Community members in Crozet are still perturbed with Albemarle County’s process to update the area’s planning document.
At a recent Crozet Community Advisory Committee meeting, committee members and other area residents expressed continuing frustration with the county while reflecting on a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month where said they felt their feedback wasn’t being presented.
Committee Chair Allie Pesch said she’s fielded a lot of concern about how things went at that meeting, and that she was frustrated.
“I feel disregarded, and I feel like I don’t know where to go from here,” she said
The community and county began updating the Crozet Master Plan, which helps to guide decisions about land use, transportation and parks in the area, in 2019. It ultimately will be part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides the county’s long-term vision for land use and resource protection. County staff and the Board of Supervisors look to the Comprehensive Plan as part of the rezoning process.
County Supervisor Ann H. Mallek told the committee that they were at a “crucial point in the update process.”
“We are now to the heart of the matter, and it is so important that community members constructively contribute,” she said. “Do not allow disagreements over process or wording of dress to separate you from the process.”
CAC member Tom Loach said the Planning Commission work session earlier this month was “a betrayal to the community and to this committee,” and that county staff didn’t make a “fair representation” about what happened at prior community meetings.
At the work session, county staff said the feedback from the community about the plan’s future land use designations had not yet been incorporated, but would be in the draft that went to the Board of Supervisors.
Rachel Falkenstein, a county planning manager, told the CAC that making revisions to the draft is a lot of work, that they received feedback that having multiple drafts out in the public was confusing and county staff just wanted to hear the Planning Commission’s feedback before they went in and made another round of revisions.
Committee member Kostas Alibertis said Falkenstein “struck a nerve” when she said it takes a lot of work to make the updates, as community members have volunteered their time to be part of this process.
“And to say that it took a lot of work to make changes, that just doesn’t sit well,” he said. “You’re paid with tax dollars, your role is to represent community input, that’s why you have all these public hearings, and that’s why you have all of these interactions with the community. Then to say that it takes too much work to reflect those in your work, I don’t know how you can say that with a [clear] conscience.”
Mallek said community members could send her suggestions of wording changes that would solve issues they may have.
In an interview Friday, county Director of Planning Charles Rapp said county staff intend to go back and address concerns.
“The idea isn’t to just ignore the CAC’s feedback, or the community’s feedback, [we] still have every intention of incorporating that and addressing it in the draft products as they come out,” he said.
County staff had created a proposed new land use category in the current draft plan — Middle Density Residential — that allows for the kind of housing units that residents want to see with the goal of permitting smaller units that could be more affordable. The designation recommends six to 24 units per acre.
“Our intention is to reduce that density even further down to something that’s more palatable for the community,” said Rapp.
At Wednesday’s committee meeting, the chat feature on Zoom was turned off. During the Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, more than 70 comments were made in the Zoom chat feature.
Loach, who previously served for two terms on the county’s planning commission, said at prior Crozet CAC meetings, committee members could look in the chat to see what kind of support there was for a position, and said there was overwhelming support from community members around votes taken on the draft land use map.
“I don’t know if the [Board of Supervisors] had anything to do with this chat room stuff, but if you want to make a decision at the board level, that’s fine, but for them to come in carte blanche say, ‘Well, … no more chat from those from those nasty residents,’ to me is pushing it a little too far,” Loach said.
In an interview Friday, county Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said the county changed its standard operating procedures after an April Board of Supervisors meeting, the first all-electronic meeting, where the chat was was trolled with racist and homophobic remarks until public access to the chat was ended.
“Unfortunately, that [policy] wasn’t enacted fully,” she said. “And so when it came to my attention that wasn’t happening in all of our meetings, it wasn’t a new policy that was put in place, it was a reminder of an existing policy that was in place. So they have implemented the SOPs that we’ve had in place.”
Pesch said on Wednesday that she was upset that the change to the chat feature was “sprung on” the committee.
“If we were in person, so many more of the committee members would have chimed in, people raise their hands, people clap, people have facial expressions, and to disable the chat unilaterally like that … it’s really taking away from a lot of input and contributions.”
Kilroy said there are a lot of other ways that people can share feedback with supervisors, commissioners and community members.
“It was not meant in any way to be directed at any particular committee,” she said. “It was just correcting an issue that we had internally, on sort of SOPs for meetings.”