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.

40 Responses to “The DIA Boondoggle”


  • People are turds. This just proves it. And no I never believed any of the B.S. they tried to use as sales fodder.

  • Wendell is just making a little “hay” while the sun shines. Any of you would do the same thing if you were wendell. Just shut up and don’t be so jealous of a smart successful man.

  • “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.”

    This is blogger solipsism as economic development strategy. Maybe Pauline Kael (or whatever apocryphal version of her said the Nixon line) should be on the Board of Supervisors.

    Federal jobs don’t require clearance upon hiring. Anything the DIA advertises is open to anyone qualified who can get a clearance.

  • What’s all this talk about people being annoyed at Wendell Woods solely because they’re “jealous” of his wealth (this also came up in the thread about his new eyesore mansion)? Believe it or not, it’s actually possible to really dislike the shenanigans that Wendell Wood manages to pull at our expense without it having anything to do with being envious of his wealth.

    Personally, I don’t give a crap how much money he has, I just don’t want to be the one being forced to hand over my cash to provide that wealth. Fortunately, I live in the city, and the county residents are the ones who are going to be footing the bill for Wood’s windfall.

  • jogger, let’s switch this around with a fictitious example. What if this was Tom Perriello and he made a deal with the Nature Conservancy whereby he would authorize the goverment to give over a former military base to them in exchange for them to sell one of their properties to a former business partner at a “discount”. Wouldn’t we call that corruption? Would you say Perriello was a “smart successful man” if he pulled it off?

    You know, there once was a word for the kind of guy Wood is…

  • DW, as long as Tom did not profit from the transaction. It’s perfectly legal and not corruption. Recycling a former bases is actually very expensive. Most of them have some form of hazardous materials on them and require $$$$ to clean them up. Wood did nothing wrong. If you dislike what has happened, then take it out on the BOS.

  • I’m not surprised. IIRC, they said the same thing for the NGIC expansion (or that was this is?). When they asked employees in NoVa if they’d transfer down, most said they’d commute. They probably have a 2 hr drive in DC so what’s a 2 hr drive on 29 right? Plus with the economy, most of them can’t afford to sell their houses.

  • How awful of the federal government not to inflate the public payroll with broom pushers, plumbers, burger flippers, shoe salesmen, para-legals, bus drivers, and other private industry jobs for which the area is top-heavy with applicants.

    How can anyone be surprised that a military intelligence agency hires people with special training and high security clearance?

    How can anyone be surprised that such people are not walking our streets or hanging out in the park unemployed? Surprised that these high paying jobs will be filled from a talent pool not limited to central Virginia?

    Rather than “investigative journalism,” that was a piece revealing startling naivety. On the plus side, it reminded us that growth adds to the cost of running local government.

    The self-serving mantra of those dastards who profit from growth – the realty industry, the C of C, anyone in construction or the building trades, retailing, blue collar services, professional services that rely on customers – the mantra that growth aids the local economy. Such hogwash. What good does it do for people already living here if hi-tech newcomers add to the population and enable local businesses to expand and grow and provide “normal”jobs?

    Of course it costs more to educate their kids and provide government service than they can ever repay in taxes. What’s the answer? Should we elect conservative nincompoops and go back to 1-room schoolhouses?

    (Or follow Berkley, CA’s, lead: do away with school science labs to free-up money to spend on slow/no learners. Conservatives aren’t the only nincompoops.)

    For sure the option is better to be a stagnant backwater where our children – graduating from tech school/high school/college – have no job offers here because the jobs are already filled. Stagnant growth means either moving away or waiting for dad to die so you can get his job.

    Were you misled by gov and business spokesmouths as to the benefits we could expect from addition of a hi-tech industry? That says something about not just your naivety but theirs too. They also could not see the proposal from any perspective but their own.

    Expanding the mind is also valuable expansion. It takes more than a 2-D mind to understand a 3-D world. The cost is, we will lose our beloved certainty about everything. We will discover that nothing is merely black and white.

