The Land Use Debate Spreads to Western Virginia

The House land use/transportation reform package is getting negative feedback from local government officials, according to Mason Adams and Cody Lowe with the Roanoke Times. Legislators are trying to solve the growth problems of Northern Virginia with tools that don’t seem appropriate in western Virginia.

But Del. Clifford “Clay” Athey, R-Front Royal, is undismayed. He welcomes the feedback, saying that he was hoping to kick-start a conversation with local governments. The three bills in the legislative package are still subject to change, he says.

The House proposal that seems to be generating the most consistently hostile reception would ban the acceptance of neighborhood roads into the state road network for purposes of maintenance. Such roads would have to be maintained either by local governments or homeowners associations. The RT quotes Roanoke County Supervisor Richard Flora as saying, “Instead of the state actually solving its transportation problem, it’s looking for a way to shift the problem to local government, just like they do with everything else they possibly can.”

But Athey gave a good response:

Athey said the bill wouldn’t necessarily prohibit all subdivision roads from being accepted into the state system. Instead, he said, VDOT would evaluate each road on an individual basis. If it’s a “local collector road” that links to adjoining parcels, then VDOT would accept it. But if it’s a road that ends in a cul-de-sac and only serves subdivision residents, there’s no reason the state should pay to maintain it, Athey said.

“If you put interparcel connectors in, where there is a system built where more than one subdivision exists, we’ll be accepting those because the general public uses them,” Athey said. “But subdivisions created on dead ends, when there’s only 50 or 100 people traveling on them 99 percent of the time, if we keep doing that, the bank is going to break.”

Athey is addressing an issue I described in my column, “Pod People” — a pattern of development that strings subdivisions and shopping centers along collector roads like pods on a vine. None of the pods connect, forcing motorists onto the collector roads for greater distances than they otherwise would have to drive, and overloading local road networks.

County supervisors may perceive the state as “shifting the problem to local government.” But, in fact, local government largely created the problem in the first place. It will be impossible for VDOT to ameliorate traffic congestion, even with an extra $1 billion a year that some lawmakers are asking for, unless local officials to pay more attention to connectivity issues. State government don’t approve rezonings and subdivision submissions — only local officials do.

Kudos to the Roanoke Times for its solid coverage of an important issue.

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32 responses to “The Land Use Debate Spreads to Western Virginia”

  1. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    This is he said, he said reporting. Solid coverage would discuss how much money Roanoke County would get under the proposal and compare it with current policy. Even better reporting would present numbers for every District. First glance declares Loudon County’s sprawl the winner. Is this the way we should allocate the states transportation dollar?
    Jim W.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Jim, I agree. Authoritative reporting would surface the pertinent budgetary facts. But even reporting that articulates the issues, even if it doesn’t answer them, represents progress.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Bacon – I sincerely hope that you will be in the audience on January 9 at 3 p.m. in the General Assembly Building as two of the three pieces of proposed legislation are reviewed by the ad hoc committee on the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns back in September reviews this legislation. All others are invited to attend to see how this legislation fares before that committee.

  4. Mason Adams Avatar
    Mason Adams

    Jim Wamsley:
    Those numbers should come before too long. Athey won’t file the final version of those bills until Jan. 5. It’s my impression that they’re still “squishy.” He told me one of the reason they held last week’s press conference, though, was to get the concepts out to local officials and the public to generate some feedback.
    That’s pretty much what this story was. We’ll be following this more closely once the bills are filed and we can see exactly what they’ll do.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m grateful that JB found the reporting… and put it here.

    Especially this:

    “… VDOT would evaluate each road on an individual basis. If it’s a “local collector road” that links to adjoining parcels, then VDOT would accept it. But if it’s a road that ends in a cul-de-sac and only serves subdivision residents, there’s no reason the state should pay to maintain it

    “If you put interparcel connectors in, where there is a system built where more than one subdivision exists, we’ll be accepting those because the general public uses them,” Athey said. “But subdivisions created on dead ends, when there’s only 50 or 100 people traveling on them 99 percent of the time.”

    WOW — “somebody” is actually thinking about the issues…. KUDOS!

    Right now – virtually every new subdivision not only get’s it’s own curb cut, accel/decel lanes, and either a traffic signal or a median crossover or left-turn lane no matter whether it is a dead end or a connecting road.

    This not only costs taxpayers (VDOT must review even private engineering) – but it results in quite a bit of traffic which consists of folks driving in wide swathes around other subdivisions to get to their own dead-end subdivision.

    As per my usual – let people choose and let them pay for what they choose. If they want a private subdivision then fine but treat it like the gated community that it really is – with the primary beneficiaries responsible for the costs.

    This is above and beyond – the mere lane-miles issue of Loudoun vs rural Va counties.

    It’s also very hard to believe that when VDOT takes on financial responsibility for Loudoun Counties dozens/hundreds of miles of new subdivision roads verses a couple of new subdivision roads in say Wise county – that the allocation of state funds is still equitable.

    As Jim pointed out – the more miles of roads a county builds – the more money it gets from VDOT for maintenance.

    This is actually a huge INCENTIVE for Counties to approve subdivisions where as if they actually had to pay for these subdivisions with property taxes – they’d be hearing from their constituents.

