New houses are being steadily added to Old Trail, but the success of the development will ultimately depend on how the project develops its commercial center, according to Old Trail Development Manager Dave Brockman.
“Housing is the market now,” he said. “It’s driving things. We’re trying to strike the right balance.” Old Trail added 56 new houses in 2013 and expects to end 2014 with somewhere between 40 and 50 new homes finished, he said.
Brockman said two large blocks near The Lodge at Old Trail containing 40 single-family lots are all sold and many houses have been built. Based on experience with previous sales, the lot sizes in those blocks were enlarged to about 4,500 square feet to make them more marketable, he said, and the houses on them typically range in size from 2,500 to 2,800 sq/ft.
“One thing we’ve been trying to do, and it’s been tricky, is to get more diversity in what we offer in residential,” he said. Another section under development adjoining the golf course’s driving range, on a new road named Golf View Drive, has 32 lots ranging 10,000 to 15,000 sq/ft each and houses on those contain roughly 3,500 to 4,000 sq/ft. That section now has Old Trail’s most expensive offerings.
Brockman said the final design for Golf View Drive is unsettled. It may connect directly to Old Trail Drive or it might dogleg and join Old Trail Drive at the second traffic circle, the one nearer the pool, which presently has no other roads joining it. Brockman said more similar-sized lots in this section west of the village center will be developed for sale in 2015-16.
“We haven’t really established ourselves in the mixed-use market,” he said, referring to commercial buildings in which upper floors are residential, as in the project’s existing commercial structures.
As part of remedying that, Old Trail is in “the final throes of contract negotiations” to build what Brockman described as four “row houses” along Claremont Drive near The Lodge. They will be part of a 19-unit section that will finish the partially built-out block north of the commercial center. A street will open connecting the second traffic circle with Claremont Drive. A row house differs from a townhouse, Brockman said, in that the row houses will be four stories tall, rather than three. “A row house is all about being on the street,” he said. He said he thinks the four units will be under construction within about a month.
“We need to create a great urban space that people will get excited about. It’s critical,” he said. “I’ve had tremendous interest from commercial tenants.”
Three new buildings are planned to occupy the commercial area in between the existing business and the planned row houses. Those buildings, which will not connect, will contain a total of 12,000 sq/ft of commercial space on their lower floors. That could mean as many as four businesses in each building, but Brockman said some of the interest is from businesses that would want the entire ground floor for themselves. The upper floors of each building will have apartments.
Anna’s Restaurant will close in October, Brockman said, and he is trying to attract another restaurant to the space. He said he has a prospective tenant. Trailside Coffee will get new owners, but is expected to stay much as it is, though its new managers are weighing some changes.
“Entertainment-based commercial tenants will be our focus” for filling the new buildings, he said.
He said he has not met with county officials about their approval for the commercial buildings. “We haven’t finalized deals with prospectives, so the timetable for the new commercial buildings will likely be next year. We believe the interest is there, so it’s imminent.
“Banks are raising the requirements on financing development,” he said, and that has inhibited mixed-use projects. “Private dollars will have to come to the table,” he summed up.
At a community meeting he held recently, Brockman said the use of the section bordering Rt. 250, which is now zoned residential, was raised with the implication that it should be converted to commercial. This is the area that was bruited about as a brewery location last spring, before the California company that was rumored to be interested in it took a $6 million offer from the city of Richmond to locate there. “We’re not trying to rush into anything,” Brockman cautioned. “But is single family the right use for that acreage?”
The use of the northwest corner of the Rt. 250 /Old Trail Drive intersection was intensely debated during the development of the Crozet Master Plan in 2004 and during its revision in 2010. Both times Crozet citizens insisted that it stay residential. Old Trail’s commercial area was purposely moved away from Rt. 250 to conform to the principles of a planning concept called “New Urbanism,” which stresses walkability. In the master plan, Old Trail Village and downtown Crozet are envisioned as commercial centers ringed around by neighborhoods.
“Our customers say they want to be able to walk to things, so they are getting the concept of New Urbanism,” Brockman said.
He added that he supports a walking trail connection between Old Trail’s commercial village and downtown Crozet. He’s met with Crozet Trails Crew leaders and Albemarle County Parks and Recreation department officials to scout the right location for it.
Brockman said the development expects to be able to offer 100 lots to builders this fall. So far about a total of about 500 houses have been built in the project. Up to 1,600 units are authorized in the parts of the development south of Lickinghole Creek, but Brockman said it is unlikely that many will happen because market pressures are toward larger lots than were first contemplated.
Old Trail has recently assigned names to the blocks around the village center and will refer to them as West Village, East Village and Village Highlands (the area toward Rt. 250).
Brockman said he supports the idea of a hotel in Old Trail, or elsewhere in Crozet. “It’s very believable that it could be there,” he said referring to the location proposed for the Rutherfoord Hotel adjoining The Lodge, which crashed in July when the bank backing the project required stricter loan terms. He said he hopes someone will take up the project, which is essentially ready to go.
“We’re trying to be as careful as we can be and make sure that decisions make sense for the Master Plan and the community,” said Brockman, whose family lives in Old Trail too.