Places29 — Ready for a Vote

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors appears poised to adopt the Places29 plan, after making some final changes at its Nov. 10 meeting. PEC has been a longstanding advocate for Places29 — a blueprint for strategic transportation investments and smart land use planning that will reduce traffic congestion and create better options for walking, biking and public transit. The current draft, which will go to a vote in January, is a positive outcome from a meeting at which there was real danger that the Board would fundamentally weaken the plan.

Before the meeting, PEC sent an action alert urging citizens to tell the Board:

  1. To maintain the plan’s focus on fixing traffic congestion at critical intersections like Rt. 29 / Rio Rd. and Rt. 29 / Hydraulic Rd.
  2. To reject a needless Growth Area expansion that would make traffic on Rt. 29 North worse instead of better.

PEC also sent a targeted mailing to 450 homes in the Forest Lakes community, which would bear the brunt of traffic impacts from the proposed Growth Area expansion. We circulated our email action alert as broadly as possible among residents of Forest Lakes and nearby neighborhoods, and the Forest Lakes homeowners association used information from PEC to set up an online petition opposing the Growth Area expansion, which was signed by over 100 people.

At the Nov. 10 meeting, the Board agreed to demands from some commercial property owners to cut out references to grade-separated interchanges as “necessary” components of a solution for Rt. 29. This is in denial of the evidence from VDOT studies, which have repeatedly shown that grade-separated interchanges — allowing traffic to cross over Rt. 29 without traffic lights — are, in fact, necessary to unclog fix traffic congestion at critical intersections.

However, the Board did decide to maintain the recommendation for “Small Area Plans” that focus on these intersections. This commitment to finding solutions for problem intersections is important, given that the Board faced a serious push to put off even planning for these areas for another five years or more.

The Board also decided to drop plans for a 120-acre Growth Area expansion near Forest Lakes that would open the land for big-box development. Who really thinks, as they make their way between traffic lights on Rt. 29 north of Charlottesville that this area needs more development? And, as PEC pointed out in our action alert, much of the growth that has already been approved isn’t visible yet. In the Rt. 29 North Growth Area alone, Albemarle has already approved approximately 3,500 new housing units and 2.25 million square feet of commercial space (the size of 20 new Lowes). Countywide, there is enough residential development approved to meet projected demand for almost 20 years! Given these facts, there is simply no reason to expand the current growth area.

PEC also argued that Albemarle shouldn’t plan for more growth if it isn’t ready to deal with the traffic. Few, if any, of the transportation projects necessary to handle the proposed Growth Area expansion will be in place within 5-10 years. Since Rt. 29 is strained now, expanding the Growth Area just doesn’t make sense.

Citizens who contacted the Board of Supervisors made the difference. Supervisor Ken Boyd, who represents Forest Lakes and nearby neighborhoods, said that he had to withdraw his support for a Growth Area expansion because so many citizens had expressed concern. Mr. Boyd said, “Because I was elected to represent Rivanna, I’m going to do what the people said.”