City Council 7/14/09

DebSF -- July 15th, 2009

Report-out from the Tuesday 7/14/09 City Council meeting.(Note:These are not official city council minutes, which are approved at and published after the Tuesday 7/28 meeting:
These are my notes)

Abrieviations used;  CC= City Council, PC = Planning Commission

1. Comments from the public, limited to five minutes, on matters not on the regular agenda.

  • When the city does work on lots, clean-up should be enforced (e.g., behind L&S Diner).  The gentleman did not give his name within microphone range.

2. Consent Agenda (any item placed on the consent agenda shall be removed and taken up as a separate matter1 if so requested by any member of Council, otherwise all items will be voted on with one (1) motion).

  • Approval of minutes of the previous meeting and dispensing with reading of minutes
  • Consider a supplemental appropriation to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Office of Comprehensive Services in the amount of$269,241- Second Reading.

Motion approved unanimously

3. Public Hearing – Consider a request from Virginia Mennonite Home, Inc., to amend the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community Master Planned Complex.

Stacey Turner presents.  Currently, the property is zoned R3 with an institutional overlay, which allows more flexibility than a straight R3 (or any other zoning designation) would allow on its own. The institutional overlay means that VMH must present a master plan to council, and return to council when/if the plan is to be amended. This presentation is an amendment request.  VMH wants to use the building for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Child Day Care facility, now housed at Asbury.  It is expected to be short term use of the building.  City staff approves this, and PC unanimously approved as well.  Public hearing opens:

  • Marvin Knicely, VP of VMRC speaks briefly in favor of the day care center use.  Notes that the proximity of VMRC and day care center offers opportunity for volunteer efforts from both VMRC and EMU.
  • Dennis Duross, President of Harrisonburg Rockingham Day Care center speaks in favor as well.  Day care center has operated in Harrisonburg for 30 years and welcomes the affliation with VMRC and VMH.

Motion approved unanimously.

4. Public Hearing – Consider a request from. Craig Steven and Carol Ann Lowry to rezone a parcel from M-1, General Industrial District to B1,   Central Business District.

Stacey Turner presents. The comprehensive plan reccommends this as a mixed use area. Building does not conform to requirements in current zoning classification M1 (i.e., setbacks, parking requirements, etc.).  Rezoning this to B1 would bring this piece of the block into the same zoning classification as the rest of the block, and would mean that the property would then conform to the requirements of this new classification.  Would also permit subdivision agreement between the owners and adjacent property owners Rosetta Stone. Staff and PC both recommend approval. Public hearing opens:

  • Welby Showalter, attorney for owners, speaks briefly in favor.

Motion approved unanimously.

5. Consider a request from Hill Group Properties to preliminarily subdivide three lots into six lots with variances requested from the Subdivision Ordinance.

Stacey Turner presents. Fits with comp plan recs for uses of the area. Is located on Community Street and Old Mason Street, northwest of Klein’s and Blessed Sacrament. Owner wants to take lots that current hold multiple buildings and divide the property so that they can, in the future, be sold individually.  Staff saw problems.  For example, sidewalks are on property, not on street, and full right of way is not established.

Staff and PC both recommend approval.

Discussion: Approving this would not lock the city into any specific path in the future;  a potential sale could bring a request to erase these changes with no issues or problems.

Motion approved unanimously.

6. Consider a request from Scott Kettelkamp to preliminarily subdivide two parcels along Norwood Street, with variances requested from the Subdivision Ordinance.

Stacey Turner presents. Because property is in R3 zone(that is, medium density and residential)the developer can by right build 3 townhouses on the property. But, given the lot size and shape, he can only build 2 townhouses if he is to meet city street standards (particularly with respect to maintaining the standard 50 feet of right of way).  He can still build single family homes and duplexes (i.e., 2 townhouses).  PC does not approve by a vote of 3-2, and voted previously against the same issue.  Staff also does not reccomend, and is concerned about the precedent this sets for this an other aread in the relaxing of the street standards set by the city (this standard has been upheld in the past in this area).  The owner wants to, instead of providing right-of-way, provide assurance that he and future owners would dedicate to the city the right of way and utility easements at no cost to the city at that future time if it becomes necessary due to future street improvements.  That  future dedication would immediately make the lot nonconforming. City staff does not recommend approval, noting that trying to get one more townhouse unit on the property where the existing ordinance allows for two is not sufficient justification to obtain a variance from the right-of-way requirements.

