Albemarle County Planning Commission

September 20, 2005 Partial Set

CPA-2005-001 Land Use Plan Transportation Update


The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a meeting and a public hearing on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Room 241, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. Members attending were William Rieley, Rodney Thomas, Pete Craddock; Calvin Morris; and Marcia Joseph, Vice-Chair.  Absent were Jo Higgins; Bill Edgerton, Chairman; and David J. Neuman, FAIA, Architect for University of Virginia. 


Other officials present were David Benish, Chief of Planning; Margaret Maliszewski, Design Planner;  Bill Fritz, Development Review Manager; Rebecca Ragsdale, Senior Planner; Juandiego Wade, Transportation Planner; Ron Lilley, Project Manager; and Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Attorney.


Call to Order and Establish Quorum:


Ms. Joseph called the regular meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. and established a quorum. 


CPA 2005-001 Land Use Plan Transportation UpdateProposal to amend the Transportation Section of the Comprehensive Plan to include, but not limited to, references and updated information based on adopted regional transportation plans. (Juandiego Wade)


Mr. Benish stated that the public hearing was scheduled tonight primarily for staff to provide the Commission with a round of changes, receive public comment and answer any questions.  Staff will follow up on comments and questions given by other staff members.  Since this is a public hearing, staff is ready to answer questions either before or after the Commission takes public comments. The Commission does not have to take action tonight.  Staff could provide another round of changes and place the final version on the consent agenda for the Commission to review and act on.  But, it is ultimately the Commission’s decision.  The following changes have been made to the document.


·         Staff had a discussion in July or August about references to rural routes and language which implies that they were fostering improvements to roadways that were not consistent with the rural policy. Therefore, staff made some language adjustments on page 6 in the second bolded paragraph.  References were taken out to curb and road improvements and replaced with a statement that said addressing the sight distance and visibility issues.

·         On page 22, at the bottom of the page in number 2, staff added the following sentences, “In this regard, improvements which contribute to increased vehicle speed, such as straightening alignments, the general widening width may not be consistent with rural areas policies.” 

·         Ms. Joseph provided a list of comments to staff.  Staff has responses to all of Ms. Joseph’s comments.


Mr. Morris asked if staff had a response to the first comment regarding adding a statement on how it relates to the environment. 


Mr. Benish stated that the Commission could add to the general principles because this is the County’s Comprehensive Plan.  The general principles are essentially taken from the UNJAM CHART plan. 


Ms. Joseph agreed that some of the aspects about the environment, which are struck out, are covered in other sections.  She suggested that a general statement be included saying that they are concerned about the environmental impact of transportation issues, which acknowledges that they are cogitative of the fact that when they are planning their transportation routes that is something that they consider.. 


Mr. Benish agreed to add that language to the document.


Ms. Joseph opened the public hearing and invited public comment.


Neil Williamson, representative for the Free Enterprise Forum, stated that he loved working on these matters.  He pointed out that he had traveled to Portland and Minneapolis to look at transportation plans and light rail lines.  He provided the following comments and suggestions:


·         In his review of figures from Los Vegas and other places that are looking at light rail, he has not found one light rail line that has worked.  He did not believe that this County has vetted light rail as an effective transportation mode.  Therefore, he did not know if any where in the Neighborhood Model that anything is mentioned about light rail.  There is something about that in here that is inferred, which is located on page 7, that says, “The Neighborhood Model supports convenient routes for pedestrians, bicycles, buses and other forms of transit including light rail.”  But, he was not certain that he saw that in any of the Neighborhood Model reports that he has reviewed.  He agreed with transit, but thought that the jury was out on bus rapid transit.  But, he felt that the idea of investigating that is a good idea.  He has looked at light rail systems that have received significant government subsidies and found that they still failed to meet rider ship objectives.  Then they got smart about five years ago when the Highwaffer Line was founded in Minneapolis by setting the projections so low that all they say is that they are exceeding projections. 


·         In May he was in Minneapolis at 9:01 a.m. during the rush traffic and there were empty trains running.  The Highwaffer Line is a diagonal road, which was supposed to be a road.  But, they took that right-of-way and put a light rail on it.  Now they have had a multitude of accidents because the road was a diagonal.  That is a specific issue with that particular design.  All of the research that he has seen has indicated that it requires more government subsidy than a bus line.  When a bus line runs on infrastructure, cars can run on that same infrastructure and generally they are called roads. That information is found on page 7.


