Several members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors took issue with the manner in which the Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) recently provided feedback to county planners about land use issues in the Crozet Master Plan. During an April 7 work session designed to update Supervisors on the plan’s progress, Supervisors Diantha McKeel and (Chair) Ned Gallaway cast aspersions on votes that CCAC members had taken to quantify and clarify the committee’s position on complex questions in the land use chapter.
“I was a little surprised when I heard that the CCAC was actually voting,” said McKeel. “I thought they had been providing input of an advisory nature and are not supposed to be voting on issues. I want to make sure we are all operating under the same guidelines.” The guidelines for county regional advisory committees clearly state that “committees can provide feedback and indicate preferences related to development proposals.”
Gallaway went further, pointing to language from the CCAC’s March 10 meeting that said the committee “had decided” on its view of the middle density residential category. “The ‘and decided’ part, what is that?” said Gallaway. “There’s no decisions being made, it’s just advisory, [so] what was that trying to communicate?” He warned against the implication that the CCAC’s votes held any sway with the board. “Just because you vote a certain way does not mean in any way shape or form that any supervisor is required to vote that way,” he said.
White Hall District representative Ann Mallek tried to calm her fellow board members. “We have, on purpose, appointed people [to the CCAC] with different points of view,” said Mallek. “The voting was important, but was only to give staff an idea about the community’s opinions about these proposals. There’s full understanding that it was not a ‘decision.’ We’ve had large groups of people participating in these meetings, and it’s been interesting getting to this point.”
Regarding the CCAC’s stated wish for lower housing density until local infrastructure (such as school and road capacity) can catch up, some supervisors disagreed with the premise even at a conceptual level. “When I think of the development area as whole and we start taking large swaths and say we’re going to limit density, what kind of strain does that put on our county-wide plan of five percent [of county land dedicated as growth area]?” said Gallaway. “I don’t want to get locked into any kind of language that says we can’t have development happening until the infrastructure is in place.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley also expressed concerns about placing limits on density in Crozet’s Master Plan and noted that developers suggest one solution is to build taller dwelling units. “The more we have restrictions on height in certain areas, how is that going to affect the availability of affordable housing?” she said. “What are we going to do? We have to kind of put up or shut up. Everybody wants wonderful little cottages, but that’s not realistic— we have to go up. I’m leery about putting so many restrictions in there that people will hammer us and then we can’t go up.”
Supervisor Donna Price said she was concerned not only about any lowering of density of the “missing middle” housing options but also about their affordability. “I understand that people may not be in favor of large apartment complexes, but I don’t see how tiny houses or bungalow courts will serve as family housing,” she said. “I don’t see all of this as being equitable.”
By “all of this,” Price was referring to the very core of the compromise land use plan that has been negotiated in sometimes contentious debate between planners and Crozet residents over the last 16 months. Ann Mallek acknowledged the Crozet Master Plan’s tenuous position in her comments at the April 14 CCAC meeting. “I really encourage you to swallow hard and think about ways we can get this compromise through as it is,” she said. “When people are throwing around [housing densities as high as] 36 units per acre, we don’t want to put it in jeopardy. We need four votes to get this adopted.”
Several CCAC members at the April 14 meeting said they were disturbed by the supervisors’ comments and felt the board had belittled the committee’s work on the plan. “I was really frustrated by the tone, particularly from Supervisor Gallaway, that basically the CCAC has gotten too big for its britches,” said Joe Fore. “We’ve all dedicated months and years to all the parts of this plan, and for people who don’t live in Crozet, who we don’t have the opportunity to vote for, to swoop in at the 11th hour and attempt to commandeer the plan, I understand why that would be frustrating.”
CCAC Chair Allie Pesch, Art Director for The Crozet Gazette, said she was offended and also worried that all of the committee’s work was being disregarded. “It is within the rules of CAC’s to be able to take votes,” she said. “We took them in order to make our input simpler for people who weren’t at the meeting to understand. We were only trying to be constructive. It was really frustrating to watch; I felt very insulted.”
Kostas Alibertis, CCAC member, said that being marginalized by the board was unfortunate. “I mean, either dissolve the committee and make the decisions you’re going to make [or take our advice], but don’t get us to provide input and then completely disregard us,” he said. “It’s very disrespectful. The responsibility of the board is to listen to the taxpayers.”
Brian Day summed up his disappointment this way: “If we’re not going to be listened to, why do we exist?” he said. “There’s no excuse for public officials to treat citizen advisors that they’ve appointed in such a despicable way. It was just crazy.”
Mallek focused on the positive in her concluding remarks. “We have a ways to go here, and we have achieved tremendous success. It’s been a challenging discussion among friends who really love their community. [My message to the board is] don’t criticize when citizens jump up and down—it’s because they care. That’s one of the things that no public official can create and it’s something we are blessed to have in Crozet.”