By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

After an investment of four years and $1.6 million, the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

voted 4-2 on Tuesday to endorse

Places29

, a master plan for future development and transportation projects along the U.S. 29 corridor north of Charlottesville.

The decision came after a public hearing dominated by local business leaders who oppose many of the plan’s key transportation recommendations.  Twelve of the 14 speakers addressing the commission represented businesses and business organizations.  They spoke in opposition primarily to transportation elements of the plan, specifically grade separation on U.S. 29 at six key interchanges.


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Neil Williamson, Free Enterprise Forum

Neil Williamson, executive director of the business advocacy group the Free Enterprise Forum, told the commission his group could not support the current plan.

“The plan is over budget, it over promises, and ignores the time frame stipulated by the planning process,”  said Williamson in an interview.  “By ignoring the [20 year time frame], the planners have relieved themselves from the restrictors of time and money.”

Commissioners

Marcia Joseph

(At-Large),

William Edgerton

(Jack Jouett),

Cal Morris

(Rivanna), and

Tom Loach

(White Hall) all voted to endorse the plan which now goes to the Board of Supervisors.  Commissioners

Don Franco

(Rio) and

Linda Porterfield

(Scottsville) said the concerns of the business community about the impact of transportation proposals and potential fiscal impacts both needed further review.  Chairman

Eric Strucko

(Samuel Miller) was not present at the meeting and was unavailable for comment today.

Chris Tyler is the owner of the Red Carpet Inn on U.S. 29. Tyler shared a view that resonated strongly with several members of the commission.

“The first thing I’d like to say is kind of like what the doctors are told, ‘First, do no harm,’ said Tyler. “This plan will directly affect the businesses on the 29 corridor, and it will affect them adversely.  It will lower the revenues produced and therefore it will lower the tax base that the County has to work with.”





Morgan Butler, Southern Environmental Law Center

Morgan Butler is an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  He was one of two speakers who encouraged the commission to endorse the master plan.

“Transforming this part of the County into a more appealing and functional growth area that can also generate sustainable economic growth is a big challenge, but it is also a critical one for the county to undertake,” said Butler. “The first step is getting a plan in place, that sets forth that vision and then charts the course for getting there.”

Williamson said in an interview that his organization had reached the conclusion that the County shouldn’t even attempt to do land use and transportation planning together and that attempts to do so were “perpetuating the island mentality of the Albemarle-Charlottesville community.”

“I believe Places29 would be better served if it was simply a land use plan,” said Williamson. “Land use should inform transportation decisions, but the transportation decisions should be made in a larger regional context.”

Judy Wiegand, the Albemarle planner heading the project, said the staff had been directed from the beginning to take that approach and that it was “essential that they be done at the same time.”

“There is no place in the County where that can be shown more clearly than in the 29 North corridor,” said Wiegand.

Wiegand also pointed out that when future development projects are reviewed, the Places29 master Plan will help establish expectations about private sector contributions to accommodate a backlog of existing transportation needs.





Local developer Wendell Wood

Wiegand said she believed the extension of parallel roads like Berkmar Drive and Hillsdale Drive, combined with six grade-separated interchanges on U.S. 29, would lead to greater economic vitality in the business sector.

“Businesses have been in our minds since the beginning,” said Wiegand. “Once we get more of the road improvements in place and the mixed use centers start to develop, there will be more economic vitality in the business community.  We are trying to make it easier for people to get to these businesses.”

Commissioner Linda Porterfield was most concerned that the plan did not do more to encourage developer Wendell Wood to make a proffer to contribute financially to the plan’s road improvements.  She said expanding the County’s growth area to include land he owns in the path of the proposed Berkmar Drive extension was important.

Wood told the commission that he paid for the improvements and widening of U.S. 29 in front of Hollymead Town Center.  He encouraged the commission to expand the growth area to include his properties near the South Fork Rivanna River and the National Ground Intelligence Center, but those adjustments were not part of the final plan endorsed by the commission.

The Board of Supervisors is not expected to review the Places29 master plan until January 2010 at the earliest.  More information about the plan can be found on the County’s website at

http://www.albemarle.org/places29


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