The Biscuit Crumbles
The decision of the departing Kaine administration to bailout the investors in Biscuit Run, the largest subdivision ever approved in Albemarle County, and turn it into a state park will add to growth pressure in Crozet once the housing market begins to revive, which, we nonetheless hope, comes soon.
The addition of Biscuit Run’s 3,100 houses to the Albemarle market with better proximity to Charlottesville meant homebuyers had an attractive alternative at a time when county policies were aiming growth on Crozet and claiming that it could handle a population of 24,000. In those days Biscuit Run promised to vent some of the steam away from western Albemarle.
It’s hard to imagine that if the Commonwealth actually thought it needed a state park in Albemarle that it would have hankered for the 1,200 acres Biscuit Run sits on.
Lawyers representing Biscuit Run’s shadowy owners claim that the sale was a “distress” case. No doubt the investors were hemorrhaging interest payments on their $46.2 million purchase, a big bet on a housing market that had meanwhile rolled belly up. While the $9.8 million the state paid is far less than the county’s current assessment of the property, $44 million, we will be hardly surprised to learn, when the state decides later in the winter the value of the tax credits the sale is entitled to, that they amount to something like $34.2 million. A tax credit is as good as cash. And if the investors are not “made whole,” they will likely be comfortably close to it.
And about that $9.8 million: hasn’t Crozet been told for the last 12 years that there is no VDOT money to pay for Jarmans Gap Road improvements, and more recently that there is no funding possible for Crozet library ($6.3 million), the number one priority library on the state library’s list of construction projects?
Thus the poor Virginia tax payer now has to pay to master plan and then operate in perpetuity a state park he had no idea he wanted, in a place he probably would not have picked, and to make up millions in tax revenue that was forfeited in the form of credits.
We see again that the rich have better access to the inner chambers of government, more cordial relations with those they meet there, and can expect speedier relief from their oppressive debts and bad gambles than we ordinary souls who live in the cruel pay-as-you-go world. If only all voters had equal standing before their public servants.
A Hinge of Fate
With the Yancey family’s submission of a Comprehensive Plan amendment to rezone 184 acres on the southeast corner of the Interstate 64/Route 250 intersection as light industrial and with that to allow the construction of from 1.1 million to 1.8 million square feet of buildings, the master plan forum set for Jan. 21 on planning for industrial zoning in the Crozet Growth Area will be the opening round in the bout that will determine if the Master Plan is a contract between county government and citizens who designed the plan or a tissuey sham to be discarded when the county picks up the scent of potential business taxes. The Forum, at 7 p.m. at the Field School (old Crozet elementary), will examine existing light industrial zoning in Crozet and how Crozet might react to a county study of available light industrial zoning countywide that is due for presentation to the Planning Commission Jan. 19.
Given the square-footages requested—either two or three times the scale of Fashion Square Mall and the county’s history of swapping out light industrial zoning for commercial, adoption of the Yancey proposal would likely shift the economic center of Crozet to Rt. 250 and result in a commercial highway build-up at the Interstate similar to what we see happening in Waynesboro, and many other Virginia towns that have sadly lost their traditional walkable downtowns to sprawl. Avoiding those mistakes was the whole point of planning in the first place. Crozet has plenty of light industrial space yet and a capacity for more. But the outcome of this question is fraught with politics and money. Crozet is at, as Churchhill would say, a hinge of fate. Come to the forum on Jan. 21 and bring a fellow patriot.