Tilting at Windmills – A Severe Lack of Reality Dooms Places29 Boondoggle

By. Neil Williamson, President

Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is todon quixote see life  as it is and not as it should be. – Don Quixote

The idea of Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional Don Quixote character and his passion for seeing the world as it “should be” has been foremost in my mind as Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is poised to possibly vote on Places29 master plan as early as Wednesday, February 2nd. 

To be clear, thanks to the work of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and its North Charlottesville Business Council, the document that is moving forward to approval is significantly better than what passed the Planning Commission 5-2 last year.

places29_web Despite those changes, the Free Enterprise Forum contends Places29 should be voted down because it fails to meet the most basic definition of good planning.

The first step in developing any actionable plan is understanding and defining the context of the solution.  The plan would consider and identify sources of funding and its availability, identify regulations which must be satisfied, develop a clear time frame for implementation and define the metrics for success.

Initially, Places29 was designed to be a twenty year plan.  Finding that time constraint too restrictive,  Places29 is now “A Vision Plan”:

The Master Plan guides development of the Places29 area by setting forth a vision of the desired ultimate future condition for the area. There is no timeframe for the vision; in fact it may be decades before the area builds out in fulfillment of it.

However, to implement specific Plan recommendations, such as the recommended transportation improvements and community facilities, the plan relies on a 20-year planning horizon. This 20-year period is based, in part, on the longest realistic population projections available to the County. A 20-year period is also consistent with state requirements, the County’s Comprehensive Plan, and established planning practice. The Master Plan includes an implementation program that groups recommendations into those that will begin during the first five years, those that will begin during the second five years, and those that will begin during the second ten years of the 20-year implementation timeframe.

OK — so there is no time restriction to the vision plan, but the transportation elements will begin in 20 years – Right????

A year ago, Places29 included significant new taxing authority (the SuperTax) this as well as other “creative” funding solutions have been appropriately removed from the text.  The question remains, how will this be funded?  Places29 reports:

The implementation projects are scheduled to begin throughout the 20-year implementation timeframe. There are several reasons for this spacing: first, the projects that will support the recommended Priority Areas should begin first. Many of these projects are needed now to serve existing development and to address the backlog of infrastructure needs. Other projects are not expected to be necessary until further development takes place, and some projects are dependent on completion of an earlier one. And, as noted above, many of the projects are dependent on funding that has not been identified or may not be available for several years.

Other areas in the County also have infrastructure needs that must be met and which may be more immediate than some of the needs in the Places29 area. The County will need to balance the needs of all areas with the available funding.

OK – so we don’t have an identifiable funding source and when such a source is identified Places29 “The Economic Engine of the County” will need to compete with other areas for the available funding.

As the Free Enterprise Forum reported last month, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has started enforcing primary arterial standards on US 29 north of the south fork Rivanna River.  This “Catch29” makes it impossible to build some of the road profiles in Places29.

Places29 envisions a more “urban boulevard” than the VDOT standards would allow.    image

Figure 4.18. A photosimulation showing a local access lane along US 29. photo credit Albemarle Countyurban frontage

OK – our understanding of this “Catch29” makes it impossible to build some of the road profiles in Places29.

It is important to note that while we have been an active participant in the Places29 planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of Places29 for many years. 

While some of the concerns we highlighted have been removed, like the Supertax, others remain.

Places29 – “Don’t know Much about History”

Lack of Citizen Engagement on Places 29

US 29 Consultant Conflict?

Miscounting Cars in Places29

A False Choice on US 29


In our analysis, the “plan” provides pretty renderings but fails to recognize reality.  Our back of the envelope calculation of the transportation plans costed out in Places29 put the price tag  near $200 million dollars.  It is important to note these cost do not include ALL the costs required to build out the new urbanist nirvana expressed in the plan and renderings.

We believe Places29 should be denied by Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors and this planning boondoggle ended.

But now who’s tilting at windmills?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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


One response

  1. Instead of Tilting at Windmills, arguing against Places 29 is more like punching at a pillow – great energy is expended, but there isn’t much of any result – the “Powers That Be” just aren’t listening, nor are they even interested in listening – Charlottesville/Albemarle isn’t part of the State of Virginia, they dwell in the State of Denial.

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