County Consults on Batesville’s Role in Comp Plan

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Illustration of potential functions of “Resilience Hubs” in areas like Batesville proposed in the county’s Comprehensive Plan update

Albemarle County planning staff and consultants met with Batesville residents on the evening of January 24 to discuss elements of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, currently under review and dubbed AC44 (as it will describe the county’s strategic vision for the next 20 years). The Comp Plan recommends how and where in the county to direct growth, protect the environment, and provide transportation and parks and recreation for citizens, among other guiding principles. 

After an overview by planner Ben Holt, more than 50 Batesvillians rotated through three breakout groups to express their priorities regarding local land conservation, the concept of “crossroads communities,” and transportation issues that affect their immediate rural area. During the land conservation segment, residents articulated their environmental concerns such as the protection of waterways, mountain views, wildlife corridors, native species, and stream buffers, while also suggesting increased community education on conservation easements.

Batesville is currently listed as one of seven “crossroads communities” in the county, which were defined during the presentation as those that “provide access to essential public services and basic service needs to rural populations that are more distant to designated Development Areas, and can also function as community resiliency hub locations.” The primary purpose for the designation is not to direct development to those areas, but to “provide more equitable access to public services in the Rural Area and to increase community resilience and wellbeing.”

The planners’ idea is to formally allow some land uses in these communities for purposes such as mobile health services, access to food/community gardens, and emergency services. An extension of the crossroads community concept is the idea of a “resilience hub” in places like Batesville, which could include providing emergency shelters and supplies in case of a disaster, designating gathering spaces to access electricity and internet, and establishing community programming for youth or seniors. The presentation prompted the question of how much each community is expected to expand to accommodate the hub designations.

Batesville resident Alex Struminger

“At the time we were named a crossroads community, I don’t know that the planners had fully decided what that meant,” said Alex Struminger, one of many local residents who has been active in trying to get a through-truck restriction on Plank Road through Batesville. “The questions I think we’re asking about are related to growth, because we don’t want to be big. So maybe we can have some of the value [of this concept] on a smaller scale. Maybe this is a place where we could have a generator and better internet and some built-in resilience that way. But right over in North Garden and in Crozet, you’ve got much more resilience—you’ve got restaurants, gas stations, a firehouse and medical facilities, so we don’t need all that here as well.”

While the current Comp Plan recommends small-scale uses in crossroads communities such as country stores, offices, daycare, doctor/dentist offices, post offices, and community centers, the current zoning ordinances don’t allow those uses “by right,” so they must go through a lengthy approval process with the county. “I actually like the term rural crossroads community if we could divorce it from any prerequisites that county might have in mind, because I think it describes something important about the community—its history,” said Struminger. “I mean, we are a rural crossroads community because we are at a historic crossroads halfway between Staunton and Scottsville from 200 years ago.”

The community was spurred to action last year when a state bridge repair project threatened to send even more big trucks barreling through Batesville, and an August GoFundMe request to cover legal and architect fees to support traffic calming blew past its goal in 24 hours. “I think the appetite for action is here, and if we have to fund some things ourselves, then clearly we will,” said Struminger. “We may have to do it in stages, and it may take another decade to get it done.” Not content to wait around, citizens are already working to form a nonprofit organization, Historic Batesville Virginia, to move forward on their objectives.

During the meeting, Struminger asked if the county could provide funding for projects that the local citizenry could do themselves, such as building safe walking paths throughout Batesville so residents don’t have to walk in the roads, and constructing eye-catching entrances with landscaping that will naturally slow traffic through the area. “I’d love to have a crosswalk out in front of the market that we didn’t have to paint ourselves,” he said, referring to an ongoing dispute with VDOT about what kinds of traffic calming methods are allowable on Plank Road.

At a Planning Commission work session in August of 2023, White Hall District commissioner Lonnie Murray expressed concerns about staff suggestions for community crossroads land uses such as hardware stores, auto and household goods, banking, and restaurants. “It’s very important to realize [that] the primary use for the rural area is not for residential use,” said Murray. “The past comprehensive plan says pretty explicitly that our primary method of controlling sprawl into the rural areas is by restricting services. So, when we’re talking about changing that, and now providing services to the rural area, we’re undermining the key thing that’s keeping the rural area rural.” 

Other commissioners disagreed, noting that many non-farmers lived in the rural areas and would like to have services such as a coffee shop and a bakery. County staff clarified that “the service aspect of crossroads communities would be focused primarily on health, well-being, safety, and emergency preparedness.”

“We live here because we like how it looks, how it is,” said Struminger. “This is our ideal of how to live, and we want to preserve it for our and our families’ enjoyment, and that includes protecting it—the waterways and the trees and open space. Part of the discussion on the rural crossroads communities is that we need not to have a one size fits all approach, we need to have something that is a little bit more flexible, where the county can accommodate things and places that have a history.” 

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Lisa Martin joined the Gazette in 2017 and writes about education and local government. She also writes in-depth pieces about division-wide education issues and broader investigative pieces on topics from recycling to development to living with wildlife. Her Coyotes in Crozet story won a 2017 Virginia Press Association “Best in Show” award for the Gazette. Martin has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, taught college for several years, and writes fiction and poetry. She co-authored a children’s trilogy about two adventuring cats, the Anton and Cecil series, which got rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and others.

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