By. Neil Williamson, President
The 2013 Comprehensive Update to Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan is headed to public hearing on Tuesday (4/2) night. The plan is available online, but the Free Enterprise Forum purchased a hard copy from the Planning Department for the princely sum of $168.
The new plan weighs in at about half the weight of the previous plan and we applaud the use of appendices rather than embedding policies and master plans into the text of the comp plan.
We are encouraged by the brief (shortest in the Comp Plan) but meaningful chapter on Economic Development as well as the recognition of the importance of agriculture and forestry to the rural areas. We are encouraged that the document asks the question ‘How do Cash Proffers hinder density’.
But with that being said, we find the comprehensive plan to be lacking a consistent, unified voice. For all the brevity of the Economic Development chapter, there are long winded almost evangelical undercurrents written into the Natural (and Historic) Resources chapters that have little or no concern for the cost of implementation nor property owner rights and do not belong in this planning document.
…the County should develop the action plan to focus on conserving ecological integrity at the scale of the landscape. The landscape approach focuses on a wide scale (square miles rather than square feet) an the management of major land features (e.g., forest blocks, watersheds, urbanized areas) to both conserve ecological diversity and support conservation measures (such as conservation easements) or for restoration efforts. This plan should also establish conservation approaches for aquatic conservation through land management techniques designed for a specific watershed. (5.1.14)
The concept of a historical protection ordinance has been a flaw in Albemarle County’s comprehensive plan for years. In this iteration, the concept has been vastly expanded to use GIS technology to create a historic overlay layer and empower (likely without legislative authority) the Architectural Review Board to evaluate development proposals and by right building in and adjacent to the Historic Overlay.
Strategy 2b.3: Expand the Authority of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to include the review required under the recommended historical overlay district ordinance. Revise the make-up of the ARB to include members with expertise in historic preservation and revise the name of the board accordingly.
Strategy 2b.4: Establish an advisory review by the ARB of all rezonings, special use permits, site plans, and subdivision plats for proposals located within or abutting a locally designated historic district to ensure that historic preservation considerations are available as part of the decision making process. (5.2.10)
The Free Enterprise Forum has already written extensively about the Monticello Land Grab that is currently drafted into the comp plan has attempted to put into the Comprehensive Plan. To be clear there is no reason for Monticello’s viewshed to be enumerated in the Comprehensive Plan. We encourage Monticello to work directly with their neighbors to discuss how each of them exercise their property rights and leave government out of the equation.
Upon further study, it became clear that Monticello is not the only entity seeking to regulate aesthetics. Under the Cultural and Scenic resources section the comprehensive plan calls for expanded (again without legislative authority) power for Albemarle County:
The County’s scenic resources are highly valued and contribute both to the quality of life and the tourism economy. Existing regulations only go so far in protecting the resources. Greater ability to regulate aesthetics is desired to help preserve these qualities. (5.2.14)
The Transportation chapter section of the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to reflect reality. Without population increases exponentially above the current projection, automobiles will continue to be the dominant form of transportation and home buyers will continue to choose homes that best fit their lifestyle choices rather than being limited by transportation availability. Highlighting an anti car/anti personal mobility bias the plan states:
Dispersed development patterns have helped promote a transportation network that is mostly focused on the automobile. In the past, a more abundant supply of cheap land and fuel encouraged development patterns that have become hard to sustain. Today, and n the future, the local transportation system is faced with the challenge of finding adequate revenue, an aging transportation infrastructure (and an aging population), higher energy prices, and accommodating future population and employment growth….
Since our founding, the Free Enterprise Forum has had issues with the mandated neighborhood model form of development and the manner in which the County has now codified THE MODEL rather than a model. Considering the importance of this document and our ten years of experience with THE model shouldn’t more time be taken to see how these “principles” have turned out in real projects both good and bad? In addition, based on all of the evidence light rail will not work in Albemarle County in the next 50 years; why then is it still on page 5.5.19 of the comprehensive plan.
The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the significant effort staff and the Planning Commission have put into the document thus far. We believe there are positives in this iteration but we also believe it could still be better.
We hope that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors take their time with the document that is supposed to guide our community for the next twenty years.
Neil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org