At its November 9 meeting, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) hosted county officials who described a draft policy that would allow local committees such as the CCAC to hold a limited number of virtual meetings each year. The policy provides for 25% of meetings to be conducted virtually at the committee’s discretion as long as they are not held consecutively. For the CCAC, the limit amounts to three meetings per year.
Virtual meetings are completely online, usually employing a Zoom platform that can allow for listeners to participate by typing in questions for presenters or using a chat function to engage others in the audience. However, during months of contentious virtual meetings over the Crozet Master Plan in 2020-21, county planning staff removed the chat option and limited the Q&A function unilaterally and without warning, drawing the ire of attendees. Whether those limitations would continue for future virtual meetings under the new policy is unclear.
Albemarle Board of Supervisors (BOS) White Hall District representative Ann Mallek described the debate over the provision passed by state legislators. “The point was brought up that not everybody has good internet, so they won’t be able to watch [virtual meetings],” said Mallek, “and my point was, well, not everybody can drive at night, or can leave their babies in order to come to a meeting in person. So, we need to do the best job we can for as many people as we can. The option of live streaming meetings while also providing for participation online is a wonderful idea, but frightfully expensive.”
CCAC Chair Joe Fore lauded the BOS for advancing the virtual option. “This is open government, this is transparency, this is accessibility,” said Fore. “We as a board would have to think seriously about when to use that power,” said Fore. “Do we use it during June when people are travelling, or do we use it when there’s a potentially contentious issue [on the table] so that more people can attend?”
Committee member Lonnie Murray brought up one downside of changing the meeting format on the fly for residents trying to plan to attend. “I think that picking in January and June that we do all virtual, I mean it’s hard enough for people to plan for this [in-person meeting],” said Murray. “If we have people show up here [at the library] in June for a meeting that we’d switched to virtual, they’re never going to come back. My two cents is that we do it either all in-person or all virtual until we’ve successfully integrated hybrid, which isn’t going to happen until [the county] gets more staff.”
Committee member Allie Pesch emphasized the distinction between virtual and hybrid meetings—the latter being where the committee meets in person with attendees and the meeting is also live-streamed with remote participants. “Do we all agree that a hybrid meeting is ideal?” said Pesch. “Because the tone of this conversation is making me think that you all want the opportunity to do more virtual meetings. Whereas I am so glad we’re in person.”
The CCAC ultimately voted to adopt the policy, which gives it the virtual meeting option, but will iron out the details of when and how it will be implemented in the future.
In a presentation by Emily Kilroy and Serena Gruia of the Albemarle County Communications and Public Engagement Division, the county announced a change in the types of staff members who will attend Community Advisory Committee meetings going forward. In the past, a planning manager from the Community Development department was typically present for CCAC meetings to explain technical issues such as zoning ordinances and other rules. Going forward, the county now plans to send “staff liaisons” from its communications shop to fill that role.
“Staffing capacity to do all the [community planning] work and some other long-range planning work, at the same time that they’re trying to do a full county Comprehensive Plan update, can be a real challenge,” said Kilroy. “So the Board of Supervisors, as part of the budget process this year, approved two temporary positions to help sort of backfill the CAC staff liaison role. We’ll be working with them in November and December to onboard them to the organization, and to really make sure that they are in the know about what’s going on so that they can do a good job helping the CAC’s along with their other responsibilities.”
The two liaison positions are three-year stints and will cover the seven county CAC’s between them. “The liaison role is coming into our office, but we’re not cut off from [community development],” said Gruia. “We will have regular check ins, post-meeting, and will be getting all the questions answered. Community development staff is certainly available to come to meetings as needed. So we’re not going to have the planning expertise as a liaison, but we have that relationship in the organization and will work together to get all your answers to the table.”
Crozet resident attendee Matt Helt questioned the decision to put a temporary communications department employee in an advisory role for the CAC’s. “Why would anybody want to work for the county with low levels of compensation and benefits for a job that’s not permanent?” said Helt. “It’s an entry-level job. I’m going to get my foot in the door and get out as soon as I can. And I’d hope the county would value the CAC’s more than just giving us a turnover employee every couple of years. It shows a little bit of disrespect.”
Fore expressed the opposite point of view. “From my perspective, I’m really heartened to hear that there are going to be people who will have this be their primary role,” he said. “The planning staff were sort of doing their day jobs and then moonlighting with us. I think this is going to make our relationship a lot more productive. This actually feels like kind of an investment into your commitment to the CAC’s, which is something that I know a lot of us have not always felt.”
Terri Miyamoto of the Crozet Trails Crew gave a presentation on the current status of the crew’s work in and around Crozet.
“Basically, we’re just people in the community,” said Miyamoto. “We get out there, work with the county Parks and Rec people, and we build trails and try to keep them open.” She showed a map of bicycle and pedestrian trails throughout Crozet, noting the points where the CTC is working to bridge road or water crossings and gaps in access. She pointed out areas in Creekside near Grayrock, on Myrtle Street near Crozet Park, and from the Meadows to Brownsville and Henley schools where trail connections have been installed recently.
Miyamoto talked about proposed projects, such as a way to connect neighborhoods like Chesterfield Landing, Sparrow Hill and Cory Farm with the Crozet Connector Trail to the east, which leads to downtown and the park and library. This project will require a bridge over Lickinghole Creek, and the CTC is working on easement issues and ways to secure funding and move it into the right hands to advance the design and planning.
“I would love to find someone who wants this bridge and who understands fundraising to help us out on this,” she said.
There are also opportunities for local residents to help out with trail wayfinding by developing new styles of maps, a mobile app for following the trails, a new kiosk, and better signage along the paths. For more info or to get involved, contact Terri at [email protected].