  • The issue isn’t Wood’s money. It is his lack of public responsibility. When people with wealth and land holdings as vast as Wood make decisions about their property, it affects everyone in the community on multiple levels (aesthetic, economic, convenience, etc.). But Wood openly rejects the idea that his wealth and property impose any corresponding dutiy to consider how his actions affect the rest of the community. He disregards the maxim: “With great power comes great responsibility.” To put it another way: It’s not that he builds a gigantic house, it’s that he puts it on the side of a mountain like a billboard.

  • Speaking of DIA moving in. Greene County is approving the building of a 400,000 sq ft of office space just across the Albermarle border for the DIA contractors and a near equal amount of commercial space on the county border. Looks like the traffic will be shared but Greene is trying to get the tax revenue.

    Don’t worry though, Wood will still make plenty off of it.

  • “Federal jobs don’t require clearance upon hiring. Anything the DIA advertises is open to anyone qualified who can get a clearance.”

    Technically correct, but practically, not so much. At the clearance level DIA will likely require, they may be able to make an offer, but start of work will be delayed until that clearance can be processed. Can you afford to sit on the shelf for a year-plus while your TS-SCI (or higher) comes through?

    That said, many of you would be surprised how unspecialized most of the sort of analyst jobs that will wind up here actually are in terms of pre-hire requirements. (Goldsmith was either fortunate in his timing of checking USAJobs.gov, or he cherry-picked the listings for a couple of nasty ones.) In general, they will want to teach new hires the “house style”. Whether that’s good policy is a discussion for a different venue entirely, but it’s reality.

    That said, I don’t find the whole situation all that objectionable, but then I don’t have any personal problem with Wendell Wood getting rich. And as for the anti-growth sentiment that seems to be at the core of so much of the outrage, nor do I see Charlottesville/Albemarle as a special, delicate organism that must be preserved in amber at its current size and development level forever. There’s way too much of that kind of thinking in this town.

  • “I’m pretty sure this is going to be the best piece of local investigative journalism in 2010.”

    Waldo, if this is all we have to look forward to from our local media, it’s going to be slim pickins this year.

  • Thanks so much for that really helpful explanation, Josh. Like most people, I don’t know the first thing about the federal hiring process (for top secret jobs or otherwise), so this is awfully useful.

    FWIW, I don’t think many people “have any personal problem with Wendell Wood getting rich.” I have some staggeringly wealthy friends and acquaintances, and their wealth neither indicates that they’re good or bad people. My objection—and I imagine a common one—is that Wood’s wealth is being handed to him on a silver platter by the county, who has given him special preference, and appears to be in the middle of giving him very special preference in rezoning his land into the growth area, rather than any other land in the whole of the county. It’s grossly inappropriate, and if there’s any argument for why it should be permitted, I’ve never heard it.

  • build it and they will whine

    “Wood’s wealth is being handed to him on a silver platter by the county” that, perhaps, is too far. It gives the impression that Wood’s was magically given his land. He (so I’ve been told) inherited some land and turn that into more land. His only peer in real estate may be Dr. Hurt (the University real estate foundation as well). There is little doubt that many here would like to have a small portion of his acumen in business dealings, albeit with a wider public concern. Wood’s land purchases are the same as buying the initial IPO of stocks such as Microsoft or Apple- those early purchases got you very rich without a large amount of effort.

    It seems hypocritical that Wood be taken to task for maximizing land value ONCE the NGIC was moved to the county. I have seen few here talk about the move from the city to county that happened many years ago. These jobs (already here) would have left the area if it had not been for Sen. John Warner and others. That move of NGIC lead to a synergy of purpose that made the surrounding land more valuable. How would this be different if the University decided to build a new campus out in the county? If they turn Morven into a peace institute so central to world peace that other NGO would flock to build hq’s nearby.

    If that peace center was so successful that expansion became necessary and they wanted to build a health center nearby but were told they can’t. Wanting to centralize their operations they tell Albemarle, either they get adjoining land or they would be force to move. In this case their would be protest demanding the new health center be built.

    A large federal government agency so close to DC is a much different type of business for this community- just as the University is. It’s worth mentioning that this very center is helping the US fight the war on terror- that does makes it different.(I will spend no more words on this knowing the ire it might generate)

    Where do almost all the University new academic hirers from? Somewhere not in Charlottesville. Where this community’s outrage for that (other than for the new president who was NOT Ed Ayers)? It is parochial to suggest that they aren’t good jobs because most locals can’t get them. Good Jobs are good jobs.

