Programming the “Livability” GPS

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon (9/20), the Charlottesville City Planning Commission and the Albemarle County Planning Commission will hold a joint meeting as a part of their “Many Plans, One Community” Comprehensive Plan update.  The agenda for this meeting includes a discussion of congruency of Environmental goals and the start of a discussion on the compatibility of land use adjacent t the City/County border.

On the surface such a planning exercise seems benign, perhaps even appropriate but it’s much more than a simple planning exercise.  This may be the first step in changing the priorities in each localities comprehensive plan.

Without being overly dramatic, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Many Plans, One Community” has predetermined the result of their three year process as if they were programming the destination on their GPS.

Please let me explain.

As a review, Federally funded ($999,000) “Many Plans One Community” planning exercise is being conducted to provide:

updates  to Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s comprehensive plans, the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan, and the creation of a Livability Implementation Plan for our area.

Each localities state mandated Comprehensive Plan must be updated every five years.  In their documentation, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) indicated that :

As a part of the Comprehensive Plan update process, the two localities will review current policies in existing plans.

Perhaps due to the funding source , the review of environmental goals is first up on the agenda for discussion with a number of meetings designed around solely that purpose.

Wait a minute, isn’t a comprehensive plan supposed to be, well, comprehensive?   Shouldn’t the planners (and the Planning Commissioners) seek to place the environmental goal in context to other goals (density, affordable housing, economic development)?

Taking a step back, it appears the staff has designed a “silo” based philosophy as it relates to the elements of the comprehensive plan.  silos-225x300Writing in a BusinessWeek post “Smashing Silos”, Evan Golden defined the silo mentality this way:

The term “silo” is a metaphor suggesting a similarity between grain silos that segregate one type of grain from another and the segregated parts of an organization. In an organization suffering from silo syndrome, each department or function interacts primarily within that “silo” rather than with other groups across the organization. Marketing may develop its own culture and have difficulty interacting with other functions such as sales or engineering. This manifestation of silo syndrome breeds insular thinking, redundancy, and suboptimal decision-making.

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that by leading with environmental goals the other priorities in the respective Comprehensive Plan may fall subservient.   While this may be completely appropriate and accurately reflect what the elected officials desire, the public may never know; because it is not being discussed comprehensively.

Clearly the “livability plan” GPS has been programmed with a single focus and destination in mind.

And very few citizens seem to be paying attention and fewer still are asking the hard questions:

What are the most important goals?

Are our goals in conflict?

Where is this taking us?  Do we want to go?  Why?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


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