize only serve to prevent the market forces from limiting the cost of housing.

    Whe I lived in NYC I was applalled at what the tiny 1,100 sq foot apartment we rented cost me – when compared to a mortgage on a home nearly 3 times larger, with a large private yard and swimming pool, two-car garage, shed, and a shop to do “projects” in.

    Land speculators tend to make huge profits from Smart Growth.

    The builders and the banks that fund the builders, they make their significant profits.

    But the everday folks having to pay high prices for apartments above retail, and the taxpayers that will be forced to subsidize “work force housing” – they are left with a lower quality og life and a expensive legacy of paying more for less.

    The mega-wealthy? Well, their just fine – they can afford luxury condos in high rise buildings complete with all types of amenities.

    The young singles of the so-called “creative class” – they do well too, enjoying the life style of living in the 24/7 urban night life and trendy loft accomodations – kid free, the need for a lot of space and goos public schools far from their thoughts.

    The low income retired empty nesters and the single elderly – for them riding the bus/subway and having an urban corner grocery store nearby is a good thing. They can always go to the park if they want to watch the kids play.

    Every packed in – stacked on top of each other, the noise of the city traffic growing more dim they higher up you can afford.

    No thanks.

    Not my cup of tea.

    I drink coffee. I get up early, walk the short distance to the beack, and I drink my coffee and watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. I drive to work on a two lane county/suburban road (Indian River Road), cross the pretty intercoastal water way, and eventually end up on a highway – and complete my one hour commute each day.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Cville might be a special case.

    It’s major industry is the University and the Medical Center.

    My impression of it is as a bustling college town with lots of young folks on foot and bike…..and a central town.

    It does not “feel” like NoVa at all.

    I’d like to see the stats on parens with kids also. My perception is a lot singles….

    The affordable housing deal, I “think” is students… and health care workers not young families with kids.

    Houses/homes/housing/apartments that is within walking/ped distance of the school is in huge demand…

    they pretty much dominate the market. If you want a regular home – and you don’t want to live like students do – you need to commute to the outer fringes.

  4. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Another post that confuses Smart Growth with another issue. If you have smart growth, growth in the sweet spots, you can add affordable housing to the mix using proffers. Below market rate housing doesn’t come free.

    This is a good place to post my ideas on Smart Growth.

    Brief summary of my thoughts for those who have trouble understanding my posts on individual issues. The biggest difficulty is with highway tolls and congestion charges. Others have difficulty with Transit Oriented Development.

    First I divide the landscape into four. Transit Oriented Development, Urban Development, SPRAWL and Rural. Urban has a lot of variations but I don’t discuss them because there is a lot of this available.

    First rule. Don’t destroy what we have unless you are going to replace it with something better. I am not trying to move anyone out of existing housing stock. The individuals who are usually can afford the high tax bills related to SPRAWL development in fast growing counties.

    Second Rule. Develop at Sweet Spot densities.
    Whether you pay for it in taxes or in added bills, the economy is best off when you are not forced to pay for bad development because good development has been prevented by zoning or infrastructure investment decisions that favor developers over later resident owners. This is based on the Cost of Service Curve or the 10x rule.

    Transit Oriented Development – Transit Oriented Development requires a transit station. They are developments within a quarter mile of a transit station. The key feature is a synergy of offices, housing and major attractors like Verizon Center. Transit Oriented Development should also have enough retail to support the needs of the residents. The high rise developments at Baileys Crossroads are not Transit Oriented Development. There is a proposal to add transit to Columbia Pike. High rises by themselves do not make transit oriented development.

    Urban Development – This is the current mix of housing, retail, jobs and education with the exception of exclusionary zoning, SPRAWL and TOD.

    SPRAWL – SPRAWL is large lot development, one acre or more per household, usually caused by zoning and investment decisions to keep what I have defined as sweet spot urban development off the market.

    Rural – Agricultural and forest land that does not have housing fits this classification. Unlike the 10x rule, rural land returns value, enough value to support households that make a living from the land. It does not support additional random households or large lot developments that are covered by the 10x rule.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I appreciate JW sharing his thoughts and it has added to my understanding, so thanks.

    You’ve really said a LOT… which I’m sure you intended … 🙂

    For instance, rural – by your definition in terms of supporting people pretty much rules out everything but small cottage industry type farming in the east.

    Most of our food now comes from factory farms… and..need many more workers than farmsteads.

    I’m still turning this over in my head.

    I have to admit, I’m ignorant of the 10X rule and would appreciate a link or two to educate me.

    I note also in the definition of sprawl that you do not include 1/2 and 1/4 acre SFHs … is that correct?

    can Smart Growth – as you define it exist as remote “pods”? In particular, I’m trying to understand say… a place like Haymount and how it fits or not into the settlement pattern condundrum.

    and finally … can you lay down a paragraph or two about your views with respect to congestion pricing and electronic tolling?