    In this very mobile area where many people have live here for 10 years or less. It is a curious complaint that the jobs are created for people who don’t live here now. What about research parks at UVa? New departments in nuclear medicine or just about every new UVa sport team’s coach are almost always out-of -area hires.

    Getting a security clearance can cost, in some cases as much as 6 months salaries. Guess who is easy to clear- ex military and those who already have clearance. Those folks leave somewhere else on average.

    I think the Cville piece is well written and a derisive, petulant piece of thinly veiled character assassination. With the evil twins of Wendell Wood and the military playing to the liberal readers of this area’s 3rd best paper. Cville disdain for anything that involves growth, military, or republicans makes them no more than just another member of the liberal journalistic drum circle.

  • build it and they will whine,

    I don’t think this is a liberal or conservative issue in the way you portray it. It really comes down to one simple question:

    “Should the local government be in the business of picking winners and losers?”

    So let’s assume that the expansion of the growth area near to NGIC is necessay (a big if). Should Albemarle County make a decision that will directly increase the personal wealth of one individual? Before you answer that, consider the opposite senario:

    To reduce demands on infrastructure the county would like to downzone the rural areas. Let’s assume this will have the result of decreasing the amount of money a landowner could get for their property. Either way it will reduce their ability to subdivide and the potential uses of the property.

    If the goverment can give then it can also take away.

    So, from that perspective should the county pick Wendell as a “winner” and give him additional “rights” or should Wendell be forced to pay for the value of those additional development rights if it’s decided that density makes sense? If you argue for the former, then you’re on the opposite side of the fence of those who protested regulations like stream buffers and the mountain top protection ordinance.

  • The PM: “Of course it costs more to educate their kids and provide government service than they can ever repay in taxes.”

    If that’s true for people moving into the area, it’s true for people already here. So why doesn’t the county go broke? Or are you just talking about the initial investments in infrastructure?

    A few observations in on this point:

    1) If the workers commute instead of moving here, and growth is bad, how is this anything but a win for the county? The workers buy stuff here, they pay taxes on that stuff here, and it costs the county almost nothing because the workers consume most local government services (like educating kids) back where they live, not here.

    2) The average household doesn’t have one kid in school, it’s less than one half. And the sorts of people who’ll be working at DIA probably have less than the average.

    3) When salaries come into the local economy, they aren’t spent once, they’re spent several times, and the taxman gets a bite each time. The workers spend at the store, in most cases the store pays much of its receipts as wages or on local services, the employees earning those wages spend the money and it’s taxed again, etc.

    4) Growth tends to stick around a long time, possibly permanently (the specific people come and go, of course, but if 11 people move here and 10 leave, the net economic effect is as if no one ever left and only one moved in), so if the growth is more or less steady, the infrastructure and other startup costs are amortized over a very long time, probably several generations. This is why the county and city aren’t broke right now even though every single local resident reading this either moved here or is descended from people who moved here.

    It seems to me the answer to all of the above is this: when people move here, it costs the people already here money, but when businesses/jobs move here or are created here, it saves the people already here money. How much those offset each other probably depends on the specifics.

  • build it and they will whine

    I don’t think the government is picking winner and losers here. It made a change in land use in a effort to do what’s call “economic development” (for many in this town those are merely pretty words to only talk about). It got past the BOS with a 5-1 vote. Land use isn’t a sacrosanct, untouchable decree handed down from on high. Otherwise the county should have fought to keep Biscuit Run from becoming a state park, because it wasn’t in the County’s master plan. Land use can change, you know, like the constitution. It shouldn’t be easy or without much discussion but it must be allowed to happen.

    If Wood gets rich because he owns nearby land, so what? He bought the land BEFORE NGIC moved there. If I own most of the properties on the monopoly board you’re going to land on one of my hotel properties before the game is over. Asshats seem to get rich all the time- the cause and effect of that has always seemed a little unclear to me.

