By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, August 8, 2011

Albemarle planning staff have told the Board of Supervisors they will focus on county priorities while updating the Comprehensive Plan , alleviating concerns by some board members that staff would be consumed by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s livability initiative .

“We clearly understood that we’re not to be spending time on trying to develop a lot of new and different things that no one really has had a chance to think about,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning.

In early June, supervisors voted 4-2 to withdraw membership from a group called ICLEI — Local Governments for Local Sustainability. The group provides technical advice to communities that seek to increase energy efficiency.

Some residents argued at a lengthy public hearing that ICLEI is a United Nations organization that seeks to control behavior of American citizens by limiting their choices for housing and transportation.

However, supervisors did not withdraw the county’s participation in the $1 million “sustainable communities” grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to TJPDC.

The Livable Communities Project will provide additional staff to coordinate updates of Charlottesville’s and the county’s comprehensive plans. The TJPDC is also creating a performance measurement system, developing a common land-use map for both Albemarle and Charlottesville, and is updating its long-range transportation plan.

The cost of staff time by county and city planners had been factored into the grant as an in-kind local match.

One of the goals of the TJPDC’s livability initiative is to make recommendations as to how the comprehensive plans can be made more consistent with the Sustainability Accords, which were signed in 1998.

The county’s goals during its plan update include changing the policy regarding development around interstates, designating more land for industrial use and increasing allowable land uses in the rural areas.

After the June vote, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd asked staff to prepare a report outlining exactly how much time county staff would be spending on the project.

“I was having trouble meshing these two together and seeing how we were going to function and do the things we want to do in the county, and coordinate that somehow with what the sustainability group is going to do,” Boyd said.

Staff prepared a report for supervisors that stated the grant is not being used to pay for county staff, but the county planner assigned to overseeing the Comprehensive Plan will use 10 percent of her time working with TJPDC officials.

“A lot of that is up-front to make sure that there are no non-starters,” Cilimberg said. “We’re seeing them do in their work things that are consistent with our priorities.”

Boyd said he was concerned that the language of the TJPDC’s implementation plan are inconsistent with the county’s goals.

“There are a lot of platitudes talked about here that are sort of planner speak that don’t really translate to meaningful things for me,” Boyd said. “I see some of the things particularly in the sustainability accords that I don’t think I could support.”

As an example, Boyd said he did not want the TJPDC study to recommend greater amounts of mass transit, given that the city and county shelved plans in 2010 to enter into a regional transit authority together.

“There were millions of dollars involved [to implement] it,” Boyd said. “We didn’t have the millions of dollars and we were not willing to raise taxes to move forward with it, so we dropped it. Now, are we going to bring those same things up?”

David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the purpose of the grant is to allow the TJPDC to examine previous studies to see if new ways can be found to implement them.

“Transit has been one of those products that would provide for multimodal opportunities to provide support for one of the components that we define as being [required for] a sustainable community,” Benish said. “The grant funding doesn’t really call for a re-analysis of regional transportation.”

County Executive Thomas Foley said the work to be conducted by the TJPDC will develop ideas and proposals about how to attain goals shared between the sustainability accords and the county’s desired policy changes.

“Our staff would then work those into comp plan amendments that would then come before [the board],” Foley said. “There’s not going to be any studies engaged beyond what’s funded by the regional grant.”

Boyd said he was satisfied with the report and wanted to ensure county staff focuses on county priorities.