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August 18, 2011

City and county planning commissions briefed on livability grant

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Albemarle and Charlottesville planning commissions were briefed Tuesday night on a regional effort to update each jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan.

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for an initiative called “Many Plans, One Community.”

“While the localities have issues, policies and approaches that are specific to each, there are a wide range of issues and topics that are similar,” said Summer Frederick, project manager for the TJPDC.

The organization is a regional entity focusing on issues confronting local governments. The TJPDC territory includes Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Louisa, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson.

20110816-map
A draft natural resources map developed by the TJPDC was presented to the two planning commissions (Click to enlarge)

City planning manager Missy Creasy said the creation of one map that depicts designated land uses in both the city and the county will identify areas of shared interest, such as along the Rivanna River.

“[We can] look at the land uses on both sides of the river and see how things link up,” Creasy said. “We have this resource that we’re developing to analyze that situation.”

Another project aims to compare comprehensive goals in both communities to see if they match or if they are in conflict.

“There may be cases where things don’t match up, and it will be an opportunity to talk about an issue that maybe one or the other needs to consider,” Creasy said.

However, Albemarle planning commissioner Don Franco said the two commissions should have played a role in deciding what should have been measured.

“What I see happening is that we’re creating this performance measurement system and I’m not sure what we know what we’re measuring yet until we know what our goals and objectives are as a community,” Franco said.

Frederick said that work would be refined by a series of community workshops that will be held in the fall and winter.

“The overarching questions we’ll be asking at these meetings is whether the goals and objectives are still relevant,” Frederick said.

On Tuesday, commissioners were shown one of the initial products of the grant. For the first time, a map has been created that depicts trail locations in both Albemarle and Charlottesville.

“We can see what the relationships are, where we have holes, where trails join up, and places where we can do additional planning,” said Elaine Echols, a senior planner with Albemarle County.

Echols pointed out that the city has a comprehensive plan goal to connect its public parks with trails, but the county does not have a similar goal because most of its parks are in the rural area.

“That might be something that as we look at these and then work with them, that we see whether the county would want to pursue that as a goal or not,” Echols said.

The two commissions will meet again on Sept. 20 to discuss the comprehensive plan updates. A week later, the TJPDC will begin conducting monthly workshops to get feedback from citizens.

“We’re trying to create as many different avenues as possible for citizens to feel they can be a part of this process,” Creasy said.

August 10, 2011

Green builders encourage local action on major environmental challenges

DailyProgress

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

00:06:31 -- Amanda Burbage,  Staff Planner, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission
Download Presentation

00:22:31 -- Andy Lowe, Albemarle County’s Environmental Compliance Manager

00:45:00 -- Cynthia Adams, Director of the Local Energy Alliance Program
DownloadPresentation

01:02:15 -- Ann Jurczyk, Virginia Outreach and Advocacy Manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
DownloadPresentation

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The James River Green Building Council is thinking globally and acting locally. It held its first annual “state of the world” luncheon Tuesday with a focus on environmental initiatives in the Charlottesville-Albemarle County area. 

Four speakers made presentations about local planning, energy conservation and the health of the Chesapeake Bay. These experts said a variety of local initiatives were aimed at addressing major environmental challenges facing the community, the region, and the planet.

“It’s important to know where we are, in order to plan for where we are going,” said Ben Hicks, co-chair of JRGBC’s program committee. “Part of the mission of the JRGBC is to promote and inspire the transformation to a sustainable built environment.”


Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110809-JRGBC-luncheon

The council’s monthly luncheons attract building owners, building professionals and product manufacturers representing a variety of specialties.

“It’s important for these folks to get a big picture every once in a while,” Hicks added. “A lot of these folks in their offices are working on one particular thing, and to see everything come together and understand where the community is now, we can know how to improve it.”

Amanda Burbage, a staff planner at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, shared an overview of the Livable Communities Project. Last year, the TJPDC received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help Charlottesville and Albemarle County update their comprehensive plans.


Burbage said one of the key grant products, a performance measurement system, was under development and still receiving public feedback. She said it will allow the community to benchmark its performance on 67 different indicators.

“This system was actually developed by a group of graduate students from the University of Virginia in the Urban and Environmental Planning Program,” Burbage said. “They did research on other communities that are tracking sustainability and looked at the things communities evaluate.”

