By Sean Tubbs

Dexter Auction

Friday, July 2, 2010

A second and final group of residents, business leaders and others has critiqued an economic development plan designed to boost business growth in Albemarle County.

“What we want to know is, ‘Where is [government] standing in the way of economic development?” county Supervisor

Kenneth C. Boyd

said during Thursday’s roundtable discussion.


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The plan calls for objectives to be met in five areas ranging from improving the county’s business climate to promoting agriculture and tourism. As with last month’s roundtable, staff led participants through the details of the draft so they could suggest changes.

Carleton Ray, a former member of the county’s

Natural Heritage Committee

, took exception with a phrase in the preamble that claims Albemarle has a “proven track record” of managing growth while also protecting the environment.

“This county is not in very good shape from an ecological standpoint,” Ray said. “I think the plan itself is full of unsubstantiated statements.”

Local developer

Wendell Wood

of United Land Corp. said he wanted the word “jobs” to appear more throughout the document.

“If we are going to have a goal of trying to provide a better community, more opportunity, where our kids can stay here and become productive taxpayers, we are going to need jobs,” Wood said.

Another objective of the plan is to “simplify and create certainty in the development review process.”

“We don’t want to change the county requirements, but [many applicants] need a little more help to get through the process,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development.

John Cruickshank of the

Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club

said he was not opposed to that overall goal, but said he objects to the use of the phrase “unnecessary requirements” in a call to reduce the complexity of rezoning applications.

“Some people might interpret that [as meaning] the environment is not something that is necessary [to protect],” Cruickshank said.

David Shreve, an economist and vice president of

Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population

, said that while he thought the assumptions behind the plan are flawed, he and his organization could support some of its goals.

“If streamlining can take place without actually cutting corners then we’ll endorse that,” Shreve said. “We’re in favor of outreach and speaking clearly and being transparent.”

Wood said many of his projects have taken up to five years to be approved by county government.

“I personally believe we should look to eliminate rules,” Wood said.

Lonnie Murray, current head of the natural heritage committee, said making the process simpler could actually improve the environment if landowners are educated about market-driven conservation efforts.

“You really want to set up a situation by which you incentivize people to do things, where people can trade credits back and forth,” Murray said. “If someone has a development in the growth area that impacts a wetland or is causing stormwater [runoff], they should be able to purchase [mitigation credits] in the rural area.”

Mike Erwin, an instructor at the University of Virginia, said despite an uncertain economic future, the community has a major strength to build upon.

“One thing we’re fairly certain of is that the university will continue to grow,” Erwin said. “I would like to see stronger wording about entrepreneurial relationships between the university and private enterprise.”

UVa is currently only referred to in the plan as a potential partner for workforce development.

The plan’s final objective calls for increased efforts to promote agriculture and tourism in the rural areas.

Dawn Story attended both roundtables and said that section needs further debate and input from the agricultural community.

“We need to elevate the status of it,” Story said. “If we are looking for economic growth and jobs, we don’t need to look much farther than our fields.”

Even though the roundtables have concluded, residents still have time to comment on the plan before it is adopted. Written comments can be submitted to county spokeswoman Lee Catlin through Monday.

The

Board of Supervisors

will hold a public hearing on July 14, and Boyd said it is likely the board will vote on the plan that evening.

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