By. Neil Williamson, President
On Wednesday, August 14, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will receive their first staff report on the State mandated five year update of their Comprehensive Plan. The question before the Board is how detailed a review do they want?
While the report correctly indicates the Albemarle Planning Commission held almost forty meetings on the document, the Free Enterprise Forum was critical that some of those meetings were literally meetings to discuss how how the commission was going to discuss comprehensive plan issues when it was time to discuss them.
Several of these meetings were joint City/County Planning commission meetings funded by the nearly $1,000,000 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “Livibility” planning grant designed to coordinate planning in the City, County and University. This grant was applied for and administrated by the recently released Stephen Williams formerly of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). While these joint meetings did foster a better understanding between the commissions and a recognition of the Rivanna River as a shared under appreciated resource, we fail to see $1,000,000 of benefit.
Regardless of all of the above, Now the Comp Plan goes to the Supervisors for their review.
How through should the review be?
Since the Planning Commission spent so much time on it, staff asks if a truncated review would be most appropriate. We disagree with this approach. The state code is rather clear on the different responsibilities:
§ 15.2-2223. Comprehensive plan to be prepared and adopted; scope and purpose.
A. 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. emphasis added – nw
In addition to aligning the potential infrastructure improvements, the comprehensive plan also dictates the limits of the development areas in the County. Originally set in 1979, the development area lines have only been slightly modified by Comprehensive Plan updates.
Somewhat surprisingly the acreage of land available for development however, has been dramatically reduced in this time. Yes, you read that correctly, despite not moving the lines, development area has been reduced. Critical slopes, stream buffers, increased setbacks and the “Biscuit Run” State Park have all contributed to the 6-15% reduction of development area acreage. The Planning Commission elected to ignore those realities and not even deliberate the merits of any of the potential development area expansions.
To be clear, we have been engaged in the Comprehensive Plan process for over two years. We have written extensively about our concerns with aspects of the Plan. Many of our suggestions have been taken and we are appreciative of the progress that has been made.
However, the Free Enterprise Forum not only believes the Board of Supervisors should review the Comprehensive Plan closely, we hope all candidates for the Board will make this an issue in their campaigns.
This document is designed to guide development in Albemarle County until 2018 shouldn’t it get more than a rubberstamp?
Neil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. www.freeenterpriseforum.org
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