Burbage said six system areas were identified: natural resources; housing; transportation; neighborhoods; economy; and infrastructure. Indicators and metrics were identified within each area.

“Every single indicator is linked to goals that are in both the city and county comprehensive plans,” Burbage added.

Andy Lowe, Albemarle’s environmental compliance manager, described efforts by local government to manage energy usage.  He said the short-term goal was to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent from a 2005 baseline by next year.

“To date, with our July [2011] bills, our overall reduction is 23.5 percent,” Lowe said. “The combined electrical usage for our three main facilities…[saw] about a 1 million kilowatt reduction, thus avoiding costs of about $75,000, so the results are definitely coming.”

Lowe acknowledged that the city and county government operations produced a mere 4 percent of local greenhouse gas emissions.  Overall community emissions have been targeted by both the Albemarle Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council to be reduced by 80% by the year 2050 to mitigate human impacts on global warming.

The Local Energy Alliance Program is a nonprofit organization working to retrofit residential and commercial buildings with energy efficient technologies.

“Buildings account for 54 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from our local community,” said LEAP director Cynthia Adams.  “If you are looking at this from a climate lens, that’s the important take away with respect to energy efficiency.”

“Thus far we have over 300 homeowners that have signed up to participate in our program, 255 of which have either completed their retrofit or are in process,” Adams said.

Ann Jurczyk, an advocacy manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told the audience that the Chesapeake Bay’s health was improving slightly, but that it still didn’t have a passing grade.

“Agriculture has done a pretty good job of reducing nitrogen and phosphorous,” said Jurczyk. “Where we’ve got a serious problem still is in storm water. …With a low impact design, everything that you do on the land ultimately can have a positive impact on the bay.”

August 08, 2011

Supervisors briefed on county participation in livability initiative

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, August 8, 2011

Albemarle planning staff have told the Board of Supervisors they will focus on county priorities while updating the Comprehensive Plan, alleviating concerns by some board members that staff would be consumed by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s livability initiative.

“We clearly understood that we’re not to be spending time on trying to develop a lot of new and different things that no one really has had a chance to think about,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning.

In early June, supervisors voted 4-2 to withdraw membership from a group called ICLEI — Local Governments for Local Sustainability. The group provides technical advice to communities that seek to increase energy efficiency.

Some residents argued at a lengthy public hearing that ICLEI is a United Nations organization that seeks to control behavior of American citizens by limiting their choices for housing and transportation.

However, supervisors did not withdraw the county’s participation in the $1 million “sustainable communities” grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to TJPDC.

The Livable Communities Project will provide additional staff to coordinate updates of Charlottesville’s and the county’s comprehensive plans. The TJPDC is also creating a performance measurement system, developing a common land-use map for both Albemarle and Charlottesville, and is updating its long-range transportation plan.

The cost of staff time by county and city planners had been factored into the grant as an in-kind local match.

One of the goals of the TJPDC’s livability initiative is to make recommendations as to how the comprehensive plans can be made more consistent with the Sustainability Accords, which were signed in 1998.

The county’s goals during its plan update include changing the policy regarding development around interstates, designating more land for industrial use and increasing allowable land uses in the rural areas.

After the June vote, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd asked staff to prepare a report outlining exactly how much time county staff would be spending on the project.

“I was having trouble meshing these two together and seeing how we were going to function and do the things we want to do in the county, and coordinate that somehow with what the sustainability group is going to do,” Boyd said.

Staff prepared a report for supervisors that stated the grant is not being used to pay for county staff, but the county planner assigned to overseeing the Comprehensive Plan will use 10 percent of her time working with TJPDC officials.

“A lot of that is up-front to make sure that there are no non-starters,” Cilimberg said. “We’re seeing them do in their work things that are consistent with our priorities.”

Boyd said he was concerned that the language of the TJPDC’s implementation plan are inconsistent with the county’s goals.

“There are a lot of platitudes talked about here that are sort of planner speak that don’t really translate to meaningful things for me,” Boyd said. “I see some of the things particularly in the sustainability accords that I don’t think I could support.”

As an example, Boyd said he did not want the TJPDC study to recommend greater amounts of mass transit, given that the city and county shelved plans in 2010 to enter into a regional transit authority together.