Discussion:  Some conversation of record keeping requirements this kind of agreement would entail with individual property owners if this variance is granted, and the possibility of savvy owners taking advantage of overlooked paperwork and selling the city something they have already agreed to give for free.

There was an interesting an important exchange about development in general at
about the 1 hour mark of the meeting that I've paraphrased, with attribution, below:

Councilman Wiens: Money alone is not a good reason to grant approval of variance.  The property owner has many ways to develop property within the law, and wants to go outside the ordinance to maximize his profit.  When it comes to zoning, we need to be fair to all neighborhoods.  If we would not consider this for privileged neighborhoods, we should not consider it for others.  During election season,  I knocked on many doors and listened to many citizens concerned about the city favoring developers over neighborhoods.  This is another example

Mayor Degner: Believes that the motivation of this developer is higher density and smart growth. If that is the case, I have no problem supporting the variation from the ordinance.

Councilman Baugh:
There is a lot more to smart growth than just higher density.  If that’s all you want to do, let’s rezone everything to  B1 and R5 and make it easy and make the whole city look like Manhatten.  Smart growth means planning, but to say it’s just about increased density doesn’t do justice to the concept.

Councilman Wiens: Smart growth means having and following a comprehensive plan, following the ordinances developed for planning,  and having a planned community.  We don’t have a planned community if we keep deviating from the plan;  that’s what smart growth is.

Councilman Baugh: I’d like to take a shot at convincing you (refering to Mayor Degner) that approving this variance is not consistent with the comprehensive plan. In last revision of the comp plan, 2 of the 10 central concepts speak to issue at hand.  In 2003, much of development had moved away from single family homes to duplexes and townhouses, and was probably not good for city long-term. The last comp plan set a goal to reverse that trend.  Generally, Harrisonburg will not be a better place if we allow people to build more townhouses where the comp plan and our ordinances say they can’t be built.  This variance not consistent with smart growth and the comp plan.

As part of that same discussion:

Councilwoman Frank: I favor this in part, this developer is providing affordable homes in a blighted area, and this as a benefit for the community and this neighborhood in particular.

Councilman Baugh: How is this “affordable”?  How will the pricing of two units be substantively different than that of three? It seems as though, in discussions like these, affordable housing is never an issue unless it is in connection with a developer wanting a variance on density requirements.

Discussion continues.  Motion on the table was to permit the variance, and produced the only split vote of the evening:

Baugh: No
Wiens: No
Frank: Yes
Byrd: Yes
Degner: Yes

7. Consider transfer of $228,651.30 from Water Capital Projects account to Port Republic Road Street Improvement account

Taken off the agenda.

8. Consider authorizing the re-appropriation of encumbrances outstanding at June 30, 2009.

Motion approved unanimously.

9. Consider amending and re-enacting Section 1>3-2 (Nuisances) of the Harrisonburg City Code – First Reading.

Brent covered this in a post yesterday.  The addition of decibel levels to this new ordinance will require the city to purchase meters, which will be obtained for about $4,000 each.  The noise level will be measured from property line, and trigger levels differ for morning vs, evening.  Registered parties (with the police department) will get phone call for 1st offence, a citiation for any further problems.

Motion approved unanimously.

10. Presentation of draft ordinances regulating “Fowl, chickens and other domestic birds”

Discussed in a post by Brent here yesterday, and by the DNR here today;  two ordinances were drafted and revised with input from various relevant departments within the city;  one has designation of 2 acres, and one with approximately ½ an acre, coming from a review of similar ordinances in various localities.

Discussion centered around two questions:  do we want chickens in the city or not?  If yes, how to regulate and enforce? Consensus appears to be to go forward with discussion of the issue to let all sides have their say, at least through the public hearing.  Current laws restrict agricultural animals in the city.  City officials report that, upon investigation of complaints, some chickens in the community are tethered, and others are housed in inappropriate, unsecure, unsafe coops and pens. Some are escaping, and are difficult to catch (unlike chickens raised in commercial houses for profit).  No provision has currently been made for placement of confiscated chickens.  The ASPCA is accepting them (for now), noting that each chicken takes up space at the facility that a cat would occupy.  Some city land (e.g. on Garber’s Church Road) was grandfathered in during annexation, can continue to be used for chickens as a nonconforming use.

Question is what kind of public hearing notice should be prepared: Consensus to change draft of ordinance to allow chickens in lots of 12,000 feet of space and open the public hearing during the July 28th meeting.