    Thanks… for Contributing to this blog and to my own perspectives.

  6. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Interesting definitions.

    As Larry points out, missing is the majority of suburbian neighborhoods – the SFH in developments filled with wall-to-wall SFHs on 1/2 and 1/4 acre lots. Under the definitions given in previous posts, these neighbors do not appear to be “sprawl”. The lots are too small.

    While we seems to have a focus on urban/high density mixed-use development on this thread, what about suburbia and our oh, so popular ring cities?

    Where do they fall within these classifications of human living patterns?

  7. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Half acre lots, in the proper configuration, with the proper related jobs and services are not SPRAWL.

    The focus on urban/high density mixed-use development or transit oriented development is a reaction to the wrong headed transportation investment policies that deny market choice. If we had investment policies that responded to the market the cost and supply of urban mixed use development would match the market. Units values would stabilize at lower prices.

    These lower prices would provide more work force housing.

  8. nova_middle_man Avatar

    humm first to respond to the original post

    “That will require allowing more density, more townhouses, more apartment buildings and more condos to the extent supported by market demand. Ideally, these places would be located where roads, utilities and other infrastructure already exist.”

    humm market demand or citizen demand. Remember Vienna, VA and the Metrowest debacle. Seemed like a prime example of where to allow more building or TOD but the locals got upset arguing the new development would overwhelm existing inferstructure. There is plenty of market demand but no existing citizen demand.

    Thats kind of the whole theme of the argument in inner NoVa. I call it NIMBYISIM. Smart growth is great until you put it where I live and overwhelm the existing transportation network or have MY taxes increase because of all of the new services. (Little do we realize we end up subsidizing these people when they move farther out and have to commute a greater distance using more transportation dollars)


    Now to the comments

    Townhouses and condos can fit into the urban development bin since you have enough density to actually support a commercial/business center every 1/2 mile or so or more ideally spaced among the townhomes and condos like an actual city street layout with business on the bottom and people living up top or say 3 residential townhomes and then a business in a townhome.

    I think we can boil it down to this can you have single family home developments that are not sprawl.

    Say places like Ashburn or South Riding. These places are basically self contained with a centrally located town center.

    However due to the single family home nature and lot sizes most people would have to walk more than 1/2 mile to the town center and so choose to drive. (These places do not have employment areas but even if they did people would stil have to drive to work and there is no guarantee they would work in their community as discussed ad nauseum)

    Having a town center every half mile is not practical and neither is limiting the development to say 20 houses surrounding the town center.

    As far as 1/2 1/4 SFH lots how about maximum developer value developement 🙂

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Town concepts seem to be the best way out, especially if they accomodate commercial and potential educational parts too (i.e. a 500 home development sets aside 10 acres for public schools).”

    OK, A 500 home development that sets aside 10 acres for public schools would mean they set aside 1%. That doesn’t sound too bad.

    But, after you set aside for stream beds, steep slopes, open space and roadways, and then put in catchment basins, sidwalks and curbs, and toss in $17,000 per home fro proffers, then things don’t look quite so enticing. Then you have to contribute another 10% for affordable housing.

    What other business could make money this way?

    “I agree that the practice of Smart Growth leads to folks paying a whole lot MORE for a whole lot less.

    That has been one of the reasons I have found that the concepts are flawed.”

    I would love to be able to build an affordable house or two, no more, but I am not allowed to.

    “Land speculators tend to make huge profits from Smart Growth.”

    And those profits come at the expense of people like me.

    “It does not “feel” like NoVa at all.”

    Right. Take C’ville and multiply it by a thousand and then see how homey it feels.

    “you can add affordable housing to the mix using proffers.”

    This is nonsense. Econobabble. What you are saying is that we will only allow you to build homes if you charge the owners of those homes enough to pay for 1.1 homes. It is yet another case of the haves trying to prevent the have nots, for their own economic benefit.

    “First I divide the landscape into four. Transit Oriented Development, Urban Development, SPRAWL and Rural.”

    This might be the most intelligent statement I have seen here. I would only suggest that there might be one or two more ctegories between Urban development and Rural. Not everything that is suburban has to be SPRAWL. Admittedly some suburban areas are better than others, but not allof them are SPRAWL, and some are merely in transition. We shouldn’t take what we see at the moment as permanent.

    Then of course there is TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT, whatever that is. I don’t have anything against it, really. My brother lives in one nad he DOES drive his car less than I do. But his overla transportation costs are HIGHER than mine, in spite of the fact that his METRO trips are heavily subsidized.

    We know that every two transit trips eliminate one suto trip. Transit would have to be very efficient indeed to make that trade off pay. But, in fact, it isn’t all that efficient.