“There were millions of dollars involved [to implement] it,” Boyd said. “We didn’t have the millions of dollars and we were not willing to raise taxes to move forward with it, so we dropped it. Now, are we going to bring those same things up?”

David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the purpose of the grant is to allow the TJPDC to examine previous studies to see if new ways can be found to implement them.

“Transit has been one of those products that would provide for multimodal opportunities to provide support for one of the components that we define as being [required for] a sustainable community,” Benish said. “The grant funding doesn’t really call for a re-analysis of regional transportation.”

County Executive Thomas Foley said the work to be conducted by the TJPDC will develop ideas and proposals about how to attain goals shared between the sustainability accords and the county’s desired policy changes.

“Our staff would then work those into comp plan amendments that would then come before [the board],” Foley said. “There’s not going to be any studies engaged beyond what’s funded by the regional grant.”

Boyd said he was satisfied with the report and wanted to ensure county staff focuses on county priorities.

 

July 13, 2011

Community groups briefed on livability grant

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Representatives from more than 40 area groups gathered Monday to hear details of a project to coordinate the update of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s comprehensive plans.

“The more voices we can get involved, the more successful [the project] will be because it will have the representation of all of those voices,” said Summer Frederick, manager of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s Livable Communities project.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $999,000 “sustainable community” grant to the TJPDC. The grant provides funding for the TJPDC to hire additional staff for the next three years.

20110711-partnership21
Participants were asked to review the draft performance measurement system

To help obtain public input, the TJPDC has created a forum it calls the “Livability Partnership” to communicate with a broad spectrum of community groups.

So far, 43 groups have signed up to become part of the partnership, ranging from Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population to the Willoughby Property Owners Association.

Frederick said partnership representatives are expected to provide feedback and to communicate information back to the groups they represent. The partnership is not a formal advisory body. In addition to the partnership, a livability advisory committee consisting of area planning staff has been created to serve in that capacity.

The partnership’s first task is to provide feedback on a performance measurement system that is under development to allow planners to gauge whether progress is being made towards goals in each jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan.

“In order to have benchmarks … you need to start somewhere and have a number you can start with to see if you can gauge if it is going to go up or down,” Frederick said.

John Lowry, chair of the Albemarle County Economic Development Authority, said he became a member of the partnership to make sure the area’s business community was represented.

“Albemarle County is now measuring itself on a vitality index each quarter and I can see where that rolling index would fit very well in what the TJPDC is trying to do,” Lowry said.

Justin Sarafin, a member of Preservation Piedmont, said his group wants the TJPDC to accurately measure the relationship between housing stock and affordability.

“[There are] incentives for rehabilitating versus demolishing and building new houses,” Sarafin said. “If there’s too much of a stress on new construction … that needs to be balanced with historic preservation as a more economically viable way of creating more housing as the region grows and becomes more dense.”

The grant has prompted many critics to publicly question whether the federal government should be playing such a large role in helping localities plan their future.

One of those skeptics is Carole Thorpe, the chair of the Jefferson Area Tea Party. She said her participation in the partnership does not mean she endorses the grant.

“Obviously the title [of partnership] would imply to someone that everyone is in favor of this, but what I am in favor of is getting first-hand information and providing that to Jefferson Area Tea Party members,” Thorpe said. “I think it’s important to have a bird’s eye view in to the step-by-step process.”

Thorpe said she hoped the partnership would allow for more dialogue between different stakeholder groups.

Other groups see the project as a chance to encourage citizens to change behavior.

“We want to convince people to live sustainably,” said Dave Redding of the group Transition Charlottesville/Albemarle. “We have reached ‘peak oil’ and we’re going to have less and less oil as time goes on.”

Redding said he was too new to the conversation to comment on a specific measurement that could capture progress towards that goal, but said he wanted to see more public transportation in the community.

The next meeting of the partnership will be a workshop in late September, according to Frederick.

June 24, 2011

Livable Community planners roll out draft performance management system

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, June 24, 2011

Around 60 people attended an open house at the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration on Thursday to provide input on how the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission should track progress for the Livable Communities project.

“We want good data for good planning with a good knowledge of where we are so the public and elected officials can figure out where we need to be going,” said Stephen W. Williams, executive director of the TJPDC.

