Plan to Improve The Square Comes Forward

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Future Parking Conceptual Layout for the Square. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy the County of Albemarle).

County transportation engineer Jack Kelsey, joined by facilities director Trevor Henry, presented a plan to renovate The Square with new grading, storm drains, sidewalks and 29 parking spaces to the Crozet Board of Trade at its March 20 meeting at Crozet Pizza.

Kelsey noted that The Square presents several constraints, mainly three buried utility lines that are not particularly deep and therefore limit grade alterations. A right of way, Rt. 1217, also runs through it. The deal with CSX railroad, in which it gave up a weak claim to ownership of The Square, also required a chain link fence separating the tracks and a 50-foot-wide gate that allows maintenance equipment access to the tracks.

“We have to be very careful about grading,” warned Kelsey. To allow for the installation of storm drains, curbs and sidewalks, the existing grade will come down by six inches, he said. The plan assumes that storm water will be sent down the newly named Barnes Street (formerly Oak Street) to a junction at Piedmont Place and Library Avenue.

The “stub out” railroad entrance was raised first. “Is there any way to change that?” asked Jennie More, White Hall District planning commissioner.

Kelsey discouraged the idea that any change in the deal with CSX is plausible. “They say they have to have [the gate] for the one time they need it.”

The plan shows angled parking on both sides of the street, which becomes one-way, in from Crozet Avenue. Out is by way of Library Avenue.

The Board of Trade agreed that it wants the town’s Christmas tree to stay and in fact be planned for. Kelsey said it means one fewer parking space.

He estimated the construction cost as “ballpark 250K, not including engineering.” It also needs a survey.

For years ownership of The Square was in limbo with neither Albemarle County nor CSX able to establish a clear title. Meanwhile businesses on The Square paid an annual parking fee to the railroad and Parkway Pharmacy was subjected to flooding in heavy rains as water ran off the higher street pavement and in their door.

Now the County fully accepts ownership and it is responsible for the project.

“The project needs to get on the Capital Improvement Projects list, possibly through the Neighborhood Funding Initiative,” Henry suggested. “It’s a very viable source. There may be opportunities at the end of 2017. This type of project is very viable for dollars like that. If we could get money for design meanwhile, we could have drawings ready to bid for summer.”  Henry asked White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek to make the Square project a formal CIP item so that the Facilities Management department can proceed.

The question in the County’s mind, Henry said, was, “Who’s going to take care of it when it’s done?”

“It will be public parking. It could only have restrictions on it if it were maintained by a private entity—such as a business group,” he said.

Kelsey put the construction period at 45 days. “It could drag out to 90,” he said with the voice of experience.

“You think you can shut us down for 45 days?” asked Crozet Hardware owner Rick Ruescher.

“We’ll make a deal to get parking on Barnes during construction,” volunteered Mallek.

“We’ll maintain access and pedestrian access will be maintained, too,” said Henry.

He brought up “the end game” question again—whose responsibility is maintenance?

“It will take management by the businesses,” Henry asserted. That means a legal agreement.

“Will the light stay there?” asked Ross Stevens of Stevens and Company realtors.

“It will probably move to Library Avenue,” Henry said. “But we’ll leave a pedestrian crossing light.”

“Without our businesses in control,” More said, “we can’t control who can park in front of the stores.”

“We get people who park in The Square and spend six hours in The Mudhouse,” said Ruescher. “We have groups of cyclists who park there and ride away. Most of our customers are only in the store 10 minutes. The parking lot stays full, but we don’t know where the owners of the cars are.”

CBT president Mike Marshall asked the group if it was interested in responsibility for The Square. The answer in a show hands was a noncommittal yes, with some businesses more emphatically in support.

Members also pressured county leaders to approach CSX about moving the gate to the end of the railroad’s area and pointed out that the railroad also owns a good access point a short way away on Railroad Avenue. Moving the gate adds about five parking spaces.

The Board of Trade will meet again May 15.

The Square (Photo: Mike Marshall, Crozet Gazette)

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