11. Consider approval of State Performance Contract for Community Services Board

Councilman Wiens recuses himself, motion approved unanimously.

15. Consider supplemental appropriation requests for the Parks and Recreation Department

Motion approved unanimously.

30 Responses to “City Council 7/14/09”

  1. DebSF says:

    This time around, I found the general discussion about growth and the comp plan the most interesting issue, coming out of issue #6 above.

  2. JGFitzgerald says:

    The most fascinating thing about Topic #6 was how little two of the council members understand the zoning variance involved. Ted Byrd is honestly and unabashedly in favor of development and business and is an articulate spokesman for that viewpoint (even if he was a bit disingenuous in comparing townhouses to a home business). But the other two council members voting for this variance were astonishing in their lack of comprehension. (Granted, one has barely a high school education, but the other holds an advanced degree.) Richard and Dave argued until their frustration was palpable, and were met with mal-formed cliches that had little to do with the topic of over-development and increased density. I served with one council member who would fall back on cliches, applying the American Dream to a rezoning case, but at least had the grace to act like he’d been caught at something when he was called on it. Part of the frustration here is that these two council members, one for nine years, one for six months, will get away with this kind of vote, unchallenged and perhaps even defended, and will have no incentive to understand the concept of smart growth except as a useful slogan in the next election campaign.

  3. Emo Boy says:

    Not sure if any of the current council will read this question/comment but the Harrisonburg residents should know this. One of the most important departments in the City is having issues and I have not read in the paper. The City water plant is short about 3-5 operators. These jobs require a licenses and cannot be filled by anyone with one. They have one operator running shifts which should be filled by 2. The chief operator is not easy to work and has drove off many good City employees. His family members has filled top jobs and not required to do much “heavy lifting”. I have no proof other than what some former operators has told me. I was also told that the City is trying to hire part time operators to work swing shift and not receive full city benefits.
    Also hearing (from County Official) that the City is going to supply more of the county with water when City plant is upgraded with the raw water line from McGaheysville. I believe the County will be paying for some of the upgrades in return for “at cost water”.
    Any thoughts from the City residents here?

  4. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I would like to see the planning commission’s recommendations taken more seriously. Why even have that commission if the Council doesn’t trust their judgment without a very good reason to do otherwise?

    Emo Boy, how many total operators are there and what effect does being short-staffed have? How long has this been a problem?

  5. seth says:

    i agree that zoning ordinances and planning commission recommendations should be heeded, but in kai’s defense, the variance granted in relation to #6 was only requested b/c the property was 1-2 feet shorter than what is required by the ordinance (read while some may go with the ‘close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades’ way of thinking, i can see a reasonable argument for making exceptions here).

    joe, i was also struck, not only by that, but also by the varying interpretations of ‘smart growth.’

    perhaps a smart growth/zoning summit would be in order :)

  6. JGFitzgerald says:

    Seth,

    The bete noir of smart growth advocates for years has been a combination of two things. First, people granting “small” exceptions to their friends. Second, council members ignoring the planning staff and Planning Commission. The variance was requested because the property owner wanted to maximize his profits; the variance was required because the lot was too small for the planned development. There’s a difference. If the street is improved, it will be even further out of compliance. That doesn’t just mean out of compliance with trivial rules. It means out of compliance with principles having to do with density, road improvements, quality of neighborhoods, and planned growth. The principles were worked out in long, drawn-out, highly detail-oriented sessions over a period of years by the Planning Commission, some council members, consultants with expertise in these areas, and a citizens’ committee formed expressly for the purpose of defining and codifying these principles. Against that you have a couple of council members who obviously don’t understand the process saying, “It’s only a couple of feet; let’s let him have it.” Granted there are a lot of definitions of smart growth. But prima facie, it’s gotta be smart.

  7. Emo Boy says:

    Jeremy, I’m not sure on the exact number of operator they have, but there are two I believe, that are out with major medical issues. The biggest problem running a shift with a solo operator is safety. About a year ago a few full time operators left and have yet to be replaced with a full time person. I don’t work for the City so I have no inside knowledge, but do work in this profession so I know most of the local operators.