    The county didn’t pick Wood as a winner, the NGIC did when it put their HQ there. The County merely allowed a change in land use to allow the expansion. That’s really it. And if I am in favor of a job engine that is involved with defending the county to expand along 29 and the growth corridor that doesn’t mean I hate the environment. Your assertion that I’m against stream buffers is without logical equivalence.

  • This is why the county and city aren’t broke right now even though every single local resident reading this either moved here or is descended from people who moved here.

    Actually, you’re mistaken on that point. The county is broke as it is expecting a $7 million dollar shortfall, and thus faced with laying off teachers and closing libraries.

  • build it and they will whine,

    Personally, I agree. Land use is not sacrosanct; therefore, it was completely within the power of the county to restrict development on mountain tops.

  • I just have time during my lunch break for a couple of quick points in an interesting discussion here. Luckily, “Dirt Worshipper” is smarter than me, and I appreciate his points here. (Especially the bit about a government that can award value to landowners arbitrarily can also take it away arbitrarily.)

    The PM: “Of course it costs more to educate their kids and provide government service than they can ever repay in taxes.”
    If that’s true for people moving into the area, it’s true for people already here. So why doesn’t the county go broke?

    In addition to the points already made, note that we’ve got a healthy population of retirees. Those folks demand very little in the way of resources, but return plenty in revenue. That’s a very different population than DIA is attracting.

    If the workers commute instead of moving here, and growth is bad, how is this anything but a win for the county? The workers buy stuff here, they pay taxes on that stuff here, and it costs the county almost nothing because the workers consume most local government services (like educating kids) back where they live, not here.

    You’re right, Bruce, that may well be good news. The point that Will Goldsmith is making is that this is a very different thing than what was sold to the public. Jim Duncan argues that the effect won’t be anything like the one anticipated by realtors, with a lot of people renting and folks staying put in northern Virginia and commuting south.

    The average household doesn’t have one kid in school, it’s less than one half. And the sorts of people who’ll be working at DIA probably have less than the average.

    That average is thrown off significantly by college students and folks in their twenties who are unmarried or newly married (like me and my wife) who have no children, and by retirees. That’s just life in a college town. Subtracting that, we’ve got a fecundity rate of 2.1 births per couple in Charlottesville (I happen to know, strangely). DIA employees are clearly not retirees, nor are they college kids, so we’re looking at that core population that is most likely to fit that 2.1 model. Highly educated, they probably have (or will ultimately have) less kids than average, but that’s not zero—that might be 1.8 or 1.9.

  • ‘Build it and they will whine’ said that: “Otherwise the county should have fought to keep Biscuit Run from becoming a state park”

    If one naively reads newspaper articles and blog posts as scriptural “news”, then I suppose this belief makes a lot of sense. However, to me, it looks like some officials did ‘fight’ to keep Biscuit Run from becoming a state park, although the effort was anemic, timid, wasteful, and too late. Is it that difficult to believe certain county officials worked with local advocacy groups and media to portray the procuring of the state park as illegal, unethical, and a vast loss of revenue? Not hard.

    Planning departments — by their nature — become advocates for growth and development. Building “new urban” developments is what planners do. It’s their relevancy.

    At this point, why shouldn’t the environmental record of our urbanist-inspired planning department in Albemarle be in question? Sending 15,000 people careening into Western Albemarle (while being blatantly disingenuous about the intention to do so), procuring surpluses of water by bulldozing a natural area, add to growth areas on 29N and, and protect the public from a horrifying park. Our planning efforts have done a lot of damage in the last 15 years than good. At this point, why are we even talking about laying off teachers and librarians? Teachers and librarians provide a useful commodity.

    It is not only Republicans or developers like Wendell Wood who have been raising our costs. The religion of new urbanism shares some blame. Religions often cling to a ‘trained’ ideology, even when the costs have been shown to be well beyond the benefits. There is a lot of ideological clinging going on in both camps.

    Republicans will add to the growth areas; Democrats will fight –tooth and nail — to develop those areas intensely. We have constructed a perfect storm for a long-term degradation of Albemarle, not a plan. Anyone who believes intense development is going to “save” rural areas forever may be well-intentioned, but they won’t prove correct.