    As a result TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT is at least as big a misnomer as SPRAWL. Each has its bad points nad its good points. What we need is to stop denigrating one or the other, and GET GOOD METRICS.

    “the 10x rule” is entirely unproven.

    “…the economy is best off when you are not forced to pay for bad development because good development has been prevented by zoning or infrastructure investment decisions….” You were all right up to this point, then you had to spoil it by adding “…that favor developers over later resident owners.” I suspect you meant to say, over earlier resident owners. My observation is that you could equally say “zoning or infrastructure decisions that favor later resident owners over earlier land owners.” We will never know the true answer until we HAVE VALID AND DISPASSIONATE METRICS. When we have them, I’m willing to bow to the results.

    “Don’t destroy what we have unless you are going to replace it with something better.” Nice try, it tugs at the heartstringfs and all that. Now show me what is better with valid metrics. Loudoun has a higher per capita net worth and a higher per capita income than Fauquier. Fauquier has a better lifestyle for those that can afford it. What metrics do you use to call the balance?

    “Develop at Sweet Spot densities. “
    OK, then what? When you run out, you will have to create some more sweet spots, like Blacksburg or C’ville. ]

    It isn’t cheap. And, in order to do it, you will have to exclude a lot of other areas. Either, you must admit that this amounts to a monopoly situation for some, and compensate the others, or give in to a free market situation, and let the “sweet spots” develop on their own.

    “SPRAWL is large lot development, one acre or more per household, usually caused by zoning and investment decisions to keep what I have defined as sweet spot urban development off the market.”

    I think this is what I just said. What is your opinion of zoning rules that require 180 acre lots?

    Actually, I think I disagree with you on the large lot argument. My lot in Alexandria is one acre. But two thirds of it is under water or boggish. It is a beautiful lot and offers magnificent privacy. Was the zoning wrong?

    “…rural land returns value, enough value to support households that make a living from the land.” I defy you to come here and make an equivalent living off the land. Spend one weekend with me, then look me in the face and say that. Every single farm within three counties loses money on average, based on the last three farm censuses.

    That said, my farm would be alot closer to breaking even (not “making a living”) If I had today EITHER the 60 acres that was taken for the highway OR some miniscule fraction of what the highway provides to the Commonwealth, OR the building rights that disappeared with the land.

    “I’m ignorant of the 10X rule…” There is no such “rule”. It is a figment of EMR’s imagination. He imagines that it costs 10x in county and community costs to support me, because of my location. The county, on the other hand says I provide them with 3x what I cost them. By my accounting, neither of them is likely to be correct.

    “…can you lay down a paragraph or two about your views with respect to congestion pricing and electronic tolling?” I’m in favor of congestion pricing and opposed to electronic tolling as a general revenue source.

    “…can Smart Growth – as you define it exist as remote “pods”? “

    Helluva good question. It seems to me that if it is smart growth, then it doesn’t matter where it is.

    For now. Things tend to change over time. What once looked smart now looks dumb. I have no doubt our grandchildren will feel the same way. Maybe they will feel that way about, say, conservation easements.

    “The focus on urban/high density mixed-use development or transit oriented development is a reaction to the wrong headed transportation investment policies that deny market choice.”

    I don’t think we need to say any more.

    “If we had investment policies that responded to the market the cost and supply of urban mixed use development would match the market. Units values would stabilize at lower prices. “

    You are dreaming. Can you show me a single instance where this has occured, other than in declining neighborhoods? Jim pointed out what happens whn peple buy homes they cannot afford to keep up. As much as I hate to say it, that is affordable housing.

    “our oh, so popular ring cities?” I think these are smart grwoth that got subsumed over time. Time is what we keep forgetting about, and change is what our zoning laws are designed to prevent. Together, the two are mutually exclusive.

    “…with the proper related jobs and services are not SPRAWL.” Right, so we need to move some jobs in order to conver SPRAWL to SMART GROWTH.”

    “Ideally, these places would be located where roads, utilities and other infrastructure already exist. …… There is plenty of market demand but no existing citizen demand. “

    I could not have said it better myself. Even where infrastructure exists, those that live there wish to hoard it. Where it does not exist, they are loath to see it come.

    It isn’t about infrastructure. It is about preventing growth. It is about stealing form those who were here before you by slamming the door after. It is about getting, or having, or enjoying open space without paying for it.

    “Having a town center every half mile is not practical and neither is limiting the development to say 20 houses surrounding the town center.”

    TA DA! Neither is building a metro center every 1/4 mile until we meet our “housing” not to say “living” goals.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Jim is right. “The solution isn’t forcing developers to subsidize “affordable” housing for a handful of lucky low-wage earners, it’s to allow developers more latitude to build housing of whatever type is in demand.”

    And Jim is also right “lower-wage earners will mean insufficient tax revenues to cover their costs… as if public schools were a profit center, not a public service.”