  8. Tony says:

    Four THOUSAND dollars for a sound level meter to enforce a noise ordinance?? I have a perfectly good sound level meter bought at Radio Shack for SIXTY NINE bucks! Does DbA, DbC, short, long, peak, and can be calibrated. Why do they need a high dollar SPL meter? Okay, so maybe they want one better than a $69 Rat Shack special, but 4 grand?
    Isn’t this a typical bureaucratic $4000 toilet seat?
    /rant

  9. I agree with Jeremy where zoning issues are concerned. I’d like to see the planning commission’s recommendations taken more seriously, too.

    Tony, I’m guessing there are certain standards for noise meters that prohibit the use of “consumer models” for legal use. But I agree: $4000 is a lot. Especially if they’re ordering a bunch.

  10. Jamie Smith says:

    On Item #6, Chief Harper was in attendance. They should have asked him how many calls his people have had to Norwood Street, aka, Bullet Boulevard. It kept being mentioned that the area was a prime spot for future upgrade (demolition) but the idea never registered.
    I feel sorry for Stacy and her people having to prepare for council and then being ignored. Nothing has changed.

  11. JGFitzgerald says:

    “Why have a planning commission if you’re going to ignore it?”

    I first heard some version of that question 25 years ago in Dinwiddie County as a reporter for the Progress-Index. The Board of Supervisors had, 4-1, overturned unanimous Planning Commission recommendations on two consecutive controversial subjects, with the holdout vote being the supervisor who also served on the PC. At a tense dinner between the two bodies, the PC chair looked at the supervisors chair and asked, “What do you want?” The supervisor replied but didn’t answer. A quarter-century later, the PC still has the job of doing the heavy lifting and often getting screwed for it. Some elected officials will tell you that they know best because they’re elected, but in my experience that often causes the IQ to drop, not vice versa. If the council agrees with a PC rejection and it’s a no-brainer, the applicant often drops the request before paying for public hearing ads. Some councils will use a PC recommendation for political cover. And on some occasions, the council will even accept the PC recommendation because the PC did more work and understands development issues better.

    The worst-case scenario is like the one Tuesday night. A pro-development council (such as the Byrd-Frank-Degner faction) overturns the PC just because. As I wrote previously, Byrd is honest about his leanings. So are Baugh and Wiens in their dedication to and understanding of smart growth. The uncertain middle that approaches these votes with no apparent or obvious principle is going to cause the city a lot of bad projects over the next 18 months.

