Dennis Rooker on Development

Jim Duncan makes a great observation:

Referencing Old Trail in Crozet –

‘No plan is perfect, but it’s probably the best plan I’ve seen,’ Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said. When a citizen addressed the familiar concern that the Crozet area and the 250 Bypass will sprawl and become the next Route 29N or Pantops, Rooker responded, ‘Houses don’t create people. They’ll come whether or not the houses are here.’ –courtesy of this week’s C-Ville.

If they don’t build the houses, where would they live?

Yeah, what Jim said.

26 Responses to “Dennis Rooker on Development”


  • Yes, it sure is a nice thought. Actually, I find another quote from Rooker himself, which can be found in the same Progress article, to be equally thought provoking:

    “What do we have the guts to do to preserve rural areas?”

    My understanding is that the residential units approved in Old Trail Village are to be priced relatively “affordably,” the idea being (in the BOS’s mind) that the development will act as a pressure valve on the local housing market. Alas, if they don’t build the houses, our rents and house prices will simply continue their climb, because the people who want to move here are mostly bringing bank accounts from more expensive places to live — i.e., they can afford to buy us out.

  • i know where people will living at: greene, nelson, madison and fluvanna. And guess what? They will be driving to Cville. Woohoo more cars and traffic!

  • “If they don’t build houses, where would they live?”

    If there is demand, then someone will come into the market to provide the supply. “They” will always build houses when there is a demand, unless there was a legal barrier to providing that supply (i.e., laws preventing new houses from being built). It’s simple economics: where there is underserved demand in a market, someone will come in to provide the supply, assuming no other barriers to entry (i.e., government regulation).

    If the lawmakers attempt to restrict supply artificially by preventing new housing developments from being built, the natural growth (or encouraged growth via economic development plans, or the growth of something like UVa, of which the local lawmakers have zero influence upon) will cause existing housing prices to shoot upwards, making it so that no one could afford to live in Albemarle County. Like IamDaMan3 said, people will move to the surrounding counties and drive in to their jobs, which will still cause the feared traffic and cars.

    Basically, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors have two choices: either prevent any growth from happening in the county (i.e., stifle the economic development to stop job creation and force housing prices to unnaturally inflate), or be realistic about growth (especially since the county cannot stop UVa from growing) and be stringent about the elements that developers must bring to the table before you allow them to build. You can’t fault the Board for choosing the lesser of two evils here.

  • I hate to say it, but I think that Rooker’s right that houses don’t create people, people move here whether there are houses or not. I just don’t think anyone considering moving to a particular town counts up the # of empty houses and then decides “yes, I’ll move there because there’s a surplus of housing” or “no, guess I won’t go there because there doesn’t seem to be a house for me.” I think most people just assume that they’ll find a house when they get to the city; they don’t think of themselves as part of an influx that puts pressure on the local market, they think of themselves as one tiny set of individuals seeking merely one house. Everyone assumes there’ll be one house available for a new family–it’s only one lousy house, for sheesh sake.

    it’s a flawed way of thinking, of course, because multiply that one tiny family needing one lousy house by X and you get the influx, but no one thinks that way–they just see themselves, the individual or family. they don’t think “an entire subdivision will need to be built to house this influx of which i am part.”

    hence i do think that rooker is right–they come, assuming that they’ll be able to find one lousy house, and then they get here and rent something until they can find it, and they get emotionally invested in staying here even if they have trouble finding that one lousy house, and there you have it–a demand for housing.

  • Everyone assumes there’ll be one house available for a new family–it’s only one lousy house, for sheesh sake.

    Except that’s not how moving works. :) Nobody sells their house, packs up the furniture, kids and dogs in a moving van and drives to Charlottesville, intending to pick out a house and move in that evening. As real estate agents will tell you, they spend months or years finding houses that have the right number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and acres. They want a house that’s in a good school district. And so on.

