Sunday, February 19, 2006

The State Senate on Land Use

Thanks to Steve Haner for pointing out evidence of thinking about land use that has been taking place in the state Senate. This comes from a press release issued by Sen. Marty Williams, R-Newport News:

"There has been a growing awareness that our land use policies and our transportation planning need to go hand in hand. A number of Senate measures move in that direction. They would make local governments submit comprehensive plans, rezoning applications and subdivision plats to VDOT for review when it is anticipated they would have substantial impact on state roads. Another Senate measure requires fast-growing counties and cities to have ordinances regarding clustering of single family homes. And we will establish a joint subcommittee to study additional ways to integrate land use and transportation planning."

Further, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance lists these Senate initiatives as of Feb. 16:

SB 373 (Houck)– Allows localities to transfer development rights from a parcel of property in one part of a locality to a parcel in another part of the locality. (Passed Senate 38-0)

SB 699 (Houck)– Requires localities to submit comprehensive plans, rezoning applications and subdivision plats to VDOT for review when it is anticipated they would have substantial impact on state roads. (Passed Senate 40-0)

SB 374 (Watkins)– Requires fast-growing counties and cities to have ordinances regarding clustering of single family homes. (Passed Senate 40-0)

SJ 88 (Quayle)– Establishes Joint Subcommittee to study integration of land use and transportation planning. (Passed Senate 38-0)It's a start. If the Joint Subcommittee could lead to a meaningful airing of ideas, we could be moving in the right direction.


At 2:39 PM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

Submitting submit comprehensive plans, rezoning applications and subdivision plats to VDOT for review is handing the chickens to the fox. The problem is that there are two measure for effective transportation systems, mobility or accessibility.

The current view of VDOT, and the Virginia allocation formula, that mobility is the goal of transportation and localities that maximize “mobility” or vehicle miles traveled should be rewarded.

The opposing view that accessibility, or minimizing the economic cost of transportation, by reducing travel time between destinations should be the goal and that transportation plans that add bypasses and favor rural development should not be funded.

When VDOT concludes that the comprehensive plans, rezoning applications and subdivision plats will reduce mobility what happens? If the comprehensive plans, rezoning applications and subdivision plats increase accessibility what happens?

We need real progress. Bowing to the mobility gods doesn’t create progress.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Nobody has yet proven that minimizing the economic cost of transportation by improving accessibility at the cost of mobility is a net economic benefit to society over all.

In order to reduce travel times between destinations it will be necessary to make value judgements about which destinations deserve transportation support and and which don't.

Making a goal that favors preventing rural development is counter to the efforts of the US Dept of Agriculture and will make rural citizens second class citizens. To the extent that they are barred from development, it will serve to increase the value of "favored properties" at the expense of unfavored ones.

Some method is going to have to be found to put "unfavored properties", that is to say the ones we want to "save", at some level of economic parity to properties which are favored for development.

What is really happening is that in order to co-locate destinations the government is renting the opportunities for development that might have existed for some properties and then selling those opportunities to others through the proffer process.

This amounts to stealing for the purpose of promoting a social theory that hs not been proven.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

The bills passed by the Senate seem to be more an attempt to finesse the land use issues than to pass some restrictions. I don't think that too many voters who are angry about what they perceive to be "out-of-control development" will be appeased by these bills. Probably the only thing that would satisfy these voters is an adequate public facilities law. It's not just transportation that has many voters upset. They are not happy about crowded schools, parks, rising real estate taxes, etc. Many of them want to see a law that says "we're too crowded, you can't build." (Recall that even people who just moved into brand big, new homes in Loudoun County tend to feel that way.) How does a Senator who has touted his/her VDOT filing requirement or one more study commission answer campaign opponents in 2007 who promise APF?

At the same time, the Senate has poked a finger or two into the eyes of the development community. Not only do they need to work their local city or county, but now they need to work VDOT, presumably in Richmond (SB 699). (A nice gift to Virginia's lawyers though.) The big question is: Whether the "final decision" of VDOT could be challenged in court? While that seems unlikely because the proposed statute (SB 699) seems so so vague and meaningless that a judge would have virtually nothing to review, if judicial review were possible, I'd expect that anti-development groups would try to appeal virtually every VDOT review of a proposed local zoning change. I've always had the impression that developers and builders despise delay. Sometimes, straddling the middle just irritates everyone on both sides.

Ray Hyde makes an excellent point about a potential conflict between restricting rural development and the federal programs designed to encourage development in rural communities. While one can make strong arguments in favor of protecting agricultural land near developed areas, it seems absurd to prevent rural communities from sustaining themselves. Some of us in NoVA actually believe we'd be better off with more development in Danville and other similar communities. Why is it good public policy to require effectively that young people need to move away from rural communities to have successful careers?

At 4:22 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

In our area, VDOT is already routinely consulted for new development - and I bet in your areas also.

