The DIA Boondoggle

In the latest C-Ville Weekly, Will Goldsmith has a brilliant fisking of the whole Defense Intelligence Agency debacle that I just can’t recommend highly enough. It’s only January, and I’m pretty sure this is going to be the best piece of local investigative journalism in 2010. Business leaders (Leonard Sandridge, The Daily Progress editorial board, and the Chamber of Commerce chief among them) have been crowing about how the 828 employees that DIA will bring here will mean bajillions of homes sold, new jobs galore, flush county coffers, and a puppy for each and every one of us. It’ll be The Biggest Thing Ever™ for Charlottesville!

Except not. The jobs that they’re advertising for are so crazily specialized—and require a top-secret clearance—that neither you nor me or anybody we know are qualified for them. And the real estate benefits are nothing to write home about—new homes aren’t being built for these folks, since the market already has a glut of existing homes waiting to be sold, so there’s not likely to be any increase in property tax revenue. But even if there was, what of it? As Dennis Rooker explains in the article, a $300k house brings in $2.2k in property taxes. Educating just one kid from that house will run the county $8k. Don’t worry, though, that household can make it up in sales taxes. As long as they spend $580k/year in Albemarle stores. (Here’s hoping they don’t have two kids. Or use the roads, parks, police, fire, or rescue services.)

So who is this good for? Why are we doing this? Well, one names comes up over and over again: Wendell Wood. You’ll recall that this whole deal only went forward because Wendell Wood said that it simply had to happen, for super-secret national security reasons that he couldn’t divulge but, trust him, if Albemarle didn’t give him a rezoning of the land around the parcel he was going to sell to DIA, then DIA was totally going to take their ball and go home. So they turned his worthless land into a goldmine, by taking his rural land adjacent to the property and making it a part of the growth area. When those 828 employees want to buy some lunch, get some groceries, or perhaps rent an apartment real nearby, where are they gonna go? Why, to the buildings that Wood will construct next door on his newly-buildable land. And, lucky thing for Wood, he also owns another 958 acres adjacent to those two parcels, also zoned rural. And, luckier still, the new Board of Supervisors is just raring to expand the growth area and, damnedest thing, they want to do it by declaring Wood’s rural land to be part of the growth area, and with the wave of their magic wand, turn his near-worthless land into a small fortune. Not your land. Not my land. Wendell Wood’s land.

The word for this is “boondoggle.” That’s what we’re in the midst of here, watching unfold in slow motion. What I’ve written here is a slapdash summation of Goldsmith’s article. Really, just go read it.

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