    If somebody intends to move to Charlottesville, one of the first things that they’ll do is pick out a house. If they find that houses are scarce, or that none meet their requirements, then they won’t move here, because they’d be homeless.

  • But Waldo–people do sell their house, pack up the furniture, kids, and dog, find a rental in the new city, and start house-hunting at that point or within a year when the lease is up. That’s what we did. If people have to move quickly, in particular, they do this, and anyone moving for a job generally has to move quickly. I think your model works for people for whom moving to Charlottesville is truly a choice, who have the leisure time to spend finding just the right house in the Meriwether Lewis school district. But I don’t think that’s the bulk of our influx.

  • I’d be curious to see what the bulk of our influx is. It hadn’t occurred to me that a significant number of people would move to a wholly new city without once checking to see if there are any houses for sale. Particularly given that we don’t have any really large employers who are growing massively and sucking in new talent from across the nation, I’d like to hope that people leaping before looking would be an exception, rather than the rule.

    More to the point, if new houses weren’t built, eventually those rentals would fill up, either because they’d be rented out to people who would rather rent in C’ville than own elsewhere, or because they’d be more valuable being sold off to be owner-occupied.

    Whether rented or owned, if new houses aren’t built, more people can’t move here.

  • They can if they have roommates. Not everyone is married with 2.3 children and a dog — a lot of folks are single and they have the option of increasing density without increasing the number of houses and apartments. Once they’re here, they’ll sooner or later want a place of their own and bingo: market presure. There’s a grotesque number of people who come for UVA and never leave.

  • I’m curious whether there’s much likelihood that more people would pack into existing houses. Practically speaking, density can’t increase beyond the number of bedrooms, and I don’t imagine that there are many houses in C’ville with bedrooms that are so unused that the home owner would be willing to rent them out.

    (I should say that I would love to be wrong about this. If there is potential for people renting out rooms or basement apartments, particularly downtown, I’d like to see this encouraged through some sort of tax incentives or something. That prevents the ghettoization of rental blocks.)

  • isn’t there a law againist how many people can live in a house. In the county, I was denied in renting a place because it was known I would have 2 other non family member rooming with me.

  • I normally dont side with conservatives but the reason for sprawl and high prices in this town is because of government restrictions on private developers that make it too hard to build close to town. If the demand is high for housing like it is in the Charlottesville area then the equilibrium price that people are willing to pay will be high. Add to this the fact that the government restricts housing development, the supply line shifts left, further increasing the price of housing. Despite this high housing people still want to live here so they search for the next best thing, commuting from a distance to the central urban area. Go to census quickfacts and you will notice something… Charlottesville and Albemarle grow at a steady pace while surrounding and cheaper counties (where government isnt restricting supply as much) are growing rapidly. Look at Greene (growing 48% in 10 years) and Fluvanna (growing at 60+%) to see evidence of this. People will move in this area whether we build homes or not, its just a matter of how far out they will live from the city. When you look at the secondary impacts of restricted development you will notice that you are actually getting the opposite of what you intended, sprawl.
    If you would rather have the population of greene and fluvanna exploding at the expense of albemarle then you have to accept the higher costs in albemarle and suburbanization of Charlottesville. Had things been done the other way (less restrictions) homes in Albemarle would be cheaper, the population probably higher by 50,000 but Fluvanna and Greene would still be very rural and less cars would be commuting as public transportation would be more efficient and sensible in a more densely populated area. Neither situation is right or wrong its just a matter of fact as far as economics go and which situation you find more preferable.

  • UVA08-

    I am not sure that sprawl is necessarily a “conservative -v- liberal” debate.

    That said, your is one of the most succint analyses I have seen in this ongoing debate, and one of the most important issues shaping the upcoming Board of Supervisors elections. If the bureaucracy was more streamlined and the “rules” were clearly defined as such rather than mere guidelines, we would see a different style of development.

    In my experience, I have not seen many who are either willing or able to simply move to the area with the anticipation of finding a new home. People do frequently move here with the expectation that what they lose in a home will be made up for by the superior quality of life; how much longer are will willing to go down our current path?

