Albemarle Knows Best – Comprehensive Plan Mission Creep

By.  Neil Williamson, President

Through the use of zoning, architectural design guidelines, regulations and overlay districts, local governments already control the size, appearance and type of activity conducted on any given parcel, now in Albemarle they want government to dictate when the market is ready for a permitted activity (see first bullet below).

Please let me explain.

One of the primary philosophical issues with government comprehensive planning is government comprehensive planning.  While state code mandates that all localities have such plans and they be updated every five years, the level of detail of these plans differs widely.

Albemarle County has been engaged in this comprehensive plan update for well over two years.  Late on Wednesday evening, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan.  After the public hearing, they plan to hold future work sessions, where public comment may or may not be permitted prior to adoption of the plan.    We strongly encourage the Board to accept public comment prior to each of their work sessions.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been engaged in this effort since the beginning and continues to find significant issues.   Here are just a few:

  • In what can only be described as government overreach, page 7.34 outlines that Albemarle should only approve a permitted land use “when a significant unmet need can be established for this type of use”.  This concept is outlandish and fundamentally flawed.  While government can, and should, consider the impacts of uses on the larger community, the business decision of need or viability should be placed squarely with the landowner who is taking the risk.
  • In addition to being a planner employment act (calling for significant increase in planning staff), the comprehensive plan regularly fails to recognize property rights and the positive stewardship of private property owners.
  • Last year at the Planning Commission, we led the fight with Monticello and successfully got the “veiwshed” preservation regulations removed from the document.  Surprisingly despite that very public victory, the plan still calls for enabling legislation for new overlay powers designed for “scenic protection and tourist enhancement”.
  • In the mid 200s, the community was engaged in a rancorous debate over property rights and mountaintop “protection” ordinance.  The ordinance effort failed yet is mentioned in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan no less than four times.
  • The transportation chapter cites a reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a goal.  This is nonsense.  The goal should be efficient and effective transport not a multimodal anti-mobility metric.  Conceptually, this misguided goal would be met if no one ever went anywhere.
  • The number one objective in the Economic Development chapter [the shortest chapter in the plan] is to “Ensure that economic development goals are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with other Comprehensive Plan goals”.  This is a misplaced priority.  Objective 1 should be focused on making sure there is work for those who want to work.
  • Strategy 1d in the Economic Development chapter is “Encourage all businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices”.  Such a strategy may be appropriate in another chapter but I am at a loss to understand how this will help economic development.  It seems like a “feel good” tack on that has no nexus to economic vitality.

With much of the community now focused on the Western Bypass public hearing next week, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates few speakers on this critical five year philosophical planning document.  Absent significant public outcry, the Supervisors will choose not to review the plan chapter by chapter but to enact it with little or no changes.

Considering the perceived import of this plan if the BOS fails to fully vet the document, that’s planning to fail.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

clip_image0024.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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One response

  1. The part about county government getting to decide if a plan meets an “unmet need” is an invitation to cronyism. Existing business will lobby government to keep competitors out.

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