  12. Scott Kettelkamp says:

    I’ll start by repeating my opening comments that were made at the first council meeting regarding this issue (which was two months ago). When I was first interested in these lots, I went into the community development building and asked multiple city staff members, “What would the city like me to build on these lots?” I was told by staff that they are zoned R3 which is for medium density, and then we went through the options of what could be built on them. The options for R3 zoning with these lots square footage were- 2 single family homes, a duplex, a triplex, or 3 townhomes. I was told that public works might want me to dedicate (give) the front ten of the lots to the city for future road expansion, and if so, then I wouldn’t have enough lot depth to build townhomes (even though the zoning allows for townhomes). Once my building plans were submitted, public works wanted the ten feet, and this process started. My request was that the land would be dedicated if and when the city wants to widen the road.
    The one thing I cannot get to stop being mentioned, is that I wanted to do this for economic reasons. This is completely false, and I tried to quash it at the first council meeting, at separately to a city staff member, but it seems it was to no avail. Scenario #1) I build two separate 2bed/1bath 1,000 sq ft homes. Scenario #2) I build 3 townhomes that are 3bed/2.5 baths and 1,500 sq ft. For this neighborhood, scenario #1 (my plan B) was MUCH less risk and in my opinion, more profitable. So, why did I choose #2? I believe that because of the proximity to downtown, having 3 dwelling units (9 total bedrooms), will better benefit the cities long term growth, than 2 dwelling units (4 total bedrooms). This will help prevent urban sprawl (which takes up farmland and green space) by condensing the population “downtown” instead of moving out wider and wider. It will also provide the homeowners a lot more house for the money (affordable housing). These units will probably be the same price as the 2 single family homes would have been, but are much larger.
    Does my opinion on the cities growth really matter? Extremely little. That is why I let it go to city council and let the ELECTED council decide what was best for the city. If it had been voted down, I would have gladly built 2 single family homes.
    Fitgerald: If you believe Harrisonburg has “over-development and increased density” issues, what is the solution? If you limit development, then it has been well proven that property prices exponentially increase. I believe the cities growth should be seen as inevitable, and we should find ways to develop in a manner that best suits the fait accompli. Please let me know the way you would handle the population increase. I actually do not believe Wiens was against this for over-development issues. He said multiple times that he thought it would be a bad precedent to set for this specific streets future development. What he didn’t know is that because of the angle of the lots on this side of the street, every single one of them can dedicate the required land in the future and still have the lot depth to build townhomes. Baugh got busted adding his own wording when “quoting” the comprehensive plan. This was to further his own interests instead of letting the comprehensive plan speak for itself. The building of townhomes on these lots fits very well in the comprehensive plan and their poor arguments to prove otherwise were quickly proven wrong (R3 medium density). That is why their frustration was palpable. Getting proven wrong and not being able to justify your argument is frustrating.
    Jeremy Aldrich: The planning commissions’ opinion does matter greatly. The thing that was not mentioned was that the planning commission voted against it 3-2 because the parking site plan that they saw did not allow for enough maneuvering of the vehicles without going onto public land. The current parking plan, which was designed after the planning commission meeting, does allow room for all maneuvering on the private land. I showed a commissioner (that voted against the original parking plan) the new parking plan and he said he would have voted for it. 3-2 approval (maybe more if the others had seen it).
    Seth: You couldn’t be more right. It was ridiculous how varied and how poorly comprehended the principles of smart growth were known by everyone in this process. I was told by one planner that this project wasn’t smart growth because I didn’t have ‘green space’ on my lots. It would be wonderful to get everyone one the same page.
    Fitgerald #2: You actually do not understand the variance, but that is O.K. because it was hard to follow and multi layered. These lots and townhomes are going to be in compliance with the zoning requirements and will be conforming in all regards. If the road ever is widened, one of the three lots will be non-conforming because it will be 3 feet too short. ALL the buildings will be conforming, as to density, all the street improvements will be done exactly the same as they would have been in the comprehensive plan. Quality of neighborhoods?……… I’m not sure I know what you mean by that.
    I do not know any of the council members. None of the same friends, no connection. It needs to be understood that because they might not vote the same as planning commission every time, they are not ignoring them.
    Jamie Smith: I am “upgrading” the area, just in a different way. This is a way to start the process. I’ll save one of these townhouses for you.
    Stacy’s job is not to “win” at these meetings. I know there are many facets to her job, but at these meetings it is primarily to present the information. Yes, she gives staff’s opinion, but that is all it is. It is council job to make the decision. I don’t expect anyone to always, or even mostly agree with my opinions. I was very impressed with how she unbiasedly presented the information. The city staff are professionals. They do an unbelievable job handling my (and other peoples’) never ending questions. I would maybe suggest not to feel sorry for them, but to give them some encouragement as they continue their public service.

  13. I agree completely with Baugh’s argument about how council should stop bowing to special interests and developers. He needed to look more closely at this specific case and not lump it in with other development cases. Lumping me (and this case) into the typical builder stereotype doesn’t work here. When do stereotypes work? I agree with a lot of his points, he just chose the wrong battle to fight them. As is evident from above posts, most people do not fully understand this case, feel free to ask any questions.

  14. Bump….read Scott Kettelcamp’s comments above, which had been caught in the comment filter.

  15. JGFitzgerald says:

    I’m not real clear why someone should get an exception to the law because he’s not a stereotype. But for perspective, it’s worth pointing out that the developer always thinks he should get the variance. Go figure. (By the way, was misspelling my last name some sort of commentary that I didn’t get, or just out of compliance.)

  16. seth says:

    seems like it could be name calling to me….

  17. Fitzgerald: I’ll explain this again, and as many times as it takes. I did not think I should “get” the variance. I took it to council so they could decide what was best for the city. If it was denied, then I would have gladly built two single family homes (Baugh did mention that I had told him this). Me not fitting into a stereotype (as well as most everyone else in this world) had nothing to do with why there was a decision to grant the variance (and I didn’t imply that). I said that had put me into the stereotype of ‘bad developer’ instead of realizing that my intent from the beginning was to build what would be best for the city. You really missed meat of the topic and focused on the trivial.

  18. JGFitzgerald says:

    Variances are never trivial. Neither is their defense. They are exceptions to the law, and the reasons for them matter. Certainly you’ve expressed, at length, why you think the law shouldn’t apply to you. It would be interesting to see why the developer contingent on council didn’t think so.

