Is Albemarle Asking the “Right” Questions?

By. Neil Williamson, President

For the second time in as many months, the Frpolice trainingee Enterprise Forum witnesses incredible mission creep at the Albemarle County Office Building.

Last month, we wrote a post about the Albemarle Architectural Review Board seeking to answer questions better suited to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)

Last night (4/3), the Albemarle County Planning Commission was considering whether a proposed Police shooting range on the old Keene landfill property (closed in 1991)  was compatible with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

It is important to note that the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other application.  We do find it incredibly enlightening whenever Albemarle County is the applicant.

In a perfect world, the Planning Commission would limit its questions to those areas where it has legislative authority.  Other questions may be “interesting” but applicants should not feel compelled to answer them.  The Free Enterprise Forum has spoken out about this mission creep in several recent meetings.

During the questioning of the applicant several commissioners raised the issue of safety, noise, hours of operation, caliber of weapon (as it impacts noise) as well as intensity of facility use in the discussion with the applicant.  All of these questions clearly are tied to the land use and the neighborhood impacts and are appropriate.

Three of the commissioners also asked the applicant (the County) questions that were way outside the land use determination in front of them:

  • Did Albemarle County consider other properties for this facility?
  • How wide was the search?
  • Were non county owned parcels considered?
  • How much will this facility cost?
  • How short is the department from its full staffing of officers?
  • Has the County considered other options for this stated police training need?

When I raised the question of appropriateness of cost questions to a land use decision during the public hearing, the ex-officio (non voting) commissioner responded “it’s because it’s tax dollars”

Rather than publicly argue this point in what is designed to be a one way conversation, I replied that I understood.

What I understood is that this commissioner (and some of her associates) did not understand their charge.

In the end the issue passed 5-2 (Smith and Dotson opposed).  As stated above, the Free Enterprise Forum has no opinion on this application but we believe this case is illustrative of a flawed Albemarle “inquisition” process.

The question before the Planning Commission was simply is this land use compatible with the comprehensive plan.  The idea that it is a vital function of public safety is important but not critical to the decision.  It could be argued if a police shooting range is found to be compatible with the Comprehensive Plan clearly a private range in the same location with the same impacts and should result in the same decision.

sandbox - lowesIf any Planning Commissioner want to “protect the taxpayer” from wasteful spending rather than consider land use decisions, they should run for the Board of Supervisors where such decisions are made.

Until then they should stay in their own sandbox.

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

Photo Credits:, Albemarle County,


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