NEWS- ZPG? Has Albemarle population maxed out?
No-growthers want the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to identify an optimal, sustainable population for the county, a request that has critics questioning the legality and benefits of such a plan in an area where housing costs already prevent many workers from living here.
Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population went before the supes September 13, the same night the board tabled two other highly touted growth tools– phasing and clustering– because of a 3-3 split.
ASAP was joined by the Sierra Club and Citizens for Albemarle– but not the other major enviro org, Piedmont Environmental Council– in making its proposal to amend the county's comprehensive plan and its plea that the county not change existing zonings in the meantime.
"Identification of an optimal population size isn't part of the planning process," says ASAP founder Jack Marshall, who scoffs at the notion that growth is inevitable, calling that an "oversimplified myth."
At a press conference flanked by ASAPers Francis Fife, a former Charlottesville mayor; Rich Collins, a UVA environmental prof; and Crozet activist Tom Loach, Marshall asked how big Albemarle wants to grow past its current 130K combined population with Charlottesville.
"Do we want 150,000, 200,000, 500,000?" he queried. "We think it's important to answer that question."
Marshall invited local groups "assumed, perhaps falsely, to favor growth"– the Chamber of Commerce, the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association, and the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development– to join in the discussion because, he says, those groups love Albemarle as much as ASAP does.
"We are opposed to it," says Jefferson Area Libertarian Chairman John Munchmeyer, who helped torpedo phasing and clustering laws with ads in the Daily Progress. "The true purpose of government is to protect our rights. Implementing this proposal would violate rights. And it is simply wrong to say, 'I live in this beautiful place, but no more can share it.'"
Munchmeyer adds, "The people who are advocating this should stop attempting to use government force to promote their agendas. That always results in having the opposite effect and/or developing unforeseen negative consequences. They should attempt to persuade instead of using government force."
"It's totally unrealistic," says pedestrian activist Kevin Cox. "The net impact is higher costs for those least able to afford them. Many people who work at the university can't afford to live here."
Cox is particularly peeved that the Sierra Club endorsed the ASAP proposal. "I don't understand the Sierra Club's reasons for supporting this," he says. "It's not helpful to push people farther out."
And Cox calls the whole notion of a sustainable population for Albemarle "preposterous," pointing out that the county currently is not sustainable. "We're part of Virginia, part of the United States– we're not independent little Switzerland," he says.
"Local governments do not have the ability to set population limits," notes Board of Supervisors Chair Dennis Rooker. "We can't keep people from moving here."
What the supervisors can do is control land use. "In broad strokes, you can establish population ranges through zoning," says Rooker. "It's a blunt tool, not a precise tool."
Rooker says he sympathizes with ASAP's request. "I personally feel the exercise would be an important one to go through to focus on population and its impact on the community," he says.
But with the board evenly split over requiring phasing and clustering, the ASAP proposal likely would remain an exercise.
Rooker admits disappointment that the two tools did not have the votes to become law, even though, he says, the board unanimously approved adding them to the comprehensive plan.
"They were the most important two strategies in the board's strategic plan adopted a year ago," Rooker says.
Supervisors Lindsay Dorrier, Ken Boyd and David Wyant were the no-phasing/clustering faction. "It's a loss of property rights," explains Wyant. "Most of my constituents are against it because it affects property rights."
What does that mean for the ASAP plan?
"I think it's a discussion we should have," says Wyant. "I do agree we ought to be controlling growth with the resources we have in the rural area, such as adequate water supply or septic system. Are the resources there to handle it?"
Collins predicts a "vigorous debate."
ASAP founder Jack Marshall wants Albemarle to hire outside consultants to determine the county's optimal population.
PHOTO BY JOEY SMITHERS