Long-simmering frustrations with growth in Albemarle County were made clear in a biennial survey.
Many respondents who expect quality of life to get worse said they were concerned about growth in Albemarle and think it will outpace the capacity of its infrastructure, leading to overcrowding, increased traffic and lack of affordable housing.
Although approximately nine out of 10 respondents said overall quality of life in Albemarle County was either “excellent” or “good”, they were divided on how quality of life in the county would change over the next five years — approximately 46% of respondents expect it to get worse, 21% expect quality of life will improve, and 33% expect it will stay the same.
The results of the survey, conducted in February, were publicly released this week. The Board of Supervisors received results earlier this month.
“We have about two thirds of residents who are concerned at the pace of growth — they consider it either a little too fast or much too fast,” Kara Fitzgibbon, the director of the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month. “Meanwhile, we have about a quarter who think the growth rate is about right and 5% would like to see it growing even faster.”
A number of issues beyond growth were raised in the wide-ranging survey. Respondents want better roads, more capital projects, increased broadband access and improved parking. Some of the open-ended comments were racist and classist; others revealed a disdain for newcomers.
“Keep it a wonderful place,” said one respondent. “Don’t fall into modern political divides of class and equity. Use zoning to keep people out and things pretty. Make an area for density near [Charlottesville] and keep it there. Zoning laws are the best and easiest way to discriminate. Use your power. It’s what people want.”
Supervisors at a meeting either this month said they want to take time to digest the responses.
Earlier this year, the Center for Survey Research conducted the Albemarle Community Survey to learn opinions about quality of life in Albemarle. About 2,431 county residents participated in the survey, with 1,507 of the completions being probability-based and 924 were non-probability. Fitzgibbon said that because of the sampling methods used, the statistical basis is there to generalize these survey results to the entire Albemarle population.
A number of recent pending and approved residential projects — including Parkway Place, Breezy Hill and the redevelopment of Southwood Mobile Home Park — have received pushback from neighbors due to concerns about traffic and increased density.
In open-ended survey responses to why they think quality of life will change, many cited traffic and growth as why they think quality of life will get worse.
“The population is growing too rapidly leading to more traffic than can be handled by the current road system,” said one resident. “Real estate development is moving too quickly leading to less open space.”
Another respondent said they were optimistic about the future quality of life.
“I see investment and support of green spaces, bike infrastructure, alternative transportation and culture,” they said. “I hope!”
Some respondents want to see shopping centers like Albemarle Square and Fashion Square Mall redeveloped into housing before other areas, and many suggested incentivizing that redevelopment.
About 88% of survey respondents reported being “somewhat” to “very” concerned about traffic congestion, and residents who have lived in the county 11 years or longer were slightly more concerned overall than residents who have lived in the county 10 years or fewer.
Improvements to roads, bike/pedestrian paths and public transit was the most highly rated area for tax allocation, with nearly 80% of respondents citing it as “important” or “very important.”
Many respondents in open-ended responses said they wanted expanded public transportation or construction of new roads.
In terms of county services, fire, ambulance, police and county parks were the highest rated services, while code enforcement, leadership by the Board of Supervisors, recycling services and land use, planning and zoning were the lowest rated.
About 73% of survey respondents think it’s “important” or “very important” for affordable housing options to be in all parts of the county.
Some comments in the open-ended questions reflected issues with items outside of county control, such as the Downtown Mall and other places in Charlottesville