By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, June 24, 2011

Around 60 people attended an open house at the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration on Thursday to provide input on how the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission should track progress for the Livable Communities project.

“We want good data for good planning with a good knowledge of where we are so the public and elected officials can figure out where we need to be going,” said Stephen W. Williams , executive director of the TJPDC.

City resident Pat Napoleon inspects one of the displays

Last year, the TJPDC received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help Charlottesville and Albemarle County update their comprehensive plans .

As part of the grant, a committee consisting of city, county and UVa planners analyzed both jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans to identify common metrics that could be used to monitor progress.

Their work results in a “performance measure system” to track progress in various areas including “housing and the built environment”, “community and neighborhoods” and “natural resources and infrastructure.”

All of the data comes from third-party sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The TJPDC will not gather any of its own information during the project, according to Williams.

Sally Thomas , who served on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors for 16 years, said the creation of such a system was called for during work that created the writing of the Sustainability Accords in 1998.

“Most of those had a metric attached to them,” Thomas said. “It was lots of fun coming up with those things could be measured. The TJPDC has picked up some of those in this exercise, but by no means have they picked all of them.”

For instance, Thomas said she would like to track the number of birds in the community over time. The draft performance system only calls for tracking the number of endangered species sightings using data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Lonnie Murray inspects a display depicting measurements of the area’s natural resources

Lonnie Murray, chair of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee , made several suggestions by placing Post-it notes on charts displayed by the TJPDC. He said he felt the system as depicted did not do enough to explain its purpose.

“There needs to be a better narrative that ties together all the data,” Murray said. “There also seems to not be enough consideration of the connection of rural areas to the growth areas and how the rural economy plays an important part in the growth areas.”

Murray said he would like to see more data tracked about the use of natural resources, particularly as they relate to development.

“A metric I think that’s very important is how much redevelopment are we doing versus how much development of green space,” Murray said. “Are we taking places like Albemarle Square Shopping Center that have much way too much parking lot and redeveloping them to be more dense, or are we building more Hollymead Town Centers?”

Audrey Wellborn, a 41-year Albemarle County resident who has been critical of the TJPDC grant, said she attended the open house to find out what the group wants to monitor.

“The charts are very interesting to look at,” Wellborn said. “When you look at the ‘community and neighborhood’ systems, [one metric is] is the percentage of people who have lived in Albemarle County [for certain periods of time].”

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that over 60 percent of Albemarle and Charlottesville residents have only lived here since 2000, and around 20 percent have lived in their home for 20 years.

“That puts us in a very small category,” Wellborn said.

Participants were asked to mark up the displays to suggest other metrics and potential corrections

Clara Belle Wheeler, a county resident who is also opposed to the TJPDC grant, said this example points out how the data used by planners might be skewed.

“The other thing that’s not being considered is the separation of the student population versus the year-round full-time residents,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also objected to another metric captured in the survey. One chart under the “housing and built environment” system stated, “the number of occupants per room is an indicator of safe living conditions.”

“Some of the values that they’re making with the data I think are erroneous and are not germane to the question of livability or sustainability,” Wheeler said. “Many people have two children in the same room. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a good living condition. Lots of siblings grew up in the same room, but they’re portraying that as being detrimental.”

The TJPDC will continue to take feedback on the performance measurement system throughout the summer.


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