At the outset, I want to be perfectly clear: Albemarle County Planning Commission actions on 30 July were legal. But that does not make them right.

On July 23, the Planning Commission had a record crowd of mostly supporters for the Southwood redevelopment project, spearheaded by Habitat for Humanity, to provide better housing at a deteriorating trailer park. In my 16 years of this work, I believe it was one of the largest, if not the largest, Planning Commission audience ever.

Hundreds of citizens came out to be a part of the public process.  There was live translation from English into Spanish provided by the applicant to ensure the public knew what was going on.

After a long public hearing, long applicant testimony and lengthy remarks from the commission, the commission voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the proposed rezoning. All of the public comments and planning commission deliberations would be forwarded in a packet to the Board of Supervisors.

The crowd applauded, people hugged, some even cried, but for the most part there were smiles all around: The recommendation was going forward. Next step: the supervisors, who will make the final decision.

Not so fast.

The chairman of the Planning Commission, Tim Keller, had another idea. According to his comments after the July 23 vote, he had a series of one-on-one meetings with other commissioners and drafted two Resolutions of Agreement for the Planning Commission to consider under “new business.”

All the planning commissioners apparently knew this was coming — the public did not. County staff might have been equally blindsided.

A representative of the applicant for Southwood was at the July 30 meeting (although on another matter) and was not informed of the planned discussion on the project, although that discussion was merely minutes away.

So a week after the citizenry gathered to be a part of the public process, in a room as empty as the previous week’s was full, the  Albemarle planning commissioners used a parliamentary procedure to enumerate all of the problems they had with the Southwood application that they already had approved 6-1. 

They then endorsed, without so much as a single word change, an emotionally charged document challenging the applicant’s integrity and questioning its commitment to affordable housing.

As readers might know, The Free Enterprise Forum does not have a position on this or any other individual project. But we feel that the commission’s revisionist ROA policy is inconsistent with its stated desire for transparency, and should be called out as double dealing and ended.

It might be legal, but it is not right.

Neil Williamson is president of The Free Enterprise Forum. This commentary is adapted from comments presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Aug. 6.

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