    Roads are a public service too, not a profit center. They also serve lower wage earners. How will you manage that, with tolls?

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “We know that every two transit trips eliminate one suto trip.”

    someone needs to explain this…

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think this Blog and now this specific thread is homing in on some of the issues.

    but hopfully… we don’t start slinging perjoratives… but rather thoughtful observations and contents that allow further fleshing out of the issues.

    re: affordable housing, density, NIMBY

    People who already live in areas where traffic is terrible and schools packed to the gills are NOT easy to convince that “more” will be a benefit especially when “more” will undoubtedly require an increase in their property taxes.

    Is this truly NIMBYism?

    We put value on a lot of things. Do we put value on quality of life and degradation of it?

    I’m still convinced that people don’t care how many people live around them -as long as they live in a place that they like which means good schools that are not overcrowded and decent roads that while see congestion at rush hour – one can get around without long lines of traffic and 2 and 3 waits at traffic lights.

    I still point out the difference between workforce housing and “affordable” housing.

    Where do your plumbers, your service workers, etc LIVE. Do they have to COMMUTE to housing they can afford?

    If they DO – .. WHO is paying for the infrastructure that they need to commute to work on?

    When you look at Fairfaxs policies, do you think they are driven by what is in the best interests of Fairfax?

    If so, does that come at the expense of other jurisdictions?

    If you think this is true – then the answer will not be provided by Fairfax.

    If people seriously believe that workforce housing is an important component of NoVa then please tell me what is NOT ALLOWED for those who would provide that housing to the marketplace?

    What would have to BE ALLOWED right now that is not if more affordable housing is the goal?

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Roads are a public service too, not a profit center.”

    Ray – ANY service that has a DEMAND but does not incorporate a mechanism to balance that demand with the costs to provide it – is headed for trouble no matter whether it is the government or private industry providing it.

    Private industry that does this – goes belly up in short order.

    Government that does this has to keep raising taxing to pay for it.

    If if it were perfectly allocated – you would be encouraging wasteful consumption and gross inefficiencies.

    Peope are not going to have more kids because school is “free”.

    They WILL drive more and more if roads are perceived to be free.

    I sense from Ray that he would approve of gasoline costing .. say $4-5 a gallon (with as much as a buck of tax) RATHER than tolls.


    How about we let Dominion power sell electricity like this. Would you be okay with that – and then Dominion could build new plants without all this regulatory and financial complications?

    What I’m looking for is a consistency of argument…. with regard to roads and other services that have a demand.

    Basically do you charge as much as it takes to meet demand – i.e. build your way out of congestion..

    … or do you use basic market principles to manage and balance demand and consumption?

    and PALEEEZE … don’t tie this to land conservation or fairness of the universe…… that also has to change.. in order for this to work properly… 🙂

    I’m just asking a simple economic question with regard to supply and demand.

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Waldo, thanks for the link to the report.

    Jim W., thanks for your comments. I mis-spoke when I characterized the Charlottesville-Albemarle policies as “smart growth.” The two localities do pursue some “smart growth,” but a lot of what they do, especially in Albemarle, is antithetical to smart growth. Your schema of four types of growth is useful.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Density will not produce affordable housing, at least not in NoVA. The Fairfax County BoS just approved some major increases in density for Macerich (Tysons I).

    Here’s a squib describing what was approved. “The county’s board of supervisors agreed Tuesday to support a plan by Santa Monica’s Macerich Co. (NYSE: MAC) that would build 1.4 million square feet of office space, 1,385 residential units, a 300-room hotel and 200,000 square feet of retail space to the intersection of Routes 7 and 123 in McLean, Va. The project will take 10 to 15 years to build out and is expected to coincide with Metro’s $4 billion expansion project that will create four stations in Tysons Corner.”

    As part of the proffers, Macerich agreed to build 124 of the 1385 condos as affordable housing. A free cup of coffee to anyone who can explain how adding 124 affordable condos addresses affordable housing. Will that house the retail store clerks, administrative assistants, hotel workers, etc.? And what if they don’t want to live in a condo?

    How many more cars will be put on the roads? 1385 new condos are likely to put close to 2500 more autos in the area? What about the 1.4 million square feet of office space? Will any of those workers drive to to work each day? Keep in mind that the total number of new Silver Line Riders (Phase I — downtown D.C. to Reston)is estimated by the FTA to be 16,000 by 2030. What about the 200,000 square feet of new retail space? Also, keep in mind that there are more than 20 other requests for added density at Tysons pending before the County.

    There are no grocery stores in this immediate area. While there is a CVS at the Mall, it does not have a pharmacy. There will be an outdoor ice-skating rink in winter, but no soccer fields. Which activity generates more demand — outdoor skating or soccer? It’s not just kids who play soccer.

