Jefferson Area Eastern Planning Initiative
Building Livable Communities
The small city and rural areas that make up the Charlottesville, Virginia region are growing rapidly. While growth stimulates new economic and cultural resources, many are concerned that the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the historical ambience of Monticello are being encroached upon by strip commercial development and dispersed subdivisions. These concerns prompted the Sustainability Council of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) to develop the broadly supported 1998 "Sustainability Accords".
In January 2000 the TJPDC launched the Jefferson Area Eastern Planning Initiative (EPI) with a grant from the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) Transportation & Community & System Preservation (TCSP) Program. The EPI Advisory Committee, made up of elected officials, residents, and leaders from business, development, environmental and community groups, met eleven times and hosted four public workshops during the two-year study, focusing on three key questions:
The workshops used the corPlan model, which can be downloaded by clicking the link to the right of this page. It is an Excel Spreadsheet compressed with WinZip. Save the file to your hard drive and uncompress it with the Winzip program. A free evaluation version of Winzip may be downloaded at the link provided. The spreadsheet requires that Microsoft Excel be installed on the computer attempting to open the file. The file is 2.5 MB in size and requires an extended download time, especially on a 22K or 56K modem. The user's guide is also available to the right in pdf format, which requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded for free.
How will we live?
How can community design improve everyday quality of life? The project team developed drawings and spreadsheets describing the physical characteristics of 17 existing community types or "elements" throughout the region, from Charlottesville neighborhoods to small towns like Stanardsville and Palmyra. Each element was scaled to a 12 mile circle, about a 5-minute walk from edge to center, which made it easy for participants to visualize and compare them. Residents evaluated the community elements based on personal perspectives and the regional Sustainability Accords. The team then developed enhanced urban and suburban community elements, showing how more compact growth could occur over time.
Designing Desirable Communities
These design principles were developed by observing our region's historic communities, and can be applied to downtown neighborhoods, growing suburbs, or rural small towns.
NOTE: The EPI is called "The Eastern Planning Initiative" because our funding required us to study the faster-growing, or Eastern, portions of the five-county region. Although not part of the original study, Nelson County has recently adopted a new Comprehensive Plan based on the EPI principles.
Where will we live?
Regional Growth Scenarios
Through games developed by the project team, residents created maps of possible future development patterns by clustering community elements. Using the CorPlan model, the team converted the maps into three scenarios that compared impacts on transportation, land consumption, and other factors from the Sustainability Accords. The reaction from the public at the workshops was clear: residents rejected a dispersed, low-density pattern, and preferred clustered enhanced communities along major corridors and key crossroads.
The Dispersed Scenario shows what can happen by the year 2050 if recent development trends continue. Suburban communities will continue to spread north along US 29 and east along US 250. A large network of wider roads and bypasses costing about $1 billion will be needed, and transit will not be feasible outside the core city. The Town Centers and Urban Core scenarios, by contrast, feature urban and enhanced suburban community elements as the building blocks for development. Growth would be concentrated in and around Charlottesville, with varying options for growth at major crossroads (Town Centers) or around existing villages and towns (Urban CoreL and CoreM).
The transportation system for the alternative scenarios is based upon a pedestrian-friendly street network in the development areas and allows for extensive expansion of the transit system, including rail or bus rapid transit if the community wishes. Large freeways around the city would not be necessary. The street system would cost about $500 million, half as much as the network required by the Dispersed Scenario. The table below shows some real differences in the scenarios. While all would accommodate the same anticipated growth of people and jobs, the alternative scenarios would consume much less land and reduce overall roadway congestion significantly.
How will we get there?
The Advisory Committee and the public agree that business as usual is not a preferred course. They also agree that changing course could be quite a challenge. They asked questions such as: Is it possible to build walkable communities in our auto-oriented society? Is it possible to cluster communities in areas where growth makes sense? Is it possible to change the way roads are planned and built? Is it possible for all localities to agree on a coordinated approach? What happens if not everyone buys into this new approach?
