By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An agreement to formalize the community’s involvement in a three-year joint planning grant will not be ratified this month, as previously anticipated.

Albemarle County has decided to postpone a decision on whether to sign on to the Livable Communities Planning Project , a joint planning effort with the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

The Planning and Coordination Council , a joint body with representation from the city, county and university, had been expected to approve the agreement at a meeting Thursday.

“The board has set a work session for June 8 to discuss the Livability Partnership, among other issues, so we are not anticipating that the county will take action on the agreement at the PACC meeting until board members have a chance to have that discussion,” county spokeswoman Lee Catlin said in an email.

Earlier this month , some members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors raised concerns about the project, which is being managed by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission . The board decided to hold a work session next month to discuss the effort, which is funded by a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of its “Sustainable Communities” initiative.

Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd has questioned the county’s involvement in the grant, which would support a joint effort to update the city and county comprehensive and transportation plans.

“We were blindsided by that,” Boyd said last week at a news conference announcing his re-election campaign. “I still don’t understand clearly what they want to do with that money.”

Stephen Williams , executive director of the TJPDC, said in an interview that his 12-member board was briefed on the grant request before the application was made and that four members of the Board of Supervisors were involved in those discussions, not including Boyd.

“When we were preparing to apply for this grant … we had discussions with both the TJPDC commission at their meeting in August of last year … and also with the [Metropolitan Planning Organization] policy board,” Williams said. “In both cases we have two members of the Board of Supervisors who sit on those two groups.”

Williams said Supervisors Ann H. Mallek and Duane Snow were briefed at an August meeting of the TJPDC and that Supervisors Dennis S. Rooker and Rodney Thomas were briefed at a meeting of the MPO.

“I definitely was in the loop and I definitely voted for it,” Snow said in an interview. “Receiving a million dollars for a study in your area, well it’s hard to find fault with that. In hindsight, there were some questions that we probably should have asked and that’s the reason we are having the work session.”

Mallek said in an interview that she thought the project was an “excellent opportunity for our communities to be talking to each other.”

“The interpretation of this as a threat is the only thing that is new, and that is what I am blindsided by,” Mallek said. “I am interested in having a common land use map for the city and county to help us make better decisions.”

“This is an information gathering effort, but in no way are we ceding our responsibility to anyone but our own citizens,” Mallek added. “The citizens are driving the bus.”

Boyd and members of the Jefferson Area Tea Party have raised concerns about a “sustainability agenda” they see as being pushed by organizations outside the community, such as the United Nations and ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability.

The business community, represented by the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development , is a member of the advisory committee providing input on the grant.

“I think the two go hand in hand — livability and economic vitality,” said Michael Harvey, TJPED’s executive director. “If the business community is not at the table, then something is wrong.”

Boyd was asked at his campaign announcement whether his position put him at odds with business leaders involved in the grant.

“I don’t think so, I think I am just a little ahead of the learning curve on this whole process,” Boyd said. “That’s why it is so important that we find out exactly where this whole initiative is taking us, because if it is taking us away from property rights, if it is taking us away from individual rights, if it is really an attempt to control the behavior of our citizens, whether corporate or individuals, then they might be more concerned about it too.”

Harvey said his group is helping the county with both a target industry study and a work force analysis and that the grant’s timing will have benefits for the community.

“We are getting people focused on the types of businesses that best fit in this region and our workforce,” Harvey said. “Industries have different types of requirements, and when you talk about livability, that enters this discussion as well because we customize business development to what the community wants.”

Williams said he thinks the business community being involved is important.

“Our intent with this project is to give everybody an opportunity to come together in an environment of mutual respect to talk about where the Charlottesville-Albemarle area needs to be going in the future,” Williams said. “We’re really hoping that everybody will choose to participate in that conversation in a positive fashion.”

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