    Finally, just to put this farce into perspective, the BoS approved the rezoning request even though the special citizens task force studying Tysons Corner has not completed its work. This isn’t Smart Growth It’s a deliberate attack by the BoS and Macerich on the people of Fairfax County.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think a perfectly valid question to ask is “what are the benefits of the Macerich to the existing residents and taxpayers of Fairfax County?”.

    I think HOW someone answers this question is as important as WHAT their answer is.

    One can agree or disagree with a specific benefit or even a list of benfits but the simple act of having the advocates/endorsees LIST those benefits is an important issue.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m going to post one last thing and ask for tolernace on my numerous posts.

    Suppose you were King and you could decide what projects would be approved for Fairfax.

    What would a winning proposal incorporate into it?

    One caveat – serious responses only – if you don’t think that any single project can add anything beneficial – say so – rather than putting so many requirements on it that it is economically infeasible.

    (In other words.. no single proposal can be expected to “undo” previous mistakes or to change existing laws).


  18. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Interesting discussion.

    I cannot speak to Fairfax (don’t know enough) – I can speak to my neck-o-da-woods (Tidewater/Hampton Roads).

    So for now I’ll just ‘listen in’ and see if I can learn anything …

    Please continue.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    interesting responses… NOT!

    Reality Check is an exercise whose primary purpose is to get public and private interests in a room with a map and some census data.

    The exercise by the way is sponsored usually by the Urban Land Institute along with Smart(er) growth groups and others interested in planning and development.

    The major rule is that the participants must accept as legitimate the census projections for population and jobs.

    So they start off with – “for this area, in 20 years there will be X more people here and Y more jobs”.

    Then THE Exercise begins – which basically is – WHERE are these people and jobs going to go?

    They give you a bunch of different colored LEGOs – each represents a certain number of people and jobs.

    Now there are two basic strategies.

    Either spread the LEGOs out one level deep uniformly across the map without regard to geography, terrain or existing inrastructure – roads, water/sewer, etc.

    Then the other extreme would be to pile LEGOs as high as you could in one or two select areas – i.e. mega city-type places surrounded by rural/green low density development.

    The way it has played out – is that the majority of particpants Choose to stack the LEGOs near existing roads and rail following the corridors and then stack some at “nodes” of existing settlements.

    But the point is – that you must do something with the LEGOS besides throwing them under the table.

    In the real world – many folks approach to this issue is … to essentially throw the LEGOS under the table OR to push the LEGOS out to the fringes – which if they did that on a Map with LEGOs.. it would look quite ODD.

    So three observations:

    1. – Maybe not NIMBY per se – but an unwillingness to deal with the fact that these folks ARE coming… and they WILL live somewhere.

    2. – I keep thinking of what EMRs table would look like at a Reality Check exercise. (And perhaps he has already participated in one)

    3. – JW and others, including myself accept the reality that what is done is done and what we are talking about is changing direction about what to ADD to the landscape – not starting over with a blank landscape.

    We are not going to “fix” this by changing it into a nice tidy rendition of an artists rendering …..of what development “should” look like.

  20. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Who do you trust with your tax dollar?

    VDOT has the goal of mobility. That means increasing the length and number of automobile trips. A commuter trip from Fredericksburg to Washington, D.C. is more valuable then a short drive to a neighborhood job. Their strategy is to split neighborhoods with multilane highways with no accommodations for pedestrians and encourage developers to invest in subdivision roads by promising free maintenance. At the same time big tax dollars are invested in highway projects like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and not in transit projects like cars for the Orange line.

    The MPOs in impaired air quality regions have a different objective. Reduce a list of bad emissions. They include in their toolkit, accessibility, or reducing the time required to travel from place to place. This means encouraging transit oriented development and quality of life improvements for the urban environment. This investment strategy will encourage more residents who make shorter trips to work.

    The Counties have the goal of lower taxes by reducing school children. Two strategies are used here. One is increase high paying jobs matched with zoning that encourages workers to make commutes from other locations. The other is to encourage big homes suitable for older families where the children have gone on to college and their own houses.

    Your dilemma is who to trust with your tax dollar.

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    It doesn’t make sense to me to have what are essentially suburban neighborhoods in outlying counties. I agree that sort of development should be discouraged.


    As long as I can remember (and I’m not young), people have chosen to live on small agriculturally zoned parcels of 10-50 acres. These parcels have significant value to society at large – and I’m extremely concerned that value is being ignored in thse discussions.

    This is where most people folks who keep and breed horses live (only a few people can afford big estates.)

    This is where a significant percentage of people conserving rare breed livestock live. (ditto comment re big estates.)

    This is where a significant percentage of the good dog breeders live. Virginia has a number of dog breeders that are recognized all over the world for preserving rare breeds, breeding outstanding working dogs, and breeding top show dogs.