·         He supported the addition of the Meadow Creek Parkway.  Therefore, he would love to see the addition on page 1 of, “Complete the Meadow Creek Project.” 


·         On page 22, general design standards for roads, he thought that the idea of building roads that can accommodate bus lane pull overs was a great idea.  He thought that the idea of acquiring right-of-way that would be required for a light rail system is a bad idea and he would recommend dropping rail service, etc. 


·         He questioned goal #4 on page 33, which was in regard to establishing a system to coordinate study implementation of the plan. The last objective was to hire staff at each locality or region to be in charge of grant writing.  He did not think that this Board wishes to put any kind of onus on any other locality.  He felt that it comes out of the other plan and just needs to be adjusted.  If this Board wishes to add to the bureaucracy another person to write grants, then that is their inkling.  But, he did not think they wanted to put that on other localities.


·         Finally, on page 39 he would point out that he was not a big fan of light rail service and did not feel that there was sufficient density to provide that service to Standardsville or out Route 250 West.  It may be that it is projected for the County to have sufficient density in the future, but he felt that roads and mass transit, other than light rail, would better serve the public.


There being no further public comment, the public hearing was closed and the matter placed before the Commission for discussion.


Mr. Thomas agreed with Mr. Williamson that right now the light rail service was not a feasible project.  He asked if setting aside land for the future use of a median strip along Route 29 was in this document. 


Mr. Benish stated that the general statement directed staff to consider the broad range of mass transit, including buses or other alternatives that allow us to consider that as something that is on the table and should be considered in future planning.   The UNJAM and CHART Study have components that discuss transit and the timing of transit other than buses. Under our current 5 to 15 year growth period that might be more problematic, but there will be some point in the future if they continue to grow that density will be there.  Those opportunities are lost now when lower density development takes those opportunities adjacent to rail lines or medians.  That is staff’s concern.  Staff might not be ready for it now, but it is awful difficult to get those borders and preserve them in the future. 


Mr. Rieley stated that paying attention to an unrealistic form of transportation takes their eye off of the ball and makes an excuse for not dealing with the realities of the situation. Every figure that he has ever seen about the functioning rail systems is that it requires a metropolitan area of at least a million people to make any sense.  The density has to be far greater.  He agreed with Mr. Williamson’s comments that they ought to back off on the references to light rail. He did not think there was a real prospect for a light rail system in the next 20 years.  He stated that he loved the idea of a light rail system, but felt that they have to deal with reality.  The reality is that this is not a viable option within the next 20 years.


Mr. Morris felt that the light rail system was just not realistic and should not be included.  He agreed that goal #4 on page 33 should be eliminated concerning hiring grant writing personnel in each locality.  All of the ideas that Ms. Joseph has identified really deserve some attention.


Mr. Benish asked if goal #4 should be deleted or reworded.  In this draft they were basically accepting the regional recommendations by mimicking them here.  But, if the Commission wanted to delete it that it could be deleted from the local plan, but it would be kept in the regional plan.


Ms. Joseph asked that goal #4 be deleted from the document.


Mr. Thomas suggested that the wording of #4 be softened.


Mr. Morris stated that he liked Mr. Rieley’s suggestion that they cooperate regionally in acquiring grants.


The consensus of the Planning Commission was to use Mr. Rieley’s suggested wording, “That they would cooperate regionally in acquiring grants.”


Ms. Joseph asked Mr. Craddock to weigh in on the light rail system.


Mr. Craddock agreed with Mr. Williamson’s position to eliminate the reference about the light rail system.


Ms. Joseph asked Mr. Rieley if he was suggesting staff to eliminate the specific reference to light rail and replace it with just to be aware of the corridors.


Mr. Rieley suggested that staff downplay the references to the light rail system, but not to take it out everywhere in the document.


Mr. Benish stated that it would be more of a preliminary statement to keep it in your mind that there may be reason to be aware of it, but not to be making direct recommendations about providing it. 


Mr. Rieley suggested that they be honest about the fact that if it comes about that it will be in the 30 to 50 year range.


Mr. Wade felt that it was general knowledge that they were not ready for it now, but if they don’t plan for it or at least note it that if or when they ever get there if they have to acquire a right-of-way that it will be very difficult.


Mr. Rieley noted that they have been building subdivisions in the way of road routes that they know they have to have and they will not be setting aside light rail corridors.


Mr. Benish stated that staff will do a rewrite on light rail and tone it down a bit.  He suggested that they discuss Ms. Joseph’s questions, skipping the typos that staff would automatically fix.  On page 2 at the bottom of the page, Ms. Joseph asked for some information about that policy.  He noted that staff drafted a very simple policy.


