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Public involvement in Albemarle Comp Plan update to start soon

The public’s involvement in the process to update Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan will soon start.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved a resolution of intent for county staff to begin work on the plan update, and supported a community engagement plan for the first phase of work.

During the first phase of the plan update, which will be work on updating the county’s Growth Management Policy, the county will work with an internal staff team, a project working group, and hold community workshops and other outreach as part of the engagement plan, ahead of meetings with the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Those interested in serving on the working group can apply at a later date, and will be chosen by county staff.

The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for its long-term vision for land use and resource protection, and includes master plans for the designated development areas of the county as well as small area plans. It helps lead to zoning changes, which are law, as well as other policy priorities.

Albemarle’s current Comprehensive Plan was adopted in June 2015 and has to be reviewed at least once every five years per state law.

Earlier this year, board members had concerns about the length of time county staff had proposed for the update, and the board ultimately decided to work on concurrent zoning ordinance updates with the Comprehensive Plan.

This year’s budget has $665,000 from the board’s strategic priority reserve to fund work associated with the both updates of the Comprehensive Plan and the zoning ordinance, according to the staff report.

County staff have recommended moving through the update in four phases, which will last until mid-2024. Each phase will have its own community engagement plan.

The first phase, which is expected to last through June 2022, will work to update the county’s Growth Management Policy “through the lenses of equity, climate action and capacity projections,” according to documents.

The county’s current policy directs development into specific, identified areas, which the county calls development areas or growth areas, “while conserving the remainder of the county for rural uses, such as agriculture, forestry, resource protection, and others that rely on these uses.”

“Resource protection is one of the basic purposes behind the county’s Growth Management Policy; it is essential to preserve resources in order to pass on these Rural Area features to future generations,” the current Comprehensive Plan says.

The goals for engagement are to “conduct outreach and collaborate with community members whose perspectives have not historically been well-represented in county processes (ex. age, race, place, income and other demographic factors are considered); develop and implement a transparent community engagement and decision-making process; and provide consistent and varied opportunities for community input throughout the update process.”

County staff said the working group would be an eight to 12 member group selected through an application process. County staff will establish selection criteria and process using Albemarle demographic data and the county’s equity profile, which was completed earlier this year.

Board members had questions about the working group, such as when it would meet and who would decide who would be appointed.

Supervisor Liz Palmer said her “biggest concern” was the working group and the criteria for picking members, and whether the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission will hear about the criteria.

“I’m particularly concerned about the Board of Supervisors seeing that list of folks who have been chosen or who have volunteered prior to this [being] written in stone and going off with the process that you’ve laid out for us,” she said.

Michaela Accardi, a county senior planner, said it would be a “staff advised group” and not an adopted or appointed body by the board. She said county staff wanted to be mindful of the timeline, but could bring the criteria to the supervisors if they wanted.

“I think that would be a good idea for the board just to understand going forward what the criteria looks like and … I’d like to see the number of people on the working group, the criteria and just a little bit more about how that develops as you go through your process,” Palmer said.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the county needs a diverse group of people for the working group.

“Give me your thoughts about how you might accommodate their ability to meet,” she said. “Certainly, this working group can’t necessarily just meet in the daytime, or during the week, when people have jobs and other commitments.”

Accardi said the application for the working group will ask what applicants would need to support their participation in this type of group.

“It could be things like the time of the meeting, transportation, location, generally, child care,” she said. “We would like to be open and flexible to members that are willing to participate because we would like them to be engaged throughout this process and recognize that it’s a significant time commitment and their perspective is valued.”

County staff will be doing “case studies” and precedent research, which Accardi said would be looking at examples from other localities

“In that context, I was talking about growth management practices,” she said. “We often find that it’s helpful to look at work that other localities are doing and research what has worked and what hasn’t worked well so that we’re not starting from scratch, we are able to leverage the work of other localities recognizing that Albemarle County would need to design approaches that are context specific.”

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said county staff should “always keep in mind that it’s going to be different here, likely, because of the long history of people who have been involved in Comprehensive Planning here for a long, long time.”

Accardi said staff plan to integrate trainings into the working group meetings so that people have the content and the background that they need to participate.

Board Chair Ned Gallaway said he was supportive of putting out county news alerts, press releases and other forms of communication to keep people up to date and get more participation.

“If the information’s been put out and people don’t see it or don’t participate in it, l I hate to say it, but that’s on them,” Gallaway said. “They can’t just say ‘Well, I didn’t know anything about this,’ when we’ve done our effort to try to put it out.”

The Albemarle Planning Commission is scheduled to have a work session on the update on Nov.16, and an official public kickoff is scheduled for January.


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