The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has indicated it will adopt a fast-track review process for industrial development proposals that would bring measurable economic benefit to the county.
“I think this is just another step in the right direction,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd , an advocate for making it easier for companies to navigate the county’s community development review process.
“You all understand what this board wants and what the community wants and none of it gets through without coming to us for final approval anyway,” Boyd said on Wednesday.
In January 2010, the board adopted an economic vitality action plan to study the county’s policies to find ways to streamline the process. One of the recommendations was to reduce the amount of time it takes for an applicant to obtain a rezoning or a special use permit.
“To encourage the start-up, expansion and relocation of targeted industries, many localities offer some sort of priority plan review,” said Lee Catlin, the county spokeswoman. “They find that used strategically, priority review for projects that meet defined strategic criteria can be an effective tool.”
To identify companies that would be suitable candidates for fast-tracking, the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development conducted a $150,000 study that recommended Albemarle pursue biotechnology, financial services, information technology and defense security companies.
Catlin said the fast-track process would be reserved for targeted firms that meet additional criteria such as producing a minimum of 25 new jobs within a year, bringing in a minimum of $1 million in capital investment and generating 50 percent of its revenue from outside the region.
“Everything… on this list to me looks fine,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker . “The idea of saying to someone that if [they] meet these criteria, [they’re] going to get concierge service and get [their] hand held going through the process is a good one.”
Rooker said he also wanted to put a priority on potential applications that would hire local residents as opposed to importing employees.
During the public comment period, Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said he was concerned about some aspects of the streamlining process.
“There is no real way to enforce or ensure that the qualifying criteria will ever be met, so it could be hard to limit the number of proposals that request special treatment, creating an administrative burden,” Butler said.
Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development, said fast-tracked proposals would still be held to the same level of environmental review as other applicants.
“That’s one of the reasons we think this approach really has to focus on just the targeted industries,” Graham said. “We simply don’t have enough people to do this for every project.”
Another suggestion was to hold combined public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
The League of Women Voters of Charlottesville/Albemarle is opposed to that idea.
“The league supports active participation of citizens in government and the two hearings would allow more opportunities for citizens to attend a hearing and express opinions and make helpful comments,” said Linda Goodling, the league’s natural resources committee chair.
Rooker said he was not in favor of the joint public hearings because planning commissioners tend to defer to supervisors at those meetings.
“You really lose the whole element of a planning commission that gives independent deliberation to a project,” Rooker said.
Boyd said he would like to examine the possibility further because he would like to lessen the amount of time it takes to approve a project. He suggested holding both public hearings in the same week.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said a joint work session early in the process could be helpful.
“That would tend to perhaps hash out whatever things were in the way and then have swift public hearings,” Mallek said.
Staff will now make slight changes to the ordinance before it will appear on the consent agenda at a future meeting.
Supervisors also indicated they will amend the county’s Capital Improvement Program to include three projects.
The projects are $3.8 million for an addition to the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department , $1 million to serve as a local match for an application for VDOT revenue-sharing to pay for various sidewalk projects in the development area and $178,000 in funding for the county’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements program .
A portion of the additional funding came from nearly a half million in cash proffers received from developers, $2.5 million from last year’s end-of-year fund, and other sources. The money will be leveraged as part of a future bond sale during the course of the next five years.
The board will take a vote on amending the CIP at a meeting in July.