20110623-napoleon
City resident Pat Napoleon inspects one of the displays

Last year, the TJPDC received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help Charlottesville and Albemarle County update their comprehensive plans.

As part of the grant, a committee consisting of city, county and UVa planners analyzed both jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans to identify common metrics that could be used to monitor progress.

Their work results in a “performance measure system” to track progress in various areas including “housing and the built environment”, “community and neighborhoods” and “natural resources and infrastructure.”

All of the data comes from third-party sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The TJPDC will not gather any of its own information during the project, according to Williams.

Sally Thomas, who served on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors for 16 years, said the creation of such a system was called for during work that created the writing of the Sustainability Accords in 1998.

“Most of those had a metric attached to them,” Thomas said. “It was lots of fun coming up with those things could be measured. The TJPDC has picked up some of those in this exercise, but by no means have they picked all of them.”

For instance, Thomas said she would like to track the number of birds in the community over time. The draft performance system only calls for tracking the number of endangered species sightings using data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

20110623-murray2
Lonnie Murray inspects a display depicting measurements of the area's natural resources

Lonnie Murray, chair of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee, made several suggestions by placing Post-it notes on charts displayed by the TJPDC. He said he felt the system as depicted did not do enough to explain its purpose.

“There needs to be a better narrative that ties together all the data,” Murray said. “There also seems to not be enough consideration of the connection of rural areas to the growth areas and how the rural economy plays an important part in the growth areas.”

Murray said he would like to see more data tracked about the use of natural resources, particularly as they relate to development.

“A metric I think that’s very important is how much redevelopment are we doing versus how much development of green space,” Murray said. “Are we taking places like Albemarle Square Shopping Center that have much way too much parking lot and redeveloping them to be more dense, or are we building more Hollymead Town Centers?”

Audrey Wellborn, a 41-year Albemarle County resident who has been critical of the TJPDC grant, said she attended the open house to find out what the group wants to monitor.

“The charts are very interesting to look at,” Wellborn said. “When you look at the ‘community and neighborhood’ systems, [one metric is] is the percentage of people who have lived in Albemarle County [for certain periods of time].”

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that over 60 percent of Albemarle and Charlottesville residents have only lived here since 2000, and around 20 percent have lived in their home for 20 years.

“That puts us in a very small category,” Wellborn said.

20110623-chart
Participants were asked to mark up the displays to suggest other metrics and potential corrections

Clara Belle Wheeler, a county resident who is also opposed to the TJPDC grant, said this example points out how the data used by planners might be skewed.

“The other thing that’s not being considered is the separation of the student population versus the year-round full-time residents,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also objected to another metric captured in the survey. One chart under the “housing and built environment” system stated, “the number of occupants per room is an indicator of safe living conditions.”

“Some of the values that they’re making with the data I think are erroneous and are not germane to the question of livability or sustainability,” Wheeler said. “Many people have two children in the same room. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a good living condition. Lots of siblings grew up in the same room, but they’re portraying that as being detrimental.”

The TJPDC will continue to take feedback on the performance measurement system throughout the summer.

June 08, 2011

Hundreds show up for debate on planning grant

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The public and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors debated Wednesday whether a $1 million federal grant is a golden opportunity for cooperative planning or a Trojan Horse threatening individual liberties and private property rights.

20110608-public-hearing1 A spirited crowd of more than 300 packed Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building to discuss the Livable Communities Planning Project and the county’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. More than 85 people signed up to speak during the lengthy public hearing.

The three-year U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, already awarded to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, is intended to help coordinate a joint review of Albemarle and Charlottesville’s comprehensive and transportation plans. Albemarle staff recommended Wednesday that the board endorse the project.

In addition to questioning the grant, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd sought on two occasions earlier this year to end Albemarle’s membership in Local Governments for Sustainability.

“If someone had told me we were going to become the stewards of the community and tell them what to do and regulate what they do … I wouldn’t have signed off on that,” Boyd said during the staff presentation early in the evening.

Albemarle staff responded that the $1,200 annual fee to ICLEI provides them access to software to baseline and measure the community’s carbon footprint.

