Planning staff and officials in the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County will spend this summer identifying joint goals to include in their respective comprehensive plan updates.
Earlier this year, officials identified seven shared priorities: historic preservation, entrance corridors, environment, housing, economy, transportation and land use. In separate meetings Tuesday, each planning commission began identifying specific opportunities for the first three of those topics.
Summer Frederick, a project manager with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, spoke to the Albemarle Planning Commission after giving a similar briefing in the city.
“What we are looking for is for you to discuss these topics and come up with … specific opportunities to work with the city to come up with joint goals,” said Frederick.
The TJPDC is working with the city, county and the University of Virginia as part of a three-year $1 million federal grant awarded in 2010 for what is known as the Livable Communities Planning Project. One goal is to facilitate the comprehensive plan updates that guide local government planning decisions.
Albemarle Commissioner Bruce Dotson noted the results of a community survey from a previous comprehensive plan update.
“The thing that I remember from that … was how many residents of the city said that what they liked about the area were things that are located in the county, and vice versa, how many county residents liked things located in the city,” Dotson said. “The ultimate success in preserving the rural area is when urban people value it, and vice versa.”
On historic preservation, the city and county would have to reconcile very different approaches. The city has design control districts protecting historic structures facing exterior changes or demolition.
“The county’s policy at this point has been to pursue voluntary and incentive measures with no specific ordinance to address historic preservation,” Frederick noted. “The city has some more specific regulations in their ordinances.”
Albemarle officials expressed interest in compiling an inventory of historic resources, a mission the county has had since at least 2001 when it adopted historic preservation goals.
However, Albemarle lost its historic preservation planner to budget cuts in 2008 and the county’s Historic Resources Committee only gets minimal staff support today.
“The reality is it is very easy for people to take pot shots at government, that government is too onerous,” said Commissioner Richard Randolph. “This is a clear case where there should be this database, but it doesn’t happen magically, it takes resources. Which means it takes taxation and making this a priority.”
Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said during public comment that even an inventory might compromise private property rights.
“There is no [historic preservation] ordinance; property rights are protected in the county of Albemarle,” Williamson said. “I am actually concerned about the concept of the county spending … limit[ed] resources creating a database of privately held properties without the owners’ consent. The Free Enterprise Forum stands firmly opposed to a historic preservation ordinance.”
The second topic discussed related to goals for protecting designated road entrance corridors.
“These are the threads that knit the city and the county together because they run through both,” noted Dotson.
City staff spoke Tuesday about collaborating with the county to merge their entrance corridors management practices.
“It seems like that’s something we have in common — the county protects approaches and so do we,” said city Commissioner Genevieve Keller.
“A lot of our entrance corridor guidelines are similar in terms of issue of scale, massing and compatibility,” said Albemarle senior planner Elaine Echols. “The city’s entrance corridors are really mixed-use commercial districts and the county’s entrance corridors are different as they lead to historic resources in both places.”
City Planning Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky emphasized that historic preservation and entrance corridors were connected.
“I think one thing that we could work on with the county is not only entrance corridors and how things get reviewed but how to link resources,” said Sienitsky. “It’s protecting our economy to some extent. We have half a million visitors a year come to Monticello and I think twice that come to the University of Virginia.”
On the third topic, both commissions acknowledged the importance of goals for protecting the environment, but noted that some sources of air pollution come from outside the area.
“There’s so much that affects [air quality] and it’s hard to nail down what it is, but there are goals and language that can be used,” Frederick said.
Because the two localities share many environmental resources, staff said collaboration and common goals would be necessary to enhance air and water quality.
“The degree to which we can attract and sustain higher density [of people] in the city is the degree to which it takes some of the development pressure off the rural areas,” said city Commissioner Dan Rosensweig. “It gets cars off roads and improves air quality.”
Jeff Werner is a city resident and field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council.
“One thing I really want to urge you all to really take the lead on is that the county shares a waterfront with the city at Pantops,” said Werner about the Rivanna River. “I think it’s really important that we stop turning our backs to that river and start turning towards it as an economic opportunity to get people to experience that river…and then people begin to care about that resource.”
Frederick said the feedback she received from the city and county Tuesday clearly identified areas where the localities have common interests.
“I’d like to thank you for your comments, diverse as they were,” Frederick concluded. “We did hear some common themes.”
The TJPDC will facilitate two additional work sessions in July and August on the remaining four topics.