Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New Kent County Zones Out

A proposed overhaul of zoning laws in New Kent County has been shelved for now after protests from a number of county residents. 'A number' is what you say when you don't actually know the number, but think it was more than one and less than 100 percent.

The Times-Dispatch covered it here . If you're interested, you can find the draft zoning ordinance at this page and download a PDF of the overview.

I don't know the details of this county but it sure sounds like a familiar story. Residents quoted in the article blame outsiders and newcomers.
'Douglas Harwood, who owns and harvests timberland in New Kent, said he is troubled by rules that seem to cater to the tastes of newcomers moving into upscale residential developments.
"They have decided that New Kent County is no longer going to be New Kent County. It's going to be Williamsburg," Harwood said. "Everything is being done for the people that are coming from outside."
David Adams, who fears the new rules would make his Providence Forge convenience store and gas station illegal, agrees.
"It seems like this whole document is geared toward protecting people who aren't here yet," Adams said. "But those of us who are here are going to have to bear the burden of protecting them."'
This is some lame reporting here, since I seriously doubt the zoning ordinance would force this fellow to close his store, and the reporter could have found out.
But it'll be interesting to see if proponents of this zoning-law change try to bring it back.


At 3:35 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Actually, one of the newer concepts in zoning is what is called zoning amortization. Under this plan previous uses can be allowed to expire over time. At expiration the previous use would be disallowed and condemned without recompense to the owner.

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

The situation in New Kent County raises similar issues as those being debated hotly in Fairfax County. While few people expect that nothing will ever change in their community, most probably did not expect revolutionary changes that turn their community into something radically different. Rural New Kent County turning into "Williamsburg" or Suburban Fairfax County becoming an "Urban Lord Knows What." Moreover, I suspect that few believe that their concerns are being adequately considered by government officials.

Moreover, there's no requirement for consistency upon the part of residents. Those who have just moved into a community are probably just as likely to oppose further development to a similar extent as those who have lived in the community for 20 years.

I've read numerous newspaper accounts of long-time farmers who are no longer welcome by their newly settled neighbors. But then, the newly settled neighbors also don't want next year's crop of new neighbors either.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

I'm not exactly sure where you're going, TMT. True, local residents who protest the arrival of outsiders aren't being consistent, and they're not being realistic either. And maybe they're just wrong to assume that their local supervisors can hold back the tide.

I hesistate to speak too much in generalities since we could go to New Kent and find out the details, but when farmers and longtime rural residents begin to protest when growth starts coming their way, I really have to throw up my hands. Half the room wants to keep their farms, the other half wants to sell out.

And the phase they seem to be entering now - where local supervisors lose their nerve about making changes - well, eventually those supervisors will be gone, and somebody else will be calling the shots.

At 2:04 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I think most people, given a choice, would like to keep their farms, even if they operate at a loss. But when the situation becomes so desperate due continuing losses, due to family problems, illness, or age, then there is no choice but to sell out.

Likewise, if the land becomes valuable enough, you would have to be an economic idiot to keep farming. If that is the case, then no other farmer is going to buy it, because it cannot be economically farmed. The choice is to sell an estate, which many farms are not, to someone who is wealthy enough to endure the losses, or to sell to a developer. The former market is kind of thin, so you sometimes see fabulous estates that are well worth the asking price on the market for years because there are so few people that can plunk down $5 or $10 millionfor a home.

In some areas there is not much difference in price between lots of different sizes ranging from say 0.5 acres to 1.5 acres. For estates, a $3 million home might be 5 acres or 50. In either case the land is almost worthless: it is the home or the building right to create one that makes the value.

Nothing the supervisors can do will change that.

The newcomers may come out and discover they don't like the odors, noise, dust, chemicals, slow moving farm equipment, and whatever of farming. Or they may tolerate that OK, but fail to recognize the economics of farming. There are farms, and then there are farms. Some have 50 cows on 100 acres, and some have 2 horses on 20 acres: which one would you rather live next to?

Having bought a large lot that was once formerly part of a farm, they want to protect their investment in open space by prohibiting any further development around them - meaning the neighboring farm that hasn't yet been divided. They may not approve of hunting on the neighboring land, either.

Their purchase agreement didn't make any representations about open space belonging to the neighbors, but once they become a political majority it is pretty easy for them to get their way. As you point out, changes that don't happen under this board, might happen under the next one.

If anything, the refugees from Fairfax or some such place, are even more determined to see that they don't suffer that fate again.

