Albemarle’s citizen advisory councils hold second annual meeting


Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Albemarle County’s citizen advisory councils, tasked with representing their neighborhoods and providing feedback on the implementation of their unique master plans, held their second annual joint meeting last week.

The Board of Supervisors appoints a group of 13 to 15 citizen advisers for each growth area with an approved master plan. Those four areas are Crozet, Pantops, Places29 along U.S. 29 North and the Village of Rivanna, which includes Glenmore.

“The Board of Supervisors has adopted a new strategic goal which talks about promoting citizen ownership of community challenges,” County Executive Thomas Foley told the council members Thursday. “That’s different than volunteering and being on a committee. It’s about accepting responsibility and ownership for our community and where we are going in the future.”

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About 33 representatives heard presentations on public safety, comprehensive planning and upcoming zoning issues before breaking out into neighborhood groups.

County staff said the annual meetings allow them to be more efficient communicating about issues that cut across all development areas, particularly as staff resources to support the councils have been reduced since 2010.

“Because community development staff was cut so significantly, and because our community engagement position was eliminated, we recognized we weren’t able to meet with them as frequently,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin. “It has made it difficult to staff the committees at the level we thought necessary when master plans were done.”

Catlin said that implementation of community infrastructure remains a critical concern of these groups.

“One of the overwhelming themes we hear is the issue of infrastructure, the status of the capital program and improvements talked about in the master plans, like sidewalks, roads and buildings,” Catlin said. “People are concerned about the pace of how that is going to happen.”

For example, the Pantops community has expressed strong interest in transportation matters, including trails, especially as the area is divided by U.S. 250 East.

“We are going to try and focus on trails, land use and transportation, as those are the big issues confronting Pantops,” said Jason Dugas, from the Pantops Advisory Council. “I want to make sure we can hear about things right from the start and provide our input earlier.”

“Trails are something we think our community can do and it is something that will bring the community together,” Dugas said. “The big thing that we have to do is create community.”

However, not all of the councils are in the same state of organization. Cynthia Neff, a former candidate for the Rivanna District seat on the Board of Supervisors, said she had concerns that the Places29 group was still “not functioning.”

Catlin agreed it had been harder to get the Places29 group to come together and said staff recognized they could provide more information and support.

Assistant County Executive Bill Letteri said the county’s FY2013 budget would continue to be constrained for new capital projects.

“Revenues are down, and as a result, our resources for capital [projects are] down,” Letteri said. “We realize that what has evolved is causing us to present a maintenance-only plan, one that keeps the assets we own operational.”

Foley thanked the citizens for their input, which he said was “invaluable.” Dugas said he appreciated having the opportunity to be involved.

“It’s a great chance to meet other folks around the county and we can hear about what’s on the county’s agenda,” Dugas said.