    It’s hard for the public to see this but this is exactly a situation where the legitimate costs of a new home should include at least some of the costs of the infrastructure – and instead it is passed on to all Virginia taxpayers – in effect a subsidy for growth and development.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Actually, this should be acceptable to some developers and builders who are proposing more grid-patterned streets than in the past. It guess it’s a good way to see what people truly believe about cul de sacs.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I had talked earlier about TAZs and the concept of planning with respect to looking at parcels of land with regard to transportation demand potential. This would apply to undeveloped land but could be modified to include redevelopment.

    My thesis is that if the folks who approved the Washington Beltway had, at that same time, looked at the build-out traffic potential of the undeveloped land that would be developed…..

    … there would have been a sober realization with respect to not only the Beltway’s daily traffic count – but the size, scope and number of major arterials … minor arterials, and collectors.

    Clearly – they we not only built the roads BEFORE they we ever checked to see how much traffic would be generated – and the proof is that we picked arbitrary sizes (like 2 or 3 lanes).. acquired r/w for that size .. and then years later after further development occurred had to come back and try to figure out how to acquire more right of way and new lanes – an by that time – it was too late because we had already built more homes that we could build adequate roads to support those homes.

    The concept is still very much alive (though execution is not) because that is in essence what the idea behind VDOT reviewing Comp Plans is about.

    Simply stated – you look at the comp plan and it’s anticipated future land-use – which then allows one to calculate traffic generation by consulting well-defined transportation data known to be produced from various land uses.

    THEN you know how much total average daily traffic AADT that will be generated at build-out and WHERE it will be.

    From that – you can look at existing roads existing capacity and develop engineering data about size/scope that will be needed to accommodate the anticipated growth.

    VDOT did a SUBSET of this with regard to one area of Loudoun (as opposed to the entire county) … and the resulting revaluations were startling… which would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad.

    Loudoun county elected never wanted to see the ultimate potential… because then it would have put responsibility on them to explain and justify why they would support a decision that had such huge financial implications.

    Loudoun is not alone in this regard.

    So now… we have Loudoun County .. and other jurisdictions who are framing the issue as one where the State wants to transfer .. what is rightly a State Responsibility to localities.


    I’m trying to understand … how.. even if that were true… that it would cost me any less in terms of new taxes.

    Aren’t the counties basically saying… they want the state to raise taxes..and collect those taxes.. and then give those taxes to the counties to build more roads to serve development?

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    If they were forced to tell the truth, both Republicans and Democrats serving in local government would say they “love” the Dillon Rule. While it frustrates them now and then, it provides them with great political cover. It enables them to avoid making hard decisions on land use. “I would not approve this massive rezoning, but for the fact the Dillon Rule prevents me from refusing to approve it. Honest!”

    I suspect the very same holds true for having VDOT be responsible for all roads in most locations. “It’s VDOT’s job to build roads.”

    Obviously, they don’t like saying “no” to any development plan. Or insisting that a fair amount be proffered. For example, according to the recently released report by the Commission on Local Government, for fiscal 2006, Fairfax County (with more than a million residents) collected $8.2 M from developers, while the City of Manassas Park (population 11,600) collected $2 M for the same time period. (A friend of mine has written an op-ed on this subject & shared a draft with me.)

    IMO, if Fairfax County were to request proffers that covered the cost of building infrastructure, quite a few builders probably could not afford to pay and build the project at a profit. I suspect that many projects would be scaled back to levels where the impact on infrastructure would be much less. On the other hand, land and construction costs are probably so high in Fairfax County that it’s not economically feasible to build to what is permitted by right.

    One might even speculate that the cost structure in Fairfax County and a county policy that recovered the infrastructure costs from rezoning together might push a lot of development to “other places.” A few of the office towers that will cause many workers from outlying areas to drive to Fairfax County might be built closer to where many of those workers live.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “One might even speculate that the cost structure in Fairfax County and a county policy that recovered the infrastructure costs from rezoning together might push a lot of development to “other places.”

    what kind?

    Residential or Non-residential?

    It doesn’t seem to bother Gerald Connolly or the average developer to “push” residential growth to the outlying areas so why does it bother them to do the same thing with non-commercial growth?

    The outlying jurisdictions would love the jobs and also the fact that their local folks would be commuting locally.

    Now I realize as soon as I’ve uttered these words that I’ve uttered blasphemy to the Smart Growth folks but I’ll defend my self by saying pushing jobs out is not the same as advocating homes on 5 acres with well/septic – a more conventional perspective of “sprawl”.

    In fact… now that we mention this. How come “sprawl” is framed in terms of residential development – and not other kinds of development.

    If jobs were pushed out to say Spotsylvania.. they’d surely have to provide water/sewer/highways to serve it.

    If you have a choice between Spotsylvania doing that and Fairfax doing that – why would it be thought that Fairfax is the better place to accommodate new jobs?

    inquiring minds… yadda yadda … has someone got an answer?

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “It doesn’t seem to bother Gerald Connolly or the average developer to “push” residential growth to the outlying areas so why does it bother them to do the same thing with non-commercial growth?”

    WRONG…. sorry

    reword: see JOBs replacement of non-commercial

    It doesn’t seem to bother Gerald Connolly or the average developer to “push” residential growth to the outlying areas so why does it bother them to do the same thing with JOBS growth?

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, I’d say that Mr. Connolly would take the position he supports additional housing in Fairfax County. He has argued for building condos at Tysons and other “to-be-urbanized” areas of Fairfax County as a “solution to the traffic problem.” Walkable communities with seven-figure units (a few smaller ones in the mid-six figures) and maybe 8% priced as affordable housing and thousands of additional cars.

