Down the Slippery Slope
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors made a spectacle of itself in its vote to enlarge the growth area boundary on the southwest corner of the Interstate 64/Rt. 29 interchange (a location sometimes referred to as Exit 118, a notoriously bad design) in Charlottesville in September. The supervisors have been going through a review of the County’s Comprehensive Plan and should have understood better, but they showed they are willing to trash decades of disciplined (and expensive) planning effort to land a deal from a West Coast brewery looking for an East Coast base.
Despite the brewery’s attempts to keep its cards hidden, its identity—Deschutes Brewery in Oregon—was confirmed when Gov. Terry McAuliffe paid a supplicating courtesy call on its headquarters in Bend last month. Deschutes has been making overtures of marriage to communities all over the South recently, playing them off against each other to see who will cough up the largest dowry, the largest burden on taxpayers. In Albemarle’s case, that looks like about $130 million for transportation improvements. This for what is held out to be as many as 100 jobs—wow—as well as a beer sampling room a mile from U.Va., where access to beer is apparently not sufficient. Who knows what the impact of a large new brewery would be on our home-grown craft brewers, but how much beer would we need to drink to keep them solvent?
The decision to add the smallest amount of land to the existing growth area could be considered a minor victory, but it opens the way to serious defeats. That the enlargement was confined to land within the existing water and sewer service jurisdiction may preserve a limiting principle, but the vote itself suggests there are no real limits when the grail of economic development is held up for adoration. In fact, Supervisor Liz Palmer’s investigation to board records showed that the water jurisdiction line was established by an earlier board at the entreaty of a real estate speculator. This we have also seen too commonly as well, a plea that “my bet won’t pay off unless the county breaks its rules,” that the county proceeds to oblige.
Now that Interstate interchanges are in play as development zones, Crozet needs to be vigilant about the future of Exit 107 at Yancey Mills, which was proposed for a rezoning in 2010. This is a battle line for the Crozet Master Plan, which would be fatally subverted by commercialization there. Development is sure to be good for some person, but is it good for the rest of us? That’s what the county planning tries to make happen.
The county’s Growth Area strategy for protecting the local agricultural economy and concentrating the costs of public infrastucture is only viable if the Growth Area boundaries are held inviolable until they are in fact thoroughly built out. That could take a generation, or two. Enlarging the boundaries to entice suitors means there really is no strategy. For even a sound strategy to succeed, you still have to be committed to it.