Elaine Echols, Principal Planner

Where were you born (and raised, if different)?

I was born in Dallas, Texas. I grew up in Bryan-College Station, Texas and El Paso and graduated from high school in El Paso.

When and why did you move to the Charlottesville/Albemarle area?

Actually, I live in Stuarts Draft. In 1996, my neighbor who worked in Social Services for Albemarle County suggested that I apply for a Senior Planner position with the County. After I got the position, we carpooled together for a number of years. 

What neighborhood do you live in now?

I live in a very small subdivision that backs up to a pasture/working farm.  Our development also abuts an apartment complex that is adjacent to a commercial area.

Family (spouse, kids, etc.)?

My husband, Jim, and I will have been married 30 years in December.  We have two sons who are in college.  One is at VT and the other is at ODU.

What is your alma mater and when did you graduate?

I graduated with a BA in Geography from the University of Texas in 1980.  I graduated from Texas A&M University with a Master of Urban Planning in 1982 (anyone who knows Texas football will understand the humor in this).

What were you doing before you came to work for the County?

I have been a Planner in local government since 1982, with the exception of a year when my husband and I were working in Africa.  I have worked for the cities of Bryan, TX, Crockett, TX, the New River Valley PDC, the Town of Blacksburg, and the City of Waynesboro.

Your job title is Principal Planner for the Community Development Department – what, in your own words, would you say you do?

 “Sprawl prevention” and helping residents retain their high quality of life in Albemarle.

What is the best part of your job? The most difficult part?

The best part is working with residents of the community, my colleagues, and the Planning Commissioners. The most difficult part is when I have to make recommendations that affect the greater good, but aren’t popular with residents in a neighborhood. For example, a few years back staff recommended that the road over the dam in Forest Lakes be built to connect two neighborhoods. This recommendation wasn’t embraced by many people in those neighborhoods but I think the neighborhoods are all right with the connection now, though.

How does your job most directly impact the average person?

I have spent a good deal of my time in the County advocating for sidewalks in the Development Areas.  I think this commitment has resulted in changes to the regulations so that now sidewalks are required in new developments in the County’s Development Areas.

What is the most interesting project or work experience that you’ve had while with the County?

They have all been interesting!

What is a little-known fact about you?

When I graduated from High School, I thought I would become a music educator.  I was a music major my first year in college and I have done a little bit of music conducting for my church.

What do you do outside of work hours – hobbies, etc.?

I enjoy singing, volunteering, and reading. I sing in a trio with Kristin Szakos and Hannah Twaddell. I’m currently chair of the Valley Music Academy Board of Directors.  Valley Music Academy provides private music lessons to children in the Waynesboro – Crozet Area.  We provide scholarships to children whose families could not otherwise afford to pay for those lessons. I read fiction for fun!