Albemarle will pay community members on plan update group | local government

Albemarle County will now pay approximately $15 per hour to community members who serve on a task force to help county staff work on the county’s comprehensive plan update.

The oversight board voted unanimously this week to pay about $1,000 per person for group members who will work on parts of the overall plan’s public engagement process and plan content.

But board members questioned some of the questions about applying to the task force, how members will be updated on planning concepts and how the wider community will be involved in the process.

The comprehensive plan is the county’s guiding document for long-term planning, including land use and resource protection. The overall plan includes master plans for the county’s designated development areas as well as small area plans.

Michaela Accardi, senior county planner, said compensating task force members is one approach that has been used to build equity and inclusion into planning processes.

People also read…

“The primary purpose of the compensation is to remove barriers and encourage applicants from communities in Albemarle County that have been underrepresented in our planning processes,” she said.

Other agencies and state governments have compensated committee members for their services, such as the University of Virginia, Blue Ridge Health District, Richmond, and Arlington County.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she was in favor of paying community members and using that effort as a test of the process.

“I think we keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome,” she said. “It’s a bit far-fetched, so I’m willing to break out of that model we were using and try something different.”

Some possible barriers cited by staff were the added cost of childcare, time away from work, and access to transportation.

The document helps guide future zoning changes and other policy priorities. The county plans to update the document in four phases and estimates it will be completed in 2024.

The eight to twelve members of the group have not yet been selected. Officials hope to draw members of historically underrepresented groups into planning processes. It’s a big target and includes those under 35; over 65; tenants; those with less than a bachelor’s degree; multilingual; Black, Hispanic, or Latino; foreign-born or non-US citizens; work in Albemarle; or want to live in the county.

“Essentially, this group serves as a sounding board to ensure our materials are accessible and understandable before we share them with the general public,” said county planning officer Rachel Falkenstein. “We will also be looking to the task force to provide feedback on plan recommendations that would be presented to the Planning Commission and Council.”

Board chair Donna Price said people between the ages of 30 and 50 may be the age group in which the county should seek the greatest number of task force members.

“Those who are younger may not have enough life experiences to contribute fully and those who are older may be a bit more targeted as seniors,” she said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said any changes supported by the working group should be made known to the general public before being incorporated into the documents.

“I understand that we are trying very hard to reach new people, but we also need to find a way to keep all public discussions going so that those who are interested, no matter where they are, have a chance to learn what that the current state of discussion is,” she said.

County staff said a project website would be launched before the end of January with information about upcoming public engagement opportunities and the task force’s application.