Mr. Wade explained that the policy was adopted by the Board in July, 2005.  Traditionally what had happened with unpaved roads was that when private citizens agreed to pave it if it was within VDOT’s right-of-way, that VDOT would just do it without contacting the County.  But some controversial projects came up in the last couple of years and the County wanted to have some control over this.  The Board has essentially adopted this policy.  Now whenever these requests come in, VDOT contacts the County and the Board lets us know if a public hearing is required.  Then the Board makes a decision and gives a recommendation to VDOT.  Previously VDOT basically did this without contacting the County on an official basis.


Mr. Benish reviewed the list of questions raised by Ms. Joseph and explained the following changes.


·         On page 13, regarding the question about the multi-modal transportation plan, staff felt that the wording might be a bit confusing. The second bolded paragraph on page 13 says that a conceptual multi-modal transportation plan to address these deficiencies (around 250 East) will result from the study.  The 250 East Study has been completed by VDOT and has been put in our hands.  Staff is using it with the Pantops Study and may use it for future work regionally with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission on the Zion Crossroads Study to come up with a multi-modal plan.  Multi-modal here, as VDOT intended it in the original 250 East Study, was multi-modal in terms of bicycles, sidewalks, roads and bus stops.  There are recommendations in those studies for those modes.  Ultimately, staff is going to include those appropriate recommendations in the Pantops Study.  Staff will clean the language up because it seems to be suggesting that there is another study that VDOT is doing.


·         The correction will be made on page 14.


·         On page 19, a separate bullet and recommendation will be added for each road.  Meadow Creek Parkway, 29H250 and 29 North will be added.


·         On page 22, “urban areas” is the appropriate language to be used.


·         On page 24, standard #11 is a hold over from prior plans in 1989. At that time there were intersection separations that were desirable by VDOT. This references arterial roadways.  But, certainly exceptions can and have been made in the past.   After discussion, it was determined that standard #11 would stay in the plan.


·         Staff will make the corrections on page 25, which deals with the bus transfer system to explain in more detail how it is used.


·         On page 40, the reference to the Western By-Pass can be removed.  That part of the profile was to explain what the existing conditions were. Since that was a proposed road, staff did not feel it was necessary.  In the recommendations of the transportation study, it would be useful to refer people back to the discussion of the Meadow Creek Parkway in the transportation section to follow the CHART recommendations for the Western By-Pass.  That would leave something in the profile that would send people to the right information.


·         In the transportation section, including the third item, “Southern Connector” will be replaced with “Southern Parkway.”


Mr. Rieley questioned to what degree that number 2 on page 22 was reflective of the conversation that they had. From his perspective it should be a little bit wider.  He felt what they had talked about was that the increased vehicle speed may in fact not be consistent with the rural character of the County and lead to more rapid development of rural areas.  He suggested that they reconsider including “generally widening pavement width” because the issue is partially horizontal alignment and vertical alignment because that is what controls design speed.  He preferred not to include language that discourages the paving of shoulders, particularly because it was very beneficial on safety, particularly on bicycle use.  He suggested the following language, “Disregard improvements which contribute to increased vehicle speeds such as straightening alignments” deleting the parenthetical phrase “both the horizontal and vertical.”  Also, leave out “in generally widening pavement width” and go straight to “in the number of lanes.”  In other words, leave in “increasing the number of lanes in may create less safe conditions and may not be consistent with it.”  Paving the shoulder for enhanced safety for bicycle use shall be encouraged.  That is clearly making a big separation between horizontal alignment and design speed and the width of the roadway for safety.


Mr. Benish stated that the language was adequate in the third hyphen under #1, and Mr. Rieley suggested that staff make that more consistent.


The Planning Commission agreed to include the following statement made by Mr. Rieley:  “Paving the shoulders for enhanced safety and bicycle use should be encouraged” and to leave out “both horizontal and vertical” and “in generally widening the.”


Ms. Joseph asked staff what would happen next with the document.


Mr. Benish stated that there were a couple of things that staff wanted to go back and look at, make the changes and then bring it back as a consent agenda item for review by the Commission in a few weeks.


In summary, the Planning Commission did not take final action on CPA-2005-001, Land Use Plan Transportation Update, but held a public hearing to obtain public comment and allow staff to respond to their questions.  The Commission asked staff to make the changes and provide the final version on the consent agenda at a later date. 


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