    It never ceases to amaze me that people can call themselves ‘conservatives’ and support the paper profits and public subsidies that Wood’s “business” requires. Wood did not make his money by building a product at slightly above cost, like most market-oriented businesses. As ‘Dirt W.’ writes, he buys land — strategically –in rural area and changes the zoning. The profit is on paper, and it requires political overhead. While it is his right to make paper profits, there is nothing “free market” about those profits.

    Labels and affiliations mean very little. Hire an additional teacher or librarian (minimal cost) and conservatives seem frightened about government intervention. Yet, if we allocate 100s of millions for surplus water, 80 million to send people to Crozet, and millions of addition costs for the DIY, we see an outbreak of local conservative “free market” chest-thumping.

    I’d change the label for Albemarle’s conservatives to duplicitives. And on the other spectrum, how many people preach the responsibility of living in intensely-developed, highly urban, “walkable” environments, then live by such ideals themselves. You’d be surprised.

    Finally, yes, growth areas and development plans are not sacrosanct. The plans for development areas can be changed — any time. The will and drive for change has to be higher for growth areas, but it can be done.

    The general gist of most of Mr. Jaquith’s posts on W. Wood, Biscuit Run are simple — evaluate benefits vs. costs. If a “plan” has a higher environmental, financial, and economic cost than the benefit, then let’s find an alternative or take a pass. The DIA is bringing its jobs and additional population to Albemarle. The DIY is more aligned toward a population growth plan, not a jobs plan (and Dems should ask themselves why Rooker and Slutzky supported it).

    As ‘Bruce’ said — above costs – benefits =. The formula is not rocket science — or ideology; it’s simple arithmetic. If you support Wood’s paper profits and the associated costs, even it is is above the benefits, then you believe in goverment intervention.

    The talk of laying off teachers and librarians is incredible, given recent history. We have a planning department that is doing more damage to Albemarle environmentally than it is good. It has become an advocate — often behind the scenes — for more costs — environmentally and fiscally. If the board wants to cut teachers and librarians, then that is their choice. But, I would start the cuts where government has been least effective. It’s an easy choice.

  • Crozet Resident,

    I agree with 99% of what you said; however, I think you’re wrong about New Urbanism, or at least when I use that phrase I suspect I mean a totally different thing. I think what the county has given us is Faux Urbanism that really doesn’t have many of the true features of New Urbanism.

    For example, New Urbanist principles are more easily achieved by redevelopment, something that is rarely done in our area thus far despite some rather underperforming shopping centers. Also New Urbanism puts a big emphasis on habitat preservation and greenspace in urban areas.

    In fact, I don’t think what we’ve done on 29 so far shares any significant features with new urbanist principles whatsoever.

  • “The county is broke as it is expecting a $7 million dollar shortfall, and thus faced with laying off teachers and closing libraries.” No, when it balances it’s budget, it is no longer broke. Yes, the public should question why are teachers and librarians being laid off. Schools exist for education and not administration, so people should be asking why the layoffs are not in the administration. I’ll tell you why. The growth in the administrative budget is due to administrators hiring people to make their jobs easier. If you don’t like filing, hire a filing clerk, even if you have to get rid of a classroom aide to do so.
    I believe the county’s growth area is still about 5% of the county’s total land area so I’m missing the reason why people care if it’s along 29N or 20S.
    BTW, not only local real estate, property, sales, meals, lodging taxes go towards our schools, so do state taxes, federal taxes AND federal impact funds.

  • Crozet Resident, thanks so much for that long and interesting comment. I love it when so many people that are smarter than me get involved in a conversation here. :) Crozet Resident, I particularly appreciate your remarks about the inapplicability of political or ideological labels in matters like this. It’s not about liberal vs. conservative, it’s about

    Regarding the cost of New Urbanism, I think you’re onto something, but perhaps not in quite the way that you phrased it (or, maybe, even think of it). New Urbanism—which is really just old urbanism, repackaged—is moderately more expensive up front, but far cheaper in the long run. But there is a concept that often goes along with New Urbanism (but isn’t really part of it), and that’s the notion of limiting population growth and setting an ultimate build-out size, and that certainly could be expensive. Unfortunately, discussions about growth tend to be limited to yes/no good/bad, and don’t progress to the considerations of what would happen if we did limit growth. If we pretend that the population were to be capped at its present size, then barring any other changes, we’d likely be left with skyrocketing property values, ultimately giving us a city too expensive for most of us to continue to occupy. (This is the sort of thing that happens in resort towns, the most successful of which sharply limit their growth.) That could be awfully expensive, in the absence of significant economic efforts to the contrary.