    Regarding the first comment regarding the “affordability” of Old Trail – of course they are affordable, but to whom? When a $325k townhome is being marketed as “affordable” I think it is time to redefine the term.

  • People will move in this area whether we build homes or not, its just a matter of how far out they will live from the city.

    That’s fine by me. If Fluvanna wants to have such ridiculously unsustainable growth, that’s their business. But then people aren’t moving here, they’re moving to Fluvanna. :)

    One of my biggest problems with municipal growth is that, after a point, it’s a money loser. Albemarle County — which has hit that point — reports that we lose money on every new resident, which is to say that income from them in taxes vs. public expenses that they generate. If Fluvanna wants to bear that financial burden for us to reap the employee benefits, God bless ’em.

  • But then people aren’t moving here, they’re moving to Fluvanna.

    But they are overwhelmingly commuting to Charlottesville/Albemarle, using their infrastructure and many services and not bringing that property tax revenue to CharlAlbemarle. Maybe they are bringing some sales tax revenue, but most likely not a sufficient amount.

    Albemarle’s growth policies are unfortunately serving to raise property prices, thus making Charlalbemarle less affordable. Heck – look at these 26 properties under $200k in the City – is this affordable? Or the 37 in Albemarle?

    Affordable housing is one of the reasons that the upcoming BOS elections are so important.

  • “But they are overwhelmingly commuting to Charlottesville/Albemarle, using their infrastructure and many services and not bringing that property tax revenue to CharlAlbemarle. Maybe they are bringing some sales tax revenue, but most likely not a sufficient amount.”

    EXACTLY…. Take Nelson county residents for example. My father moved to the Lovingston area in search of more affordable housing (restrictions in Albemare and Charlottesville drove the prices out of reach for him). He still works in Charlottesville but he takes his money to Nelson. When they need to shop for groceries they get them from Lovingston (tax benefits go to Nelson) when they need other things (Wal Mart, Clothes, accesaries) they go to Madison Heights (north of Lynchburg) which is slightly closer than the 29 north strip. However at the beginning of each week he and other residents of the area get in their cars (usually alone) and commute to Charlottesville. This theme is reapeted all through out the area. Look at the commuting stats. 50% of the work force in Nelson commutes to Charlottesville, something like 60 – 70% for both Greene and Fluvanna. Around 30 – 35% of Madison, Louisa, Orange and Buckingham. Now think about how much money is leaving the place where it was earned… and this isnt even including Augusta, Culpeper, and all the other counties that have some residents who commute to the area. Waldo I suggest you take a look at the commuting patterns for the Charlottesville workforce (where they are coming from)

    http://www.bea.gov/bea/regional/reis/jtw/action.cfm?tableid=27&fips=51901&format=htm&placetype=w&industry=0

    Overwhelmingly from Charlottesville, yes, but when you do the math a large percentage of surrounding counties are sending their residents here to work. We are effected by sprawl in outlying counties.

  • Great, UVA08 — I’m glad to hear that they’re commuting here. We get the benefit of their work without the cost of their presence. What’s not to like?

  • Ummm actually we do get the cost of their presence, unless road contruction is free. If a northern VA style area is what you are hoping for then we are on our way! Suburb after suburb of endless sprawl as people search for affordable housing!

  • Ummm actually we do get the cost of their presence, unless road contruction is free.

    Of course, transportation is but a fraction of the overall costs that accompany supporting residents. I’d hope that we’d deal with the problem accordingly, through mass-transit, ride-sharing, telecommuting, etc.

    But my real hope is that all of Virginia will start to do the math on population and determining how big that they want to be and how big that they can afford to be. Nelson County may discover that the bulk of their income is derived from tourism (I’m making this up) from people wishing to commune with nature, and their residents are people who prefer living in a rural area. If that’s so, unfettered development would eventually lead to the elimination of Nelson County’s reason d’etre. So they would want to set their target population size and enact policy accordingly. On the other hand, Norfolk and Petersburg may determine that their target population sizes are in the millions. They would, likewise, want to attract people accordingly, tax accordingly, and construct their infrastructure accordingly.

