TJPDC Livability ‘Joint Vision’ Needs Glasses

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has highlighted concerns with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) livability project since the first media release describing the nearly $1,000,000 grant hit our inbox.

On Tuesday, September 18th the Planning Commissions from the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are holding a joint meeting on the Joint Vision and Goal Language of the project.

This meeting is a fairly high level of “wonkiness” the Joint Vision does not have any legal standing but will be used as these independent jurisdictions work on their specific comprehensive plans.  To further muddy the waters, tneed glasseshe state mandated Comprehensive Plan does have legal standing but only as a “guide”.

To date much of the discussions at the livability work sessions has been talking about what they want to talk about when they get the two Planning Commissions together.

Much of the language that has been drafted is at such a high level of thought that it is too vague to criticize.  For example the Economic Development strategy is “Continue to coordinate staff efforts to support regional economic development.” It is difficult to find anything in that sentence to be opposed to. 

The vague ‘Vision’ is true throughout the document with three glaring exceptions:

  • Environmental interventionism in neighborhood design
  • Mandated Historic Preservation
  • Declared War on Automobile (and by extension independent mobility)

kermit-greenIt’s not easy being “’Green”- Under the Environment heading the ‘Joint Vision’ seeks to “Create a community of green neighborhoods, healthy waterways, clean air, and sustainable natural resources”. 

Why is green given such prominence? 

It could be argued that cars are not green.  If cars are not green should the neighborhood provide infrastructure for them? Do streets even exist in a truly “green” neighborhood?

If streets do not exist how are emergency services delivered?

Isn’t health and safety of our citizens at least as important as greenness of our neighborhoods?

With all due respect Mr. Kermit T. Frog, the Free Enterprise Forum prefers a more balanced word than ‘green’ in the Joint Vision.  We like the language regarding healthy waterways as striking a balance within a system to focus on the goal of health.  We believe either use the word “healthy” to describe ideal neighborhoods or choose other language that describes a proper balance between environmental demands and human needs (health, safety and welfare). 

Historic Persecution – One of the challenges planners face is the City of Charlottesville has a Historic Preservation ordinance and Albemarle County does not.  In a gross generalization, planners tend to like historic preservation ordinances because it provides a planning control.NR_Albemarle_CovesvilleHD_002-5038.photo4 credit VA DHR

While the Free Enterprise Forum believes voluntary historic preservation by property owners is a good thing and can often result in an increase in property value, we have held firm for over ten years that a Historic Preservation ordinance would be punitive and would diminish individual property rights.  We have held firm if you want to preserve it – buy it.

It is with this philosophical backdrop that we take issue with the ‘Joint Vision’ statement that reads “Build upon the historic character of the region by protecting and promoting existing historic and cultural resources”

We believe the statement should read “Respect historic property owners’ rights and the historic character of the region by encouraging historic property protection and by promoting existing historic and cultural resources”.

War on the Automobile – Under the Transportation heading the ‘Joint Vision’ calls to “Promote regional multi-modal transportation options that reduce auto dependency”. 

This is a great example of planner vision seeping into a policy document.  Is the elimination of auto dependency really a goal of either Charlottesville or Albemarle?

It is interesting that in the section of the ‘Joint Vision’ document speaking of housing it articulates a need for housing to be connected to “facilities, parks, trails and services” but fails to mention roads. 

At the risk of sounding paranoid, I firmly believe this war on the automobile is not the true will of the community or even a majority of either planning commission.

In reality any war on the automobile is, by extension, a war on mobility.  For as Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute wrote:

There is no realistic alternative to automobile-based transportation that would not require large reduction in people’s autonomy, prosperity, and quality of life…Nevertheless, for the past couple of decades, policymakers and activists have focused their efforts on finding ways to override people’s individual choices and impose their own plans for how they believe people ought to live and travel.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that alternative Neil Bikeforms of transportation should be encouraged and supported.  We call for the passage regarding Transportation be changed by dropping the language about the war on the automobile.  It would instead read “Promote regional multi modal transportation options.”

While we understand this is well intentioned, well funded, attempt at coordinating the locality comprehensive plans, we believe the regional ‘Joint Vision’ is in need of glasses to better represent the community user rather than the prescriptive planner perspective.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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.

Photo Credits: Children’s Television Workshop, Virginia department of Historic Resources

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