    For his first election run for BoS chairman, Gerry Connolly received $163,185 from the real estate industry. IMO, they would support building both commercial and expensive residential housing in Fairfax County. But I do feel that, if no rezoning was possible, many projects would not be built at all because the density permitted by the existing Comprehensive Plans is not sufficient to provide the desired return on investment. I cannot prove that, but I don’t think that I’m alone in my speculation. Connolly has greater ambitions and needs the backing of the real estate industry. He needs to deliver for them. Development that won’t make a profit in Fairfax County, obviously, won’t be built there.

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “How come “sprawl” is framed in terms of residential development – and not other kinds of development.”

    “Now I realize as soon as I’ve uttered these words that I’ve uttered blasphemy to the Smart Growth folks but I’ll defend my self by saying pushing jobs out is not the same as advocating homes on 5 acres with well/septic – a more conventional perspective of “sprawl”.”

    Now you are talking. It really doesn’t matter what kind of development you have, so long as you don’t wreck the environmnet, the total package works, and it isn’t ugly as sin, and it is halfway balanced.

    That’s where the blasphemy comes in: each of those requirements is utterly subjective. What works for some is blasphemy to others and the more stringent their views, the greater amount of blasphemy exists. And, those subjective views change over time.

    It then comes back to Jim’s comments about Arlington, above. What measurable benefits can we recieve? Who gets stuck with the disbenefits, and how can they be compensated?

    It seems to me there is a huge amount of angst over the general populace getting stuck with extra taxes and other disbenefits of growth. Clearly these do exist, but there is no real way to determine how much “new expense” is from previous deferred spending. To the extent that there has been deferred spending, it is unfair to tack ALL of those costs on newcomers, specially when it is OUR elected representives that lure newcomers in with excessive job creation.

    Clearly and newcomers developers should contribute towards the immediate expense of new infrastructure, but it is unrealistic to expect them to pay 100% up front. That is why a cap on rate increases works well. Eventually everyone has to pay, but it gives existing owners some intermediate to long term protection (compensation) from sudden spurts in growth caused by job creation. It shifts a decent proportion of new costs onto newcomers, but once they are residents, they “join the club” and begin to get some of the same protection (compensation) if growth continues.

    It SEEMS intuitive that placing homes much closer together saves on the plumbing required for sewer, but when you consider all the other isues involved, maybe that isn’t enough reason. Flowers arrange their petals around a central stem for a reason: it is efficient, so maybe, just maybe cul-de-sacs aren’t so bad once you consider the entire system. I think we just don’t know how to measure, or don’t want to know because it might upset our concept of what constitutes blasphemy.

    There are already subdivisions that maintain their own roads, but this provision may lead to MORE gated communities and FEWER cut-throughs. Anyway, you can never get rid of all the cul-de-sacs because many of them wind up being mandated by topography or open space requirements. It really does need to be evaluated on a case by case basis, but no matter who does the evaluation, he will be labeled a blasphemer by someone who disagrees with the result, even if they are half a nation away and they are disagreeing with the concept and not this particular instance.

    I know of one development where they slapped a conservation easement on a wetland area in the middle of the development and took a big tax write off. Then, they turned around and sold the lots that backed up to the conservation area at a premium, only now, that open strip is being eyed by Dominion for their proposed power line. So here is a case where the developer got paid twice for that easemnent, once by the feds and then by the adjacent landowners, yet the easement will mostly be enjoyed by electricity users in New England, who will have paid squat for it.

    Planning anyone?

  13. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Pushing Jobs Out is not as simple as it seems. Each employer looks for a number of things. Cost to market. Cost for employees. Cost for management. Cost for materials. Cost for utilities. The weight for each cost varies for each employer, but this is the type package that development initiatives have to offer.

    Two costs are easy to analyze in relation to Sprawl, cost for employees and cost for management. Just look at how many employees you plan to hire and how their commute to your plant location compares to the competition. It always comes out better when you are talking about compact towns.

    Managers are a different problem. You have to convince them that they will have a better quality of life if they move. Where will they live? Where will they shop? What is the deal for evening college courses? How do your schools rate? Can they take AP courses? Low taxes mean low quality schools. Low populations mean long bus rides. You get the idea. The Sprawl area does not appeal to the majority of the population. If it did Arlington houses would sell at a discount and down state would sell at a premium.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Well my opinion about what happens to growth when existing residents don’t like the impacts – is still the same.

    If enough .. VOTERs believe that more growth means more traffic and a lower quality of life.. guess who gets voted in or out of office?

    You cannot have it both ways. If we are to be a Democracy.. then you cannot dictate to citizens – neither smart growth nor “ordinary” growth.

    The Smart Growth have one view of this. Ray, you and other obviously have a different view. But what I say is that neither view counts for spit in a spittoon… if the majority of voters don’t like it.

    So .. the Smart Growth folks are advocating what they think is a less expensive and more efficient way to plan and develop that will yield less traffic and provide a better quality of life.

    Ray – you disagree on whether their approach is correct or practical.

    But you approach is not either. You essentially advocate the status quo – or even more development and assert that someone has to pay anyhow so it’s not fair to newcomers, .. that it’s not fair to landowners whose land is not designated for higher densities, etc, etc.

