By Sean Tubbs
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.

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.

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