Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan review underway

On Thursday morning, staff in Albemarle County’s Communications and Public Engagement office will hold the first in a series of pop-ups on the county’s review of the Comprehensive Plan. The county’s Planning Commission learned about how the update will be conducted, including details of a working group that will be appointed to work on the project. But what is a Comprehensive Plan? (pop-up info)

“It’s a guiding document for growth, development, and investment in the county, and its used to guide decisions on public infrastructure and funding, also policies and programs, and then review of some development applications that come through the county,” said Rachel Falkenstein, the county’s planning manager. 

Comprehensive Plans have a 20 year horizon and the last update in Albemarle County was approved in the summer of 2015. Since then, Falkenstein said there’s been a lot of change. 

“An example of that is that we’ve had 4,000 new dwelling units since that 2015 plan was completed and the community’s median household income and home values have continued to rise since that time,” Falkenstein said. 

Learn more in a fact sheet on the AC44 page

There’s also been adoption of a new housing plana new economic development plan, and a climate action plan.  The review of the Comprehensive Plan is known as AC44 and will be done in four phases with the first currently underway. (project website)

“Phase one is called ‘Planning for Growth’ and in this phase we will review, evaluate, and update the current growth management policy through the lenses of equity and climate action and identify options for updating the policy based on best practices and on capacity projections for residential and business growth in the county,” said senior planner Tori Kanellopoulos. 

Since 1980, the key feature of that growth management policy has been directing growth into approximately five percent of the county’s 726 square miles. 

To help inform all four phases, the county seeks applicants for a working group and will spend money to ensure participants come from different backgrounds. 

“We want to conduct outreach and collaborate with community members whose perspectives haven’t historically been represented in our processes,” Falkenstein said. “We want to think about that equity profile and members of our community who have different lived experiences and maybe the quality of life outcomes have not been as well as others in the community so we want to think about different demographics.” 

Falkenstein said the expected time commitment is about ten hours a month. People who want to apply have until February 28 to do so. (apply)

“Working group members will be compensated for their time and expertise at a rate equivalent to the county’s minimum wage which is approximately $15 an hour,” Falkenstein said. 

Virginia code assigns each locality’s Planning Commission the responsibility of preparing and recommending the Comprehensive Plan. Commission Chair Karen Firehock said the roles and responsibilities of the working group need to be clear to avoid disappointment in the future. 

“I think it will be really important to make sure the working group understands their role because I know sometimes in the county there’s been various committees where there has been some confusion on who is making what recommendations, who is in charge,” Firehock said. “We’ve established quite a few committees and we don’t always do a perfect job of having people understand. This is a brand new group and there’s no precedent so I think just being really clear with them what their role is.”

Planning Commissioner Luis Carrazana suggested the Commission be as involved as possible. 

“If we can be involved earlier and having some dialogue either with staff or perhaps with the working group at key moments, I think that would be much more productive,” Carrazana said. 

Falkenstein said each phase of the review would include two work sessions with the Planning Commission. 

“One towards the beginning and one towards the end,” Falkenstein said. “Hopefully that would solve for that dynamic where the Planning Commission is not saying yes or no to something that the committee or the public had spent a long time wrestling with.”

One of the first deliverables will be an analysis of the county’s capacity to absorb residential and commercial growth with the existing boundaries. Stay tuned in the weeks and months ahead, and do consider that pop-up this Thursday if you’re really keen to learn more about the county’s vision for the future. 

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 February 7, 2022 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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