On Wednesday, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors members gave feedback on a draft of the scope of work document for the county’s upcoming Comprehensive Plan update. Board members had concerns about the length of time county staff had proposed for the update and the length of the plan. County staff envision a three-year process to update the plan.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan must be updated every five years. The last update was finished in 2015.
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.
“The current population is estimated just below 110,000 here in Albemarle County, which is bringing new challenges,” said Director of Planning Charles Rapp. “It’s been topics of recent discussions with the board, and some of our community groups and other boards and commissions, focused on transportation, infrastructure, affordable housing, development density and form, as our development areas take on more urban character, protection of natural resources, scenic viewsheds and the rural areas.”
Rapp said the proposed update process involves “deconstructing the existing plan and keeping those key elements that have helped to guide growth, while addressing the inconsistencies that we’ve seen between the Comp Plan, the Master Plans and the county zoning ordinance.”
“So really, the Comp Plan should really be this high-level document that sets the foundation and guides our more detailed master plans and our zoning ordinances,” he said.
The total update has a budget of about $470,550 and will be part of upcoming budget planning, staff said.
The county is currently in the “pre-planning” phase that will last until the third quarter of this year, in which county staff are compiling existing plans, recommendations and research, working to develop an “equity-driven engagement approach” and identifying funding sources and refining the project budget.
The second phase, which staff propose will start in the summer, would cover “big questions and community goals,” and focus on identifying community goals and visions and building consensus around them, and community engagement.
The county plans to set up a project advisory group to help provide feedback.
“We would anticipate that we would convene a group of community members to help with the work of the plan throughout this three-year process,” said Rachel Falkenstein, a county planning manager. “Our goal would be to strive to have a representative group that represents the demographics of the community to have a diversity of voices, representing criteria of race, place, age, gender and income, so that we really do hear from all different types of people as we do this process.”
Another engagement effort would be a call for local organizations or individuals to lead small sub-projects to support the overall plan update effort, which she said could be a research project, a demonstration or pilot project or physical artwork.
“This is something new that we haven’t tried before but we think it can be a great way to bring new voices and creativity to the process,” Falkenstein said.
Members of both project advisory groups and collaborator/artist-led projects would receive stipends.
The county also plans to work with a to-be-determined local organization to assist with the second phase to help facilitate an engagement process.
“We would look to this local partner to help outreach and engagement, especially with underrepresented groups — but outreach, really of all community members who want to participate — and help facilitate some dialogues and some engagement around the big questions and vision,” Falkenstein said.
The final three phases would include developing future land use framework, developing a comprehensive document and ultimately reviewing and adopting an updated plan.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she was concerned about the length of time proposed for the update, which would end in early 2024.
“I understand there’s a lot of work and we don’t want to rush it, [but] the three years seems to me like a long time,” she said.
She also questioned the length of the current Comprehensive Plan, and said the county needs a document that’s “user friendly.”
“I think there’s certainly some opportunities to figure out how can we really keep the things that we want and remove some of the stuff or consolidate it down to just some some policy statements or some items that could be addressed in more detail in those master plans, more detail in the zoning ordinance, where you really want that detail and keep it kind of as that guiding, larger document,” Rapp said.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said she had an issue with offering stipends to people.
“I’m also afraid that you may be getting people interested with a certain agenda getting into the advisory group, and we’re not hearing from a wide range of professionals to make sure that this does satisfy everybody in the community,” she said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said they might be opening “a difficult situation,” and Community Advisory Committee members could start asking to be paid.
“I don’t have any idea what hours are involved in this and I understand why you’re going the direction you’re going, but I would like to know more about how that would actually work, and maybe there’s just a lot more involvement in that,” she said.
County Executive Jeff Richardson said county staff will incorporate the board’s feedback check in again with the board about the scope of work.
Rio Road corridor study
The county is in the process of a corridor study of Rio Road from near the intersection with Old Brook Road to the intersection with John Warner Parkway.
Residents in the area have expressed concerns with traffic for years, and more recently a developer asked for a deferral on a request to rezone a property along Rio Road after Supervisors were positioned to have a tie vote on the project due to traffic concerns and the pending study.
The project will include an evaluation of the corridor, and a consultant will develop design alternatives to serve as a guide for future development and to provide recommended solutions to improve access for all users and address traffic safety, county staff said.
Line+Grade Civil Engineering, which completed a study of the Avon Street Extended corridor, is working with county Community Development Department staff on the study and a plan.
David Benish, a county development process manager, said the project is unique in that it marks the first time that the department has partnered with the county’s Office of Equity and Inclusion to utilize a new equity impact assessment process.
“OEI’s initial demographic analysis of this area reveals a corridor with a very diverse population regarding race, age, income, ownership status and transportation service needs,” he said. “We want to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that this plan considers the perspective and wellbeing of all residents and user groups, and that that will be reflected in the recommendations of the plan.”
They expect the plan development to take a year, and work began in November/December. Once completed, the parts of all of the plan would be adopted by the Board of Supervisors as an amendment into the Places 29 Master Plan.
Board Chair Ned Gallaway, who represents the Rio District, worried that the study area didn’t go all the way down Rio Road toward the city, and encouraged staff to be ready for feedback from those residents.
“We can always check with the consultant to see if there’s any other possibilities for them to provide a look in those areas, but the project, as negotiated, really has them focused on that corridor from the John Warner Parkway north and west,” Benish said.
The county is sending out information in its email newsletter, will post flyers and will be holding virtual meetings, workshops and events.
“I’m also excited that this project will be the debut of our new community engagement field office, we will soon have a van that has been up-fitted to go out on location, so we’ll have a pop-up location along the corridor,” said Serena Gruia, the county’s public engagement specialist.
The county is starting to collect feedback at publicinput.com/riocorridor, and will hold a virtual kickoff meeting for the public in early March.