Streamlining? – End the “Fake” Public Input

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson

Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors will meet on Wednesday (9/1) to discuss the Legislative Review Process including rezonings and special use permits.  While the staff has proposed a number of important shifts including codifying application requirements (to “reduce scope creep according to the staff report) but it fails to address the easiest of the issues – elimination of “fake” public input.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the public should be engaged in a rezoning as it is a change of land use.  With that being said it is important to acknowledge this change of use must be in accordance with the county’s comprehensive plan, a publically debated document seen as “a guide” for future development.

approved stampPublic engagement and discussion of whether the rezoning is in  accordance with the Comprehensive Plan is appropriate and important; but once the application decision has been made, subsequent waivers (and site plan approvals) should not be used as opportunities for the public to revisit the rezoning decision.

The level of detail required in Albemarle County for a rezoning is incredible.  Such detail could, and should be used to consider the entire parcel (and conceptually the related critical slopes waivers, stream crossings etc.) during the rezoning public hearing.  

As identified in the Resource Management study conducted last year:

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. (emphasis added – nw)

Currently the Albemarle Planning staff have a negative presumption when it comes to granting waivers.  That is, the answer is no unless the applicant can provide a compelling reason why the waiver should be granted.  In addition, such administrative waivers may be called up by members of the planning commission.

Considering the level of detail required and the significant opportunity for public comment during the rezoning process, the Free Enterprise Forum believes once a rezoning is approved, all waivers should have a presumption of approval and be administratively approved. 

Recognizing the need for objective performance standards to be set to allow for an administrative approval, Albemarle County should work with developers, engineers, surveyors and environmental specialists to determine and codify these performance standards.

To hold a public hearing on a waiver that clearly meets the standards set forth in the ordinance is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of applicant money and, more importantly, generates unrealistic citizen expectations that the Planning Commission has any power to deny the waiver. 

This is the type of “fake” public engagement that should be rooted out of the legislative process.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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