Albemarle County Continues to Deal with Growth

By: Michael Gorsegner
By: Michael Gorsegner

February 28, 2006

Growth is everywhere you look in this area. It stretches from the D.C. suburbs to Southwest Virginia. But are leaders in the Charlottesville are doing enough to preserve the way of life many so dearly love?

With growth comes so many different issues: the need for infrastructure improvements, upgrades to the fire and police departments, and even a change in tax base. The least obvious may be a change in mindset.

"Over-development I think. That's definitely what we have up here now. One housing development after another," said Maxine Pleasants.

Pleasants has lived in the Charlottesville area her entire life. She grew up on 7 1/2 Street and recalls a much different scene.

"It was a beautiful place. The man that we bought our lots from had 17 acres and my husband usually always had cows or horses in the field," she said.

Years later, that area is inhabited by a housing development. The story is the same for many parts of Albemarle County. What once was rolling hills and farms is now development. But is it over-development?

"There really is a strategy that's about where growth should be happening and where it's best for it be happening," said Albemarle County Spokeswoman Lee Caitlin.

Albemarle County adopted a comprehensive plan in 1996 that lays out several growth areas including Crozet and the Route 29 corridor. These 35 square miles were designated to become high density residential and commercial areas, leaving the remaining 688 square miles in the County rural.

"The growth management strategy really tries to focus or concentrate growth into these development areas so we don't have the sprawling kind of development that you see in other communities," Caitlin said.

"We reached, we think, close to an optimal size in the community and we don't need to grow more for the vast majority of residents," said Jack Marshall.

Marshall with the Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population believes the County is growing too fast. Albemarle County estimates its population grows 1.8% a year, or 1,600 residents. By the year 2010, the population is expected to reach over 97,000 people.

"We need not only to talk about smart growth--where the growth occurs and how it occurs, but also about an optimal size," Marshall said.

In the near future, ASAP is planning to ask the Board of Supervisors to consider amending the Comprehensive Plan by adding a population ceiling. This is a fact that Marshall says will protect the integrity of the County.

"The County needs to make some painful decisions and say 'there is a level--even in the growth areas, much less the rural areas--where we don't want to grow anymore,'" he said.

But that may be more difficult than first glance.

"Laws in Virginia are very protective of the land owner and the developer," Jeff Werner said.

Werner, with the Piedmont Environmental Council says there is only so much the County can legally do to prevent growth. For this reason, the PEC works to gain land conservation easements in an effort to balance development.

"Keep the rural area, rural. Let's keep the urban area and the growth areas a desirable place. Let's not replicate Northern Virginia. We don't have to do that," he said.

"The main thing that we're trying to focus on is that growth is managed in a way that does not destroy the attributes of the County that people hold very precious," Caitlin said.

Even with the considerable growth, Maxine Pleasants says she is not going anywhere, at least not by choice.

"At my age, I doubt seriously that I would go anywhere unless it is to a nursing home," she said.

The County is legally obligated to reexamine its comprehensive plan every five years. The budget--another central part of growth management-- is currently being constructed for the next fiscal year. Those people that want to comment on the budget process can do so at a public hearing scheduled for March 8.

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