Comprehensive Planning or California Dreaming?


by Neil Williamson, President

California DreamingCalifornia dreamin’
On such a winter’s day
John and Michelle Phillips, © 1966

Under the guidance of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC)Albemarle County, the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia are utilizing a nearly one million dollar grant to coordinate their respective comprehensive plan updates in support of a sustainable, interrelated, community. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has gone on the record several times in opposition to this additional level of bureaucracy (see TJPDC Institutional Arrogance Exposed, Programming the Livability GPS, Livability Grant Metrics and Methods).

It is important to recognize that Comprehensive Planning is a critical part of local government’s responsibility.  Virginia State Code mandates each locality prepare a Comprehensive Plan for its jurisdiction:

§ 15.2-2223. Comprehensive plan to be prepared and adopted; scope and purpose.

The local planning commission shall prepare and recommend a comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory within its jurisdiction and every governing body shall adopt a comprehensive plan for the territory under its jurisdiction.

In the preparation of a comprehensive plan, the commission shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The comprehensive plan shall be general in nature, in that it shall designate the general or approximate location, character, and extent of each feature, including any road improvement and any transportation improvement, shown on the plan and shall indicate where existing lands or facilities are proposed to be extended, widened, removed, relocated, vacated, narrowed, abandoned, or changed in use as the case may be.

The Code makes it clear that the plan is to be “general in nature” but we have repeatedly seen localities, including Albemarle County and Charlottesville, creating very specific goals in their comprehensive plans.  While we applaud specific goals because they provide clear metrics, our concern is that the comprehensive plan process is too far removed from the budgetary process that might make these goals a reality.

many plans logoNow with the new “One Community” planning paradigm that includes a 76 page report on Performance Measurement System, it is clear to us that this process is completely removed from the very real decisions that must be made for such plans to come to fruition.

Back in August, Charlottesville Tomorrow covered a PC  meeting where Albemarle Planning Commissioner Don Franco (Rio) was quoted:

“What I see happening is that we’re creating this performance measurement system and I’m not sure what we know what we’re measuring yet until we know what our goals and objectives are as a community,” Franco said.

Based on our experience, we continue to see goals that have been set under the auspices of the Comprehensive Planning process [even to TJPDC’s Involvement] die at the Board of Supervisors or City Council due to a combination of a lack of funding and/or widespread public support. 

While the 1-Community plan does not set the Comprehensive Plan for the localities, we anticipate significant pushback if the approved Comprehensive Plan is not in significant accord with the document the TJPDC publishes.

Six months after the August Planning Commission presentation, Mr. Franco’s question still resonates and if such goals are clearly established by the governing bodies, will they be supported in budgets and action items? 

If not, just as the 1979 movie poster above suggests, we are “California Dreaming – a state somewhere between fantasy and reality.”

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


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