At the least, they usually weigh in on new curb-cuts and decide what upgrades are necessary at the site of the new curb cut.

Otherwise, chaos would reign.

In order to do this, they must look at traffic counts, AADT, LOS, etc along that section of road.

The harder issue is what happens to the new traffic after it leaves the new subdivision entrance.

First off, VDOT does not routinely look at the cumulative impacts of multiple developments much less wider macro-level impacts.

As long as cars can get into and out of the new development, VDOT seems satisfied - even if that traffic is going to clump up at an interstate ramp 2 miles away.

Worse, in high growth areas, there can be several new developments proposed and VDOT (and counties) usually only look at each one as if they will be the ONLY impact.

All traffic eventually ends up on arterials and collectors and in the major metro areas ultimately on interstates that serve bedroom communities.

I'm in FAVOR of preserving significant historical and natural areas but not on the backs of those that own that land - and the transactions should ALWAYS be willing buyer - willing seller.

HOWEVER, I am OPPOSED to policies that allow landowners to develop their land - rural or otherwise - without requirements that the infrastructure required to serve that new development be paid for by the beneficiaries of the development.

And that INCLUDES transportation infrastructure beyond the immediate entrance of the new development.

Localities often have no upgrade plans for roads that serve areas with land they know will be developed - and VDOT is complicit in this because they do not require the locality to have an upgrade plan in the first place.

My view is that if some of the new laws pass - that it will ENABLE localities and VDOT to do more but it won't happen unless local citizens hold their feet to the fire.

Own locality has really cool words about infrastructure in their Comp Plan - ALL IGNORED.. routinely.

For instance, it has impressive road corridor maps that show how the road will eventually look but NO Capital Investment Plan for the upgrades. In other words,it's a piece of paper.

They routinely approve new development with no requirements for transportation proffers much less a CIP fund that the proffers would go into so could actually be used to fund incremental upgrades.

When they do manage to collect minimal transportation proffers - guess what - they go into the General Fund!

So ... basically.. the new laws, if passed offer a MEANS for localities to do a better job but I believe that most localities will not "own" this problem unless forced to. It was much easier to blame VDOT for their own failures.

At 4:51 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: VDOT, mobility and accessibility.

Wamsley is Right On!

VDOT is a Road Building Agency. They not only refuse to address the PURPOSE and GOAL of mobility and accessibility but even for roads, they have No Process to objectively evaluate projects so as to produce a rational list of priority projects based on measures of effectiveness.

This is not my opinion. This is the opinion of the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts.

"Overall, we found the Commonwealth lacks a statement of clear objectives regarding transportation planning."

The process of moving projects from the CLRP (long range plan) into the TIP (short range build plan) is ad-hoc and political.

So.. simple things... like multi-modal facilties, commuter lots, etc are NOT IN THE PLAN but instead, "someone elses" responsibility.

Giving VDOT more money is just pouring gasoline on the transportation/land-use fire in my opinion.

I don't think they have a clue on how to build and maintain a viable and sustainable transportation network - only how to spend money on new roads.

These guys are Engineers... who like to build infrastructure not mobility planners and definitely not credible financial planners.

If you asked them to COMPARE on the merits two projects in terms of which would be more cost-effective - they look at you as if you've grown two heads... it's simply not in their vocabulary.

Heaven forbid, you might ask them to actually generate a list of cost-effective measures to upgrade the transporation network - to get the maximum benefit out of it for the money you actually have available.

Their approach to roads is comparable in our own lives of having a list of things we'd really like to be able to buy some day except that in VDOT's case,they actually believe that some day they'll get the money to buy that entire wish list

... and being the rubes we are... we actually try to give them more money.... money from taxpayers pockets.

If some think that citizens do not "get it".. would suggest that when NoVa and Tidewater turned down the transportation referenda - the proceeds of which would go to VDOT - DID indeed Clearly Understand!

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Larry: Some short & meandering comments. You make a case that Kaine needs a secretary of infrastructure - not some master planner in the sky, but an agency that keeps track of what we have, what we need & the costs for acquiring the same. There should be an analysis of alternatives.

Despite Warner's reforms, VDOT sometimes still has a hard time seeing the the roads all get plowed after a snow storm. (VDOT did, however, do a pretty good job in NoVA after this last one!) You are absolutely correct in that VDOT only looks at projects in isolation & only at nearby roads. I'm not ready to give VDOT hundreds of millions more each year any more than I was in 2002 when I voted "no" on the sales tax referendum.

Land use decision-making needs to moved from a legislative decision to a quasi-judicial one. The local supervisors generally do a good job of adopting comprehensive plans and standards by which projects are to be judged. Then they go and ignore them in deciding specific projects.

Another big reform would be to have voters elect the CTB by district. It would be difficult for development boosters to win a single seat in NoVA.

Good insights and analysis. I enjoy reading your comments whether or not I agree with them in each instance.