20110608-public-hearing2“I believe this whole discussion has slid into whether you are for or against sustainability,” said Boyd, reflecting on a significant lobbying effort taking place in the community. “I don’t think that’s what the discussion is — the question is who do we take our direction from, this board or some national or international group?”

“I think your presumption about someone outside directing anything is ridiculous,” responded Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.

Nelson County resident Albert C. Weed, a two-time local candidate for the U.S. Congress, told the supervisors they should not respond to “scare mongering.”

“America’s response to climate change has been stymied at the national level by what amounts to a tribalistic fear of science,” Weed said. “What matters to our future, then, is what we do at the local level. ... If this county pulls back from existing voluntary cooperative efforts, the message it sends will be clear … we can be stampeded by the criminally ignorant for short-term political gain.”

Mark Graham, Albemarle’s director of community development, said no recommendations from the grant would be binding and that only the board could decide what would be implemented. In addition, he said the grant would provide funding for the county’s effort to improve the Comprehensive Plan.

“State code requires us to review the plan every five years and to have a Comprehensive Plan,” Graham said. “Incremental updates over last 15 years have caused the document to be long and difficult for the public to use.”

20110608-public-hearing3 Opponents of the grant and ICLEI, who appeared to be a much smaller crowd in the audience, held signs that read “We the people; Sustain liberty.” Supporters of the initiatives held up signs that read “Use common sense; Use good tools” and “A voice for common sense.”

Carole Thorpe, chairwoman of the Jefferson Area Tea Party, has called for the community to withdraw from the grant. Tea Party members have argued that the grant is a “federal intrusion” into local affairs and a United Nations-linked effort aimed at behavioral change and social justice goals.

County resident and Tea Party member Chris Winter arrived early and was the first to speak at the public hearing.

“I am here because I am concerned about the relationship between ICLEI and the United Nations … and some of the positions taken by some of these board members,” said Winter in an interview. “I don’t want ICLEI in Charlottesville — if people in community want to protect our natural resources, we can do it without the help of the UN.”

Tea Party members also pointed out that the grant is expected to make recommendations on how to implement the community’s 1998 Sustainability Accords. Tea Party member Charles Battig has argued that the accords, and the grant agreement, come straight from the U.N.’s “sustainability playbook.” He has told the board it poses a threat to individual decision making on such issues as population, transportation, housing and use of natural resources.

Lonnie Murray attended the meeting and spoke on behalf of Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee.

“We support … these endeavors, primarily for the local benefits in terms of protecting our collective quality of life, enhancing our natural resources, and creating jobs here in Albemarle County,” said Murray in a statement provided to the board. “Developing better designed communities reduces the amount of expensive infrastructure and valuable resources we need in the future, saving money and promoting efficiency.”

Supervisor Boyd said that he thought most everyone in the room would agree that the local environment should be protected. Murray said that sustainability also contributed to local prosperity.

“Sustainability is inherently a good thing,” said Murray. “[It] suggests a vision whereby economic prosperity occurs in an ecologically smart and socially just way, protecting our natural resources for future generations.”

Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he had been involved for two years in the Local Climate Action Planning Process. He suggested one possible compromise.

“We have maintained that efficiency and conservation are values held clearly in all of private enterprise,” Hulbert said. “I don’t know if ICLEI is driving that, and I don’t care, nor does the Chamber.”

“We do care about consolidated planning … so I would suggest that you sign that [grant] agreement,” Hulbert added. “The ICLEI [membership] may be too polarizing.”

After more than 40 speakers, supporters of the grant outnumbered opponents by almost a 2 to 1 margin. The public hearing continued until after press time.

See the Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow websites on Thursday for complete coverage of the meeting and the board’s deliberations.

Live audio streaming of tonight's Albemarle Supervisor meeting

 

Charlottesville Tomorrow will be streaming a live audio broadcast of the Wednesday, June 8 meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

The board will receive a presentation and take public feedback on the Comprehensive Plan update process and its relationship to Sustainability Communities Grant (aka the TJPDC Livable Communities Project).  There will also be a presentation on the Cool Counties commitments and continued membership in the ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.

Click here to view agenda materials from Albemarle County's website.