It is not that they don't want a farm next door, it is that they want what they have in mind as an idyllic farm next door. They want what they want, and they don't want to pay for it. They have control over their lot, and now they want to control the lot next door.

But the economics and the rules make it more likely the entire place will be subdivided at once, and this sudden change provokes shock and rage.

There is no requirement for consistency. They are perfectly happy to buy part of a farm, and THEN work to prohibit farm subdivisions. They got their property and THEN they are in favor of proffers and impact fees. If something happens they don't like, they claim it cost them money or lowers their property values, never mind the losses incurred by someone who just wants what they already have. They are perfectly happy to use the argument that real estate is just like any other investment: there are no gurantees that you can make a profit. And they will use that argument shamelessly to make sure that they don't incur what they see as a loss.

Once they become a majority, they don't have any problem with going to the meetings and making claims about what the people want and voted for, forgetting that one aspect of democracy is protecting the minority.

I don't think the situation in Kent County, Western Loudoun, or Northern Fauquier is anything like the situation in Fairfax. The only similarity is that people will make the same arguments about the costs of growth. Those arguments are supported by the American Farmland Trust and other open space advocates, and they are denied by academics and economists.

TMT argues that the development winners are taking all the bucks and the previous residents are the development losers. But they were already the PREVIOUS development winners, and they forgot. True, they may have no easy way to cash in their gains, but they can if they want to: no one is stopping them. Compare that to the guy who wants to cash out of his farm, has a ready market, is willing to make the move, but who is simply prohibited from doing so.

He might well be willing to cash out over a long period of time, to prevent the sudden shock and anger, but his is prohibited from doing that, either.

Those newcomers choose to make new rules to cause these prohibitions in order to control what others do with their land. There are already laws that allow them to do just that, but they involve having money change hands, and the new laws don't.

Throwing up your hands is just a means of surrendering to a failure to recognize what is fair and right, and what is stealing. Part of that is having the consistency not to change the rules after you take your seat at the table.

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

But in the interim, while some farmers are figuring out whether they want to keep farming or sell, they oppose any efforts to come up with an overarching plan for growth in the county.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Advocates must be consistent, but voters need not be. The following item from a Washington Post article on the win of of a slow-growth candidate for state senate in Loudoun County says much. The interviewed voter selected the Democratic winner.

"I just want somebody who isn't going to roll over on their back when the developers show up waving money in their faces," said Frances Barrineau, 59, an artist who moved to Ashburn with her husband less than a year ago. "The government has a right to say, 'What about the quality of life?' "

No consistency whatsoever, but voters need not be consistent.

I'd agree with Ray Hyde that every home was new at one time. Some of the opposition to growth ignores that reality, as evidenced by Ms. Barrineau. But much of it comes from escalating taxes, the demand for new and higher ones, and no plan to fix the infrastructure problems. For example, the Commonwealth, Fairfax County and the feds want to pour several billion dollars into the extension of Metrorail despite Virginia's own data that the extension does not provide any meaningful traffic relief.

Our Solons in the Virginia Senate want higher taxes for transportation, but nary a one has stated what specific improvements we see from those dollars. People want to see LOS improve, not just one more lane added. The building boom in Fairfax County has pushed the costs of building & remodeling schools to $150-170 per square foot, postponing projects and forcing taxes higher.

We're back to dueling rights and no consensus where to go.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

That is because of long bitter experience, watching equity that they plan on and need whether they use it or not vanish in front of their nose. It has already cost me several hundred thousand dollars that I thought I had available and now don't. Plus seven thousand dollars that I spent, out of my pocket after I received directions to go ahead from the county. Directions that were later rescinded.

Why were those directions rescinded? "Too many people were taking advantage" of the law under which I was working. That is pretty consistent.

The rule under which I was working was one that was originally established as a method of throwing a bone to farmers who had their building rights substantially reduced twice previously.

Even people who are trying to establish farm based businesses are limited by the county's current overarching plan. There are 65,000 people in the county and only a few hundred farms, and many of them are not considered to be in play, now or for the forseeable future. For the handful of owners who can see the end in sight, overarching is just another word for mob rule.

The market may kill them anyway, but at least they won't get "protected to death". If somebody shows me a plan that is designed to help farmers instead of steal from them, then there might not be so much resistance.

