The chairman of Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to ask for a clarification of the group’s charge.
“We as a committee feel it is important that the board help identify the priorities that are most important to you,” said Lonnie Murray . “Certainly involve us and ask us questions so we can give [our] expertise.”
The NHC was created in 2005 following the work of a temporary committee that was charged with creating an inventory of the county’s natural assets.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in helping revalidate a lot of the great work done by the biodiversity work group in years past,” Murray said.
However, Murray said several members of the committee have resigned because of a perception the board considered the group’s work irrelevant.
“They [didn’t] feel like that they are being proactively engaged enough,” Murray said. “There are a lot of issues that relate directly to natural resources and biodiversity. In the past, it feels like we’re consulted after the fact.”
For instance, Murray said the NHC can provide guidance on a range of land-use decisions, such as critical slopes and stream buffers.
That prompted Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd to explain why he is concerned about the NHC experiencing “mission creep.”
“I voted against [the committee] for the very fear it was going to become another step in the whole development process,” Boyd said.
He added that he was not aware the NHC’s charge extended to anything beyond conducting the inventory.
Wayne Cilimberg , the county’s director of planning, said the committee is generally called upon to advise on larger policy matters rather than individual land-use applications.
“That was explicitly one thing [supervisors] did not include in the charge,” Cilimberg said.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he wants the committee’s input on rural policy to help inform his views.
“We adopted a strategic plan that emphasizes volunteerism,” Rooker said. “What we have is a committee that volunteers their time and they are chock-full of expertise … They are not making policy decisions.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she would support having the committee weigh in on site plans to identify which trees should be protected.
“I’m certainly not envisioning a whole separate process but I see no reason why other folks’ information couldn’t be invited in to be shared with decision makers,” Mallek said.
Murray also asked the board to dedicate eight hours of staff time per month to integrate the committee’s research into the county’s GIS database.
“One aspect is identifying the most important places to protect, and then [we] categorize that data in a way that staff can actually use it,” Murray said.
Some members of the board were supportive of granting that request.
“This is something that has been part of the Comprehensive Plan longer than 10 years and it’s something that keeps getting pushed farther and farther down the pole,” said Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler, who served on the committee before his election to the board last year.
However, during a discussion of the work plan for the community development department, director Mark Graham said the county’s GIS staff were fully committed for the foreseeable future.
Supervisors instead decided to ask the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission if they could devote time to the GIS project.