    BTW, not only local real estate, property, sales, meals, lodging taxes go towards our schools, so do state taxes, federal taxes AND federal impact funds.

    In my math, I was including only the local funding costs—I reduced the per pupil cost to that level. So we’re back to the aforementioned property and sales, with the addition of the none-too-helpful (for the population in question) meals and lodging taxes.

  • Did you include liscenses and fees?

    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

    By your reasoning the county schools would be running a deficit every year.

  • Nobody has ever eexpected that the taxes a child’s parents pay to cover the cost of his public education so I don’t understand why you keep driving home the point that they don’t. Are you saying that they shouldn’t come here until they do?

  • By your reasoning the county schools would be running a deficit every year.

    That would only be true if every household at a student in school.

    Nobody has ever eexpected that the taxes a child’s parents pay to cover the cost of his public education so I don’t understand why you keep driving home the point that they don’t. Are you saying that they shouldn’t come here until they do?

    Nope. I’m saying that it’s demonstrably false that the DIA relocation here will be a financial windfall, despite the insistence from business leaders.

  • “Nope. I’m saying that it’s demonstrably false that the DIA relocation here will be a financial windfall, despite the insistence from business leaders.” Well, Waldo, most people understand hype when they hear it. The people who say those things are always putting spin that they make up on something because they want something. Kt comes out of local government all the time. I’m sure most people don’t pay any attention to them. I just say “Another person whose word can’t be trusted.” The ACSA was full of them “We need to provide enough water for our grandchildren.” Clearly there is enough water here for John Martin’s great grandchildre.
    BTW, are you back to 100 ? Am enjoying Richmond Sun-something-or-other.

  • Waldo, I’ve heard this idea repeatedly that capping population growth would cause skyrocketing property values. I think the underlying assumption is a simply supply and demand equation which says :

    reduction of local supply = increase in local demand

    Here’s where it get’s complex though… As people on both sides of the issues have agreed above, most of the people coming here are not from this area. That proves false that the market is entirely local. that means people outside of Albemarle are really the ones setting the prices of Albemarle housing. That being the case, can we ever build enough homes locally to satisfy (or even really affect) a large non-local demand? I think the answer is probably sometimes, but it takes an understanding that we are not isolated from the rest of the housing market.

    The irony is that Wood and Charlie Hurt know I’m right on this point. Have you ever heard them say “We should build less homes”? Of course not! However, if they really believed that building a huge number of homes would actually lower the price they could get for them, then they wouldn’t do it. In that situation, It’d be a far better business decision to build a few and sell them at a high value.

    The real danger of the assumption that we need to keep pumping out vast numbers of homes to satisfy demand, is that the non-local demand can dry up at the market’s whim. Or the population that we’ve catered to could change their preferences for housing (ie. retired baby boomers could all leave their McMansions at once for apartments, or retirement communities..) If that happens it could leave ghost towns, and a devastated housing market.

  • Well, Waldo, most people understand hype when they hear it. The people who say those things are always putting spin that they make up on something because they want something. Kt comes out of local government all the time. I’m sure most people don’t pay any attention to them.

    Would that this were true. :) Community leaders are community leaders for a reason—people trust what they have to say, and tend to believe that they have our collective best interests at heart. I sure hope that most people aren’t cynical enough to assume that such statements are always puffery. (I know I’m not.) I would certainly hate for it to become OK for prominent community groups to lie because we should all assume that nobody trusts them.

    Dirt Worshipper, I think you’re absolutely right in your interpretation of and mention of the complexities of the economic effects of growth. Like I said, discussions about this usually don’t progress to the point of complexity, which is too bad!

  • The 828 high paid jobs are a net plus for the economy. That’s Econ 101. The money changes hands x times until it’s paying for an ad in the Hook and jobs on the Mall.

    Re-zoning is a scam, though.

