By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, May 3, 2010

Since January, Albemarle’s

county executive

and Supervisor

Kenneth C. Boyd

have been soliciting input from area business leaders to develop a new strategy for improving economic development.

The action plan is another strong indication of the shift taking place on the board following an election last year that put control in the hands of conservative members who favor fiscal restraint combined with increased efforts to grow local businesses and attract new employers.

“I am really excited with the work that’s been done with this ad-hoc committee,” Boyd said in an interview. “There are a lot of good ideas. I hope that the rest of the board is as impressed with it as I certainly have been, and I am looking forward to a good discussion.”

The recommendations will be

discussed by the Board of Supervisors this week

.

The draft economic development action plan identifies specific goals and measurements, primarily to address the objective of increasing Albemarle’s commercial businesses sector “to increase tax revenues without raising tax rates.”

The plan was developed without the input of

Ann H. Mallek

, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. Mallek said in an interview that she learned last week about the economic development presentations when she, along with the rest of the board, received an e-mail from staff outlining the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

Boyd, County Executive

Robert W. Tucker

and other county staff have met with a group of stakeholders, including the

Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

, the

Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development

, the

University of Virginia Foundation

, as well as with local developers

Chuck Rotgin

and

Wendell Wood

.

The Chamber of Commerce sent an eight-page memo to Tucker on Jan. 26 that outlined focus areas for the county’s future economic development work.

“We were a sounding board, and started that with our memo,” said Timothy Hulbert, the chamber’s president, in an interview.

“Change is not going to happen overnight,” Hulbert said. “We are not talking about little switches. We are talking attitudinal changes, which will occur as people in government perhaps see their role as trying to facilitate enterprise.”



January vote

At the Board of Supervisors’ first meeting in January,

Boyd made a surprise presentation of a plan

that included making increased economic development “the top fiscal priority for Albemarle County.” Boyd said he wanted the plan to be a “blueprint” to capture what the majority of the board wants to achieve in the coming year.

That broader action plan was endorsed by the board by a 4-2 vote. County staff said in interviews that the board’s action in January definitely put them to work on economic development priorities.

Mallek and Supervisor

Dennis S. Rooker

both voted against that plan, with Rooker saying the complex issues deserved further discussion before he could decide whether to support them. That is a sentiment still being voiced by Mallek heading into this week’s discussion.

“I think it is very important that we tackle ideas one at a time, that we not make broad-brush statements either condemning or endorsing ideas, based upon generalities,” Mallek said in an interview. “We want to make decisions on specific detailed proposals so we can understand the consequences.”


The proposals

The

draft economic development plan

contains five key objectives:

“I want to build an economic development plan, from a regional perspective, around addressing what are our key workforce challenges,” said Michael E. Harvey, a key participant in the discussions and executive director of TJPED. “We do have some chronic, structural issues that people may not see, that underlie what is otherwise a pretty good economy here, and I think they will cause some challenges if not addressed.”

Morgan Butler, a lawyer at the

Southern Environmental Law Center

, said that while he has some concerns with the plan, he was pleased to see the preamble refer to protection of the area’s natural resources.

“It’s all about finding a suitable balance, and one that doesn’t sacrifice the environment and the many qualities that make Albemarle such a special place to live,” Butler said. “It is growing in a smart way.”

Butler cautioned that the call to streamline the development review process raised a red flag.

“The process should be as clear and consistent as possible,” he said. “It makes sense to remove some unnecessary hurdles, but not to cut back on important environmental safeguards and the few opportunities provided to the public to provide feedback on development proposals.”

Butler was also concerned that the report might be read by some to indicate that the county intends to expand its development areas.

“I don’t see that,” Tucker said when asked about the prospect for growth area expansion. “I have seen no interest by board members to expand the growth areas and I don’t think there is a need to do that at this point. Maybe in the distant future.”


Private meetings

Boyd was the only elected official participating in the development of the plan. The supervisors who were not involved all said in interviews they did not have any specific knowledge about the meetings or about the issues being discussed.

“Personally, I am a little bit surprised that there was no mention of this,” Rooker said. “I think it would be appropriate for the other board members to know it. I am not particularly happy about that aspect of it.”

“I have been completely excluded,” Mallek said. “Ken [Boyd] had a private meeting with the chamber. They at least shared a letter with us about their ideas, thank goodness.”

“We weren’t trying to leave anyone out,” Boyd responded in an interview. “We felt that it was important enough, and the action plan called for us to act on it quickly.”

“Mr. Tucker brought together some staff people, and he and I got together and decided on what business representatives we’d like to have in that group,” Boyd said. “Certainly, the [other] supervisors will be involved in any kind of decisions that are made.”

“Ken [Boyd] has been the primary [participant] because he presented this initially in January,” Tucker said. “It pulls together a lot of the efforts that have been discussed over the last several years, I don’t think it is a major shift in talking about what we are trying to do here.”

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