    This is where a significant percentage of people conserving heritage fruit and vegetable strains live.

    Many of these people have onsite businesses of all sorts to help supplement their income.

    As factory agriculture gains hold, fewer and fewer people can make a living at farming. Even fewer can afford to buy a large farm as a hobby.

    If we want to preserve agriculture in the Commonwealth, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT MUCH OF IT WILL BE PRESERVED ON VERY SMALL FARMS.

    Zoning those small farms out of existence, while claiming to want to preserve farmland, does not make sense.

    Prevent suburbs from springing up all over the countryside, and I’ll applaud. But preventing the very “large lot” agriculturally zoned divisions prevents many people who would want to farm, in a small way – raise horses, have a small organic farm, raise rare breed livestock, raise heritage fruits or vegetables – from being able to do so.

    You need to consider consequences of these actions to society as a whole. It goes beyond traffic. This is really, really important and the discussion here always seems to me to be very hostile to the small scale farmer.

    Most people cannot make a living off of farming any more. If you are doing it as a passion, you are going to have an outside job (either telecommuting or onsite or nearby), and, if you didn’t inherit the land, you aren’t going to have hundreds of acres unless you’re a dot com retiree.

    We give a lot back to society. Don’t legislate us out of existece.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s the problem.

    Someone owns a farm or a place that breeds animals or grows vegetables or whatever.

    Is it a business or a hobby?

    but that’s a side issue…. in a way..

    Time goes by… folks get old and their kids inherit the land but not the passion for the hobby/work/business – and they sell the property because they don’t want to pay taxes on something that they’d have to quit their job and come take care of. (not all of them but enough often enough so that these parcels are willingly sold for development – as opposed to the county legislating them out of existence).

    Buyers are Free to these parcels and NOT subdivide them but so can folks who would like to make a development proposal to the county.

    In fact, where I live.. the big dust-up is the owners of those parcels want to subdivide them – themselves… selling off an acre or two every so often to raise money… for themselves and their needs – which sounds perfectly benign except there are county costs associated with providing services to the new owners – not the least of which is about 8-10K per kid .. on a home that often brings in quite a bit less in taxes.

    Ditto with roads, libraries, 9-11, etc.

    Even this is not a big problem .. until the growth rate starts to exceed 4% then the county cannot carry enough debt to build the new infrastructure and the only way out is to raise taxes on existing property owners which…

    … by the way… includes these small farms… which makes it financially more difficult to keep them.

    Having lived in my county for more than 40 years and watched it grow from 15,000 people to more than 115,000 people, I can tell you that unless a county has truly draconian measures (like Facquier) that – over time – these smaller farms are sold and developers put options on them and then make development proposals to the BOS – which include school proffers – and the choice comes down to

    .. having homes with proffers to offset schools …

    or having homes with no proffers….and overcrowded schools and higher taxes

    I don’t think counties try to get rid of small farms at all… their problem is what to do .. when families decide to sell their farms… and buyers want to put houses on them.

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: who do you trust your tax dollars with?

    well.. not VDOT… where I agree…

    Give VDOT .. CREDIT… their maintenance crews do a pretty good job…on balance

    but VDOT “planners” are not really planners in the true sense – they’re road building engineers who are schooled and indoctrinated with a belief that building roads is a noble profession and that all they need is a sustainable source of funding to do their thing….

    They’re sorta like the road-equivalent of Beavers… it’s in their DNA….

    and you gotta admit.. they do build some impressive infrastructure…

    but the jig is up… Even if we could afford giant mega projects that destroy neighborhoods and plow through parks and any other unprotected open space… using their handy Emminent Domain stick… it’s become pretty apparent that just building roads is not going to provide comprehensive mobility that INCLUDES the ability to walk and to bike – and, in fact, the way that VDOT goes about it.. often excludes it.

    I note in the RTD this morning.. it reports that the State Fair is delaying it’s move for another year to a place near Kings Dominion.

    The reason for the delay? Well they have to put a 4-lane road in .. and GET THIS… they have to build two pedestrian tunnels UNDERNEATH those roads…

    Now this is a real puzzler.. How come we never see that approach in other places…. the usual response is that ped and bike facilities are “too expensive” and would make road-based infrastructure unacceptable more expensive.

    I can only guess that the State Fair is paying for those tunnels….

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    A good post and good set of comments that reflect the problems that Zora and I have in finding affordable and accessible housing near our work.

    Good comments, that is except for Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde do not do yourself any favors by intentionally misrepresenting Dr. Risse’s work. You either have not read his work, or cannnot understand what you read. If you understood it you would not make such clumbsy efforts to make fun of it.

    The 10 X Rule as printed in his book has a self proof formula. You continually try to discredit this and others of the Five Natural Laws of human settlement by misrepresenting the prameters of the rules and what the derivation / self proof states.

