If you read only one newsletter all year, please make it this one. We wrote to you last month with the disappointing news that our calls to ﬁx the Water Protection Ordinance had been largely ignored by Albemarle County leadership and that the time had come to step back and re-evaluate our options for regaining momentum.
Over the last month, we took some time to reﬂect on two fundamental questions. First, why won’t local housing developers enthusiastically and voluntarily protect our streams and natural resources? Secondly, why won’t our Board of Supervisors proactively and urgently ﬁx our broken Water Protection Ordinance?
We write today to share our own conclusions to these critically important questions with the hope they illuminate a path forward to better protect Albemarle’s local environment and perhaps even increase the local stock of aﬀordable housing. Our plan can be summarized in two words: EXPECT MORE.
THE PROBLEM: We expect too little from developers, and developers expect too little of themselves. By their actions (or lack thereof), Albemarle County Supervisors believe in the notion that a business’s singular purpose is to accumulate wealth for its owners by exclusively fulﬁlling the needs of its customers.
Popularized in the 1980s with the mantra “Greed is Good”, this narrow deﬁnition of the purpose of a business gives superﬁcial credibility to many outdated and absurd myths about business owners (housing developers in this case) and what our minimum expectations should be of them, such as the ones listed below.
* The developer’s mission is to sell as many houses as possible at the highest price
* Their job is to maximize the monetary value of land by any means possible
* Protecting natural resources is a cost that should be avoided whenever possible
* Developers should be expected to bend and break the rules when they can get away with it1
* Developers can’t be expected to do “the right thing” without monetary incentives and enforcement2
* Protecting Crozet’s natural resources is at odds with growth and aﬀordable housing goals
* Developers should make investments in lobbyists and political campaigns as a cost of business
We invite you to ask yourself and others these important questions.
Are these the values and beliefs we want to build Crozet and Albemarle County upon?
Are these the business practices we support when we buy a cup of coﬀee, new shoes, or eat out?
Why do we excuse developers from basic expectations of corporate citizenship and social responsibility?
THE SOLUTION: Developers should hold themselves to a higher standard, and Albemarle County citizens and their elected Supervisors should begin to EXPECT MORE from them.
We believe in a broader deﬁnition and higher purpose for housing developers and other businesses. Their reason for being is to accumulate wealth for its owners not only by satisfying the needs of customers, but those of its employees, partners, and local communities. This more pro-social business perspective, termed “Stakeholder Theory” by Professor Ed Freeman at UVA’s Darden School of Business, allows us to break down
1 For example, burying streams at Montclair
2 https://freeenterpriseforum.wordpress.com/2023/03/22/paul-harvey-and-albemarles-aﬀordable-housing-failure/the existing myths about the housing development industry and begin imagining a new narrative for socially responsible housing development practices as follows:
* The developer’s mission is to create housing as needed by the community it serves
* Their job is to balance the economic and environmental value of land by any means possible
* Protecting natural resources is a prerequisite and an investment in the developer’s brand image
* Developers should follow the letter but also the spirit of local ordinances
* Developers should be expected to do “the right thing” without monetary or zoning incentives
* Protecting Crozet’s natural resources is complementary to growth and aﬀordable housing goals
* Developers should invest in aﬀordable housing (in every development) as a cost of business
With these expectations, we can begin to ask ourselves diﬀerent and more thoughtful, data driven, and productive questions, such as:
Q: How can we better protect Albemarle County’s streams and natural resources?
A: Fixing the Water Protection Ordinance is a good start.
Q: What else can we do?
A: We can publicly rank developers on quantitative metrics and positive outcomes (or “accidental” violations) for our local natural resources. Public perception is the biggest incentive or penalty in our local government’s policy toolbox.
Q: How can we increase the number of aﬀordable houses in Albemarle County?
A: Ask developers to voluntarily document the amount and quality of aﬀordable housing they have delivered and put to good use and publish this report to citizens.
Q: How many houses do we actually need to satisfy population growth in the AC44 strategic plan?
A: Less than you think. The County’s own report shows that we need to build 12,000 new houses across the County over the next 20 years. Of this amount, 9,000 housing units have already been proposed to and approved by the Board of Supervisors but have not yet been built. In other words, Albemarle’s study suggests we can easily satisfy housing demand for the next 15 years.
Q: Does simply increasing the approved housing supply decrease the price of housing?
A: No. Much like oil and the cartel of countries that control its production, housing prices depend more on the number of houses that developers actually build and release to the market at any given time.
Q: How much does the local development lobby and special interest groups inﬂuence our community’s local politics and land use decisions?
A: Unclear. However, public records show that $200,000 was raised in total by Albemarle County’s Supervisors in their respective last campaigns. Of this amount, 50% was donated by two developer/special interest groups. All six Supervisors accepted this money as part of their last election campaigns, even the four of them that ran unopposed.
The Path Forward: EXPECT MORE
Spring is the season of hope, optimism, and renewal. We hope these thoughts similarly inspire informed conversations around Crozet and the rest of the County about how we can begin working together to achieve common goals for protecting our natural resources while doing what is right our communities.
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