Broadcast starts at 6:00 PM June 8, 2011


Stream videos at Ustream

June 02, 2011

Local activists call for public action on environmental and sustainability initiatives

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 2, 2011

When the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors hold a highly anticipated work session next Wednesday evening on local planning initiatives, two interest groups are hoping to sway the board by showing that public opinion is on their side. 

The Jefferson Area Tea Party has been beating a steady drum of opposition to what it describes as a United Nations-linked effort to infiltrate local government and erode individual liberties and private property rights.

Meanwhile, the newly formed Albemarle Responsible Citizens’ Alliance is seeking public support for environmental stewardship and long-range regional planning efforts. Specifically, the alliance wants the community to sign on to a three-year federal grant allowing joint planning with the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

Listen using player above or download the podcast of the Tea Party press conference: Download 20110602-JATP-sustainability

Carole Thorpe, chairwoman of the Jefferson Area Tea Party, said at a press conference Thursday that she supports “a reasonable, responsible, common goal of environmental standards designed to maintain healthy and adequate resources.” Thorpe said that was how she interpreted the term “sustainability.”

“When Sustainability is spelled with a capital ‘S,’ I interpret the definition as a radical political agenda that strives to impose big government-style central planning under the guise of well-intentioned environmentalism,” Thorpe said.  “It hijacks the commonly known meaning of ‘sustainability’…and twists it as a deceptive means to an end.”

The Tea Party is calling for Albemarle and Charlottesville to reject a $1 million federal grant for the Livable Communities Planning Project, an effort being coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The three-year project would contribute to updates of the city and county comprehensive and transportation plans and make recommendations on how to implement the community’s 1998 Sustainability Accords.

The Albemarle Responsible Citizens’ Alliance was organized over the past several months in response to activities, initially of the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance, then later of the Tea Party. It’s organizers say it is a “non-partisan group of citizens dedicated to preserving and improving our quality of life in Albemarle County.”

Former Supervisor Sally Thomas is the group’s honorary chairwoman.  Thomas said in an interview she was a contributor to the 1998 Sustainability Accords and was involved as a citizen in the original formation of the TJPDC in 1972.

“I and others are concerned that decisions to be made on June 8 may take the county in a new direction, one that ought to get a lot of citizen input before being taken,” said Thomas.

“I was involved in writing the sustainability goals and objectives, and winnowing them down to the Sustainability Accords,” said Thomas.  “That’s a home-grown effort that I hope people will recognize set the county in a direction that we are proud of. Protecting the community’s natural resources is not a minority opinion, it has had a local and long history here.” 

Thorpe says the Tea Party wants its 100 to 125 active members, and other like-minded citizens, to join together and call for the Albemarle supervisors to address the community’s planning needs through local resources and decision-making. 

Thorpe called Thursday for the board to drop its membership in ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability and to repeal its December 2007 decision committing Albemarle to a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. 

“Sustainability has had much of its ‘science’ debunked as elaborate fraud,” Thorpe said.  “Despite all of this, brazen practitioners of this radical agenda continue to promulgate alarmist warnings crafted to whip up the irrational fear that our planet is on the brink of destruction.”

Albemarle staff says the ICLEI membership of $1,200 annually provides them access to software to baseline and measure the community’s carbon footprint. Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd has been unsuccessful in two attempts this year to have the membership eliminated from the county’s budget.

Thomas says the Albemarle Responsible Citizens’ Alliance is still getting organized and recruiting board members.  Current board members include Waldo Jaquith, Graham Paige and John Dean. 

Thomas was asked what she hoped the public would say at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I would hope people would speak in support of the TJPDC, sustainability and planning with the university and city,” said Thomas. 

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said in an interview Thursday that she was expecting a big turnout for the board’s Wednesday work session. The meeting will be held in the County Office Building at 6 p.m.

“A huge majority of the email we have received has been in favor of completing the activities we have been doing to preserve the quality of life,” said Mallek, a supporter of the ICLEI membership, energy efficiency efforts and the livability project.  “Everyone has been very supportive of the three components.”

