The proposed Albemarle economic development action plan has been drawing much attention. The initial version was developed by members of the local business community in meetings with supervisor Ken Boyd and staff. The meetings took place without the knowledge of supervisors Dennis Rooker and Ann Mallek, chair of the Board of Supervisors. To the surprise of supervisors Rooker and Mallek, the action plan appeared on the agenda for discussion in a work session in May.
Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd previously told C-VILLE his economic development plan comes from “ideas that I’ve sort of been building on during all my years on the Board of Supervisors and the school board, and a philosophy that I have that if we leave people alone to go at their own pace, they’ll do the right thing.”
Time overruns of previous agenda items resulted in a short work session in May. A longer work session in June included public comments, sharp exchanges between supervisors and proposals for revisions. A public hearing on the plan now is scheduled for July 14. Support from supervisors Boyd, Lindsay Dorrier, Duane Snow and Rodney Thomas is driving this fast-track handling of the plan.
At the June work session, environmentalists raised many concerns about language in the initial draft. A revision of the action plan is available now at the Albemarle County website.
This revised draft is improved in many ways. However, the Sierra Club believes the revised draft contains serious flaws.
The draft states that the primary goal of the action plan is to “Increase the County’s economic vitality and future revenues through economic development by expanding the commercial tax base.” This is too narrow. The Sierra Club believes, for example, that better jobs for the working poor and affordable housing should be included among primary goals of an economic action plan.
We know that overpopulation undermines environmental protection and the accomplishment of sustainability. Given this, the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club believes that an economic development action plan should reject strategies that require or promote population growth. The draft plan proposes attracting targeted types of business. We are concerned that jobs in businesses that move here will be filled not by current residents but largely by new residents who move here specifically to fill the transplanted jobs.
The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club believes promotion of local food production and local direct marketing are key to the survival of local agriculture. We have been dismayed by the unwillingness of the supervisors to fund the rural economic development position called for in our comprehensive plan. The discussion in the draft action plan lumps agribusiness with tourism, downplaying the fundamental role of agriculture in feeding our population.
Recently, some members of the Board of Supervisors succeeded in cutting financial support for vital areas of the County government (e.g. planning, education). Now, we see the same board members proposing an economic development plan that places new burdens on existing staff and launches a major intrusion by local government into the workings of the local economy. We believe no new burdens should be placed on staff until currently frozen planning positions, especially rural planning positions, are filled. Also, we are concerned that as the general ability of the Albemarle County government to serve the general public good is being reduced, it is acquiring a new and problematic role as an instrument of some local business interests.
The Sierra Club encourages all concerned residents to read the revised draft economic development plan and communicate your thoughts about it to decision-makers. Staff in the Albemarle Department of Community Development will hold a roundtable for public comment on July 1. You can e-mail your thoughts to all Albemarle supervisors at email@example.com. Your opinion will matter if you share it with decision makers!
Tom Olivier holds degrees in biology and biological anthropology. He is conservation chairman of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. He lives in southern Albemarle County where he builds computer models of animal populations and raises sheep with his wife, Wren.