Albemarle Consultant Calls for Economic Development and Streamlined Planning

This week (2/11/09) the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute presented their Resource Management Review of Albemarle County Government.  The 111 page report is exceedingly well researched and well written.  The overarching theme of the report is Albemarle County is well run by a professional staff implementing stated county policies.

While the report contains no revelations or “silver bullets” to make County Government more immediately more efficient, there is an undertone throughout the document that the Board policies, and the related implementation strategies may go further than necessary and may actually create harm in the process.

In addition to recognizing the importance of The University of Virginia to Albemarle’s economic health, the Resource review indicated many business opportunities will be missed if this is the only strategy.  The report recommended significant changes to the priority of Economic Development in Albemarle County:

4.  Approve a strategic plan which could make economic development a priority and identify the area as a major potential generator of revenue.  The County is considering an amendment to the land use plan that addresses economic development in many respects and should move forward to adopt a plan that can direct staff and the regional economic development effort toward the business development that can best bring the right resources to the County.  For example, the right economic development strategy for Albemarle County might be recruiting high investment projects.  Since large job creation results in higher demand and higher cost of providing services, such a strategy would require fewer jobs to operate.

Interestingly, the very first recommendation in the report focuses on improving the speed and efficiency of permitting within Community Development Department:

1.  Streamline the planning process to make it a more cost-effective operation.  

Within the recommendations regarding community development (page 85), one recommendation in particular stands out:

7.  Site plans and subdivision plans are primarily technical in nature, and, if a plan meets all criteria, it must be approved.  These plans may be approved by staff, except for County Code (14.218).  The code stipulates that the Planning Commission will review a plat plan if anyone requests they review.  This is in keeping with the County’s commitment to maximum citizen participation, but may mislead citizens as to their degree of impact at this stage.

The Free Enterprise Forum has witnessed countless painful planning commission public hearings regarding plans that have met the criteria of the regulation but have been called up by either a commissioner or a neighboring parcel owner.  Citizens, empowered by the ability to call the action to a public hearing, fill the auditorium and provide testimony indicating the proposed action will cause harm to their community.  After all this effort, the Planning Commission must tell the citizens “thank you for coming out but our hands are tied”, if it meets the regulations they must approve the plan. 

We sincerely appreciate this suggestion and believe in the end it will save Albemarle County money and citizen frustration.

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds Albemarle County for initiating this voluntary, comprehensive, professional resource review.  Based our anecdotal conversations with staff and Board Members, these recommendations will not sit on a shelf but will be acted upon to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government.

We look forward to examining the results of the recommendations when (not if) they are implemented.

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