    Development on 29N should be taxed, not encouraged. Right before NGIC moved from downtown (the current SNL bldg.), Al Gore announced the fed. gov’t would go anti-sprawl. Just as UVa was building North Fork, the architecture dept. was publishing voluminous anti-sprawl studies. It just goes on and on. Democracy needs sunshine.

    The best little study that came out the A-school was decades ago now: turn all the businesses on 29N around and make them face service roads. Parking lots would then be in back, where they belong, a la New Urbanism. And 29N itself would be freed up as a highway to Lynchburg and maybe VDOT would not punish us in the next snowstorm by plowing just to the county line on four sides. (In case you don’t know, a lot of old time VDOT engineers came from south of here and are furious 29N traffic is impeding access to cities which geographically deserved I-64, ancient history.)

    When we run out of oil, we are going to need public transit corridors. At the very least, the airport should open up its voluminous coffers to fund a monorail to UVa and downtown, instead of building gazebos and traffic circles and new unneeded runways.

  • The 828 high paid jobs are a net plus for the economy. That’s Econ 101. The money changes hands x times until it’s paying for an ad in the Hook and jobs on the Mall.

    That’s no doubt true, but let’s not confuse the economy with the government. If those folks move here, then it’s almost certainly a net loss for local government. The county has found that new residents are a net loss, and our back-of-the-envelope math here shows why.

    So, yeah, I don’t doubt that you’re right that, in that ideal scenario, it’s a plus for the economy. (To be fair, it’d be great for the economy if I got gut-shot. Think of all the ambulance drivers, surgeons, physical therapists, etc. who would be put to work! :) If we see a lot of people taking jobs without relocating, though—people commuting south—I’m not sure that it will do much for the economy, though, but that’s not something that I know enough about to say.

    But I’m down with everything else you wrote. :)

  • Colfer, I think you got a lot right there (with exception of the good points Waldo makes…) I think the way the 29 corridor is designed is a huge mistake. It should never have been a road where all sorts of businesses have direct access. Access should have been from a service road; however, oddly it’s a mistake we keep making. For example, I couldn’t believe when Best Buy was allowed to have an access right in the entry ramp for the bypass.

    As for parallel roads, here’s why Wood’s offer makes no sense. He wants to help fund part of a new road presumably because it’ll provide access to his new growth area properties; however, if we did that, then I bet all those homes and businesses would then have access points all along that road ruining it from day one as an alternate route up 29. In other words, we’d take a solution meant to improve the traffic situation and instead it’d make the situation worse.

    Where I’d change the A School design you spoke of, is that I think we also need to eliminate parking lots and install underground parking or garages in existing shopping centers. I actually think it’d be in the best interest of local government to subsidize part of the costs too to encourage redevelopment, since building a small garage will ultimately be less costly than building new roads or expanding 29. By creating dense mixed use closer to Charlottesville (or in Charlottesville) then we can help stem the putrid tide of sprawl up 29 (but as I said above, density by itself is not enough).

    To really make it in a New Urbanist model, we also need to integrate significantly more greenspace into the growth area. Too often I think we are just using the growth areas as sacrifical lambs, instead of really creating quality growth. Real new urbanist developments don’t just mean that you can walk to a restaurant, but also mean you can easily walk to a park/greenspace and see dirt, trees, butterflies and birds.

    I’d also like to take one lane of 29 in both directions and make it mass transit only. I think people would take a bus from Forest Lakes if they knew they’d be there much faster than everyone else. I also support Anne’s plan for a commuter train from Crozet.

    Last, we need overpasses on 29. I know it’s not popular but avoiding it hasn’t made the situation better.

  • See, here’s the problem with the “picking winners and losers” complaint: that happens with every zoning change to privately-held land.

    If you’re complaining about the government picking winners and losers among private landholders, you’re either arguing for no zoning changes ever (from the moment that land goes into private ownership, no matter how many decades and economic changes intervene) or for no zoning at all (go visit Houston if you want to see how that works out).

