Before The Albemarle County Planning Commission
Places 29 Work Session
Comments by Cale Jaffe
Southern Environmental Law Center
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Good evening, my Cale Jaffe with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Vision Statement and Guiding Principles for the Places 29 Master Plan process. I would like to share SELC’s comments, beginning with the Vision Statement, and then moving through the Guiding Principles, one by one.
The Draft begins with a strong Vision Statement that emphasizes the importance of compact development organized into neighborhoods and employment centers that are “walkable.” What is missing, however, is an understanding of what this Neighborhood Model needs to mean for it to be successful. In particular, these developed areas need to be more than “pedestrian accessible” – they need to be truly “pedestrian oriented.”
A “pedestrian oriented” community is one where the easiest and most common-sense way to get around is on foot, and where one individual in a car does not become the default means of transportation. Stated differently, instead of generically referring to “multi-modal” transportation, the Vision Statement should emphasize that these centers will be designed so that people will use the automobile less and rely instead on walking, bicycling and mass transit.
The Vision Statement also mentions an emphasis on mixed-use development, with retail, housing, and “employment opportunities.” Missing is a discussion of office space as well as retail and housing. Moreover, all of these uses need to be integrated into the same compact, pedestrian-oriented community.
These details are important, because they are critical to lessen the impact of new development on Route 29. Without pedestrian-oriented development, the 29 North Corridor is likely to see more suburban sprawl projects that only end up increasing the development pressure on the rural areas.
1. Bullet point #1 mentions the Neighborhood Model, but it is important to state that any new development proposals in the four Northern Development areas should follow the Neighborhood Model because development would be occurring within the context of existing residential neighborhoods – Woodbrook, Forest Lakes, Earlysville Road, etc. – and also because new projects need to differ from the existing commercial and office mix on Route 29.
2. The second bullet point mentions preserving the natural environment, which should include protecting the natural environment and the character of features in the Growth Areas, especially along the Rivanna River, along with the concerns about the rural areas’ special character. This is essential to provide residents in the Growth Areas a sense of connectivity to the rural character and history of the County.
3. The third point recognizes the additional traffic pressure on Route 29. Development must occur in the context of whether or not the existing Route 29 can take additional traffic and the County should consider the addition of new and innovative approaches to public transit, such as a dedicated lane for Bus Rapid Transit (see www.gobrt.org for more information) to lessen the impact of increased development on Route 29. Concerns about Route 29 as a north-south corridor for the rest of the state also need to be addressed in the Places 29 Guiding Principles.
4. No comments.
5. No comments.
6. The sixth point references locating housing close to employment centers and shopping. In order to preserve the character of existing neighborhoods, attention must be paid to building new housing in a truly integrated fashion with the commercial and office space. The emphasis on integration is a key aspect of the Neighborhood Model, as discussed in the Vision Statement above.
7. No comments.
8. The eighth point recognizes the need to develop the County’s infrastructure before it is needed. Added to this point should be a focus on the phasing of infrastructure. As we have seen in Crozet, this is difficult to do. Thus, the Planning Commission might want to consider how best to provide for infrastructure needs ahead of the time it is needed.
9. This principle acknowledges that a multi-modal transportation system is needed to address regional as well as local traffic issues. Implied, but not stated, is that statewide concerns (from Northern Virginia to Danville) need to be a part of the picture.
10. Point #10 mentions improving the interconnectivity of existing neighborhoods. Because much of the traffic going east and west across 29 impedes the free flow of traffic along 29, thought should be given to eliminating the at-grade interchanges at Rio and Greenbrier Drive. In addition, there need to be pedestrian-friendly ways to cross Route 29. Pedestrian bridges from Forest Lakes, for example, have been suggested at earlier meetings.
11. Good aesthetic design is crucially important on new streets and in retrofitting Route 29. The work done by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission in its Phase I study of Route 29 is especially noteworthy in this regard. Form and function can be intertwined.
12. Point #12 addresses some of the public transportation concerns. Included in this discussion should be an emphasis on frequent shuttle bus routes for short segments between the developed areas that then connect with longer bus routes going into the City and to the University.
Open Space and Community Amenities:
13. This point focuses on protecting viewsheds, a goal which can be advanced by requiring developers to “think outside the box” and incorporate site attributes and amenities (e.g., view of the Blue Ridge, on-site streams) into their designs. By creating public spaces that utilize these attributes, the County could also address the need of residents in the Growth Area to feel connected to the rural areas of the County.
14. The Northern Development area should have its own Greenway master plan using the County’s excellent Greenways Coordinator (Dan Mahon) to help develop a master plan for greenways, parks and other public spaces within the development areas.
15. Finally, schools and libraries usually have some land attached to them, and these can be utilized as part of the park spaces.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be happy to answer any questions the Planning Commission might have.
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