Master Plan Process Doomed to Balkanization?

By.  Neil Williamson

Recent actions by Albemarle County have led The Free Enterprise Forum to contemplate the cost/benefit of developing individual master plans, in a cascading timetable, as a way to build the County Master Plan.

The concept of building the plan piece by piece rather than looking at the whole county provides the opportunity to build an us against them mentality between the areas being master planed.  This is clearly evidenced by the high sense of community angst when the Crozet Master Plan was approved and the community “accepted the increased level of development dependant on increased infrastructure spending”. 

Due to the existing level of development and a more dispersed community, the Places 29 and Pantops meetings have exhibited a lower level of vitriol but NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) about potential new road connections and subsequent cut-through traffic ran amok.  An observer could sense the us versus them mentality that was prevalent in the room.

If any locality’s elected Board agrees to a desire to channel a mix of uses  into the established development areas, should the discussion within those designated areas focus on the best manner to accomplish this goal or the best strategies to push such development to another development area or out of the municipality entirely.

By relying  heavily on consultant driven community meetings, overall County goals will be obscured by the local pillars of dissent.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this sets up a showdown at the Board level where the members elected, by district (in most cases), to lead the entire county will be faced with activists advocating for the demands of  a specific region.  

Such conflict will likely end with the county wide goals succumbing to the will of the advocates filling the seats.

This process will repeat itself every couple of years as each Master Plan is approve/revised.

The economic condition of the county will worsen as fewer and fewer businesses are able to find appropriate locations for their operations.  Entrance corridors will be filled each morning not only by commuters but also by the service industries now located outside of the municipality.

The community master planning process was designed to empower the citizens whose neighborhoods would be impacted.  I fear the pedulumn  may now have swung too far usurping the elected officials responsibilities for County wide planning.

During the Places 29 process, Santa Barbara, California was often raised as a comparable community.  30,000 people (mainly service workers) commute into and out of Santa Barbara each day. With balkanized community master planning this may be where we are headed.  Is it where we want to go?

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