Tag Archives: community engagement

Charlottesville’s Engagement Problem

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Man-proposing-ring-woman-e1434128981263One person can’t get engaged – it takes two.

Engagement, like all communication, requires all parties to fully participate; listening and responding.  This was not the case in last night’s (6/27) Charlottesville planning commission meeting – where the banner of public engagement is waved proudly; but despite the efforts of two special interest groups, their zoning code concerns were not addressed in the discussion.

Please let me explain.

In last night’s Planning Commission code audit work session, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson related to the Commission that she had several conversations with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and received a copy of the letter written by the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe).

Rather than taking the bull by the horns and including these organizations’ concerns in the presentation, Robertson said that CADRe’s letter was written to the Planning Commission and City Council and was not staff’s position to reply.  Robertson said she thought the comments of both groups might inform discussion of the panel but not once in the two hour work session did she raise a specific concern from either of the organizations.  Considering the level of technical detail in the CADRe letter, one would have anticipated planning staff providing some context to the legal discussion – there was none.

The Free Enterprise Forum has reviewed CADRe’s 16 page letter, sent to the Planning Commission in advance of their first work session (5/29).  The respectful tone and constructive criticism was well drafted and encouraged public discussion of the various points.  Those questions went unanswered.

In his reporting for Charlottesville Tomorrow, Sean Tubbs included the CADRe concerns as a part of his coverage of the meeting in this morning’s Daily Progress. If it was important enough to be in the article, shouldn’t it be part of the Planning Commission discussion?

The goal of the Planning Commission work sessions was to vet the proposed zoning changes and the impacts they might have on property owners.  CADRe which works with several prominent property owners raised many significant concerns regarding building heights.  Staff failed to mention (let alone address) these concerns in their presentation; therefore the discussion was significantly less robust than it could have been.

Late in the meeting Planning Commission Chair Kurt Keeseker suggested the commission should be made aware understand the types of comments that are coming in and the citizens should receive a response.  He related the manner in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is answering inquiries and the reporting back to the Hydraulic Advisory Panel.  This less than perfect engagement concept was brought forward in good faith, but it was dismissed.

This process is being done under the auspices of a ‘legal review’ and thus the Deputy City Attorney is the lead staff.  As mentioned above, one would anticipate that the planning staff who work with the zoning code day in and day out would have a great deal to offer regarding the code revisions.  Silently sitting a row behind the Deputy City Attorney, Alex Ikefuna Charlottesville’s Director of Planning spoke not one word during the 2 hour+ meeting.  His silence spoke volumes.

When the four Planning Commissioners present pushed back on staff asking for more engagement with  SELC,  CADRe, and other interested citizens, staff indicated that could not be accomplished under the stated work plan that City Council adopted.

In summary, at least two special interest groups provided substantial information to the staff and staff choose not to include the concerns in the presentation because the letter was addressed to the Planning Commission and the City Council. When the Commission pushed for more community engagement, they folded under staff’s threat of jeopardizing City Council’s calendar.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the zoning code rewrite process is being railroaded.

We believe in true engagement.  Failing to directly address the concerns of the SELC and CADRe at the Planning Commission work session level will lead to increase delay in zoning code implementation and a lack of respect for the entire “engagement” process.  These issues will not “go away” they will return at the public hearings.

Simply putting documents on a website “for all to see” is not engagement – engagement is involved, engagement can be messy, engagement requires significant work and engagement takes time.  It seems the City is placing their calendar over their citizens.

Charlottesville deserves better.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credit: Hiphealthy.com

Lessons from Snoopy

By. Neil Williamson, President

This holiday season, perhaps more than most, I am reminded how lucky we are to live in this particular place at this particular time.  Thanks to the generous support of the community the Free Enterprise Forum is celebrating twelve years of making a difference in Central Virginia.

Regular readers of this space are well aware of the many meetings the Free Enterprise Forum covers, often as one of the only members of the public in the room.

This year there were several meetings that were standing room only as Albemarle County considered an expansion of their development area for a brewery prospect.  In this meeting, there were many speakers including Former Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas who suggested the Planning Commission was being “bullied” into accepting this economic development prospect.  Our friend, Jeff Werner from Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), also spoke questioning the due diligence of the County.

Route 29 Solutions logoThis year we also saw the start of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) construction of the subtlety named “Route 29 Solutions” projects including the one of the newer words in the local lexicon “Rio GSI” for the grade separated intersection being constructed at Rio Road and U.S. 29.  The issues surrounding these projects have provided significant activity over the last forty months.

Last night (12/21) the Charlottesville City Council opted to table the Down Zoning of West Main Street – We have argued in opposition to this affront to property rights while our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have, somewhat counter intuitively, jumped on the reduced density in the neighborhood. Another friend John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Chapter of the Sierra Club provided comments in favor of lowering the heights thus reducing the environmental impacts.

Yes, there are important issues and emotions that can divide the community.  With limited exception,  the Central Virginia community has a great deal of respect for those who disagree with them.  This is not true across the Commonwealth.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has, and will continue to, question the logic, strategies and tactics of those opposed to regulatory reform and economic development, we do not question their motivations.  We believe they are working toward their vision of a better community.  We welcome their involvement and, lest anyone think I have been hitting the egg nog, we will still often adamantly disagree.

However this holiday, thinking of the spirited alphabet soup of Free Enterprise Forum opponents (ASAP, PEC, SELC, VDOT,  Etc.)  I am reminded of the 1967 hit from The Royal GuardsmanSnoopy Christmas – Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes all of Central Virginia, especially those who disagree with us, a blessed holiday season.

 

The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn’t shoot, well, we’ll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, “Merry Christmas, my friend”

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they’d meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:  Charles Shultz,  Charlottesville Tomorrow