The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has decided it will spend months performing a chapter by chapter review of its updated Comprehensive Plan for land use, transportation and development.
The course is one that was also recommended by the previous board, which had started the review process in August. At a public hearing earlier this week, neighborhood leaders, environmentalists and tea party representatives all encouraged a careful evaluation.
“[This] is the beginning of our work on the final product,” said Jane Dittmar, the board’s chairwoman.
County attorney Larry Davis said Virginia law requires every locality to adopt a Comprehensive Plan and review it every five years.
The Albemarle Planning Commission already has held more than 60 meetings on the document over the past two years and thus the update process will now move into its third year.
“The state code also requires there be a number of specific items included, from things like transportation, to public facilities, to maps that show the general development areas of the county and how they are envisioned to be developed over time,” Davis said.
The review process began in 2011 in coordination with a $1 million livability grant from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The county Planning Commission spent two years reviewing the plan before a recommended draft was turned over to the Board of Supervisors last summer.
“One of the things very important to the Planning Commission is [to find] ways to improve the local economy, and they are recommending some tourist activities in the rural areas,” said Elaine Echols, Albemarle’s senior planner.
For instance, the draft of the rural areas chapter calls for “additional uses that support agriculture and tourism” allowing breweries and distilleries, as well as creating “crossroad communities” where some commercial activity could occur.
Many speakers at the hearing called on supervisors to proceed with caution with regards to that approach.
“Let’s go slowly and think it out,” said Antoinette Brewster. “How will expansion affect our precious water supplies, roadways and scenic beauty?”
Morgan Butler, senior attorney with the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center, said Albemarle should first evaluate the effects of recent expansions that have been made through changes to the county ordinance.
“The county has recently taken a number of steps to broaden the extent of commercial activity that is permitted in the rural areas, including changes regarding wineries, farmers’ markets, home occupations, bed and breakfasts and transient lodging,” Butler said.
Benjamin Brewster said encouraging “crossroads communities” in the rural areas may sound great, but he had concerns about how they might be implemented.
“It almost sounds as if we’re going back to the 1800s with banks and this or that there, “ Brewster said. “But it has to be done carefully.”
This plan update also creates a master plan for the southern growth area for the first time. Several residents of the southern area asked for new infrastructure to help build their community.
“One of our primary desires for our neighborhood is to have a town center, specifically on Mill Creek Drive between Avon Extended and Route 20,” said Linda O’Connor, a Mill Creek resident.
The proposed plan requests that a section of land between Avon and Route 20 be designated as “office/R&D/light industrial,” a change that some southern area residents oppose.
“The community is not in favor of increased industrial activity,” said Roger Schickedantz of Scottsville Road. “Lights, traffic and large buildings are incompatible with housing. There is a desire for a mixed-use, walkable community, and we don’t think that is facilitated by more light industrial.”
Objective 2 of the development area section of the proposed draft now reads “encourage and support development of the higher end of the density range as recommended in the master plans.” Another strategy encourages the county to work with developers to build as densely as possible.
Three speakers from the Glenmore area urged caution. Glenmore is part of the Village of Rivanna master planning area, which covers a 2.7-square-mile area in eastern Albemarle.
“Our advisory council has recommended removing those provisions because they skew the interpretations of the master plans,” said Neil Means, of the Village of Rivanna advisory council. “Where the county previously agreed that a given tract would be developed between three and six units per acre, the county is now saying … five or six.”
Representatives from the Jefferson Area Tea Party expressed concern that the plan is far from simple.
“We understand that the spirit of the Comprehensive Plan is that it be simple and advisory,” said Carole Thorpe, the group’s president. “I am concerned that a document that is apparently almost 400 pages long, with a 55-page summary, can be neither.”
Thorpe urged the board to go through the plan chapter by chapter to obtain feedback.
“We will read every word of this plan before we vote on it,” Dittmar said.
Supervisors are expected to establish a schedule for the Comprehensive Plan review at a meeting in April.