A large crowd of community members, both new and old, gathered at the Albemarle County Office Building on Wednesday to participate in the launch of the Livable Communities Planning Project .

Funded by an almost $1 million federal grant, the effort is being coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission . The three-year project will contribute to updates of Charlottesville’s and the county’s comprehensive and transportation plans.

“I am thrilled people are coming out to ask questions and provide input,” said Summer Frederick, the TJPDC’s project manager. “This is a process-driven project, but the process is only as good as the input we get.”

The city, county and the University of Virginia are all working together on the “livable communities” effort under the rubric “many plans, one community.”

Albemarle County resident Aaron Davis

Surrounded by informative displays and numerous local government staff and officials ready to answer questions, county resident Aaron Davis filled out a feedback form and stuffed it in the comment box.

“If you live in an area, you need to learn about it,” Davis said. “With land development, transportation, housing and jobs, you need to know what is going on in the community.”

Jim Tolbert , Charlottesville’s director of neighborhood development, said he was pleased that the city’s Comprehensive Plan would be updated in a cooperative process.

“The biggest thing is the opportunity to work with the county and the university,” Tolbert said. “To look at how we grow and how we protect the assets that we have.”

Jefferson Area Tea Party member Charles Battig reviewed the materials at the open house and said he was interested to see the term “sustainability” had been replaced with “livability.”

“What happened to ‘sustainability?’” Battig asked. “Did it become a dirty word? It makes sense to get everyone involved, but the question is to what degree this is driven by different visions of what a sustainable or livable community might be?”

“It never works when you try and plan a perfect community,” Battig added. “Cities that are vibrant evolve over time and they are not necessarily planned communities.”

Dave Hurst moved with his family to the city last month from Salt Lake City. A transportation planner, Hurst said he was motivated to learn what his new community had in mind for the future.

“What is the plan?” Hurst asked. “I have seen some [transportation] issues already and I’d like to see what they are planning to do.”

Hurst said primary roads could only be widened so far before too many lanes of traffic would became a barrier to mobility for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists trying to get across.

“A unified front is a great way to go,” Hurst added. “Jurisdictional lines aren’t drawn on the ground and coordination is key to implementing a plan.”

Neil Williamson , executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum , has been a critic of Albemarle’s recent planning efforts such as Places29 , a master plan for the U.S. 29 north designated growth area. Williamson said that six-year planning effort was fundamentally flawed, overly complex and too ambitious.

“The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned at the potential of adding one more layer of bureaucracy with the TJPDC,” Williamson said about the structure of the initiative. “Coordination of comprehensive planning is a good idea, but outsourcing comprehensive planning fails to recognize the different objectives the two localities have.”

“The water supply discussion clearly demonstrated the difference in goals, objectives and strategies,” Williamson added. “This is not to suggest one set of objectives is better than the other, but they are different.”

Opposing viewpoints on the 50-year community water supply plan have been a key issue that has divided the local environmental community since 2007. On Tuesday, seven environmental groups joined to sign a letter addressed to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and the TJPDC to present a “united stand on the importance of environmental goals in planning for a sustainable future for [the] community.”

Thomas Olivier , chairman of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club , signed the letter along with representatives from the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, the Rivanna Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy and the League of Women Voters.

Download letter from local environmental groups

The groups have pledged to be very involved in the update of the comprehensive plans and the long-range transportation plan.

“Comprehensive plans are fundamental planning documents,” Olivier said in an interview. “They deal with environmental protection and sustainability and these are critical issues for our community. … In most ways we are in fact one community.”

Frederick said she welcomed the diverse points of view expressed at the open house.

“The more people that are involved, the better,” Frederick said. “Part of the process is discussion, and that’s not necessarily everyone in the room agreeing. … Seeing an idea, a neighborhood, or a community issue through a different lens is how you get to an effective solution.”

Further information is available at the initiative’s website https://1-community.org/ .