    If Fluvanna desires a population of 250,000, they should declare it as such, and be compelled to produce a plan by which such a number of people will live and work in the county. If their plan is contingent on Charlottesville providing jobs, they’ll need to coordinate with Charlottesville planners accordingly, to determine whether their goal is compatible with ours.

    Purely market-driven urban planning has proven a very poor model, indeed. The idea that “whether or not we build it, they will come” is not only false, but unbelievably reckless. Resigning ourselves to dealing with whatever crap that developers put up, wherever they may put it up, is sheer craziness. It’s time that municipalities took the reins and high time that we became the masters of our own collective fate.

  • Waldo all of your suggestions hurt the work class and middle class family. I would assume that is something that you are opposed to. By setting limits on how many people can come to a certain place you choke up the supply and cause the prices to rise. That’s the issue for most people. The Progress released a report today (Sept. 28, 2005) about the cost of housing rising by $40,000 is the Charlottesville area. Does this not tell you enough? Not only that its completely unfair to the “free” American people be denied a home in an area of their choosing just because they have reached their population limit (as you propose).
    Lastly, the phrase “whether or not we build, they will come anyway” is very true. You need look no further than the Charlottesville metro area. Did not building the Meadowcreek Parkway stop traffic from building up on Rio, 29, and Park? Has forcing North Pointe to wait years to develope stopped the population from increasing to close to, if not over 90,000, by now? Has leaving the bypass in its dorment stage meant that traffic has stopped increasing along 29? Finally, has denying tons of developers the right to build on their privately OWNED land prevented the area from growing so fast that its the 2nd fastest growing metro area in VA? I think the answer to all of these questions is clearly no.

  • Setting artificial, arbitrary limits on a region’s population is wrong on so many levels.

    An extraordinarily large percentage of Nelson’s revenue comes from Wintergreen, which reportedly continues to lose money each year.

    Purely market-driven urban planning has proven a very poor model, indeed. The idea that “whether or not we build it, they will come” is not only false, but unbelievably reckless. Resigning ourselves to dealing with whatever crap that developers put up, wherever they may put it up, is sheer craziness. It’s time that municipalities took the reins and high time that we became the masters of our own collective fate.

    Albemarle’s urban planning has been largely set and driven by the Neighborhood Model, which serves to attempt to target growth away from the City center and create several “centers” that each grow independently of each other. This targeted growth strategy does several things – 1) encourages growth in the rural areas because the seemingly endless level of bureaucracy make the rural areas more attractive, 2) minimize availability of affordable housing and 3) put us on track to look like Loudon County; see Reston, Sterling, et al.

    … transportation is but a fraction of the overall costs that accompany supporting residents. I’d hope that we’d deal with the problem accordingly, through mass-transit, ride-sharing, telecommuting, etc.

    Yet we, as a region, are doing little to encourage these sorts of solutions. I would argue also that transportation may be a relatively small percentage of the overall costs, transportation planning and implementation should comprise a larger percentage. Also, while fiscally small, transportation issues have a significant impact on quality of life – a difficult cost to quantify.

    Growth is going to happen, how we grow is what we need to focus on.

  • By setting limits on how many people can come to a certain place you choke up the supply and cause the prices to rise. That’s the issue for most people.

    That is a problem. I have heard some excellent solutions to this problem proposed by ASAP, though I have to admit that I don’t remember a one of them. :)

    Lastly, the phrase “whether or not we build, they will come anyway” is very true.

    No it’s not. If not one more house is built in Virginia — not one — will people move to the state? No. Because all of the housing will fill up. End of growth.

    Now, you might not like that solution. But it doesn’t prevent it from being highly effective.

    Albemarle’s urban planning has been largely set and driven by the Neighborhood Model, which serves to attempt to target growth away from the City center and create several “centers” that each grow independently of each other.

