County Proposes Lower Population Densities in Crozet

Crozet Master Plan 2009 Zoning Map. Click to download PDF.

Responding to Crozet’s citizens’ anger over potential housing densities contained in the 2004 Crozet Master Plan, Albemarle County planners proposed to reduce densities allowable through rezoning in the town’s residential areas at the first of five forums on modifications to the plan held at the Field School Oct. 15.

When it was drafted and adopted, the Crozet Master Plan was understood by Crozet residents to prepare for a total future population of 12,500, the sum of housing densities allowed in the zoning that existed at the time. That ultimate population was repeatedly stated in the plan. Subsequent rezonings approved by the Board of Supervisors, notably Old Trail, revealed that the plan, in discrepancies in its definitions and map references, authorized densities that could potentially raise the future population to 24,000 residents, which would make it larger than Waynesboro, which presently has about 22,000 residents.

Planners suggested that some “neighborhood centers,” locations within residential areas that would be eligible for mixed commercial and residential development, be eliminated or scaled down.

“Primarily, the changes are to land use density recommendations,” said planner Elaine Echols. “There’s a lot less red and pink [designations on the land use map]. We’re suggesting Crozet doesn’t need all those centers.” This idea had already occurred to Crozet residents.

“The density and mix of uses [in the new recommendations] get lower as you move to the fringes,” added planner Rebecca Ragsdale. This proposal responds to concern citizens had over new high density developments along the growth area boundary with the rural area. Citizens had wanted a density gradient from the boundary, where they prefer low densities, to the commercial centers, where high densities are encouraged. Planners proposed a new density designation, “CT2,” or two houses per acre, to describe the density along the boundary.

Crozet Master Plan 2004 and 2009 comparison. Click to download PDF.

On the west side of Crozet, planners proposed to scale down centers conjectured in the undeveloped area between Blue Ridge Avenue and Orchard Acres and along Jarmans Gap Road. On the east side, a hypothetical center in the area west of Western Ridge, now to be developed as single-family houses under the name ‘Foothill Crossing,” was dropped and planners also suggested that parcels around the Masonic Lodge on Rt. 250 should have lower numbers of units. Should Crozet need a third elementary school, the plan still calls for it to be located in the eastern half of the growth area. Planners posed two alternatives for density west of Cory Farm, and the crowd preferred a smaller area zoned for four houses per acre to a larger area, possibly encroaching on nearby creeks, zoned two houses per acre.

None of the proposals imply a change in current zoning, but rather the density that a property is eligible for through rezoning.

Crozet Community Advisory Council member Jon Mikalson asked how many units were potentially reduced through the suggested changes and Echols responded, “We haven’t gotten a calculator out.” Planners had hoped to avoid a discussion over population, expecting trouble with that subject, and tried to focus on housing types. But that answer annoyed the audience, who felt that the reduction should be quantifiable according to data already possessed by planners. “Big-picture-wise, there will be a lower density—population—in Crozet,” Echols said. “The plan and the map say different things and that’s what we are trying to rectify.”

“It seems we have a hard time getting you guys to focus on the total population,” complained one audience member.

Charles Mitchell of Crozet put the audience’s expectation more explicitly. “You owe it to us to show us what it takes to get to 12,000,” he said. “I was here in 2004 and did the original plan. We’re backing into something.”

“Reducing the [plan’s] map colors reduces the potential for rezoning,” said County planning chief David Benish. “We’re taking the potential down. The predominant density in Crozet is low density. We’re trying to keep the density closer to what the community wants.”

Audience members wanted to know if the densities being talked about fit with existing road and school infrastructure, especially the traffic capacity of Rt. 250. Citizens asked for  a traffic light at the Rt. 240 intersection with Rt. 250 at Mechums River, and urged the construction of the “eastern connector,” the road proposed to connect Cory Farm with MusicToday. That project involves two expensive bridges, one over Lickinghole Creek and another over the CSX railroad tracks. Others wanted commercial development along Rt. 250 stopped so that access to Interstate 64 is not impeded by more traffic lights. Questions were also raised about water and sewer capacities. Benish said that those capacities now are adequate for the 12,500 population envisioned in the 2004 plan.

CCAC Chair Mike Marshall said the reductions did not go far enough, that homeowners did not want to worry that their neighbors could possibly sell out for mixed commercial use and that residential areas should be exclusively residential. Only commercial areas should be allowed mixed uses, he said.

CCAC member Mary Rice reminded the crowd that the county has changed direction with its recent proposals. “This is the first time we have ever heard them talk about reducing densities,” she said. “We should support them in that.”

The next forum will discuss issues with downtown Crozet, specifically the status of residential areas adjoining it, on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Field School (old Crozet Elementary). The area around MusicToday (formerly ConAgra) and issues touching on industrial uses there will be part of the forum. The third forum, Dec. 17, will address light industrial zoning in the greater Crozet area. Planning staffers are slated to submit a report to the Planning Commission Dec. 15 on the availability of light industrial land in the county.

Next spring, the CCAC will forward a detailed list of recommended changes to the plan to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors after the community discusses desirable changes and possible options through the five public forums.