    The (blasphemous) question that I asked was whether or not offloading jobs (as opposed to residential) was considered to be “Sprawl”. It apparently is given the response of the Smarter Growth folks concern about possibly moving Govt jobs to Winchester.

    I’m not advocating that – I’m asking why there is more emphasis on the residential aspect and not the jobs aspect when clearly in the NoVa area (and most other areas) they don’t send jobs away.

    The deeper question I was trying to delve into was the concept of “balance” as articulated by EMR.

    If the problem in NoVa and the exurbs, one of a huge “unbalance” of jobs and homes?

    If you count jobs in NoVa – are there many more than there are people? That seems to be a no brainier because in Spotsylvania – an outlying exurb… we seem to have many more people than we have jobs…

    But no free lunch for the pro-growth folks. If they had it “right” – we’d all be discussing something else and “Smart Growth” would be a head-scratcher, I-95 and the Beltway would be nirvana and we’d all be loving each other. Right?

    Since that is not the case… advocacy for the status quo or even more of the same is a non-starter. Would you not agree? 🙂 I simply cannot see.. how your advocacy leads to “better” than what we have now.

  15. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    It is interesting to read the following on the Not Larry Sabato blog:

    Chairman York Blasts Speaker

    Below is a letter Chairman Scott York of Loudoun County sent to Speaker Bill Howell today in regards to the GOP’s plan on growth revealed this week. Gerry Connolly of Fairfax County has also bashed this idea. That’s two of the “big three” of County Chairman. What does Corey Stewart of Prince William think?

    I’m a little surprised the Speaker didn’t have local government support for this lined up in advance…

    December 28, 2006

    Dear Mr. Speaker:

    It is clear from your remarks of December 27th, 2006 that the House of Delegates Leadership has no idea of how land use decisions are made. Local governments do in fact have some control over zoning decisions and Loudoun County has had a clear record of denying rezonings where infrastructure is not adequate.

    The problem of inadequate requirements for infrastructure has been on land already zoned for development. For years counties have sought permission from the State to deal with “stale” zoning. For years counties have requested the local ability to deny subdivision approvals if public facilities are inadequate to handle the influx of new residents. And for years the General Assembly has consistently failed to pass any legislation giving us local control over covering the costs of this new and expensive infrastructure.

    The “new” House solution is simply to ignore our real needs. Instead the House solution serves only to shift the burden of costs from the State to the counties. The House version will now force counties to place the costs of maintaining new subdivision streets for snow removal and future maintenance on the homeowner’s real estate tax bill or by placing an impact fee on new development in a locality’s rural areas to pay for road maintenance in urban areas.

    One proposal put forward recently would require counties to designate Urban Development Areas for the next 20 years where public infrastructure is already planned. This bill conveniently ignores the issue of subdivisions outside these designated areas where counties cannot deny new residential subdivisions even though the infrastructure is woefully inadequate.

    The second proposal would allow counties to “volunteer” to form tax districts to pay for maintenance of the secondary roads within a district. In addition to the surtax imposed on such a tax district, the legislation would allow counties to impose impact fees in the rural areas and then transfer the funds collected to maintain the roads the county’s urban areas. This legislation also proposes that the State would provide anywhere up to $15,000 per lane-mile to help maintain these roads and would give the county VDOT equipment to do the job. This certainly sounds generous however VDOT currently pays less than $5,000 a lane-mile for road maintenance in counties. For a State that does not today have money to maintain roads it is difficult to imagine that this promise can be kept.

    The third proposal would no longer allow new secondary roads to be accepted into the state system. Counties would be forced to either make the homeowners pay for maintenance or impose real estate surtax on all the property within the county. This appears to be a total abdication of State responsibility for our secondary roads.

    For eleven years I have been a supporter of slowing our growth until we could get a handle on our infrastructure costs. And for those eleven years the House of Delegates have consistently worked against our efforts. It is interesting that you now seem to have discovered that growth does not pay for itself; something we have lived with for two decades.

    If you would care to hear directly from the Supervisors that you think have “the easiest job in the world” I would like to see legislation introduced that gives any locality that takes over maintenance of its secondary roads a minimum return of 50% of its income tax dollars sent to Richmond. Would you now support an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance? Would you now support 100% Impact Fees to be collected at the time of issuance of a Zoning Permit? These are “real solutions” counties need to offset the enormous cost of new development.

    I would also request that you visit with the Loudoun County Republican Committee and the elected Republican Supervisors and convince them that they are “accountable” when they recklessly approve thousands of new residential rooftops.

    It is interesting to see the sudden shift of blame to counties that have had to deal with a development-controlled legislature for years. Is there a real solution in the new legislation to be introduced this session? Or is this just a posturing that exposes the lack of enthusiasm of elected State officials to work with their local counterparts on a real, workable solution?


    Scott K. York, Chairman

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Yeah, I read this and I think you make a good observation in terms of coordinating .. or lack of.

    I’m not sure if that was a calculated strategy or incompetent coordination.

    Strictly from a political perspective – and not on the merits of the issue itself….

    The HD needs to MOVE on this issue and NOT be reacting… else they’re going to get eaten alive.. The burden is clearly on them to prove that there is more than rhetoric and blame.

    For instance, they can claim – no harm, no foul for existing roads. And they can provide enabling legislation to provide the tools and revenue mechanisms for localities. They can start with pilot projects that are voluntary. They can implement in steps.

