Albemarle Struggles To Embrace Economic Development

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing. 

Today – Chapter 5 Economic Development

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County can’t help itself.  Even in a well written comprehensive plan chapter dedicated to the advancement of economic opportunity for all, the very first objective is almost an apology for business intruding on the Comprehensive Plan:

Objective 1: Ensure that economic development efforts are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with other Comprehensive Plan goals.

Compare this to the opening objective in the Natural Resources Chapter:

Objective 1: Protect the quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater water resources in the County.

The Economic Development Chapter seeks to balance its demands with all the other chapters while the Natural Resources Chapter starts with one of the primary functions of the plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that Objective 1 of the Economic Development chapter should be eliminated.

Further in the Chapter when attempting to seem open for business, new urbanist design demands offer restrictions to that very option.  Imagine evaluating an Albemarle site vs another locality considering the undertone in this strategy:

Strategy 1a: Promote new employment activities in the Development Areas and encourage developers of commercial and industrial projects to incorporate the Neighborhood Model principles.

This strategy hints at a high level of government influence on the design of future building plans.  If this is what the community wants, it should understand it places Albemarle at a competitive disadvantage for many potential employment opportunities.

Albemarle has been of two minds for many years regarding rural enterprises.  One former supervisor once said “We love the wineries just not all the customers”.  This Economic Development chapter correctly references recent state legislation clearly delineating rural area Agritourism rights for events.  The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the added emphasis on rural area economic activities beyond just farming, as these events are often what makes the privately held rural area parcels economically sustainable.

It is important that the Economic Development chapter include a reference to the housing of the workforce but it is puzzling that the one of the primary references under the “balance housing to jobs” strategy is the need for “affordable housing’ and the very next line discusses the mandated (and expensive) elements of the County’s mixed use Neighborhood Model.

Even with the above constraints, a much larger issue is where will businesses grow?  The Economic Development chapter offers some hope that Albemarle may be focused on this question soon:

Objective 4 Ensure that there is sufficient land to accommodate future business and industrial growth and a plan for infrastructure to serve employment areas where these businesses are located.

In an op-ed that ran in The Daily Progress in October of last year we asked Do Jobs Fit In Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan? Our premise, which is confirmed in the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan is that while there may be enough total acreage available to meet the needs of future enterprises, it is not properly sited nor zoned and much of it is fragmented. 

The reality we continue to see is Albemarle is losing many businesses when they seek to expand or upgrade their facilities due to a lack of available product as well as the costly and unpredictable nature of their development approval processes. 

In addition, the choices Albemarle has made, especially relating to the size and location of their development areas, have hindered the number of parcels properly located for many commercial and industrial employers.

Perhaps we are too close to the issue but we read some sections of the economic development plan and hear the echoes of the Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) rhetoric:

It is also important to remember that the purpose of this economic development policy is to provide Albemarle residents with an improved standard of living, improved job and wage opportunities, and work force development opportunities rather than to seek to stimulate further population growth. ….

Strategy 6b: Continue to evaluate the fiscal impacts of new business and industrial development as one indicator of positive economic development, along with other impacts of new business and industrial development, such as environmental impacts, traffic impacts and standard of living impacts….. In Albemarle County, though, new business and industrial growth must be compatible with the other goals in the Comprehensive Plan

We applaud much of what is in the economic development chapter, just as we are happy with the hiring of an economic development director. 

With all due respect, we continue to believe the biggest restrictor on economic development is not the market, nor the workforce nor even the location.  The biggest barrier to businesses bringing new jobs to Albemarle County is Albemarle County, and just maybe that the way the community wants it.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President



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


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