By Sean Tubbs
Friday, May 22, 2009
Joe Ford sat in Lane Auditorium for the entire three hours of the Albemarle County Planning Commission’s meeting on May 19, 2009, waiting for a chance to speak out against the County’s new
Patricia Ann Byrom Preserve Park
. His property adjoins the proposed park and he had several concerns about introducing recreational uses to the mountainous terrain in the northwest corner of the County.
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The Commission’s consent agenda contained a request from the County’s own
Department of Parks and Recreation
for a preliminary site plan approval for the first phase of improvements to be made to the park. As adjoining property owners, both Ford and his father had received letters from the County informing them of the application.
The plan included a request for a waiver to allow the County to disturb .3 acres of critical slopes to allow for construction of a stream crossing to provide access to new pedestrian and equestrian trails. Hearing no comments from the audience during the public comment period, the Commission quickly passed the item without discussion.
So, Joe Ford waited patiently for three hours as the Commission discussed
a garage in Earlysville
a new cell tower in Keswick
, and amendments to the County’s
rules on accessory structures
. Unfamiliar with the workings of the Commission, Ford did not know to stand up and be heard at the beginning of the meeting.
(Samuel Miller) was seconds away from adjourning the meeting when County Planner John Sheppard brought Ford up to the dais to be heard. Ford said he had brought many other people to speak out against the improvements being made to the park, but they left out of frustration.
“If someone had known, we would have pulled the item,” Strucko said. He asked Senior Assistant County Attorney Andrew Herrick if it would be possible to reconsider the item even though it had been approved. Herrick said the Commission could choose to hear Ford under new business.
Ford said he was disappointed the Commission had approved the item without hearing from the public. He said he had attempted several times to set up a meeting with County officials to find out more about the improvements.
“As a resident of Albemarle County for my life, other than the time I spent in the service, I’d really like to understand the Planning Commission’s views on the area that this park is located in,” Ford said. “It has no cell service there for emergencies… [the site plan] also shows horseback riding which the County does not provide.”
Ford went on to say that another adjoining property owner is applying to the County for permission to operate a stable to serve the horse trails in the park. Ford questioned whether the Commission would approve of a commercial use in a County-owned park. He also said he was concerned about the security of his property and wondered if the park would be policed and closed at night. He also pointed out that the park will be accessed via County Route 810, which he said was a narrow two lane road that barely met VDOT’s site distance requirements.
“This land is definitely gorgeous land and I can understand people wanting to enjoy it,” Ford said. “I’m not that opposed to it. However, I think there should be bigger communication between Albemarle County and the residents who live there.”
Ford also raised a philosophical question. If the County approved a critical slopes on land it owned, would that make it easier for him and his family to get a waiver so they could build homes on their own steep land? He also claimed the topographic map on the site plan underestimates the true scale of the critical slopes.
After he spoke, Commissioners politely told Ford that if he has a concern in the future, he should make sure that the Chair knows of his objections at the beginning of the meeting. But, a preliminary site plan approval with a critical slopes waiver does not necessarily go to the Board of Supervisors.
All Commissioners said they would be willing to reconsider the motion. Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) said it would be appropriate to review the item further with County Parks and Recreation staff present so they could address Ford’s concerns. The Commission voted on a motion to reconsider the waiver, which halts any critical slopes work at the property. The item will be re-advertised for the Commission’s consideration at the June 9, 2009 meeting.
After the vote, Porterfield requested that Strucko read aloud the contents of the consent agenda at every meeting before taking a vote.