The first phase of a plan to redevelop the north downtown commercial zone is on track despite the sick real estate market and the languorous habits of Albemarle County’s planning approval process, according to the project’s architect, Bill Atwood.
“We’re 100 percent committed,” he said. “It’s taken a very long time to get through the [approval] system. The [Crozet citizens’] committee’s participation made the difference. Our original drawings were weak. We went with a warehouse look, and then dropped back” in the face of citizens’ rejection of it. “The architecture in Crozet needs to be controlled more by Crozet people,” Atwood asserted.
But the project still needs bank financing and that’s not arranged.
“We are still looking for viable options for moving forward,” said project manager David Wyant Jr., who represents owners Sandra Everton and Monroe Russell. Wyant is Everton’s son. “We’re working two avenues. With the way the economy is, bank lending is tight.
“The shopping center has had very little done for it for years. We may give it a facelift if we don’t proceed with the new project now. We would give it a more uniform appearance and fix the infrastructure issues, such as the drainage problem.”
Crozet Station doesn’t have final approval yet from Albemarle County. The project was approved by the Architectural Review Board and a certificate of appropriateness has been issued for it, but the site plan has not been signed-off on until easements and other details are defined, but Wyant considers approval only a matter of time.
“Crozet Station is the kind of project that needs to happen now, more than it did a year ago,” Atwood said, “and we are going to do our best to get it going this year.
“This real estate crisis is really about Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and southern Florida. As a small college town, we are the best investment. A recent real estate report predicts 213 percent growth in college towns. This area is going to take some serious pressure. Albemarle is in the vortex of what’s going to happen. We have a moderate climate.”
That has immediate implications for Crozet, he predicted. “We’re really not good at managing our growth. It has got to start inside Crozet, not outside of it. I think the County desperately needs Crozet to be a small town and they need to leave what’s outside the growth area alone.
“I think things will get moving this summer. We didn’t expect to start before then because the approval process is so lengthy.
“Moderately priced housing will always be marketable,” Atwood said. The plan still calls for 30 condominiums in two stories over the stores.
“Our goal is a rent-to-own program. We think we can get the project financed on that basis.” Residents would pay “a minor deposit, like a damage deposit,” he said, and at some point would have to decide if they wanted to buy. He said units would be priced “below $300,000.”
Atwood said buyers’ interests are shifting. “The next generation of buyers, those under age 40, has a different sense of what quality and value are. They want a walkable community. We don’t see how we lose with that plan.”
“The design is intended to minimize disturbance to the businesses,” Wyant said, acknowledging store owners’ anxiety about disruptions of their businesses. “That’s more expensive for us, but we think it’s more important for us to work with the businesses. Once the steel is in place, everything will happen above the stores.”
Atwood said the solution in the plan was to move the new structure in front of the existing stores and create a covered arcade in front of them. “In effect, we’re creating a series of ‘Ls’. We’re trying to minimize the impact on stores. We got a list from Crozet Great Valu about what they have to have and we believe we’ve met their needs. We have to reinforce a lot of the existing construction in the shopping center.” He singled out drainage issues in particular.
“We still have some easements to sign for sewers and construction.” The new project will emphasize water catchment and reuse and the plan will include tanks under the parking lot to hold storm water runoff.
Wyant said that as store leases expire, businesses will be charged higher rents, but he said he will work with store owners and approach market rates only in stages.
If the big project is undertaken, the second phase of redevelopment will focus on the stores immediately west, the car wash and Patterson’s Flower Shop, and the final phase would address the complex of buildings that made up the old fruit growers cooperative. Those, Wyant said, are still candidates for demolition.
No changes are currently planned for the buildings on west end of the property, said Atwood, but he was less convinced about the prospect of demolition.
“The next step will be a complete master plan of the whole property. What we’ll do is reinvent the fruit growers buildings. The outside will look essentially the way it does, but the inside will be reinvented.” Atwood said the total number of residential units envisioned for the whole property is probably 70. “Adaptive reuse is going to be the future. We have to be clever about reinventing things inside their envelope.”
He also sees the stakes rising for the longtime businesses in north downtown as new stores open on Rt. 250. “I think the businesses in Crozet Shopping Center need Crozet Station to happen, especially when Harris Teeter gets going.”