By. Neil Williamson
As Albemarle County is moving toward a final vote on the North US 29 Master Plan, also known as Places29, The Free Enterprise Forum thought it might be helpful to consider the paradox of the considerable complexity of the Places29 plan and Albemarle’s stated desire to encourage development in the North US 29 corridor.
In 1989, Albemarle County enacted its Comprehensive Plan.
That plan had four chapters and contained 276 pages (including two appendixes). This was the document to guide the development of the entire county for ten years.
1989 Comprehensive Plan (left) next to Places 29 (text only)
Fast forward to 2011, Places29 (which only covers the North US 29 Development Area) contains eight chapters with a text of over 130 pages, and appendix of over 200 pages and thirteen technical memorandums of up to 75 pages each.
The real kicker is that within this rather verbose document that has endured a six year gestation period it clearly states the need for even more planning and documents.
The plan calls for two additional small area plans, which the Free Enterprise Forum has called a Planner Employment Act. While the Master Plan acknowledges that there are no funds identified for the development of the small area plans, it contends that these plans are recommended:
In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements
Is it possible that this recommendation itself illuminates staff’s recognition of the lack of property owner involvement in the six year Places29 process?
Beyond the lack of property owner buy in to the process, the over arching theme of Places29 is planning complexity.
The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about Albemarle’s Cost of Complexity regarding the increase in Community Development fees that staff indicated accurately reflected the amount of time it took staff to process an application. Now by adding this additional layer of Master Planning and, perhaps, Small Area Plans one can only expect such fees to continue to escalate.
When a developer pressed on the issue of duplicative and delaying regulations in 2009, they were told by staff:
“Albemarle County is very proud of the time and expense of our development review process”
Since then a new Board of Supervisors has been elected, and a new “business friendly” philosophy has been evident. Will this philosophical shift be enough to stop the insidious growth of government planning known as Places29?
Or will the momentum of six years and over a million dollars spent, carry the day, despite the fundamental flaws?
Only time will tell.
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