At 1:57 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Jim, Larry, and TMT.

This is great stuff. Imagine, people who can actually talk and see the others point without dragging him into the gutter.

Larry, the last time I had a lot done VDOT took my surveyor to the bottom of the pile four times, for minor changes to the drawing that had nothing to do with the boundaries, traffic counts, sightlines, or curb cuts. It was strictly a case of bureaucracy in action. AARGH.

The last time I built a house it took almost two years to get a building permit. That was for an existing lot, no subdivision, in an old established neighborhood, with water and sewer already on the lot. There can't poassibly be any valid reason for that, other than someone was holding out for a bribe.

I'm in favor of preserving rural land, but in the end it is economics. Every farm in the peidmont is going to change hands over the next fifty years. Considering the average age of farmers, it might be 20 years.

For the most part, when they change hands they are going to the highest bidder, more or less. Call it speculation if you like. You can't watch land sell for $20,000 an acre and expect it will be farmed. Mrs. Johnson of BET and Salamander Inn fame put it succictly, "When you pay $15 million dollars for a property, you expect to do something with it."

You just cannot tell people they can do nothing, based solely on where they live. So what can happen?

1) The government can buy it and make it public land.

2) A developer can buy it and turn it into housing.

3) It can be sold at a huge discount to its true worth to some one who has so much money he can afford the farm losses forever and still make a nice annual contribution to PEC. He will slap an easement on it to cut his tax bill, but keep enough aside to put up a couple of houses on fifty acre lots surrounded by what is now a private park. In fifteen years he'll be back to subdivde the fity acre lots.

What happens to rural land is no different from what happens in urban areas when houses get duplexed or 20 people live in a house.

Economics dictate the result.

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: land "preservation"

Locally, we are updating our Comprehensive Plan and the flow is to establish different land-use and development standars for areas designated as urban and rural - quite different and someone has pointed out that the words "rural" and "urban" are not defined nor characterized.

And, in my mind, quite correct.

It will be interesting to see what the Planning Department's response will be.

At 5:08 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re VDOT:

VDOT IS a ponderous, slow-moving agency that typically, even in a "fast-track" mode will takes seven years to turn dirt on a project.

Locally, we have two examples of private developers producing a completed road - to VDOT standards - in less than 2 years.

The county has passed a bond referenda resulting in having the money in-hand for some delayed VDOT projects and went back to VDOT to get the projects finished and found to their dismay - that the 7-year timeframe could not be shortened.... AND .. if they decided to go it alone that they would lose the VDOT money for the project.

It's stuff like this that confirms the worst thoughts in folks minds about VDOT's fitness and performance.

Now this is all entirely separate as to whether these projects are "good" ones with respect to mobility and accessibility. They could, in fact, be bad ones but the overwhelming perception is that VDOT is, in fact, a huge impediment to moving ahead.

So .. let's flash back to the answer to the transporation crisis which is - let's give VDOT more money so they can build faster, better, quicker, etc.

There are two studies that are relevant to this discussion. One is from the Va Auditor of Public Accounts that I've already referenced that deals with the way that VDOT is operated.

The other study is one done in 2001 by JLARC (Joint Legislative and Audit Review Committee) which
has had little visibility but basically addressed how VDOT went about making decisions about building and maintaining roads and their conclusion was that VDOT should be out of the road-building busines at the local and regional levels and that it's primary mission should be to deal with roads of state-wide significance.

They recommend that local roads be handled by the localities - what a concept - and that Regional roads be handled by the MPOs - which is what was the intent of the Federal MPO law all along.

That study is at:

I was very disappointed that Phillip Shucet left VDOT at the end of the Warner Administration as I'm quite convinced he would have implemented the suggested reforms from the State Auditor and JLARC.

Now I have fear and loathing... that if the right person is not picked to replace him that we'll not only not go forward but could actually fall back and VDOT will revert to its previous practices.

And to conclude this tome...
(I'm sure thankfully in the eyes of readers)

VDOT is not an unusual transportation agency. It is, in fact, similiar to many other state DOTs - all of whom were born at the beginning of the automobile era and whose mission was - and remains in their mind - one of engineering roads rather than planning for mobility and accessibility.

Virginia actually continues to foster this approach by having SEPARATE department for rail and transit and intermodal.

These departments actually Compete against each other rather than functioning as an integated Agency with a single mission.

If one has to look at the two things that will probably emerge from the Va GA -

1. more money for VDOT and
2. land-use and transportation policy legislation -

it will be number 2. that has the most potential to foster changes and an impediment to change, in my mind, is actually number 1 which just puts more fuel in a ship going around in circles.

And I dunno at all about having CTB members elected.

I think that VDOT is already too politicized and that politics is responsible for much of the dysfunctional nature of VDOT to begin with.

Imagine if we decided that we should operate Dominon Resources using a VDOT model for making decisions about where to put new power lines, etc... what a nightmare.


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