A canceled committee meeting in April and disagreements with Albemarle County officials proved the breaking point for members of the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee.
Last month, all seven members of the committee resigned, citing frustration with the county’s “takeover of our agenda” after the group began reviewing the county’s master plan for the village, which is situated along U.S. 250 and includes the Glenmore subdivision.
Conflicts between the county’s comprehensive plan and the Village of Rivanna Master Plan, plus problems within the village plan itself, first came up during review of a housing development called Breezy Hill. The project was approved by the Board of Supervisors in October after several years in the process.
After that approval, the committee began reviewing the village master plan during its meetings. That review, former committee members argue, created a problem with the county, which then attempted to structure committee meetings, leading to the resignations.
Former committee chairman Dennis Odinov said he thinks the county saw the committee review as a threat.
“It was not any attempt to have a massive change that we were going to shepherd through the county. It wasn’t that at all. And if the county had only talked to us about it, we could have explained that,” he said.
“They saw us as usurping them and that’s why they put us in a position where we’d be basically powerless. We wouldn’t have anything really to do because there are no new projects coming up right now. There’d be no meetings, except ones that they call,” Odinov said. “Why even have a committee?”
The Board of Supervisors has decided to not appoint people to fill the committee vacancies at and the committee will be disbanded for the time being.
County Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said staff couldn’t comment on the issue because the board had only discussed the committee and appointments in closed session.
“Staff won’t really be able to make any further comments at this point because it’s sort of subject to the exemption and our tradition of not sharing anything about closed session items,” she said.
Community Advisory Committees are groups appointed by the Board of Supervisors to “provide assistance, feedback and input” on adopted master plans for development areas.
The Village of Rivanna committee is one of seven community advisory committees, known as CACs, in the county.
A new focus for staffAlbemarle is divided into two general land classes. Rural Areas make up about 95% of the county and development areas cover about 5%. The county’s comprehensive plan directs development into those specific, identified growth areas while conserving the remainder of the county for rural uses.
Each development area has a master plan “intended to encourage the best use of space to create attractive, livable urban communities.”
According to the comprehensive plan, area master plans should be updated every five years, but that timeline has not been met in practice. With five development area master plans, staff would need to update one each year.
When updates are done, the process is led by county staff and residents of the area are invited to work sessions and meetings.
The Village of Rivanna’s master plan was last fully updated in 2010. It received minor updates during the 2015 comprehensive plan update.
Albemarle County is starting to update its countywide comprehensive plan this year, a two-year process that will be the main focus for the long-range planning staff that run CAC meetings.
Because of that update, Charles Rapp, a deputy director in the county’s Community Development Department, proposed in March to help manage staff workload by implementing a structured schedule for the CACs for the remainder of the year.
CACs would meet to review special use permits and rezoning requests in one meeting. Another meeting could see discussions on transportation, the county budget and capital improvement plan, climate actions and parks.
If there are no development applications in the month designated for development review, staff would recommend canceling the meeting, Rapp said.
Rapp said in an email that “staff will evaluate this approach at the end of 2022 and solicit feedback to determine whether this is an effective way to manage
During multiple committee meetings over the winter, the Village of Rivanna CAC began reviewing the area’s master plan sentence by sentence. At one point, during its February meeting, committee member Neil Means said he thought county staff wouldn’t agree with removing a clause about accommodating non-automobile modes of transportation.
“I don’t care what the county thinks at this point,” Odinov said. “We’re doing what we want to do.”
At the meeting, Odinov said the committee could devise its own version of the plan so that, when the county was reading to revise it, they could present theirs.
Means said the committee needed to remember that one of its primary functions is to act “as a liaison between the community and the county.”
“What we really need is to get community input,” he said. “So this is very provisional. This is a tentative document. It’s just something we’re starting with which will be discussed with the community at large.”
“Our task will be, after we do all of this, to get the community involved, to present to the community what the master plan was and what we intend it to be,” Odinov said.
The committee’s review did not go unnoticed. Ahead of the committee’s April meeting, Supervisor Donna Price emailed Odinov that there would be no meeting in April because no development application was up for review.
Price, who is the Board of Supervisor’s liaison to the CAC because the area is within her Scottsville magisterial district, also told Odinov in the email that the committee’s review was “out of sequence with how that should proceed.” She said the master plan review should come after the county comprehensive plan is revised and after county staff initiates the process.
Unlike other county plans, Rivanna’s states that “future residential development should only be approved if and when transportation improvements to U.S. 250 have been made.”
Attorneys for the county have previously said local governments cannot have an “outright moratorium” on zoning changes until highway improvements are made. Current and projected traffic may be considered in individual applications, however.
Price said she assumed that since county staff was in attendance at the CAC meetings, if the review was an issue, it would’ve been addressed. But she became concerned when the committee discussed keeping the U.S. 250 moratorium verbiage.
Price, who is chair of the Board of Supervisors, said supervisors have begun broader conversations about boards and commissions.
“We need to establish a better process for ensuring that the county’s expectations are adequately communicated to the members of our committees,” so committee members’ expectations “are reasonable in light of what they are volunteering and being asked to do.”
“If the county staff is busy working on the comprehensive plan, staff can’t be involved in working with the CAC on the master plan,” Price said. “It’s not appropriate for either the county or the CAC to do the master plan in isolation without working in collaboration.”
Odinov said the committee thought it would be a good exercise to use its meetings to talk about the master plan and “review it and strengthen it and get it out to the community and have them become acquainted” with the plan.
“When I led the fight against Breezy Hill, I found that most people didn’t even know what the master plan was, where you can find it or anything about it, so it was part of an educational experience for us and for that,” he said.
In a committee-generated newsletter, CAC member emails with their resignations were made public along with Price’s email to Odinov.
Committee members expressed concern with the county setting a schedule for their meetings, and were upset with Price’s email.
“The takeover of our agenda, the re-defining of our purpose by staff, and your recent out-of-character communication are the reason[s] for the collapse of the [committee],” former committee member Paula Pagonakis said in her resignation email to Price.
Pagonakis said they will continue as a group “outside of government power struggles to do what we do.”
“We thought it was the [committee] where we could best serve our community,” she said. “I guess we were wrong.”