    They need win some allies at the BOS level. York would have been a good one.

  17. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Legislators are trying to solve the growth problems of Northern Virginia with tools that don’t seem appropriate in western Virginia.”

    Well, Duh.

    It’s all about balance, isn’t it?

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, I’m in favor of smart growth, it is just that I have not yet been convinced that some of what is called smart growth is actually all that smart. I play the Devil’s advocate because I think the arguments for smart growth are terrible. Advocating smart growth with dumb arguments is stupid.
    We agree that developers (or their customers) should pay the excess cost of new infrastructure required to support development, but I have doubts about how high they should be or how they should be structured. I don’t think we know enough. I think we have stacked the deck in order to get the answer that is popular.

    EMR has said that Arlington is unbalanced on account of too many jobs, and I agree with him on this.

    He says 50-acre lots are an abomination, and I agree there, too.

    TMT’s view of the world is different from mine, but I can appreciate HIS pain because I share it with my Fairfax property. Things are different in Fairfax and Fauquier and Western VA. They are different in time, space, and income.

    Some people actually believe we can accommodate the next two million people entirely in Metro oriented development, but I don’t think that is going to happen. I think that is unbalanced and it isn’t smart growth.

    Smart Growth folks are advocating what they think is a less expensive and more efficient way to plan and develop that will yield less traffic and provide a better quality of life, and I agree that they make (some) good points. But I have yet to have anyone show me a place that has actually succeeded at this. It isn’t that I think they are wrong, but they are grossly overselling their product, which typically leads to disbelief. The arguments being made are hopelessly weak, in my opinion. We are trying to solve problems through policy that really need to be made on an individual basis, case by case.

    Arlington is a case in point. They have the best of everything Smart growth argues for. Yet after thirty years of investing in this idea, much of it with other people’s money, we find that a higher percentage than ever of people are driving OUT of the county to work.

    I think there IS room for smart growth and room for suburbs too. I think there is room for farms, even. But EMR has correctly pointed out the winner take all attitudes that prevent us from making any progress. Unfortunately, he seems to be a primary practitioner. As soon as someone says, “the only way….” you can pretty much ignore the rest of the sentence because it is likely to be wrong. You just can’t take seriously a statement like “No one with any understanding of the subject has refuted my conclusions.” And half the time I agree with him, but I still think he is poisoning the well.

    So we have Fairfax and Arlington playing WTA with the jobs, The anti-road playing WTA with the ICC for thirty years, the pro Metro crowd playing WTA with their tunnel, The big developers playing WTA with density, and the open space crowd against density. And we have the anti-sprawl crowd who seem to be opposed to anything and everything.

    I think homes and jobs and roads and metro and open space are all out of balance in different places at different times. I think there are a lot of opinions out there and not much science, and even fewer facts to base the science on. I don’t think we are spending anywhere near enough money to ever solve this problem. I think if we do solve the problem, we won’t like the answer. I think that we really don’t know who pays for what, or who benefits from what. I don’t think we have a clue as to what is really best for everyone.

    In particular I think there hasn’t been enough thought about the jobs situation and what we can reasonably do to fix it. Like someone said, why outsource to India when you have Wise County? If we can prohibit growth by fiat, why not jobs? If Fairfax is hogging the jobs, and exporting the housing, why not have a reverse commuter tax? You have to pay us to get our people, that way more of them can stay home and relieve congestion. Make the people who are causing the problem pay to fix it. Of course it’s crazy, that’s what brainstorming is about. Keep throwing out ideas until you get a good one. Don’t be afraid of having a bad one roasted. Never, ever, hoist an idea on the petard of ideology. Put it out, test it, if it fails move on.

    My experience is that by the time you get a design priced out that adequately solves some problem, you are going to spend somewhere between two and five percent of what the project costs, just to figure out how to go about it. But that is for ordinary size problems that rational people can conceive of at one bite, like building an airplane or a ship. It goes up asymptotically as the complexity and number people involved grow larger.

    So if the problem is to undo all the bad things we’ve done for the last two hundred years and do them over better, somehow, well, we haven’t got the time, let alone the money. Nor even any agreement on what is better. All we can do is try to stay out of each other’s way. Let the other guy try his experiment and fail, we might learn something.

    I have thrown out some ideas designed to promote compromise, and these are universally attacked by all the WTA ideologies. Compromise is unthinkable for a WTA: it is blasphemy.

    So here I sit, I’d like to build a house, actually build it with my own hands, just to be able to accomplish something, and may do some good, and maybe even make some money, and maybe not have to commute for a year. I don’t think that is such a bad thing.
    But, according to the county, if I build that house the county loses $2700 a year which is like $.04 per person, but if I don’t build that house I lose (pick a number, any number from $100,000 to 1,000,000.) It seems to me there ought to be enough room between those numbers for some compromise, somewhere, somehow, someday.

    But there isn’t. The county wants me to have nothing, other than what I have, forever, because somehow, they thinkit is good for them. And they want someone with a hundred times more money than I have to get the place for a song when I’m done, so that they can have what there is, or isn’t, forever. I don’t get it.
    Suppose you finally came to the time when you wanted to sell your house, but the county came to you and said, hey we are going to buy all the county electricity from this green power company in Helsinki, to save the planet. And suppose the price of this electricity was so high that the sales price of your home fell by 80%. Would you agree to that? Really, fess up.
    That is pretty much what is happening to me.
    We all want to do the right thing, but until there is some compromise everywhere, we are going to burn up all our energy generating friction instead of building something worthwhile, and everybody loses. I’d like to save the planet, but I can’t afford to by myself, I need help.

