Supervisors reflect on Albemarle’s urban future

As Albemarle officials prepare to enter another budget cycle, five members of the Board of Supervisors spent Friday brainstorming how to ensure the county is ready for its urban future.

“Today what we want to do is come together with a common mind about what we care about,” Tyler St. Clair, a facilitator with the Commonwealth Centers for High Performance Organizations, said at a board retreat at Morven Farm.

“When you try to get your hands around a vision for urban placemaking in the county, there’s a lot of ways to think about it,” she added.

Earlier this year, the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia estimated Albemarle had a population of 103,707 as of July 1, 2014. The center’s most recent projections are for the number to expand to 134,196 in 2030 and 154,814 in 2040.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who leaves the board in December, was unable to attend the meeting, according to assistant county executive Lee Catlin.

St. Clair, who facilitated the 2014 strategic retreat, asked supervisors to describe the urban trends they are seeing in Albemarle.

“The grand majority of all the building permits and the demand for new housing has been in denser neighborhoods with sidewalks and smaller lots,” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said, citing places such as Old Trail in Crozet.

“What I hear in the urban ring is they see us building or improving streets and they’re saying, ‘where are the bike lanes?’” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.

“I think people are looking for urban amenities,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield.

Sheffield said there are people from Forest Lakes moving to neighborhoods such as Dunlora Forest to be closer to the urban core.

“Sociologically, we’re seeing people wanting to come to community spaces,” said Supervisor Jane Dittmar, who also leaves the board at the end of the year. “There’s a thirst.”

Supervisors also were asked to identify what the county is currently not doing to support its urban area.

“I see that we’re not connecting people to their jobs with transit opportunities,” McKeel said. “I have folks in my district who says the city has bus stops with benches and shelters but we don’t.”

Several supervisors expressed concern that a larger population will demand more services that will need to be funded through higher taxes.

Sheffield said he would like the county to develop a balanced approach to the county’s economy so that growth in tax revenues does not just come from more homes or more retail outlets.

“I want us to compete with downtown Charlottesville,” he said.

The supervisors spent the last portion of the afternoon trying to answer “how” to achieve the vision.

Mallek said the county should help home-grown businesses increase their revenues.

Sheffield said the county should tweak its regulations to encourage and incentivize redevelopment of properties in the urban ring.

“We have land in the development area that is zoned residential but it is identified in the Comprehensive Plan for light industrial,” Sheffield said. “Development’s going to go where it’s easiest so if we can get it to go in one area, we should make it easy to develop.”

A perennial problem for the county is a lack of resources to invest in capital projects. McKeel suggested reviewing the list and prioritizing those that will create a more complete place.

Dittmar asked if the county could possibly use crowdsourcing to pay for projects.

“That was how the new Crozet Library got over the hump,” Mallek said, referring to an effort by the Friends of the Library to raise $1.6 million to furnish the new library when it was completed.

Supervisors discussed potential funding sources such as service districts, enterprise zones and other ways of raising revenue for specific projects, but no decisions were made.

There was no talk of how to bridge the projected $8.8 million shortfall facing the county in next year’s budget. Supervisors are expected to next talk about the budget at a joint meeting with the School Board on Oct. 14.