By Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, December 2, 2011

Planners from Charlottesville , Albemarle County and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District welcomed comments from the public during a workshop Thursday on the city and county’s goals for housing and economic development.


The event, held at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library on Market Street, was the third in a series of six outreach forums as part of the TJPDC’s $1 million federal “livability” grant to help coordinate the city and county’s comprehensive plan reviews.

Attendees voiced appreciation at the chance to give input to the planners, but echoed a worry heard at previous workshops that the outreach effort might not be reaching a representative cross-section of the community. County resident and Rivanna Village advisory board member Paula Pagonakis said the crowd looked fairly homogenous and professional.

“Are we reaching multiple levels of citizens with these forums?” Pagonakis asked. “I certainly would like see opportunities for [different] people to participate.”

Susan Stimart , the county’s economic development facilitator, noted Albemarle’s focus on “career ladder jobs” which can offer opportunities for internal advancement and wage growth, citing technology jobs as one example. Both city and county governments prioritize attracting hi-tech and other highly educated jobs, hoping to capitalize on the University of Virginia’s presence in the community.

“Hi-tech in and of itself speaks to higher wages,” Stimart said. “That’s important because we want to raise the standard of living.”

However, the president of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population , Jack Marshall , said he feared that many of the county’s economic strategies, like industrial expansion, are products of “20th century” thinking and driven more by ideology than the public’s benefit.

“We know now — which we didn’t know 20 years ago — that growth doesn’t pay for itself,” Marshall said. “And yet, we’re forging ahead based on old assumptions.”

Others, like Charles Winkler of the Jefferson Area Tea Party , said he was concerned that over-regulation could come out of the planning process.

“I’m concerned about concepts like clustering [of development],” said Winkler. “I would like to make sure that individual rights, and particularly property rights, are preserved.”

City officials discussing housing trends cited multiple priorities for the city, including revitalizing its aging housing stock, over half of which predates 1960. They also stated that they hope to increase the affordable housing supply in Charlottesville 50 percent by 2025, but said they had limited means to mandate this.

“There’s one provision — rezoning [that requires] a special-use permit,” said Kathy McHugh, the city’s housing development specialist. “At that point we can require a 5 percent affordable component, but that’s the only muscle we have.”

The next event in the TJPDC’s community outreach series will take place on Jan. 26 at the Water Street Center and will focus on transportation.


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