    Until I see some compromise, some willingness to work together so we each get something, then I’m not voting for any more WTA supervisors, and I don’t care whether they are pro or con on any particular topic: obstructionism cuts both ways, and it is equally destructive in both directions, as we have seen in Loudoun.

    As for the sprawl question and jobs, around here the answer is yes, this county does not want jobs, VRE, or bus service, or anything that will make it easier or more pleasant to live here, because if you make it attractive, people will come, and it will get expensive. When it gets too expensive, it will get subdivided. Welcome to the real world.

    So, if you really don’t want growth, put up a slum. Or in this case, a farm.
    I think the mere fact that you use more land than the minimum necessary does not necessarily mean that you have sprawl. My Alexandria neighborhood was originally built on well and septic, and was converted later, after those homes had already paid taxes for thirty years. It’s a nice neighborhood, but in today’s world it would never have been built, because we would have required 100% proffers up front.
    I don’t know what the right answer is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t start with “No.”

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim and Others:

    The GOP House of Delegates land-use proposals
    falls short of meeting the needs of the Roanoke

    Unlike communities in the eastern part of the
    state, buildable land in that part of the state
    is scattered, thus suburban growth has pushed
    out into rural counties with small, narrow two-
    lane roads.

    Urban growth boundaries do little to meet the
    needs of Roanoke Valley. That community needs:

    -a state planning department to help the region
    design redevelopment plans for the city and
    close-in older suburbs;

    -and funds to get the proposed streetcar line
    there from the market to the medical center
    built, which will encourage the rebuilding of
    older sections of Roanoke.

    I am sure the backwoods, right wing, anti-tax,
    anti-government writers on this blog will whack
    me around because of this proposal, but so be


    Rodger Provo

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – Great Post! I really appreciate your detailed response and our good-natured rib poking..

    My underlying thought to all of these issues is that change cannot be forced and change is not determined by what is right or wrong, fair or unfair and certainly not quid-pro-quo negotiation.

    I classify things in those categories of “If I were Kind…..” but actually change – happens because of public support – even when it does not seem to make sense to those in the minority.

    For instance, the vast majority of folks support transit. They see it as a public necessity – like schools – not something that must be economically feasible.

    No, I don’t think there is one size that fits all with respect to change – but if something does not have public support – it’s got a steep hill to climb.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Roger – I support Regional Authorities (elected) and I would support a State-Level planning agency as long as it had a clear mission and could not get out of control like VDOT has.

    As much as I do support Smart Growth Principles – I think the approach should be to remove barriers as opposed to using government dictates and to let the economy work it’s will as much as possible.

    We often compare Oregon but Oregon operates differently from Virginia because Oregon allows voters to launch referenda if they disagree with Govt dictates… whereas Virginia denies it’s citizens that right.

    But I was under the impression that you LIKEd UGBs but apparently not in every/all cases.

    So I’d be curious to know your criteria for their use or not.

    I had said earlier that I thought that the limits of water/sewer walked and talked like a defacto UGB.

    Would you consider that idea wrong?

    p.s. with regard to growth expanding along rural roads – don’t you think that is the responsibility of the localities who make those decisions? Why would we think that Roanoke would approve the growth and then expect taxpayers in Fredericksburg to pay for the road upgrades?

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry – I think you make a couple of good points. The referendum, initiative and recall all were a part of the early 1900s’ progressive movement, which flourished in the west and midwest. I doubt that it had any impact at all in Virginia. But those powers, which can easily result in craziness, change the balance of power. Look at the California voters’ recall of state supreme court justice Rose Bird. In a slightly different vein, note the negotiations between Kaine and the GA over appointment powers and the proposal to remove the one-term limit on governors. The balance of power is very important.

    Your other key point is the difference between appointing and electing officials who can spend money/raise taxes and fees. Gerry Connolly would do about anything for his developer pals, but even he is concerned about turning the Dulles Toll Road over to the unelected MWAA. Why? No accountability to voters. Connolly’s concern is well-placed.

    The entire plan behind the failed 2002 sales tax referenda was to put money in the hands of unelected boards that could be manipulated by lobbyists, just as is the CTB. IMO, the development community would be scared to death of a regional transport authority that was elected. At least in NoVA, the winners would be anti-growth people.

    Ray – I also think that you make some excellent points. We live on different planets — Fauquier and Fairfax Counties.

    Also, the idea that a million or two million more people will all live in an urbanized environment is absurd. Many people are attracted to apartments and condos, but even more aren’t. I lived in an apartment during law school. I hated being only a wall away from my neighbors. That doesn’t mean that I want a 50-acre lot. I suspect that many people feel similar to me. Accommodation of that many more people means more density and more “sprawl.”

    Rodger – I must respectfully note that, in your quest for us to pay higher taxes, you still have not addressed the major flaws in Virginia’s transportation system. VDOT has no cost controls; ergo, it wastes money daily. Do you think that giving a broken agency more money serves the public interest? If so, why?

    Second, the CTB funds projects not based on any system of priorities or rankings, but based on whatever the lobbyists can accomplish in terms of persuasion. Do you think that taxpayers should give more money for this entity to dole out to lobbyists’ clients? If so, why?