  • I think that’s a fair point, Josh, but I think there are a couple of differences here, in both degree and kind. For starters, I think it’s kind of amazing that, in discussing expanding the growth area, the BoS doesn’t even seem to be considering any land other than Wood’s. I think that’s stunning. We’re talking about hundreds of acres here—north of a square mile—and there’s a whole lot of land directly adjacent to the growth area that isn’t owned by Wood. The second difference is that we’re not talking about a relatively minor rezoning, such as bumping land up from light industrial to industrial, but instead from rural to building entire shopping centers and housing developments. It’s a pretty significant change in value, all being provided to one guy.

  • Oh, wait, that’s only degree, not kind. But it was nice to have a chance to use that phrase. :)

  • I believe part of the Yancey property near W. Albemarle High and I-64 is also being considered for rezoning to industrial park or something (I’m not familiar with the county’s zoning classifications). I believe, alos, that the county is now considering more property near NGIC, DIA, and Rivanna Station in order to fit the neighborhood model, of living, working and shopping without much of a commute. It makes sense to me. With the loss of 1200 acres to the State, I’m sure the county is still short of its goal of having 5% of the county’s land area in a growth area.

  • What kind of math is this?

    “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…”

    Question: Do people with no kids pay less property taxes? Where do you think the remainder comes from?

    It’s the government, nothing moves quick. So they won’t pack up any time soon like GE. The only issue that might drive them out is if Wendell jacks up the rent of his building so much they can’t afford it. What are the terms of that lease?

  • Question: Do people with no kids pay less property taxes? Where do you think the remainder comes from?

    You misunderstand. I’m saying that if they have two kids, then it will cost twice as much to provide education services to that household, meaning that they’d need to spend $1.16M ($580k x 2) in Albemarle stores to provide revenue sufficient to offset that cost.

  • Joshc, as I pointed out above, it’s really about having a consistent approach. I can understand both the free market folks and those who want the county to regulate more via zoning and ordinances. About three different times in my memory people tried to pass some kind of mountain-top protection ordinance. Each time so-called property rights advocated came out of the Wood-work (pun intended) to claim that the government was “taking their rights away”. Some said that if the government was going to restrict the use of their property then they needed to pay for the lost development rights.

    So… here the tables are turned, and where are those protestors of big goverment now? Either government has the ability to arbitrarly determine use without compensation or it doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. One reasonable solution would be to require Wood to buy the development rights from the rural area of the county. If you believe that it’s just fine for the county to pick Wood as a winner,and zone in a way that would exclusively increase his personal wealth, then likewise it is fine for the same goverment to limit development of rural areas with no compensation.

    Now as to this oft repeated claim that we need to replace the development rights “lost” from the county due to Biscuit Run… Let’s not forget the reason it became a state park in the first place. Do you hear that big sucking sound? That’s the housing market. Please tell me what adding those additional development rights helps that situation?

    Speaking of which, the idea that building huge numbers of homes in the growth area could somehow slow growth in the rural area is deeply flawed. First of all, it’s based on bad economics. You can not sell enough oranges to lower the prices of bananas. Rural areas are a different product, and the person that would have bought a McMansion on 25 acres in the rural area is never going to buy a home on one acre in Hollymead Secrondly, even if you could get that to work it would be a terrible idea. After all, who wants their home to decrease in value? And yet, that’s what advocates of the growth areas plan claim will happen if they can just build enough homes. Do you think Wood’s business experience would lead him to build lots more homes and business if the end result was that he’d make less money off them?

    So, what’s really going on here? The truth is that there are county leaders who honestly thought this was a good solution. Others looked at the Comprehensive Plan saw that it included additional rural protections in the bargain and thought the combination of growth and protection made sense. Unfortunately, almost none of those protections actually came to pass (see above). Developers went along with it, knowing full well that increasing density just increases the amount of stuff they can sell. After all, their buyers aren’t, from here, so only a collapse in the national market would put the breaks on demand. Sure they could have seen the housing collapse coming, but as the economic crisis shows, even the brightest business man can’t seem to think beyond this year’s profits.

    So why does Wood want this growth area? I think he knows that at some point the market will improve. It’s a win win situation for him, because he has to pay relatively nothing and get siginificant value added to his property by the county. Even if it takes ten years for the market to improve, he hasn’t lost anything until he sends out bulldozers, and draws up plans. If he had to pay for the full price of that added value up front, I bet he’d think twice.

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