The Albemarle County Planning Commission got a two-hour briefing Tuesday on how the county’s planning efforts might help create jobs for a growing population.
“We are planning for all residents, businesses and property owners,” said Elaine Echols, Albemarle’s acting chief of planning. “We are trying to make sure everyone has an opportunity to live and work in the development areas.”
Commissioners were joined by four members of the Board of Supervisors at a joint work session.
Commission Chairman Tim Keller said the educational session was intended to provide a background on county policies in order to inform future decisions.
“We think that if we’re all hearing the same information at the same time, we might be able to streamline some of the decision-making process,” Keller said.
The Neighborhood Model guidelines, first approved in 1996, ushered in a new era where the county sought to build communities around centers where people could both work and live.
The model was patterned after Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, which Echols said has become an em-ployment model.
“The scale of Charlottesville’s downtown is not a very scary scale,” Echols said.
For instance, the Pantops Master Plan is designed to eventually convert an area around State Farm Insurance and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital into a mixed-use development.
In Crozet, Echols said companies like Delivery Agent and Starr Hill Brewing were attracted to that commu-nity because of the emerging downtown center.
Echols said one future center could be located around a redeveloped Albemarle Square on U.S. 29.
Economic development director Faith McClintic shared several stories about how other communities have approached redevelopment. One focused on how Cloverleaf Mall in Chesterfield County has slowly been transformed from a dying retail center into a mixed-use center.
That community’s economic development authority saw that as an opportunity to reshape a gateway, and so they purchased the property through bonds to redevelop a community known as Stonebridge.
“Now, today, multifamily housing is being constructed and it is offering affordable [prices],” McClintic said.
However, the process took several years to come to fruition.
“None of these projects happen overnight,” said Commissioner Bruce Dotson. “This strikes me as a long-term tool worth looking at, but the question is, what is a realistic expectation?”
As Albemarle considers new centers, Echols said one goal is to create incentives for redevelopment by up-dating the urban master plans.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel asked how this would support neighborhoods that are 40 to 50 years old.
“They would like some places and some parks, too,” McKeel said.
Echols said plans for sidewalks guide that discussion and master plans identify where new ones are needed and where old ones are crumbling.
“I think it’s a lot harder to transform older neighborhoods than build new ones,” Echols said.
Supervisor Rick Randolph said Albemarle’s urban ring is three and a half times bigger than all of Char-lottesville. He said many of the county’s neighborhoods are aging but there are plenty of studies that show how trails can transform neighborhoods.
“That is available to us, and we just have to be bold enough to be adventurous enough to embark on a new era for Albemarle County,” Randolph said. “Then we will see that transformative effect on those older neighborhoods.”
One commissioner struck a cautious tone.
“I feel like we’re setting ourselves up for initiatives that are unrealistic,” said Jennie More, pointing out that many master plans are in need of updating but there are no staff resources to do so.
“The board makes decisions on how things are balanced with staffing,” Echols said. “As they are able to prioritize these, we will be doing more.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek suggested Albemarle’s community advisory committees could play a larger role in doing the initial research on master plan updates.
“That’s a way to get the discussion started,” Mallek said.
McClintic said her experience at this month’s Tom Tom Founders Festival has her concluding the area is ripe for the possibility for local entrepreneurs to grow.
“We need to be poised to be able to capture entrepreneurs,” McClintic said, adding that an ecosystem made up of many stakeholders is required to sustain such a place.