Nighty night: What being a bedroom community really means

The Top Story by Chris Graham

The Greater Augusta area is a bedroom community for Charlottesville to the east and Harrisonburg to the north – that’s a fact.

OK, the idea of it being a fact is not something that can be proven by pointing to any kind of study or survey or anything else of an official or quasi-official nature.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be one quoted as saying that it was true,” said Wendell Coleman, the chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, who nonetheless acknowledges that – proven fact or not – the idea that the region has become a bedroom community is driving some key governmental decisions locally.

“My focus, regardless of where they come from, is on making some more inroads addressing the infrastructure issues that we’re facing right now,” Coleman told The Augusta Free Press.

“My concerns have been and continue to be more from a standpoint of addressing those broader issues around infrastructure – roads, schools, fire and emergency. We’ve made some inroads in those areas, but we have a lot more work to do to get to where I’ll feel comfortable saying we’ve made some progress,” Coleman said.

Of note is that the bedroom-community matter is also a point of concern for leaders in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg – where issues regarding the availability of affordable housing and the impact of the flight to the suburbs and exurbs on transportation congestion have been at the top of the political agenda for years.

“These issues have been issues for us at least since I first joined city council – and I’m sure before that,” Harrisonburg mayor Larry Rogers, who has served on the city council in Harrisonburg since 1994, told the AFP.

In Charlottesville, the effect is being felt more immediately – in terms of an ongoing discussion of the city policy to allow some of its police officers and firefighters to take emergency vehicles home with them.

“There’s a rationale behind that policy – but I’m not so sure that we’re going to allow much of that anymore, because if they live in Waynesboro, for instance, we’re paying that freight,” City Councilor Blake Caravati told the AFP.

“We’re getting ready to debate whether it’s worth it. In a way, it’s a perk to the individual – be it a firefighter or police officer or emergency dispatcher. It’s a perk in one way, and in another way, it’s a necessity,” Caravati said.

“If police officers lived in Charlottesville, in the city, no problems – because it’s not as much of an economic burden to let them take it home. Plus there’s an added security value. Now, I love Waynesboro, and I visit there often – but I don’t want to subsidize their police,” Caravati said.

The concern of Caravati extends beyond this arena.

“We know that there’s a fair amount of our employees in the city of Charlottesville that live between Crozet and Staunton. Teachers, firefighters, police officers and other city employees live over there. A lot of it is driven by affordable housing. You can buy sometimes twice the house over in the Valley as you can in this neck of the woods. And it’s getting worse – it’s not getting better,” Caravati said.

Back over the Blue Ridge, Waynesboro mayor Tom Reynolds talked about the explosion in residential development in the River City that is being driven by people who are looking for a place to live close to their jobs in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

“The greater demand of the people coming to live in Waynesboro but still working in Charlottesville is putting more demands on our infrastructure – on water, sewer, garbage collection, for example,” Reynolds told the AFP.

“We’ve been talking about the garbage fund – because of the increased hours on the road, the potential in the future of adding another route, that sort of thing, looking at the rate structure because of the growth, anticipating that as we continue to grow, demands are going to grow, and we’re probably sooner rather than later going to have to add an additional route,” Reynolds said.

“The same thing is true with demand on our water. We’re being very careful to monitor our water system as best we can to make sure that we’re not going to demand more than we can provide. And then we have to take into consideration as we’re doing our wastewater-management program that we do it to allow for this growth rather than just do what is necessary to get by right now. We have to look down the road further to include a growth factor – so that we don’t have to do this every 10 years,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds also anticipates having to look at the school system in future years – “depending on what the demographics of who we attract are.”

Staunton mayor John Avoli isn’t seeing a similar impact on the Queen City as of yet.

“In our situation here in Staunton, at this point, it looks like what we’re seeing is a lot of empty-nesters. A lot of people are moving in here who don’t have children,” Avoli told the AFP.

“We’re actually hoping that we can get some children – because our school system in recent years has had somewhat of a decline. This year, it has pretty much stabilized – but we certainly could stand some growth in there. What we’re seeing right now, though, is that we’re truly a bedroom community – largely empty-nesters and retirees,” Avoli said.

That brings us back to Coleman – who believes that a discussion of the bedroom-community topic can’t overlook the impact of the influx of people from metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York into the Central Shenandoah Valley.

“Cost does not seem to be a consideration for a lot of these folks. They are paying just ungodly prices for stuff. And that’s challenging those of us who have lived here for a long time or were born and raised here – as to whether we’re going to continue to be able to afford to live here,” Coleman told the AFP.

“I don’t know what the answer to that is – but I’m not just sitting like an ostrich with my head in the sand and saying, oh, well, that’s just the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m raising the question – and trying to engage people in trying to at least talk about to try to figure out if there’s something that we can do,” Coleman said.

One of Coleman’s colleagues on the county board of supervisors, Nancy Sorrells, agrees that it is incumbent upon local leaders to begin looking at these matters seriously.

“We’re doing an increasingly good job at regionalism – but this is where we need to talk with our counterparts in Rockingham and Rockbridge and Albemarle and say, you’ve got this industry going here, how’s that going to impact us? What can we do to work together on this? As we go into the future, we’ve got to do more of that,” Sorrells told the AFP.

Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling is another advocate of the regional approach to dealing with these issues.

“There’s not much more room for Charlottesville itself to do anything about this. This is really a supply-and-demand issue. And as long as you have a strong demand from people who want to live in this area, and a constrained supply of housing, you’re going to face an issue,” Schilling told the AFP.

“We know that here we’re facing a lot of people who want to come into the market because of the good press that we’ve had. And so this has to be regional cooperation – and more of the housing, considerably more, is going to have to be built in Albemarle as opposed to Charlottesville. Whatever we do in the city is going to be only a token amount. We can help a few people, but we’re not going to solve the problem in the city. There just isn’t enough developable land for us to do that. We have to look regionally to address the issue,” Schilling said.

(Originally published 03-13-06)

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