FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Five years ago, I wrote a blog post regarding the Free Enterprise Forum’s concerns about Albemarle’s Community Councils and their unelected, (unintended?) stranglehold on new development projects. Now in the wake of the Places29 Community Council Suspension (AKA The Sheffield Shuffle), the Board of Supervisors may take up important legal questions surrounding the import and role of the community councils.
In the years since we originally raised the issue, we have heard one Albemarle County Planning Commissioner (Tom Loach) in a public meeting indicate that he did not think he could ever support a project if it did not have the endorsement of the Community Council.
Interestingly (and counter to Loach’s comment), Albemarle County staff may have recognized the legal thin ice the locality is on if these mission creeping Community Councils continue to endorse or oppose development projects. New language proposed in Attachment B of the staff report:
Councils are a venue to discuss and provide comments on program and policy questions and/or proposals. While Community Advisory Councils are an important venue for discussion and feedback related to development proposals, Councils do not have a legislative role in the development process and are discouraged from taking votes of approval or disapproval
Contrast this new proposed reality with Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Brian Wheeler’s extensive coverage of the consideration of the Barnes Lumber development proposal by the Crozet Community Advisory Council:
Developer postpones submission of redevelopment plan
“You gotta love Crozet.”
Tom Loach’s assessment came after two meetings totaling more than six hours of discussion in which a dozen residents critiqued plans and pitched new ideas for a mixed-use development intended to transform downtown Crozet.
“We have worked very hard to come out with a recommendation for a plan that we think is going to benefit the community,” Loach said after a council meeting last week. “It’s going to spur economic development downtown and give jobs to our citizens.” …
The consensus? Council members want less housing, more green space, views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a stronger contribution by the developer in the form of proffers to help pay for community infrastructure needs.
In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:
The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw
If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Community Councils have (since at least 2009) exceeded their authority and failed to add significant value beyond they Master Plan reviews.
While we appreciate many of the staff suggestions (including term limits for Council Officers!) we do not believe they go far enough.
The Community Councils should be eliminated and Albemarle County Land Use and other development applications should follow the approval process as set in state code.
Neil Williamson, President
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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: NBC29