“Citizens will probably have at the most two minutes for comment,” added Mallek.  “We want to try and encourage a good interchange between the public and the board.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:03 -- Carole Thorpe, Chair, Jefferson Area Tea Party
  • 14:20 -- John Munchmeyer, President, Jefferson Area Libertarians
  • 18:00 -- Codie Peters, President, Albemarle-Charlottesville Republican Women’s League
  • 20:42 -- Charles Battig, Jefferson Area Tea Party

LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION:

May 26, 2011

Supervisor Thomas calls for MPO to change western bypass policy

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas has called for the Metropolitan Policy Organization to reconsider a 2002 resolution that prevents funding from being allocated for construction of the proposed Western Bypass of U.S. 29.

“I’ve been trying to get the U.S. 29 [bypass] back on the burner for a long time,” said Thomas at an MPO meeting Wednesday. “I thought it should have been part of Places29. I think it needs to part of our overall discussion of the U.S. 29 corridor.”

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110525-MPO

Bypass-on-tip
The Western Bypass is a primary road project on the MPO's Transportation Improvement Program. (Click to enlarge)

Thomas’ request was made during a discussion of the transportation improvement program (TIP), a document through which the MPO communicates priorities and coordinates funding with federal and state officials.

Since 2002, the TIP entry for the Western Bypass has contained a lengthy paragraph that explains the MPO’s opposition to the project’s current design.  

“The project as designed does not meet community or regional needs, and has been determined too costly for the transportation benefits to be gained,” reads the text.

Estimates for construction of the four-lane, limited-access highway range from $161 million to nearly $300 million.  Critics have said the planned roadway is already obsolete because its northern terminus is located south of the Hollymead Town Center and other commercial developments that were not present when it was designed.

In November 2002, the MPO policy board passed a resolution limiting the project’s funding to preliminary engineering and right of way purchase. Members at the time were concerned the project would have an adverse impact on schools, neighborhoods and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“[The text] is there because it expresses the policy that this board adopted in 2002 by resolution after a fairly lengthy process about the bypass,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “That still essentially is the MPO policy board’s position.”

“It’s old information,” Thomas said. “To remove [the text] is to say we do not oppose it.”

Julia Monteith, a non-voting member of the MPO who represents the University of Virginia, said she felt the policy board needed input from more stakeholders before changing its policy.

“It would seem to me that if we were going to be discussing changing this, that this is something the city and county would have to get involved in,” Monteith said. “I think it would be well beyond the MPO.”

20110525--MPO(thomas2)
Supervisor and MPO Chair Rodney Thomas

Thomas disagreed with that view.

“I think it’s up to us to get it on the burner as an MPO,” Thomas said. “That’s our duty, to get it back on there.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation still lists the Western Bypass as a project on its six-year improvement program because $47.2 million has been spent on preliminary engineering and to buy right of way for the 6.1-mile route.

Thomas stopped short of making a formal motion to rescind the 2002 resolution, but said he would bring it forward at the MPO’s meeting in June.

Williams said if the MPO rescinds the resolution, the project will also have to be included in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan. The MPO is currently beginning an update of that plan, which will require multiple public hearings and is part of the TJPDC’s Livable Communities Planning Project.

 City Councilor Kristin Szakos said after the meeting she would need to study the matter further. City Councilor Satyendra Huja said he believed the Council had supported the project in the past.

Supervisor Duane Snow said his top transportation priority is to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes between the South Fork of the Rivanna River and Hollymead Town Center. However, he also suggested he would be open to selling the right of way in order to free up money for other projects.

State law requires land obtained for “advance acquisition” of highway projects to be sold back to the original owner twenty years after the original sale if the project has not gone to construction.

“If they decide they don’t want to purchase it, then we can put it out on the open market and get fair market value for it,” said VDOT policy chief Rick Walton at the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s March meeting.

The first parcel of land for the project was purchased on October 28, 1991, according to Albemarle County’s geographical information system. VDOT bought a total of 62 parcels for a total cost of $33.7 million between then and April 20, 2001.

Environmental groups opposed to the road have actively sought the sale of the land to pay for other transportation projects in the area.

“The Southern Environmental Law Center believes the best outcome would be to remove the project from the [six year improvement plan] and sell the right-of-way so that the money can be put toward more cost-effective and less damaging solutions along the U.S. 29 corridor such as the Hillsdale Drive Extension,“ said SELC attorney Morgan Butler.

Thomas’s request prompted outrage from two fellow members of the Board of Supervisors.