To address these challenges, the Advisory Committee recommends that the localities in the region work together to achieve the keys to success listed to the right. Some have already been initiated or are under consideration. Albemarle County has defined designated development areas in its comprehensive plan and recently incorporated the Neighborhood Model, a blueprint for livable communities, into its plan. Fluvanna County is updating its zoning ordinance; Nelson County is incorporating community elements into its comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. Charlottesville recently completed a Commercial Corridor Study to promote livable communities and is rewriting its zoning code, and Greene County is now embarking upon a comprehensive plan update. TJPDC just completed a Regional Economic Development Plan and is developing the UnJAM 2025 transportation plan that meshes the MPO's goals for the urban area with new visions for the rural areas.
The Advisory Committee lauds the region's localities for all their efforts to work toward a sustainable future and presents this study as an important resource in taking another important step forward.
The workshops used the corPlan model, which can be downloaded by clicking the link to the right of this page. It is an Excel Spreadsheet compressed with WinZip. Save the file to your hard drive and uncompress it with the Winzip program. A free evaluation version of Winzip may be downloaded at the link provided. The spreadsheet requires that Microsoft Excel be installed on the computer attempting to open the file. The file is 2.5 MB in size and requires an extended download time, especially on a 22K or 56K modem. The user's guide is also available to the right in pdf format, which requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded for free. ; (202) 366-1263.-->
For more information on the TJPDC's ongoing work in sustainable transportation and land use planning, visit www.tjpdc.org or contact Executive Director Stephen Williams at , (434) 979-7310.
Myth 1 - We Can Build Our Way Out Of Congestion
Building new freeways and widening roads encourages development to spread, making trips longer and causing growth in overall vehicle miles traveled. The net result is more congestion. The EPI found that the number of congested miles driven under the Dispersed Scenario is nearly twice that of the Town Centers and Urban Core Scenarios despite adding twice the number of roadway lane miles.
Myth 2 - Density Causes Congestion
It is logical to think that more density leads to more congestion. But combining local trips into welldesigned compact development areas actually reduces congestion for two reasons: 1) typical trips are shorter, resulting in fewer vehicle miles driven, and 2) people can choose to walk, bicycle or take transit at least some of the time. The EPI analysis confirms this. The more compact Town Centers and Urban Core Scenarios result in half the congestion of the Dispersed Scenario with far fewer road investments.
Myth 3 - Density Is Unattractive And Not Marketable
The EPI scenarios, in response to strong preferences expressed by local residents, don't call for any new or existing communities to exceed the density of downtown Charlottesville (buildings up to four stories high and five or fewer single family homes per acre). The urban and enhanced suburban communities are able to accommodate more people and jobs by organizing streets, parking, public spaces and buildings more efficiently so suburban places can gradually fill in with attractive, livable amenities. It is primarily the proximity and improved connectivity of the enhanced elements that allows more people to live and work in them, not always bigger buildings or smaller yards. Nationally, these types of community designs are faring quite well in the marketplace.
Myth 4 - Controlling Growth Causes Housing Prices To Increase
Limiting the amount of developable land would raise housing prices if demand exceeded supply. But all of the EPI regional scenarios allow enough land for the anticipated growth. The amount of land needed for new development under the Dispersed scenario is twice what is needed for the other scenarios because virtually all new development would spread into suburbs and rural areas. The alternative scenarios assume that new development would be focused in urban centers, enhanced suburban communities, small towns and villages. These mixed-used community clusters naturally feature a variety of housing types and prices, just as they do today in downtown Charlottesville and the village of Palmyra. Localities can further boost a variety of housing in targeted areas through incentives such as locationefficient mortgage programs and regulations such as inclusive zoning.
Myth 5 - Everywhere Will Look Like Downtown Charlottesville
Participants at EPI workshops and the Advisory Committee agreed that a wide variety of community types and land uses were desirable. The key to improving future development is to make enhancements to several community types, especially in suburban areas, such as giving them focal points and making them walkable. The alternative scenarios feature a variety of community types including urban, enhanced suburban, and traditional suburban areas as well as small towns and villages. Many people will also choose to live in rural areas, but the convenience and attractiveness of the targeted development centers will help localities target most new growth to community centers and preserve open spaces rather than having no choice but to spread out into farm and forestland.