Albemarle Development Double Standard Exposed as VDOT Steamrolls Places29 Master Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

Funny what a difference a few years makes.

Back in February 2011, as a part of gaining eventual acceptance of their Places29 Master Plan,  Albemarle County made what many might be called a promise to their citizens:

In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements, this Plan recommends preparation of Small Area Plans for two areas:
1) The area around the intersection of US 29 and Rio Road
2) The Airport Road Corridor

Remember Places29? A six year $1 Million dollar planning exercise complete with renderings and an implementation plan.  Lest anyone think the small area plans were just a throw away line in a lengthy Master Plan —  the promise included great detail. (and we fought it, and lost)

During preparation of the Small Area Plan and design of the road improvements, business and property owners will be invited to work with County, VDOT, and TJPDC staff to identify and eliminate or minimize possible impacts of the road improvements. When the Small Area Plan and preliminary design are completed, the short-term (construction) impacts and long-term impacts of the road improvements will be known.

Now specifically as it relates to US29 and Rio Road intersection, the Places29 Master Plan clearly outlines what is to occur:

Intersection Improvements at Rio Road and US 29. The process of improving this intersection and the transportation network around it will begin with preparation of a Small Area Plan. The small area planning process will include evaluation and development of the preliminary design concepts for transportation improvements that could prolong the life of the at-grade intersection and provide a design
concept for long-term improvements, as determined necessary at the time based on updated traffic information. The small area planning process is not expected to begin until the second five years of Plan

As we now know, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of steam rolling past the Comprehensive Plan and having conceptual plans in front of the Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP)  next Thursday (8/28).  It has been made abundantly clear that the design concepts will be for a grade separated intersection despite Page A2-23, Project Reference No.18 of the Master Plan calling for:

Pursue design concepts that provide, to the extent feasible and practical, at grade relationships of roads to business to facilitate visibility and access.

The Free Enterprise Forum, and others have been incredibly concerned about the sequencing of the US29 improvements.  The Master Plan also considered this issue:

Short-term issues related to the construction of intersection improvements should be addressed through strategic construction phasing, development of the parallel local road network to provide alternative access prior to the construction of intersection improvements, and other strategies.

100_0338While the Free Enterprise Forum did not support passage of the Places29 Master Plan, we are well aware of the significant staff time and citizen engagement that was a part of the process.

As we see private applicants held up to the exacting standards of the Master Plans as compared with their development plans, one has to wonder what kind of double standard Albemarle County is pursuing.

To be clear, if a developer wanted to make such a significant change staff would mandate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment process (likely a year) be initiated before they would ever look at a such a development proposal.  Then if successful, a Zoning Text Amendment (another 18-24 months) would be required.

The timetable for the VDOT projects is significantly truncated.  According to the summary minutes of the August 7th VDOT PDAP meeting:

The panel should see conceptual drawings at the next PDAP meeting on Aug. 28.  Design Public hearings for Rio intersection and Rt. 29 widening are currently scheduled for November 2014, and for Berkmar in July 2015.

The July 24th PDAP presentation provided the final milestone on VDOT’s projected timetables:

No-Excuses Deadline to complete
Berkmar, 29 Widening and all associated
work outside Rio intersection
Oct 30, 2017

No where is there any discussion of conformity with the Master Plan. 

Could the County is possibly unaware that their Million Dollar citizen involved Places29 master plan is being steamrolled by VDOT?

As a state agency, is VDOT a super developer with extraordinary powers over the mandates in the Comprehensive Plan? 

Clearly a Master Planning development double standard exists in Albemarle; the question is will anyone do anything about it?

If the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors fails to act and provide the citizens the promises contained in Places29 perhaps the entire Master Planning process should be questioned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


  1. We had four decades to do something and now the state is taking it out of our hands. I’d say the fault resides in the mirror.

  2. That’s a bit blunt and simplistic, but it could easily be argued that left up to our own devices, we will continue to fight every battle at least 5-6 times over, then go at it again. If one were to cherry-pick every single instance of hypocrisy and “double standards”, I’d venture we could sit here another four decades with nothing more to show for it than the preservation of half empty shopping centers like Albemarle Square, surrounded by dysfunctional means of getting around or through town like the Rio/29 intersection today. Seminole Square and the Hydraulic Road mess; Hollymead Town Center and Timberwood Boulevard/Community Drive; it’s as if we insist on cloning these problems.

    Mr. Williamson would be loathe to point out, I suppose, that prior to Places 29, we once has a Three Party Agreement that was abrogated. And JLARC made the relocation decision of the now defunct “bypass” a Case Study in bad governance. That would require, of course, some “self-criticism”, to the extent of biting the hand that feeds him.

    Word to the wise: whether the NCBC, or the SELC, be aware of the (money) influence in play, and the integrity of the source. Always best to do one’s own due diligence.

    That said, I’ll ruefully note that one current Supervisor and two former Supervisors have often dismissed such Plans as “not worth the paper they are printed on”. Just yesterday, that same lone Supervisor opined that BOS Resolutions had no weight (yet he saw fit to pull a childish tantrum followed by a media blitz). This is what passes, I gather, for leadership: Clowns and paid consultants.

    Me, I think they both serve an important function. One is akin to strategic planning in the corporate world. Without a plan, there is no strategy. Yet, in my career, I never knew a single Strategic Plan that wasn’t changed along the way. The other is a communication tool, setting forth a vision… “be it resolved” is a formal way of saying “let’s do it.” A game plan, if you will. Again, no plan, no action.

    Of course, nobody should advocate for bad plans intentionally. Which is why we involve people with different POV, experiences, and expertise. Lest we end up with roadways designed by on-line retailers or used care salesmen.

    So there you have it: we don’t like changes that don’t agree with our POV, and support those that do. And niceties like consistency and attention to process become secondary to who has the upper hand, as it were.

    This helps explain why one year we hear “Trust VDOT” and the next “Don’t trust VDOT” from the very same lips. Because, at the end of the day, it’s mostly just politics. And blog content like this, and my own commentary, just more of the same.

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