Albemarle’s population is estimated to have grown by more than 8,000 people since 2010 and county officials are seeking ways to help offset the cost of new residential development.
“The county needs about 700 new homes a year to keep up with the increased population,” said Vito Cetta, a developer and member of the Residential Development Impact Group.
The Board of Supervisors created the group in 2016 in the wake of a new General Assembly law that severely restricted a practice through which Virginia localities can ask for cash and infrastructure in exchange for rezoning or special-use permits.
“The county has traditionally used proffers as its primary tool to obtain contributions on cash, land and infrastructure from residential rezonings to help offset the impacts on public facilities,” reads the group’s final report.
The new law did not eliminate the ability of local government to seek proffers, but local officials can now only accept them if they can demonstrate a rezoning would definitively produce impacts.
“The new law requires that the proffer addresses an impact that is specifically attributable to the rezoning,” said County Attorney Greg Kamptner.
Between October 2007 and July 2016, Albemarle had a formal policy on collecting cash proffers from developers. When supervisors approved a rezoning for Cetta’s Spring Hill Village in 2014, he agreed to pay the county $20,460 for each single-family home and $13,913 for each townhome.
Two years later, supervisors declined Cetta’s request to reduce those amounts. So far, no developers in Albemarle have been successful in renegotiating proffers for previously approved rezonings that are still legally valid.
The impact group concluded that it would be difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all proffer policy that would not run afoul of the new law. However, the group concluded that localities can negotiate for specific in-site improvements such as turn lanes, transit stops and stormwater facilities.
The group also concluded that the law has had the effect of discouraging rezoning proposals both in Albemarle and statewide.
“The development community really thought that because there’s a lack of off-site proffers being made … that rezonings would be dead on arrival,” said Bill Fritz, the county’s chief of special projects.
The report recommends the county “make clear” to developers that rezonings are encouraged. The group also discourages a county-wide rezoning to match land use designations in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.
However, the group indicated it would support such a rezoning of specific priority areas.
“If we have a targeted area for development, you might consider a comprehensive reason of that very targeted area, perhaps coupled with a form-based code, so you’re getting the type and character of development that the county desires,” Fritz said.
One possibility for such an area is around the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road.
The group also suggested supervisors consider service districts, where property owners within a certain area would pay an additional tax earmarked for specific purposes. It also recommend Albemarle lend its support for enabling legislation from the General Assembly for another tool to bring in revenues to support a larger population.
“The work group strongly recommends that the county form a coalition with other local governments, developers, smart growth advocates and other stakeholders to advocate for reenacting and expanding Virginia’s current enabling authority for impact fees,” reads the report.
It could be that such impact fees would be applicable to by-right residential development.
“The committee did talk actively about whether by-right development should be incorporated or not, and there was a feeling it should be incorporated simply because they currently do not have to contribute to the growth they are creating,” said Supervisor Rick Randolph, a member of the group.
Legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, and Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, to allow Albemarle and other localities to use impact fees has been postponed until the 2019 General Assembly.
Cetta said he supports impact fees.
“In most states, and I was in California, that’s the way it works,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense. We don’t do it that way here for state reasons.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she would like the county to have the ability to levy the fee.
Mallek is a member of a group of localities that has lobbied the legislature for more ways for localities to raise revenues for infrastructure.
“It’s taken 50 years for Virginia to understand what other [states] understood in the ’70s, which is that every new unit costs existing taxpayers X amount of dollars,” Mallek said. “The High Growth Coalition has gotten exactly zippo in Richmond.”
Not all bills designed to address growth failed in this year’s General Assembly.
Cole also submitted a bill that would allow localities to use proceeds from service districts to build “general government facilities.” The legislation has passed both the House and the Senate.
Fritz said the group did not spend a lot of time on performance bonuses that can grant additional density for county goals such as increasing the number of affordable housing units.
“I’d suggest that maybe instead of beating our heads against the wall with the state government we look at what we can do,” said Supervisor Norman Dill.
Cetta said he hopes something can be done so the county can keep pursuing a Comprehensive Plan that clearly defines Albemarle’s rural and urban areas.
“Just think of what we’ve accomplished,” Cetta said. “Go on Route 20 and go south from Monticello High School. Go west on Barracks Road from Georgetown Road, and it’s all farms. It’s because of the Comprehensive Plan.”