Albemarle planning staff adjust strategy for Comprehensive Plan update

Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan was last updated in the summer of 2015, and Virginia’s state code states that Planning Commissions are to “prepare and recommend” a document to guide development

So far this year, Albemarle planning staff have taken a scope of work for a revision to the Board of Supervisors twice. When they presented a plan for a three-year process, Supervisors urged staff to speed up the process and to also work on the county’s zoning code. Until now, the Albemarle Planning Commission had not been presented with the plan but that changed on April 13, 2021. (watch the Planning Commission meeting)

Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein explained Albemarle has made several changes in policy direction since 2015. These include the adoption of the first phase of a Climate Action Plan and adoption of the economic development policy known as Project Enable. 

“We’ve also developed a new office of the Office of Equity and Inclusion and a new community core value that focuses on the topics of equity, inclusion and diversity,” Falkenstein said. 

Falkenstein said there has been a lot of growth and demand for urban services.

“There are portions of our urban ring that are getting more urban and our service needs are changing because of that,” Falkenstein said. 

However, Falkenstein said any work on the plan would need to be prioritized due to limited resources. A major goal would be to update the zoning ordinance, which has not gone through a major review since 1980. 

“Ideally our zoning ordinance would match the Comprehensive Plan and we think this update could give us an opportunity to realign the zoning ordinance with our Comprehensive Plan,” Falkensein said. 

Staff had initially planned for a three-year and five-phase process to go through the Plan, particularly with an equity lens. The Board asked for the process to be sped up. 

“They kind of expressed some urgency with doing the zoning ordinance update work and didn’t want to see that work wait until we completed a three-year Comprehensive Plan update process,” Falkenstein said.

Staff went back to the drawing board. Under the new process, the plan would be updated gradually, piece by piece, in four phases organized by topic. 

“The comp plan phases would be sequenced so that related zoning work could happen parallel to the comp plan update,” Falkenstein said.

The first phase would have the title “capacity and growth.”

“So in the first one we would look at our introduction chapter, our vision chapter, and our growth management plan,” Falkenstein said. “We would do our capacity analysis. Our current comp plan tells us we should look at our capacity for growth for a 20 year horizon to make sure our development areas as they are now can accommodate the projected growth.” 

The Board of Supervisors will get the chance to respond again at their meeting on May 5. Commissioners had the chance to make comments. Karen Firehock said the county has to be prepared for continued growth. 

“We’re building a city around a city in the urban ring and we lack a lot of the traditional city planning tools that we need,” Firehock said. 

Commission Chair Julian Bivins said the update gives the county a chance to build off of the Project Enable plan to make Albemarle a place where businesses want to locate, especially businesses that might spin off from the University of Virginia.

“How do we look at big ways to be able to accommodate that and still stay true to who we are as both a rural and intellectually and economically evolving community?” Bivins asked. 

Several commissioners expressed the need for resources to cover the cost of additional staff to conduct the work. 

Jodie Filardo, Albemarle’s Director of Community Development, had good news on that score.

“In the budget that is going to the Board for approval on May 5, there is a set-aside of funding to support resourcing for the Comprehensive Plan work and the zoning re-do,” Filardo said. “So you are all on to something and fortunately the budget is prepped up ready go ready to support that, too.”    

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the April 14, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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