But look at what happens instead. The current county plan is to spend their PDR money to buy building rights in such a way as to create greenbelts around the town. Never mind that they are now buying only the small remainder of what was previously stolen, now they want to use the PDR money to tie up the farmland that is most likely to become valuable the soonest. This is not only wrong, it's an idiotic way to plan.

It's very pleasant to call them greenbelts, but they are really just a noose designed to get to an eventual no-growth position. the plan is to abdicate their land use planning powers where it is most likely needed the soonest to a non-profit, non government, non - elected, private agency in perpetuity.

If they can coerce some sucker into voluntarily selling his building rights, they will have succeeded in getting the land that is likely to become the most valuable for a fraction of its worth, and then throwing that value away.

Show me a plan that makes some sense I might get on board. Show me a plan that makes me a shareholder in the growth I'm otherwise excluded from, and I might get on board, if I thought you wouldn't then find some new way to yank the rug out.

Otherwise, here is a very simple plan, that is already in place. If I decide to sell land that the county doesn't want to see developed, they can buy it. This is a very unique plan because it means that the majority that says they want to save prime farmland, now has an opportunity to do something about it, they can own the land and use it for any plan they see fit.

The problem with that plan is that it won't be "free", like the current overarching plan.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Voters already have the right to improved level of service. All they have to do is stop complaining about taxes and pay for them. Farmers already pay three times in taxes what they receive in services, and they are highly outnumbered at the polling place. They will have little clout in this and no choice but to pay the taxes like everyone else. That is not good enough for the voting block in control. In addition to paying taxes at three times the rate they receive services, the voting block wants farmers to be restricted in what they can sell in order to avoid the taxes, and cash in on their equity and the opportunity that growth offers. The voting block wants to control the farmer’s activities, wants them to continue to farm (but only in a picturesque manner, and without bringing customers to the farm), provide beautification, and environmental services, and added value to the neighboring properties. All at a probable loss, to be covered by off farm income, likely owned by working at a business owned by a newcomer.

That is still not enough. If the farmer does sell, they want to get a piece of the action in terms of ever increasing proffers and impact fees grants of open space, etc. How much do they think this minority will stand for, before they refuse to move to the back of the bus?

What does Ms. Barrineu want? Does she want developers to stop waving money? Does she want farmers to stop accepting money? Does she want to be paid for the perceived loss of some value to her property that she can’t produce a receipt for? Even if it turns out that she owns some previously unheard of right to quality of life, present law says that unless she incurs almost a total loss of economic value of her property, then she has no standing to complain: a fact she is perfectly willing to use against others.

Apparently what she wants is to have other people do her will, without putting them on the payroll. Rosa Parks could tell you what the name for that is.

If she wants to protect open space in order to preserve her quality of life, she is free to organize the rest of the voting mob and form a corporation. They can sell shares in the corporation, and the corporation can wave money in front of the farmer, same as the developers do. If she wants to sell her assets at the highest price, she is free to do so. I don’t see that she has a lack of rights, or that anyone is attempting to restrict her activities.

PEC for example, spends millions every year promulgating platitudes and homilies in an effort to promote policies that encourage people to believe they can get something for nothing. They could just buy a lot of land for that kind of money, but they would rather try to protect farmers to death through coercion, instead of protecting the very rights that make cooperation possible. We know that this will result in more beaurocracy, diseconomies, higher costs.

I don’t see a disparity in rights, so much as I see the lack of economic will to act on the rights that exist, combined with a mob impulse to get new rights that never previously existed, while eliminating rights that some have already exercised. Voters are not required to have any consistency, but the law is, and the civil rights movement taught us in no uncertain terms that a proper function of democracy is to protect the minorities.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Rosa Parks. That's a hoot, to put it politely. Fact is, if you're a farmer on the fringe of a fast-growing area, you better have an exit strategy that doesn't include forcing the rest of the taxpayers to subsidize your land speculation.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde, here's another trial balloon that attempts to address your issues about landowners subsidizing others by not developing.

On the assumption that a landowner who does not develop property by right saves the community from the costs associated with "infrastructure overload" and higher taxes, the affected local government (perhaps with a contribution from the state because of roads) makes an annual payment or provides a credit to real estate taxes in some fair amount to such landowner. The landowner can walk away from the deal at the end of a year, receive no more payments, but can develop the land by right. However, as a condition for participation, the landowner or his/her successors cannot seek rezoning or propose an amendment to the comprehensive plan for a period of ten years from the last year of payment to the landowner.

I have no details beyond this bare proposal, except to say this should be fair to both taxpayers and to the landowners.

