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Albemarle to pay community members on plan update group

Albemarle County will now pay about $15 an hour to community members who serve on a working group to help county staff work on the county’s Comprehensive Plan update.

The Board of Supervisors this week voted unanimously to pay about $1,000 per person for group members who will work on parts of the Comprehensive Plan public engagement process and plan content.

But board members questioned some of the questions on the application for the working group, how members will be caught up to date on planning concepts and how the at-large community will be involved in the process.

The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for long-term planning, including land use and resource protection. The overall plan includes master plans for designated development areas of the county as well as small area plans.

Michaela Accardi, a county senior planner, said compensating working group members is an approach that has been used to integrate equity and inclusion into planning processes.

“The primary goal for compensation is to remove barriers and encourage applicants from communities in Albemarle County that have been underrepresented in our planning processes,” she said.

Other agencies and governments in the state have compensated committee members for their service, such as the University of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Health District, Richmond and Arlington County.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she was supportive of paying community members and using this effort as a test of the process.

“I do think we keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” she said. “It’s kind of wackadoodle, so I’m ready to break out of that model we’ve been using and try something different.”

Some possible barriers staff cited were the additional cost of childcare, time away from work and transportation access.

The document helps guide future zoning changes and other policy priorities. The county is planning to update the document in four phases and estimate it will be completed in 2024.

The eight to 12 members of the group have yet to be selected. Officials hope to attract members of historically underrepresented groups in planning processes. That’s a large target and includes younger than 35; over 65; renters; those with less than a bachelor’s degree; multi-lingual; Black, Hispanic or Latino; foreign-born or non-U.S. citizens; work in Albemarle; or want to live in the county.

“Essentially, this group as a sounding board to ensure that our materials are accessible and understandable before we share out to the general public,” said Rachel Falkenstein, a county planning manager. “We will also look to the working group to provide input on plan recommendations that would be brought forward to the Planning Commission and board.”

Board Chair Donna Price said people between 30 and 50 years old might be the age group from which the county should seek the largest number of working group members.

“Those at the younger age scale may not have enough life experiences to be able to fully contribute and those of the upper age scale may be a little more narrowly focused as senior citizens,” she said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said all changes supported by the working group should be brought to the whole general public before they’re made in documents.

“I understand we’re trying very hard to reach new but we also have to figure out a way to keep all of the ongoing public discussion happening so those who are interested, no matter where they are, have a chance to learn what the current state of discussion is,” she said.

County staff said there will be a project website launched before the end of January with information on upcoming public engagement opportunities and the working group application.


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