ASAP updates County Planning Commission on population study

Members of the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

have been briefed on efforts being undertaken by the group Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) to calculate an optimal population size or range for Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville. Jack Marshall, ASAP’s President, said the group is conducting a series of studies which will provide a future planning tool for the County.

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“A first approximation of our community’s optimal sustainable population size should be a key element as the County and Charlottesville consider further residential, commercial and industrial development,” Marshall said. “We want you to value and use the results… We’ll have failed if the study is praised by academicians, but ignored by local decision-makers.”

The Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $25,000 for the scientific aspects of the study, and the City of Charlottesville paid $11,000. Additional funding came from ASAP members as well as a $50,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The City and County currently have a population of about 135,000 according to Marshall. He said if population forecasts of 200,000 or half a million people come to light, the community will pay the price.

“The costs of mindless continued growth are unacceptable in terms of environmental degradation and the erosion of a community’s quality of life and in higher taxes,” Marshall said. However, no community in the United States has ever defined a limit for itself of how many people should be permitted to live in an area. ASAP hopes to establish that number using its nine study areas, five of which are scientific in nature. The rest will focus on socioeconomic data, but the County’s money cannot be used for that research.

A sample of the kind of data being analyzed in ASAP’s suite of studies (Source: Tom Olivier)

Tom Olivier of the Sierra Club is a member of the study’s steering committee. He presented an overview of one study, which involves examining the ecosystem services provided by land in Albemarle County.

“These are processes or other outputs of ecosystems that are of benefit to human beings,” he said. Examples include the role that forests play in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as the ability of the ground to filter drinking water. Olivier said ASAP’s goal is to develop a way to model how a growing population will affect these ecosystem services.

One of the other four scientific studies will calculate an “ecological footprint analysis” for Albemarle County. This work is being done in conjunction Dr. Claire Jantz of the Department of Geography and Earth Science at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.

Transportation activist Peter Kleeman is studying whether the region’s air quality is affected by population growth. Groundwater expert Nick Evans is studying the effects of growth on ground water, and Streamwatch will prepare a similar report on how stream health is impacted. Marshall said that ASAP is not ready to release data collected so far, but said the survey was intended to create a policy debate.

“If, as we expect, we find our local footprint exceeds our bio-capacity, that is our environmental demand exceeds our supply, what are the policy implications?” Marshall asked. “We could of course ignore the situation… Or we could increase our bio-capacity, or we could reduce our footprint in two ways. We could reduce our consumption per person and or we could reduce or at least not continue to increase our population.”

The first phase of the ASAP study is expected to be completed by April 2009.  After that, the social sciences work will be performed, according to Marshall.

Sean Tubbs