The Jefferson Area Tea Party plans to ask city officials to end their involvement with a federal grant that is being used to coordinate a joint review of Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s separate comprehensive plans.
“Any statement that we’re making in terms of [ the sustainability communities grant ] … we’re certainly making it also [for] Charlottesville and the University of Virginia as well,” said Carole Thorpe, the group’s chairwoman.
Local tea party members object to a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was awarded to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission .
The funding will allow the organization to coordinate the reviews of the city and county’s comprehensive plans at the same time the TJPDC updates its long-range transportation plan. For instance, the city and county planning commissions will hold several joint public hearings to collect input from citizens of both jurisdictions.
“The sustainable communities grant has the potential to improve collaboration between the city, county and UVa on regional planning for land use, transportation, housing, economic development and protection of natural resources,” Mayor Dave Norris wrote in an email.
Norris said that while he has questions about the specifics of how the money will be used, he does not see a downside to the project.
“We should redouble our commitment to the ideals of smart growth, sustainable living and regional collaboration and use this grant to move us in the right direction,” Norris said.
However, members of the Tea Party are concerned that the grant will be used to encourage principles that have been promoted by the United Nations.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd has called for the county to end its membership in a group called ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability , claiming that group has “infiltrated” county staff.
Because of that concern, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors has postponed signing an agreement to move forward with the grant until after a work session on June 8.
The TJPDC’s application was based on an effort to implement the Sustainability Accords , which were signed by city and county officials in June 1998.
The accords are 15 vision statements that, among other things, encourage land use policies to ensure water quality, protection of wildlife habitats, and the development of transportation alternatives to reduce the number of people who drive alone to work.
Thorpe said her group is not opposed to regional cooperation but is opposed to federal and international involvement with local affairs. She said the accords have no authority because they were not signed by any sitting members of either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.
Last week, city, county and UVa officials stressed at a meeting of the Planning and Coordination Council that the final products of the grant will only be advisory in nature.
The grant will produce several products. A performance measurement system will be created that will benchmark the area’s impacts on the environment. A single map will be developed to depict land uses in both jurisdictions. Recommendations will be made for ways city and county ordinances could be changed to encourage or implement “livability” policies.
On a practical level, the grant has allowed the TJPDC to hire additional staff to assist city and county planners. For instance, Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services will have extra help as it conducts a survey this summer to assess how every single parcel of land in Charlottesville is being used.
“City staff needs and wants to use this information in their Comprehensive Plan update,” said Steve Williams , executive director of the TJPDC.
City Planning Commission Chairman Jason Pearson said he welcomed the concerns of citizens who are concerned that the project is being coordinated by international forces.
However, Pearson said he sees no evidence that local officials are giving up control.
“The language of sustainability helps us to ask good questions about how we want to engage with the world — locally, regionally, nationally and globally,” Pearson said. “To my mind, that’s a good framework for community conversation.”
Thorpe said Tea Party representatives will soon appear before councilors to ask them to revoke their membership in ICLEI and to reject involvement with the HUD grant.
“We’re certainly for having a clean environment and we all want to have clean air and clean water … but it’s the method by which we achieve that that has caused us to have a question in this matter,” Thorpe said.