In one of its last actions of 2014, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors temporarily halted the work of a volunteer group that advises the board on development and infrastructure projects in the county’s northern urban area. 
 
“The Places29 Citizen Advisory Council seems to struggle quite a bit and I have waited and waited to see that council get their feet grounded and moving and I’m just not seeing that happen,” Supervisor Brad Sheffield said at a December meeting. 
 
Sheffield called for the group to be restructured and asked for staff to come up back with a recommendation on how to make the panel more productive. 
 
However, some members of the group were shocked at the news. 
 
“This came as a complete surprise to those I have spoken with on the Places29 council,” Heather Stokes, chairwoman of the group, said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow
 
Each of Albemarle’s master planning areas has an advisory council that is intended to shape development and infrastructure projects. The first such group created by the board was the Crozet Community Advisory Council
 
“I feel the role of the advisory council is to help with issues of growth and development, including thoughtful work on the master plan,” Meg Holden, chairwoman of the Crozet panel, said in an email. 
 
“Currently, we are working with a developer and the county to try and craft a vibrant downtown in the center of Crozet,” Holden said. “We are truly advisory in nature, but the good news is, when we show up, the county listens.”
 
The Places29 council was created shortly after supervisors adopted the master plan in February 2011. However, it did not begin to meet regularly until December 2012. 
 
Sheffield said the Places29 group has been too divided to accomplish its charge. 
 
“I don’t like sitting in those meetings and it’s just talking, talking and talking,” Sheffield said. “I have a low tolerance for unproductivity.”
 
Supervisor Diantha McKeel agreed with Sheffield.
 
“We might be better off … to take that group and break it into at least two groups,” McKeel said. “My suggestion would be to step back, take some time off, take a deep breath and reconfigure to make the committee more efficient.”
 
However, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said the group should be given more time to settle in. He said the Pantops
Community Advisory Council
has gone through similar growing pains. 
 
“It’s not unusual what’s happening with Places29,” Boyd said. “We had almost a complete turnover on the Pantops Advisory Council before it really got moving along.”
 
However, Sheffield said the Places29 group should be focused on how to maximize economic development on U.S. 29 at a time when the Virginia Department of Transportation is investing more than $200 million in roadwork in the area. 
 
“If we can’t get our citizen advisory councils to help us prepare for that, then we’re just spinning our wheels,” Sheffield said. 
 
Stokes has been a member of the group since December 2012, when it was restarted after a period of dormancy. She said 2014 was a year of change triggered by four new supervisors and the shelving of the Western Bypass. 
 
“I think the group has evolved and continued to positively change and interact,” Stokes said. 
 
In the past year, Stokes said the Places29 council addressed a zoning change request by the Colonial Automotive Group; reviewed updates to the development chapter of the Comprehensive Plan; and weighed in on the Route 29 Solutions package of roadwork that replaced the bypass. She said the group was just about to begin work on updating the master plan. 
 
“In my opinion, these actions do not reflect a dysfunctional council,” Stokes said. “It is vital that we have open and honest discussions about what changes are needed in the current plan.”
 
Stokes said if supervisors want to change the way advisory councils work, all of them should have been suspended. 
 
Charles Lebo, whose company manages hundreds of thousands square feet of commercial property along U.S. 29, shared Stokes’ surprise.
 
“The fact that our organization has been asked to suspend our meetings until further notice is disappointing, especially since we had not been given any notice that a potential problem exists,” Lebo said. 
 
Lebo said the suspension sets a bad precedent. 
 
“Why would anyone want to volunteer their time to serve on a county board if they are subjected to a suspension, again, without any prior notice?” Lebo asked. 
 
County staffers are expected to study the issue and make a recommendation in February on how to proceed. 
 
Planning Commissioner Tom Loach, who is the liaison to the Crozet Community Advisory Council, said that group has been successful because it was formed before the master plan was adopted. 
 
“At that time, the community had always responded in a fragmented way,” Loach said. “Master planning allowed Crozet to take a community view of development and respond as a proactive community.”
 
Loach said he wonders if the Places29 plan covers too large of an area. 
 
“One of the things that makes the CCAC a viable organization is we cover a small, well-defined area, which is manageable by the committee,” Loach said. “Perhaps if [Places29] was divided by already defined neighborhoods it would be easier to manage.”
 
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