    I agree, Jim — establishing growth areas in the county is a mistake. I’d like to see Charlottesville grow up, up, up, but Albemarle kept rural. The county’s own surveys have shown that’s the top reason that people live here. If it’s turned into sprawl, we have nothing.

    Growth is going to happen, how we grow is what we need to focus on.

    There’s no reason why we have to say that growth “will” happen. Can you imagine telling your 12-year-old daughter: “You’re going to get pregnant in high school. It’s how you handle that pregnancy that we need to focus on. So don’t bother with birth control, and don’t waste your time on abstinence — just start squeezing out those babies, and we’ll have to figure out how to raise them.” That would be crazy! We establish higher standards than that for our children, for our families, for ourselves. Why not do the same for our communities?

  • Despite my distaste for the analogy, (she’s 11), and I would then find myself in jail …

    How about this – you’re probably going to have kids one day (when you’re at least 35 :) ), make sure you choose the best person to have them with and plan appropriately.

    How do we stop growth? Our area consistently ranks as one of the best places to live. Prevent people from building on their own property? Strip them of their private property rights? This is why there is so much growth in the rural areas – by-right development is far more efficient than building in the designated growth areas?

    Should we tell anybody who cannot trace their Cville lineage back at least two generations to leave? (my wife would love that!)

    Establish higher standards for communities, but with the understanding that people are going to want to move here. By unreasonably restricting growth, property values will skyrocket (moreso than they already have). How does one legally restrict supply and demand? Legislating the free market is not the place of government.

    To get truly hyperbolic, should we set up a patrolled border around the City, requiring passes to get in? I know there are several who might jump on this train, but please understand that it is simply a wacky analogy!

    Waldo and UVA08 – are you following the Albemarle Board of Supervisor elections?

  • How do we stop growth? Our area consistently ranks as one of the best places to live. Prevent people from building on their own property?

    There are lots of ways to stop growth. Albemarle County could buy up open land. Or the county could provide tax incentives for landowners to remove development rights in perpetuity (as is being done now, such as on the 32 acres on which I live). Another way is to not permit the construction of a new home unless the resources support it. If the responding fire company cannot handle more than X thousand homes, then no permit will be granted for home construction until that capacity is expanded. If a school can’t fit more students, then no more construction permits will be provided within that school district until there’s a plan to accommodate those students. And so on.

    It’s absolutely essential to establish the population size that we can support. Take just one natural resource: water. The drought, a few years ago, demonstrated that we barely have enough water for our existing population. It would be reckless beyond belief to allow our population to exceed our ability to provide water to everybody.

    are you following the Albemarle Board of Supervisor elections?

    Kind of. There’s not much to follow. :)

  • I am trying to follow them. I happen to live in the Rio district which I hear is a very contentious race. I am torn as I like the Republican idea of private property rights and less restrictions on development however I value education funding and after school programs that I know a democrat would do a better job at. I have to do a bit more research but at this point im leaning Democratic (ever so slightly and only because of national politics)

  • Do your research on the Rio candidates – I wrote a little blurb about the races here. David Slutsky (D) did not take the property rights pledge, but had valid reasoning ; not that I necessarily agree, but he at least thought about his reasoning. there are going to be a few candidate forums soon that will be interesting.

  • With all the talk of higher housing cost and how we have to provide housing for those who want to live here, I wonder if anyone cares about the working class/middle class who already live here. You have two choices you either don’t build and price working class people out or you build and tax the working class out. Point in case, Long Island. Some have suggested the county take a hands off approach and let builders do their thing all will be well and housing will become affordable. This is exactly what they did in Long Island and the result has been a disaster for all involved. Traffic is a mess, the quality of life has gone down to the point where more are moving out then in, housing prices have continued to climb and taxes have gone through the roof. Given the history of L.I. and much of the northeast of allowing uncontrolled growth, I think I’ll go with the limit on growth.

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