Three-year regional planning effort to launch on Wednesday

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Despite challenges facing some regional projects like the water supply and the Meadow Creek Parkway, Charlottesville, Albemarle, and University of Virginia will launch a three-year planning effort Wednesday under the rubric “ many plans, one community .”

Stephen W. Williams, Executive Director, TJPDC

Coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission , the primary objective of the “Livability Partnership” is to inform simultaneous updates of the city and county comprehensive and transportation plans.

“This is another example of where the city and Albemarle County are using a shared vision and are working together to make life for the residents in our community even better,” Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said in a prepared statement.

Last October TJPDC received a $999,000 federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to prepare a regional “sustainability implementation plan.”

“This may well be the biggest and most collaborative planning project that’s ever been attempted here in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area,” said Stephen W. Williams , TJPDC’s executive director at a briefing last week.

Listen to the Livability Partnership project briefing at the Planning and Coordination Council, Technical Advisory Committee (PACC-Tech) meeting held April 21, 2011.  Use the player above or download the podcast :
Download 20110421-PACC-Tech-Livability

Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning, Albemarle County

According to Wayne Cilimberg , Albemarle’s director of planning, the county’s last full comprehensive plan update was in 1989. Numerous chapters have been updated and added in the years since, most recently the Places29 master plan for the growth area along U.S. 29 North.

“We decided a year and a half ago that we were going to do a complete comprehensive plan review,” Cilimberg said in an interview. “[TJPDC] is providing assistance for some elements of the comprehensive plan that we will then have to take through our process. We want to figure out the common elements with the city of Charlottesville that we need to look at as a community.”

According to the draft consortium agreement, five major products will be produced as part of the partnership. These include:

Carole Thorpe , chairwoman of the Jefferson Area Tea Party , said her group was encouraging citizens to attend the project’s kick-off event on Wednesday.

“The Tea Party has concerns, and while I can’t speak for everybody in our group, I know a lot of what goes into this [involves] property rights and extensive government regulations,” said Thorpe in an interview. “What’s suggested today becomes a regulation tomorrow. That is a concern of the Tea Party.”

Thorpe said that the Tea Party also has concerns about a sustainability agenda she says is being pushed by organizations outside the community. At a Tea Party forum last month , both the city and county were criticized for their membership in ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability.

“Is sustainability really what it appears to be?” asked Thorpe. “On the surface, we are not opposed to clean air and water, but when we get into ICLEI and [the United Nations] Agenda 21, that has nothing to do with local government and has a lot to do with a global influence.”

While the HUD grant’s project description references “sustainability,” Williams said the joint planning effort now emphasizes a focus on “livability.”

“We have made a specific choice to try and move our terminology for this grant from ‘sustainability’ to ‘livability,’” said Williams. “Our observation has been in the last few years that sustainability has lost some of the meaning it had … . It has been diluted.”

“We feel like this project is focusing on a broader selection of issues related to the community,” added Williams. “We are dealing not only with environmental issues, we are dealing with transportation, housing, neighborhood and community issues, and the economy.”

In the audience at last week’s briefing, former Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas urged a regional technical advisory committee to consider retaining a focus on sustainability. Thomas was directly involved in the drafting and approval of the community’s 1998 Sustainability Accords , a document the HUD grant is expected to help move towards implementation.

“I can assure you we spent years if not months thinking about the term ‘sustainability,’” said Thomas. “The concept of sustainability that really stretched our minds, and that I am worried is being lost here, is the aspect of the future. It was not livability, which is how we can make our community better for people here today.”

Williams responded that there was no intent to lose a focus on the community’s future.

Wednesday’s kick-off event is an informal opportunity for the public to review a series of informational posters and to provide written comments.

“This is an introduction to the updates for the comprehensive plans and the long-range transportation plan,” said Williams in an interview. “We are hoping people will come and give us input on their concerns and provide general input about where the community is going.”

“It’s an opportunity to get in and learn a little bit about what we have been doing in past plans that gets us where we are right now,” said Cilimberg. “Part of this is a little bit of history and how we have evolved to where we are as a community in our planning processes.”

The event will be held at the Albemarle County Office Building on Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. outside Lane Auditorium. Further information is available at the initiative’s website .