    The corruption of the process can be illustrated by a conversation that I once had with Gerry Connolly. We were talking about Til Hazel’s strong opposition to any sort of mass transit. Gerry said that Hazel’s opposition stemmed from the fact that he did not own any land where mass transit was feasible. Connolly’s remark was dead-on point and explains much about transportation and land use in Virginia. A few connected individuals attempt to manipulate the process to advance their own interests. The efficient and effective movement of people and goods has nothing to do with Virginia’s transportation policy processs. Why should we feed this process even more money?

  23. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    The statement that “the CTB funds projects not based on any system of priorities or rankings, but based on whatever the lobbyists can accomplish in terms of persuasion” is based on appearences, not VDOTs approach. Before criticizing the CTB, everyone should read:
    Equity and Efficiency of Highway Construction and Transit Funding, Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission of the Virginia General Assembly, December 20, 2001.$file/rpt272.pdf

    Change is required at the Governor and General Assembly level.

  24. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Most people say they support transit, but most people, in fact, seldom use it.

    I support transit, and I sometimes use it. Where I lose the bubble is whwn people make the argument that auto users (or pick any group) don’t pay their full costs and then turn around and suggest that transit users (or pick any other group) need more money from those who supposedly are not paying their own full way.

    So, ask the people who say they support transit a more pointed question: ask them if they are willing to pay say, $20 a week to support transit. You might find you get a different answer.

    Of course transit has to be economically feasible, it is only a question of how feasible. Should we expect users to pay 100% like they do for most things? 50%? 30%? Free, as it is in some places? Is the rest of the community supposed to give up 1% of their income, to support transit? 20%? 50%?
    at some point people will start to complain. then you have to figure out everything else like more real estate revenue, transport for the disadvantaged, faster trips (not), more convenience (not), etc. Then you can deside whether it is a) feasible and b)desirable.

    It’s the same with open space. Who is not in favor of more open space?
    Everyone is: as long as they don’t have to pay for it, maintain it, or pay taxes on it. But eventually, people will realize they are being crowded, or priced out out, at the same time there is plenty of space around them, and they will start to complain.

    I don’t have anything against UGB’s, but, we should recognize that they amount to a government sanctioned monopoly. They usual remedy for monopoly is to have the monopolists contribute to those who are harmed. But in the open space business it is just the opposite: those who are harmed are also require to contribute to the monopolists and their beneficiaries.

    Under those rules it is perfectly natural that people love open space. But, as I’ve said before, if you really want to make conservation popular, then make sure it is also profitable.

  25. Gold_h2o Avatar

    For years localities have said that they wanted “tools” to manage growth.

    The question should be asked, is this a tool to manage growth?

    If so why? If it isn’t, why not?

  26. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I hate to be such a kiljoy.

    but what exactly does “Manage Growth” mean?

    Does it mean the same at the county level as it does at a regional level or a state level?

    what outcomes are expected from “managing growth”?

    I blame gold_h20 … because he was asking about “tools”…


  27. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    TMT –

    re: “The referendum, initiative ….. can easily result in craziness”

    Okay. We live in a state where we allow land speculators and real estate interests to write and reject legislation that determines how we deal with growth and development – not to mention our transportation policy that is clearly oriented towards providing growth/development opportunities to those so engaged for their own benefit.

    and you’re afraid of citizen “craziness”. 🙂

    let’s see .. how about a compromise.

    Let’s have Citizen initiated referenda but the results can be overturned by majority votes in both the HD and Senate.

    See .. this would be SO … much fun because APF would easily pass.. then we get to see who votes to override … and then we get to toss them out of office.

    but instead… we allow folks paid by the real estate industry to walk the halls of the GA … offering financial inducements and “advice” …in the form of actual proposed legislation…

    And then locally…. thousands of dollars … for the campaign coffers of those who support the developers….

    So .. I’d quibble a bit about which of the two evils is more “crazy”. 🙂

  28. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Right on, Larry.

    I think e can agree that the 2002 refernda did NOT return a “crazy” result, but the correct one given that the whole thing was so fuzzy.

    Power to the People.

    Put the budget on the back of the tax form, and let them tell the legislature where to spend their money. As you say, the legislature can override if the populace gets too “crazy”, but I doubt that would happen.

  29. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    I agree with the vast majority of what is written here. Roger gives me some concern. But … all in all, a good discussion.

    Living in Tidewater VA (aka “Hampton Roads”) I would add that regional authorities other than the Chesapeake. Bay Bridge Tunnel Authority – have been awful failures – and have morphed into taxpayer subsided LOBBYS that mostly advocate against the majority of residents within the region.

    Regional Authorities are BAD. If the PDCS and MPOs were ever made to stick to their intended function – experts offering technical help to local government decision-makers working together on “regional” issues (such as transportation), they would be fine.

    Just remove the “authority” part.

    The taxpayer subsidized HRPDC/MPO, SPSA, HREDA, Hampton Roads Partnership, HRT/TDCHR, and the Virginia Port Authority are all examples of how corrupt and unaccountable to voters such all-appointed quazi-government entities really are.

    Please take my word for it – they are a travesty of “good government”. They are “citizen hostile” – and they are really “tools” of local politically influential business “insiders”.

    Even having a directly “elected” regional authority is most likely going to result in the business “community” buying the new “government”. Thus, making more “government” for us taxpayers to have to keep track of – and to oraganize to fight.