  19. The variance is not trivial. I was talking about your comments solely focusing on the misspelling of your name and about the stereotype comment. Both of which had nothing to do with the actual variance, which you still seem to not understand. As promised, once again I will explain to you that I do not think that the law should not apply to me. Where in my “lengthy expression” do you think that was implied? Do you believe that variances are not part of the law? Have all the laws in our city, or any other city, county, state, country etc., been written perfectly as they are?

    My question about how to handle inevitable growth was not redundant. If you have a different growth theory please explain it. I am not saying my opinion on growth is the best and only way. I thought this site was a little more of a “work together for the greater goal,” than it is turning out to be.

  20. JGFitzgerald says:

    Unchallenged explanations by businesses seeking government favors are not a standard definition of working together for the greater goal. But, again, the developer always thinks he should get the variance. Consider this. We’re overbuilt by 2,500 rooms. Why not add a couple?

  21. Ok, you are getting closer to the issue. That is talking very specifically about student housing and doesn’t factor home buying data in there at all.

    Since you seem to want to continue the circle (but I must admit, it is getting tiring), I will once again tell you that this was not a case of “business seeking government favors,” but was me, trying to find out what the city would like to have built on these lots. Secondly, my “greater goal” comment had nothing to do with the council meeting, but as it said, was about this site (website, blog, forum), which I had hoped would be a little more collaborative.

    Since I’ve got you almost answering questions now, please don’t let me infer what your answering a question with question meant. Are saying that we should stop development overall? In certain areas (student housing, townhomes, non-infill land, commercial, apartment buildings, condos)? Come on, teach me something, that is what I am sincerely asking for.

  22. JGFitzgerald says:

    People can build what they want within the law. A screeching halt to all development is attractive from the standpoint of community good, but it’s bad policy.

    But it is counterproductive for the city to make an exception in order to create more of the same kind of housing that already exists not just in abundance, but in excess. The reference to student housing in Scott’s post is from a marketing perspective. From an economic perspective, it’s just housing. There’s too much of some, not enough of others.

    There are people who spend their working lives dealing with this stuff, and elected officials who over-rule them ought to have a good reason.

    As to whether you’re in business, and whether the city council is a government, and whether a variance is a favor, facts are facts. They’re not collaborative.

  23. Deb SF says:

    Scott, here’s the part I don’t understand.

    You write: “I did not think I should “get” the variance. I took it to council so they could decide what was best for the city. ”

    The current law, you can only build 2 townhouses. You asked for a variance so you can build 3. It is disingenuous to claim that you did think you should get the variance. If you didn’t think you should get one; why on earth did you apply? Why not stick to the current law as written, which is clear with respect to city-street standards? Don’t the current laws reflect the community’s best guess at how we collectively want the city to grow? No one is suggesting that we change this ordinance, are they?

    The economic development staff did not recommend approval of your request. PC voted against you. Twice. These staff and commission members, some paid, some appointed, are also charged with examining development in light of the city’s best interests. You got lucky, and found three votes on council willing go against the city’s own staff and two different negative PC votes and give you your three townhouses.

    You join a long line of developers that have queued up, some of whom waited for the just the right mix of pro-development folks (or the right mix of their friends) on Council to get the green light to push through projects that required variances and went against the comp plan in spirit (or worse).

    The long-ago housing report referred to by Councilwoman Frank in Tuesday night’s meeting did not say “we need more townhouses”. Quite the contrary; I was a member of both the Planning Commission and the HDR Board of Directors at the time, and the report was received and discussed with great interest. In a healthy city, there are desired target percentages of affordable/starter housing, mid-level and upper-end housing that are necessary to maintain health and balance in growth. We don’t have that balance here. The city has too many townhouses and too few mid/upper level housing alternatives than it should.

    This affects the long run housing balance in the city and, over time, can significantly affect the tax base. Say a couple is ready to move from a starter house to mid-level, or from a mid to an upper level home and can’t find any kind of selection in the city (too few alternatives mean little choice and high prices). They leave and go to the county who says YAY!!, we lose real estate tax dollars, decreasing our ability to provide governmental services to those who remain.

    And then someone else puts up another townhouse. Rinse and repeat.

    Former planning commissioners who have studied this issue for years like Councilmen Baugh and Wiens get this. Others, not so much.

  24. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    If a project is amended between the time it goes to Planning Commission and the time it goes to Council (as Scott says this one was), it should probably be reviewed again by the Planning Commission. If the amended project would have been approved by the Planning Commission, though, I wonder why the city staff was still opposed to it?