    Mr. Wamsley: Your statement of the way the world works is very useful and from our perspective, corrent.

    We suspect Dr. Risse would disagree about the use of the word “sprawl” but 9 out of 10 is not bad.

    Zoro and Zora

  25. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “We know that two tranist trips eliminate one auto trip. “

    This is based on a recent academic study. I have it in my files somewhere, If I can recover it I’ll quote the source.

    As I recall, it was a pretty comprehensive study, involving several transit systems and numerous surveys of actual travel hbits of people close to and farther away from transit stations.

  26. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Dr. Risse’s self proof formula does not constitute a proof, in my opinion. When I see his rule come into general use and see his derivation quoted by others, I’ll be willing to change my mind.

    I have a rule, too. My rule is that in order to generate a credible cost estimate for any project, you will need to spend an amount equivalent to 2% of the cost of the project. Dr. Risse’s rule violates that rule. It is far too simplistic, and the result is probably off by at least two orders of magnitude.

    If he said 10% more, I might agree, but 10x is simply off the chart. It is merely an attempt to justify his personal agenda. I have no beef with his agenda. I have a beef with promoting it with nonsense, because I think that is the sort of things that makes people who care about conservation look like nut cases, and cranks.

    We cannot win the conservation battle if we don’t win it sensibly. If it takes more energy to manufacture, transport, install and maintain a solar array than the array will ever produce, then it is wrong to promote solar, as if it is the answer to all our problems.

    I suggest that EMR’s simplistic rule needs a lot more rigorous examination and post hoc testing with facts on the ground before it can be accepted as a “rule”.

    Look at it this way. If you examine the budgets of every county in the state, on a per capita basis, you will find that it falls in a very narrow range, with the exception of Arlington, Loudoun, and Alexandria on one end of the population spectrum, and Wise county on the other.

    If EMR’s rule was true, we would expect to see some counties with far higher expenses than others.

  27. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Basically do you charge as much as it takes to meet demand – i.e. build your way out of congestion..

    … or do you use basic market principles to manage and balance demand and consumption?”

    I don’t think the first one is possible as long as we have a preponderance of jobs in central locations. There isn’t enough room left in those places to build our way out of auto congestion. Downtown Houston is 75% streets, for example. Obviously building “up” hasn’t worked.

    It seems to me that one of the basic market priciples is that it cannot be managed. Attempts to do so amount to squeezing a balloon. Haven’t we just spend our adult lives watching the collapse of managed economies?

  28. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, if I thought this was about controlling the RATE of growth, that would be one thing. If the county said I could build a home every twenty years, that would be one thing.

    But the plan here is zero homes, ever. That is not controlling growth, it is controlling me. It is not controlling the rate of growth, it is controlling who gets to benefit. It is the government attempting to control a market, and failing.

    I agree that massive growth spurts require massive capital projects and result in tax increases charged to those that didn’t cause the growth (unless you count children as a cause). But, like EMR’s 10x rule, if you think that is the whole story, then the analysis is far too simplistic.

  29. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “not the least of which is about 8-10K per kid .. on a home that often brings in quite a bit less in taxes.”

    Here we go around again, “residential doesn’t pay”. OK, if that’s true, isnt it true for everyone, existing as well as new? Doesn’t that mean we need a tax increease?

    I don’t happen to believe it is true, but it is your argument, where do you think it leads?

    I believe we have deliberately put in place a tax system that makes it appear that housing does not pay its own way, and then we are using the appearance to argue against our own welfare.

    I believe we really just don’t want any more neighbors, and we are willing to trample over our existing neighbors to see that they don’t cause, or allow, any new ones. This way we can selfishly preserve our “public space” at their expense – no new taxes required.

    Unless you happen to show up late on the scene and want what everyone else has. Then, you will pay not only for your new “public space” but an additional increment to replace everybody else’s decrement as well. Meanwhile, they are still living in residential that doesn’t pay its own way.

    Loudoun has growth, and crowding. It also has higher personal income and personal wealth than before growth. The county still has a triple A bond rating, and their taxes are higher than before. Are the taxes so high they have outweighed the benefits of growth, no. Are they high enough to overcome all the difficulties caused by growth, no.

    Is there a better way, probably. To find it we need to stop arguing about what was, and figure out exactly, what will be. By exactly, I don’t mean by using som rule of thumb.

  30. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I am thrilled to see the comments by anonymous. I think he is exactly right. All of those activities are being pursued.

    I see the problem not so much as being legislated out of existence, as it is being saved to death.

    Times change, economics change, the business changes. The best “farm” crops today are bedding plants and turf.

    Buyers are free to buy these parcels and not subdivide them. So ar buyers who wish to make a development proposal. But, the rules for making one are so political, so drawn, out, so expensive, and so likely to be denied that this portion of the market is all screwed up.