    Less government is better government.

    Allow our existing locally elected “representatives” to make “regional decisions” – and require a VOTE of each BOS/City Council to be recorded on all regional decisions. Insist that citizens are allowed the right to speak BEFORE “regional decisions” are voted upon.

    Any “regional vote” should be weighted based on the population of the city to person casting the vote is “representing”. There are gross injustices in the voting here in Tidewater. For example, Portsmouth with 100,000 residents has the same number of votes on the HRPDC as Chesapeake, with 200,000 residents. Each have 3 votes. Tiny Poquoson with 11,500 residents has 2 votes. Norfolk, with 230,000 residents has 5 votes. Virginia Beach – with 435,000 residents has 7 votes. Thus, tiny Poquoson and Norfolk combined have 241,000 residents – yet the same number of votes as the 435,000 residents of Virginia Beach.

    Oh, and that “economy of scale” “cost reduction” sales pitch? Folks – that simply has not been the case here in Tidewater.

    And we’ve had this regional authority boondoggle for over 20 years.

    From the HRPDC website :

    The purpose of planning district commissions, as set out in the Code of Virginia, Section 15.2-4207 is “…to encourage and facilitate local government cooperation and state-local cooperation in addressing on a regional basis problems of greater than local significance.”
    The HRPDC mission is to:
    • serve as a forum for local and elected officials and chief administrators to deliberate and decide issues of regional importance;

    • provide the local governments and citizens of Hampton Roads credible and timely planning, research and analysis on matters of mutual concern; and

    • provide leadership and offer strategies and support services to other public and private, local and regional agencies, in their efforts to improve the region’s quality of life.
    The HRPDC serves as a resource of technical expertise to its member local governments. It provides assistance on local and regional issues pertaining to Economics, Physical and Environmental Planning, and Transportation. The HRPDC staff also serves as the support staff for the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is responsible for transportation planning and decision-making in the region. As a Virginia Planning District, the HRPDC is also the Affiliate Data Center for our region, providing economic, environmental, transportation, census, and other relevant information to businesses, organizations and citizens.

  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I have to admit – the MPO in Fredericksburg is a mess also.

    Part of it is the influence of VDOT – who basically decides what projects to allocate money – no matter what projects the MPO has selected as priorities. In other words, VDOT does not allocate according to MPO priorities but instead their own.

    The MPO recently did a courageous thing – they REMOVED a project from their long range planning – so that VDOT could no longer allocate funding…. major turf battle…

    The problem is that in the years prior to that – not good decisions were made with respect to prioritizing limited funds for the most urgent needs and the MPO “encouraged” by VDOT went for major new (expensive) infrastructure which essentially sucked diverted money from other projects – which now have little hope of being funded.

    This can happen even when MPOs are elected – because they’re once removed from voters.

    And the problem with both MPOs and BOS is that even though folks can be removed – it AFTER they’ve made decisions with profound and long-lasting consequences such as what many counties are saying now with regard to land that has been already rezoned by previous boards even though voters threw them out after those decisions.

    I don’t know what the answer is because without regional coordination we’ll never even have the opportunity to address regional transportation but even with regional authorities, much depends on the integrity of those performing their duties.

    Perhaps Regional Authorities should be elected – and their budgets controlled by voters.

  31. Anonymous Avatar

    A big problem with accountability occurs when interested individuals or entities can approach decision-makers without these contacts becoming public. I’m not arguing against the ability of anyone to lobby their government officials, elected or appointed, for relief. That’s part of the First Amendment.

    But there is nothing in the First Amendment that suggests these contacts must be shielded from the public view. Federal agencies require, in many instances, that a summary of all advocacy contacts be made in writing and filed on a timely basis. Agencies now release a listing of these contacts (be they face-to-face meetings, conference calls, or written submissions) and generally post them on an Internet database. What I or my opponent argue is then available for the public to see and address if appropriate.

    This very same process could be used by legislative and administrative bodies in Virginia. A plan and simple rule could be that any person who is compensated for or who has a financial interest affected, making a contact with the GA, state or regional board or agency must file a summary of that contact within 48 hours thereof. The document would then be made available on the Internet.

    For example, assume that Company A wants to influence the funding of a local road. A’s officers, employees and agents are free to contact the CTB or some regional authority to argue its position. But such position and arguments would be spread on the public record. Individuals and entities that might feel differently could monitor Company A’s filings and respond thereto. Likewise, Company A could track and respond to the efforts of its opponents.

    Expose more Virginia goverment decision-making to the open light. We’ll see fewer back-room deals, and confidence in government will improve. At the very same time, no one is prohibited from requesting anything. We all must operate in the open.

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Another argumemt for citizen-initiated referenda.

    … restricts to avoid “craziness”

    … signatures required… statewide

    …. override of legislators/gov

    I don’t think we will ever have the level of transparency that you suggest if it has to go through the current legislative process.

    The difference is that if it is citizen-inititated, you KNOW who voted to overrride…. and they’d have to explain their vote at the next election when their opponent said they would support the measure.

    The way things operate now… such a proposal would die in a sub-committee without even knowing who voted against it.

    Right now, the best we can do is hope something gets to the floor – at which point advocacy groups can use the “report card” approach.

    Virginia is steeped in the tradition of a “representative” government where elected officials “decide” what is in the best interests of citizens and those with money/power have a much strong “advisory” role than those that don’t.

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