From the Editor: What Props Up the Idea of New Light Industrial?

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What Keeps the Idea of New Light Industrial Zoning at Yancey Mills Propped Up?

Albemarle County’s established economic policy requires both light and heavy industrial uses to be within designated growth areas. How surprising then to find county planning staffers recommending the creation of light industrial areas in rural zoning in their January report to Supervisors on the availability of light industrial land in Albemarle. One would think that the planners would honor their own rules. Instead, their conclusions do not logically follow from their premises and their report ends up being incoherent.

Crozet citizens have been concerned since the Yancey family’s proposal to establish a 184-acre industrial business park at the Interstate 64/Rt. 250 interchange at Yancey Mills was saved from its grave by Rio District Supervisor Ken Boyd. They fear that the report that supervisors instructed planners to prepare (even though they had made a report on the same question just one year before) would be a white paper that would be used to justify creation of the park. Supervisors, keen on raising more money for government operations, were enticed by the idea that the park might someday generate business taxes. That seems to be enough incentive to ignore the idea’s bad consequences.

Sure enough, even though the report states that 900 acres are identified in the Comprehensive Plan for industrial use—more than enough, it admits—the report’s final recommendation, a rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick that the report lays no ground work to support, is that Yancey Mills is the only plausible location for new category of yet-undefined use called low-impact industrial intersections (meaning only Interstate intersections).

After hearing a formal presentation of the Yancey plan nearly 14 months ago, the Crozet Community Advisory Council sent a resolution to Supervisors detailing the defects of the idea, the principal ones being that it violates the Crozet Master Plan and the County’s watershed protection policies. County planners recommended against the Yancey proposal and the Planning Commission voted it down. Only Boyd’s last minute gambit, a requirement that Crozet citizens reconsider the proposal as part of the mandated review of the Master Plan this year, saved it from extinction.

At the public forum held Jan. 28 at the Field School, the fourth of five dedicated to examining elements of the plan, Will Yancey presented the industrial park concept again and county staffers tried to explain their report. The forum had a heavy turnout; 148 people showed up (even though the Virginia/Virginia Tech basketball game was being broadcast at the same time). After a spirited discussion, 12 hands went up in favor of the park, some from people who do not live in Albemarle. That’s 92 percent against, 8 percent for. So if what we were waiting for was for the people to declare their verdict, they have emphatically.

As for the report itself, aware that the market for light industrial use is regional and not isolated to Albemarle alone, it details more than 5,563 acres of industrially zoned land and more 7.6 million square feet of building space in  Albemarle and neighboring jurisdictions. Interestingly, given that the report recommends the Yancey Mills location, it does not tally capacity in Waynesboro or Augusta County in its tabulation. The Mohawk carpet plant in Waynesboro, for example, recently closed down, freeing more space which Waynesboro is no doubt anxious to find a new use for.

Crozet itself currently has 63 acres of vacant light industrial land to build on, plus the also-vacant 60,000-square-foot Acme building, erroneously reported as not available for at least 8 years. At the forum, additional eligible acreage within the growth area was identified by the public. The report states that the Scottsville District has no available industrial space, depite the fact that it also predicts the closure of the Hyosung tire plant, which has indeed since occurred. It also posits the I-64 interchange for Shadwell as possible location for low-impact development, but then discards the possibility as likely to upset Monticello because of the impact on views from there.

The report relies on seven anonymous sources for some of its data. Presumably these are commercial realtors, but why not name them and establish their credentials as experts? Meanwhile, in appendices these sources report that there simply is no current demand for light industrial land, but the report fails to bring this point forward. Similarly, the report uses a mysterious U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics labor trend figure to arrive at its conclusion that the county will be short 184 acres of LI land by 2018, coincidentally the same acreage that the Yancey plan offers to provide. No explanation of how that equation works is provided and one wonders if these BLS trend predictors also foresaw the current 10 percent national unemployment rate.

The report notes that since 2005 county Supervisors have agreed to rezone 162 acres zoned light industrial for other uses. One wonders what the scale of conversion would be if one looked back, say, 10 or 15 years. The principal driver of those rezonings is the eligibility of LI land for office space and the report recommends that that use be disallowed. This would be a wise change.

As it drives toward its recommendation, the report notes that three Interstate 64 interchanges, those at Rt. 29 south, Fifth Street and Rt. 20 south, are all within the Southern Growth Area,  which is due to be master planned next. Given their better proximity to Charlottesville, these locations present better opportunities for identifying LI land consistent with the county’s planning policies than to proceed with converting rural land. Since the report’s timeframe for presumptive shortfall is 2018, plenty of time is left to develop this option.

In Crozet, the idea of a low-impact light industrial use at Yancey Mills is viewed suspiciously as an attempt to keep a foot in the door for an eventual larger-scale conversion to more intense use. “The camel’s nose is under the tent,” one resident warned. “Watch out!”

The step from rural area to “low-impact industrial” is a much bigger one than from “low-impact” to light industrial. The Supervisors would do well to review the eight reasons named by planning staff for rejecting the Yancey proposal. Many still apply to the low-impact idea, particularly the threat to the watershed. Indeed, given that the Yancey proposal seeks up to 1.8 million square feet of building space, an amount three times the area of Fashion Square Mall, it is surprising that public water users in Albemarle and Charlottesville are not more alarmed at the prospect of industrialization on Stockton Creek, an ostensibly protected stream supplying their reservoir.

Crozet’s master plan aims at developing and reusing Crozet’s existing downtown commercial and industrial zones and in keeping Rt. 250 as free as possible from traffic congestion. This task is formidable enough and has proven difficult, partly because the county has not met infrastructure needs it acknowledged in ratifying the plan in 2004. If new land is offered with convenient highway access in contradiction of the master plan (which the county has spent hundred of thousand of dollars in staff manpower to develop), the chances for revitalizing our existing infrastructure become dim if not completely dark. Industrial development at Yancey Mills will likely spur commercial development adjacent to it on Rt. 250 and the old village will not be able to compete. Thus will the smart growth goals of  the plan be squandered.

Rather than prove the need for new LI land, the staff report proves supply is more than adequate and that, if needed, additional land can be found that is consistent with the county’s growth area strategy. The Supervisors should reject the concept of “low-impact industrial use” in rural land.