At the start of their meeting on October 3, 2007,

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller)

encouraged her colleagues to give some thought as to how the public input process could be improved for matters before the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors


Thomas said that, in response to recent public hearings, she thought it was unfortunate that changes in state law that had taken effect July 1st have created obstacles for the board to respond to public comment and to making adjustments to developer proffers after a public hearing had been opened.  If material changes are made, the law requires a new public hearing to be scheduled.  Thomas later specified to Charlottesville Tomorrow that she was thinking of the recent public hearings for both

Biscuit Run


Wendell Wood’s NGIC expansion project


Thomas suggested that the Board consider taking public comment during work sessions so as to provide an earlier opportunity to receive feedback.

This has been a practice adopted by the Albemarle County Planning Commission in recent years.  Thomas said such participation would be one approach to allow for meaningful public input at the point in time when the Supervisors could still respond and make changes to a proposal before the Board.  “I have some fond memories of times when we were very responsive to the public, on sometimes small things,” said Thomas.

Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna)

agreed.  “I think that’s an excellent idea.”  He asked the County Attorney for more detailed information on the legal restrictions placed on the Board with respect to what constitutes a material change to a proffer.

“I think that the legislation that has passed has actually backfired,” said

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett)

. “We ought to talk to our legislators about amending that legislation because no matter how many work sessions you have…the most people are going to show up at the public hearing when you are supposed to make your decision.”  Rooker said it was “ridiculous” that the Board was now put in a position of being unable to act on public comment without starting the review process over by advertising another public hearing. “The idea of the legislation was to protect the public, but in effect what it is doing is hurting the public,” said Rooker.

Albemarle County’s existing proffer policy

was also intended to protect the public and set clear expectations for the developers.  The policy states:

“It is the Board’s preference that a public hearing should not be advertised until all of the final materials for a zoning application have been received by the County and are available for public review….Final signed proffers shall be submitted to the County no later than nine days prior to the date of the advertised public hearing.”

Ideally, the County envisions a process that allows the staff and the public adequate time to review a developer’s complete proposal.  The new state law now puts a premium on everyone doing their homework and surfacing the big questions in advance of a public hearing.

In Albemarle County, this law change has lead to last minute proffer changes unseen by the public before public hearings.  Ensuring timely submission of complete developer applications, as well as the addition of more time for public input at a work session, could ensure major proffer questions are resolved by the applicant, staff, and public before a public hearing.

For example, the final proffers for the 3,100 home Biscuit Run development were prepared just two days before the rezoning was approved.  The final NGIC proffers were prepared in the hour before the Board’s vote.  In neither case were the final proffers available to the public in advance of the public hearing.  The challenge for the Board is to provide enough information to the public to allow for informed feedback at a hearing (and perhaps in the future at work sessions), but not make last minute material changes to the proffers that will delay a project’s review.

With this initiative by Supervisor Thomas, the Board seems interested in finding a new approach that accommodates the state law, allows for an improved public input process, and avoids last minute material changes to developer proffers.

Brian Wheeler

A "T" on a purple circle

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.