Inherent in my trial balloon is the assumption that a person whose lot has been developed to the maximum permitted by right would not qualify for the plan. The prohibition against rezoning is intended to prevent against manipulation and to provide taxpayers with an incentive to fund the program.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Yeah, I know, it was over the top, but at least you got a laugh out of it. It's not any worse than some of EMR's unsupported facts and wild analogies.

Seriously though, the history shows a succession of new and more restrictive incentives, many of which were conceived and promoted after the court ruling on what constitutes a taking. Where does it end? Farmers are a smaller minority than blacks, and they are being put upon from many directions. The rules for operating a feedlot look like a city phone book.

Even so, many farms are not in play and are not expected to be any time soon. The other question is, what reasonable exit strategy is going to be allowed, and how long is it likely to last? I got hammered AFTER I got instructions from the county. You shouldn't need a lawyer to conduct routine government business and the county ought to honor its word.

TMT: At least it's a trial balloon. The present "farm use valuation comes with a five year give back, and that seems reasonable to keep the farmers/developers honest. Ten years sounds like 25 or thirty percent of a whole career. that's a pretty big hit.

It is unreasonable for a landowner to insist that he be paid for opportunities lost, including appreciation, even if that is what he is out of pocket. But in my case the county claims by their own figures that every house deferred saves them $2100 per year. Since that savings is being rented at the expense of the opportunity cost, the very least they could do is pay interest on the amount they claim is being saved.

That savings is consistent from year to year and expires only at some future time when development finally occurs. The interest on that saving would represent a payment from those who don't want development to incur for getting what it is they want. It would also provide a small incentive to ensure that the costs of development are properly measured, because we wouldn't want to pay rent for savings that aren't real.

If the plan works, it would slow but not halt development. Then we would not see the enormous, sudden unfunded capital costs that are sinking us now, provided of course that local government didn't use this fact to put off investments even longer. Since the savings are captured every year, there would be no reason to backcharge for development when it occurs.

There has to be some fair way of doing this, but many just aren't aware of what is really happening.

Problem is, that there are not many farms in Fairfax (none, I believe) so this plan won't alleviate our common problem there. Meanwhile EMR has a long letter in the Fauquier citizen explaining why Warrenton should do nothing in transportation to assist those farther west in order to encourage masses of people to move to Fairfax.

I'm not sure how long he has been a newcomer in Warrenton. This whole thing reminds me of an obituary of an elderly woman on Martha's Vineyard. It explained that she had been born in Connecticut and had been a "visitor" on the island for 87 years.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Minor clarifications to the trial balloon. There would be no payback of funds received by the landowner. Thus, each year that a landowner kept the affected land from being developed on a by-right basis, the landowner would be allowed to retain the full payment. If, for example, the landowner joined the program in 2005 and stays in it through 2008, the landowner receives four years of payments or credits against taxes. Landowner develops by right in 2009. There no payment from the county for 2009, but no repayment to the county for any of the prior years.

My catch is that by joining the program and by getting paid by the county, the landowner gives up the right to seek rezoning or an amendment to the comprehensive plan for ten years. Thus, in my example, the landowner could not seek more density until January 1, 2019 - ten years after leaving the program.

Let's assume that A, whose land is zoned for one house per two acres, joins the program. So long as A does not build one house per two acres, A gets paid. A can stop participating, keep the money paid to date, and build one house per two acres. However, for ten years after A leaves the program, A cannot request rezoning to one hour per acre or PUD, etc.

Essentially, landowners would be trading the right to seek more density for ten years after they leave the program for the cash or credit against taxes, but can always leave the program and develop by right. The restrictions would run with the land.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Well,at least it's something to think about. If I was zoned at something like one house per 3 or even 5 acres instead of on per 50, then it would be something I could live with. After all, all I want is one house, for now.

There is still the problem that in order to get that one house I have to file a subdivision plan for the whole place, and pay the fees up front. Realistically, I can't do anything that makes any sense except keep it or sell out.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"You'd better have an exit strategy that doesn't include having the rest of the taxpayers subsidize your land speculation"

Now that is a hoot, and insulting to boot. It shows a total lack of understanding. First of all, how is it speculation if you've been farming the land for over two hundred years? Who is responsible for the increased land value? Not the farmer, but the newcomers who have built and wish to build around him. Why does he owe them anything, consideringg all the years he has been paying taxes at 300 per cent of what he gets inservices?


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