Albemarle supervisors oppose proffer legislation

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has gone on record opposing pending legislation that county officials say would restrict their ability to get developers to pay for the impacts of new residential construction.

“The impact of this bill if it’s left in its current condition will essentially eliminate the cash proffer component to a land use process,” said county attorney Larry Davis.

House Bill 770 and Senate Bill 549 rewrite the state law on proffers, which are conditions developers agree to in order to address the impacts resulting in rezonings.

“They can be in the form of cash contributions, the dedication of land, the performance of certain actions, making certain improvements or phasing of developments,” said deputy county attorney Greg Kamptner.

Kamptner said the new legislation would require localities to demonstrate potential impacts with more precision.

“If these bills are approved, the proffers will have to address an impact that is specifically attributable to the new residential development,” Kamptner said.

Any cash proffers would have to be spent directly on projects “specifically attributable” to the rezoning.

HB770, introduced by Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, was approved by the House of Delegates on Thursday. SB549, introduced by Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has been approved by a committee and awaits a vote by the full Senate.

Kamptner said the legislation also would give developers more legal rights to challenge proffers many years after they are accepted. The bills also would prevent localities from requiring certain building materials, construction methods and design features.

Neil Williamson of the pro-business Free Enterprise Forum, a local business-advocacy group, supports the legislation.

“We’re looking to make this fair and transparent,” Williamson said. “It seems reasonable to me to have clear language.”

Williamson said the cost of county infrastructure should not be borne by homebuyers in the form of higher home prices.

But Jeff Werner, of the locally based Piedmont Environment Council, said the legislation would hurt localities.

“While I agree that what is proffered to a locality must be fair and reasonable, this bill goes too far,” Werner said. “The bill is clearly written to benefit the development community, and with the threat of legal action written into it is clearly intended to discourage localities from even pursuing proffers.”

Kamptner said that if the measure is signed into law, one outcome could be that future boards of supervisors would deny developer requests for land use changes.

“Proffers make it easier to approve rezonings because they can address impact,” Kamptner said. “And if impacts can’t be addressed, the record can be there to support a board’s decision to not approve a rezoning application because the impacts are too significant.”

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said that before proffers began to be used, counties had no way to pay for the impacts of new development other than raising taxes.

“Current residents were paying for everything that the new residents and the expanded population were needing, and that’s why [proffers] have been so helpful,” Mallek said.

Albemarle collected nearly $192,000 in cash proffers in the final quarter of 2015. They range from $3,000 associated with a special-use permit at Kendridge to $52,000 collected for the Lofts at Meadowcreek on Park Street. The Kendridge proffer went to affordable housing and the Meadowcreek money went to the county’s capital improvement program.

“If these proffer funds go away, there will be a need to find additional revenue,” Davis said.

Supervisors voted unanimously to express their opposition, joining several other Virginia localities.