    And it is has no depth. For many, saying that opportunity exists is a joke.

    The result is exactly what we get that we don’t like, and at truly exhorbitant cost.

    We would be far better off if we just said, here are the rules and here is the price. Provided you meet the rules and pay the price, you are free to build. Your neighbors have no more right to say you cannot build (because of traffic or schools) than you have to say their house should be torn down (because of traffic or schools).

    The rules may be onerous, and the price may be onerous, but the outcome should not be in doubt.

    I think anonymous view of the rural world today is a lot closer than EMR’s, and it is a lot closer than those that think all farms are wealthy estates.

    Gotta run, I have a hay delivery.

  31. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Hyde is really rolling up the billable hours on who ever pays him to filabuster.

    Alpha Zeno

  32. Anonymous Avatar

    One more time:

    Mr. Hyde read the material before you reject it. Run the numbers yourself.

    The 10 X Rule in not about “Municipal” costs, it is about all the costs that a location decision engenders.

    Do as Dr. Risse suggests and plot out the difference in electricty costs per kilowatt hour used for 1000 dwellings scattered on 10,000 acrea and then for each of the organic components of settlement patterns us to the neighborhood scale.

    When you add up all the cost of the 40 plus or minus goods and servces with location variable costs you get 9 X, 10 X or 15 X difference.

    You only make a fool of yourself by trying to avoid doing your homework.

    Is that hay you sell or straw for strawpersons?

    Alpha Zora

  33. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I don’t know what the difference is for electricity costs are for EMR’s hypothetical situation. I don’t think you can use a hypothetical situation to measure real values. If there is real data that is similar, I have never seen it.

    I suspect that the real “costs” for electricity are pretty much trade secrets.

    I know what I pay for electricity here at the farm, and what I pay for electricity in Alexandria.

    Most of the goods and services he descries are commercial services for which the costs are already distributed and paid for by those that use them. When I made my hay delivery today, my customer paid for the delivery, in addition to the hay. She paid for that service based on the relationship to her farm and mine.

    I have no doubt she could locate hay closer to where she is. I like to think that she comes to me because my delivery and my hay is reliable, and fairly priced.

    She probably pays for other services on a similar basis, and her other vendors also charge her as well. They make a profit on the services they provide.

    As long as it is a private cost, and not one that is foisted on the community, I don’t think it is anyone”s business where people “choose” to live. And, for many people, there is not all that much “choice” as you and Jim Bacon have pointed out.

    If it isn’t municipal costs, who cares? Who has the right to care? Who decides what someone else’s utility function is? Exurban farming is no piece of cake, but it is far from a net loss to the community. Who knows, next year I may faol another Seabiscuit. Horses are a multmillion dollar business in Virginia, even if the horses are mostly owned at a loss.

    It is my opinion that Dr. Risse has an entirely distorted view of both “costs” and “profits”. Even so, I doubt he plans on selling his home at a loss.

    All I can tell you is that the more remote places I have lived have cost a lot less. You can’t walk to the corner for a pizza, so you learn to make your own (better).

    As Joshua Slocum wrote after he left Boston on the first solo circumnavigation of the globe, “The farther I got from that center of commerce, the less I heard of “Will it Pay?”

    For the record, I am unpaid for my blogging efforts. I owe no one anything, least of all apologies, for my opinions. When I offer facts, I try to give a source, so they can be refuted.

    I can neither understand nor verify EMR’s theories. I’m willing to accept them as theories. I’m not willing to accept them as rules, let alone “natrual laws”.

    I’m a scientist by background and training. Science tells me that the most elegant theory can be upset by a single inconvenient fact.

    Here is a fact. Cities are more expensive to live in.

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray .. re: schools…

    just remember ALL infrastructure has two basic costs:

    1. – the cost of building it
    2. – the cost of operating it

    All taxpayers pay #2 and quite a bit of #1 even now.

    If you look at the proffer schedules of counties with them – you’ll notice that what they charge does NOT cover ALL the build costs….

    For instance, a new 1000 student elementary school can cost 40 million dollars. That’s 40k per seat.

    In our county.. the median priced home pays about 2k a year in taxes

    At that rate parents with one kid would have to spend more than 20 years paying off the school that their kid went to even if they never paid a penny for other infrastructure and services and that would also not INCLUDE the 10K per year costs for EACH KID.

    The truth is that in almost every county, it’s the folks WITHOUT kids who must make up the difference and this includes people who are retired and on fixed incomes.

    And the truth is… that there would be money for local roads if the schools were not sucking the counties dry.

    And the GA guys know this – that’s why they don’t want Education and Transportation competing for the same funds.

    Counties just bailed out on the roads… a long time ago.

Leave a Reply