The 16 people who sit on the Albemarle and Charlottesville planning commissions gathered around a table Tuesday to hash out potential ways the two communities can cooperate on economic development, environmental protection and other areas of common concern.
The joint meeting was part of a planning initiative made possible by a $1 million grant awarded to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
After holding a series of workshops and conducting a survey of community priorities, TJPDC staff wrote language that might be inserted into both the city and county comprehensive plans.
“The main purpose of this meeting is to discuss the joint language that we have proposed,” said Summer Frederick, project manager of the TJPDC’s Many Plans, One Community initiative.
Each planning commission separately held three work sessions on these issues prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
“While some of the language was different, for the most part the conversations were very reflective of each other,” Frederick said.
For economic development chapters of the comprehensive plans, staff is recommending the addition of the phrase “continue to coordinate staff efforts to support regional economic development.”
City Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said he wanted more detail in the language.
“These all come across as skeletal and generic,” Rosensweig said. “For instance, we talk about the city’s need to support agribusiness in the county and the need to recognize that we are the marketplace for what grows in the county.”
For instance, Rosensweig said one goal for the county is to preserve farmland, while a city goal would be to focus on building up the farmer’s market and connecting producers with restaurants.
County Planning Commissioner Russell “Mac” Lafferty said he wanted the two communities to cooperate on increasing access to jobs.
“Upward mobility of the workforce should be a goal that both the county and city should support so that people are not trapped in low-paying jobs,” Lafferty said.
Commissioners also discussed where those new jobs might be located.
“If we want employment centers, where do they go?” asked city Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky. “That would be a nice question to answer together.”
City Commissioner John Santoski pointed out what he considered as one glaring omission.
“Where exactly does the University of Virginia fit into this picture?” Santoski asked.
“We’re having this conversation and they’re not even mentioned … They’re probably the single-most impactful entity we’re going to work with.”
David Neuman, the UVa architect, said the Planning and Coordination Council will address the comprehensive plans before they are adopted.
For the environmental chapters, staff is recommending language that states the two communities will “improve water quality within the urban areas” and “increase tree canopy in the urban areas.”
County Commissioner Bruce Dotson suggested a preamble for both plans that establishes the common visions shared by each, as well as the differences.
“The county is an area that is in more of a developing mode,” Dotson said. “The city is in more of a developed mode.”
For instance, he said the city’s goal to increase tree canopy is not one that the county would share at this time.
“In 15 years, we may be worried about the same thing,” Dotson added.
Albemarle Planning Commission member Richard Randolph said he wanted the preamble to touch on the notion of interdependency.
“We depend on one another,” Randolph said. “If we look at that metaphor and concept, then it opens windows for us.”
For land use chapters, staff suggested including language to coordinate infrastructure planning in neighborhoods that straddle both communities, such as the Woolen Mills neighborhood.
Genevieve Keller, chairwoman of the Charlottesville Planning Commission, said that any discussion of the Rivanna River and Woolen Mills needs to also include future land use decisions in the county’s Pantops area.
Her counterpart on the Albemarle commission agreed.
“How do we bridge those two more effectively?” said Cal Morris, chairman of the county Planning Commission.
Staff is also suggesting the promotion of land uses that support the Rivanna River as a destination for recreation and tourism.
Commissioner Lisa Green said the usage of the word “destination” gave her some pause.
“Developing right on the river could be a destination,” Green said. “You could create a park and it would be a destination. Leaving it alone could be a destination.”
The TJPDC will conduct a series of workshops in October to receive public feedback on the comprehensive plan language. The first will take place Oct. 3 at CitySpace in the Market Street Parking Garage beginning at 6 p.m.
Both planning commissions are expected to make their recommendations by the end of this year. The Charlottesville City Council and Albemarle Board of Supervisors will take up the plans early next year.