“This issue has been brought up a number of times at Board of Supervisors meetings and the Board has not changed its long standing opposition to this project,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker in an e-mail to Thomas obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow.

“Moreover, during the Board’s numerous Places 29 and transportation discussions, we all agreed to the priority projects in the Rt. 29 corridor,” Rooker said.

Supervisor Ann Mallek said reopening the bypass discussion would distract the community from more pressing issues.

“Let's truly focus on economic vitality, on water, [and] on the projects we do support,” Mallek said.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

 

  • 01:00 - Meeting begins with public comment from Crozet resident Paul Grady regarding U.S. 29/250 improvements
  • 07:00 - Responses to Grady's public comment
  • 09:00 - Approval of minutes from last meeting
  • 09:30 - Discussion of the MPO's annual work plan
  • 22:99 - Discussion of amendments to Transportation Improvement Program
  • 48:10 - Supervisor Rodney Thomas calls for reconsideration of Western Bypass
  • 1:09:30 - Discussion of letter to Secretary Connaughton

 

May 25, 2011

Tea party plans campaign to stop TJPDC grant

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

 
The Jefferson Area Tea Party plans to ask city officials to end their involvement with a federal grant that is being used to coordinate a joint review of Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s separate comprehensive plans.

“Any statement that we’re making in terms of [the sustainability communities grant] … we’re certainly making it also [for] Charlottesville and the University of Virginia as well,” said Carole Thorpe, the group’s chairwoman.

Local tea party members object to a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was awarded to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

One-community

The funding will allow the organization to coordinate the reviews of the city and county’s comprehensive plans at the same time the TJPDC updates its long-range transportation plan. For instance, the city and county planning commissions will hold several joint public hearings to collect input from citizens of both jurisdictions.

“The sustainable communities grant has the potential to improve collaboration between the city, county and UVa on regional planning for land use, transportation, housing, economic development and protection of natural resources,” Mayor Dave Norris wrote in an email.

Norris said that while he has questions about the specifics of how the money will be used, he does not see a downside to the project.

“We should redouble our commitment to the ideals of smart growth, sustainable living and regional collaboration and use this grant to move us in the right direction,” Norris said.

However, members of the Tea Party are concerned that the grant will be used to encourage principles that have been promoted by the United Nations.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd has called for the county to end its membership in a group called ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, claiming that group has “infiltrated” county staff.

Because of that concern, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors has postponed signing an agreement to move forward with the grant until after a work session on June 8.

The TJPDC’s application was based on an effort to implement the Sustainability Accords, which were signed by city and county officials in June 1998.

The accords are 15 vision statements that, among other things, encourage land use policies to ensure water quality, protection of wildlife habitats, and the development of transportation alternatives to reduce the number of people who drive alone to work.

Thorpe said her group is not opposed to regional cooperation but is opposed to federal and international involvement with local affairs. She said the accords have no authority because they were not signed by any sitting members of either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Last week, city, county and UVa officials stressed at a meeting of the Planning and Coordination Council that the final products of the grant will only be advisory in nature.

The grant will produce several products. A performance measurement system will be created that will benchmark the area’s impacts on the environment. A single map will be developed to depict land uses in both jurisdictions. Recommendations will be made for ways city and county ordinances could be changed to encourage or implement “livability” policies.

On a practical level, the grant has allowed the TJPDC to hire additional staff to assist city and county planners. For instance, Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services will have extra help as it conducts a survey this summer to assess how every single parcel of land in Charlottesville is being used.

“City staff needs and wants to use this information in their Comprehensive Plan update,” said Steve Williams, executive director of the TJPDC.

City Planning Commission Chairman Jason Pearson said he welcomed the concerns of citizens who are concerned that the project is being coordinated by international forces.

However, Pearson said he sees no evidence that local officials are giving up control.

“The language of sustainability helps us to ask good questions about how we want to engage with the world — locally, regionally, nationally and globally,” Pearson said. “To my mind, that’s a good framework for community conversation.”

Thorpe said Tea Party representatives will soon appear before councilors to ask them to revoke their membership in ICLEI and to reject involvement with the HUD grant.

“We’re certainly for having a clean environment and we all want to have clean air and clean water …  but it’s the method by which we achieve that that has caused us to have a question in this matter,” Thorpe said.