  25. Scott Rogers says:

    Deb SF said…

    You write: “I did not think I should “get” the variance. I took it to council so they could decide what was best for the city. ”

    I think Scott was saying that he didn’t feel entitled to the variance — not that he didn’t think he should get it.

  26. Jeremy: It seems like a pretty inexact science as to what sort of change is significant enough to make it worth while to send back to the PC. Possibly in this case, it was known that members of planning commission specifically voted against it because of the parking issue. The new parking plan, without question, fit all the current city design standards (parking as well as road widening), even after any future dedication of land (it was given the OK from the city engineer). The staff said they liked the parking plan, but I didn’t press them for a recommendation because I knew they had issues with setting precedents. Also, after four months of dealing with this I might guess that they had the same feeling I had, which was to just ride it out.

    Deb SF: Yeah, the wording that I used might not have been clear. Scott Rogers’ explanation is correct. I think most of the rest of questions are already answered above (reason why applied, street standards, planning commission). I do not know any specifics about past councils granting developers pet projects but I obviously understand the frustration stemming from that. In this case, I know it had nothing to do with that, and I think it is dangerous to lump all developer variances into that unfortunate past. One of the current planning commissioners is actually a friend of my family’s (even though I had never met him), and he voted against this project. When I met him for the first time a couple weeks after the vote, I thanked him voting for what he thought was right. I remember feeling relief when he voted ‘no’, because it would have felt tainted for me if he had voted for it.

    As for the first time homebuyer, mid, upper level house buyer concept, I think Scott Rogers would handle that question best. I would just be looking at his charts. I know that every realtor I have spoken to has told me that the affordable housing market is very much in need. I think Scott’s ‘housing inventory trends’ graph shows that homes this price are much more in demand than mid and upper level homes. I understand that you are talking about percentages of each that is supposedly needed for a healthy city, but what should be done if there is no demand for mid and upper level houses. That is an interesting point that I’ll have to find out more about.

    Fitzgerald: Nice, now we are getting somewhere. I’ll admit that if a screeching halt to development worked, I would stop building today. I’m not a builder because I don’t know how to do anything else, or because I think that that is where I can make the most money. I’m a builder because I enjoy it. Part of the enjoyment is building something that will benefit the community long term. I think that the three people on council that voted for this did so because they believe it is best for the city, and many, many others agree (just not on this site I guess, come one…..anybody?).

    So if halting development is off the table, then the focus needs to be on what will work best if development is inevitably going to continue. I guess on this specific issue we disagree, but I will say that I’m a lot more in line with your overall thinking than you might expect. If only it worked, that would make it easier to champion. In the meantime I’m focusing on the practical, but still very interested in hearing all ideas.

  27. Jamie Smith says:

    I can only add…Mr. Kettle burger is a verbose son of a gun! Why don’t you guys take it outside!

  28. Scott Rogers says:

    I know that every realtor I have spoken to has told me that the affordable housing market is very much in need.

    It is, but it’s an interesting issue. There would, for example, be a tremendous demand for “starter”, “affordable” single family homes under $150k (or even $175k), but that doesn’t seem to be possible any longer in Harrisonburg given development and construction costs. Or townhouses under $125k, but that also doesn’t seem viable any longer.

    I think that the three people on council that voted for this did so because they believe it is best for the city, and many, many others agree

    Scott — I know that you have explained here that you took your variance request to the City to ask them what they thought would be best for the City. But it would be interesting to know if that was the lens through which they viewed the request. Yes, I know, everything the Council does is, or should be, for the best of the City, but I’m not convinced that such a lens always provides an answer.

    I don’t know much about your variance request, or the property that you are developing, but it seems that you were considering either (2) two-bedroom single family homes, or (3) three-bedroom townhomes. I’m sure one could effectively argue that EITHER of those additions to the City housing inventory are “best” for the city. Aiming for higher density to reduce sprawl might suggest the townhomes. Increasing the portion of detached city housing units might suggest the single family homes.

    So…..absent the ability to declare one option or the other “best” for the City, I would think the City would be looking at it from a different perspective. If that is the case, even if you were intending to ask “What would you like me to develop? What would be best for the city?” I would think the Council might likely interpret the variance request as “Would it be o.k. if I develop 3 townhouses instead of single family homes?” Do you follow? After all, I believe that is the typical context for most rezoning requests, variance requests, etc.

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