Planning Commission Smiles on Master Plan Revisions

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Revisions to the Crozet Master Plan recommended by the 15-member Crozet Community Advisory Council were presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission April 6 and met no objections. The “work session” was meant to introduce the proposed changes to commissioners, who will hold public hearings in June and make their final judgment in July. County planner Rebecca Ragsdale told commissioners that when staffers had asked Crozet citizens about what changes should be made to the plan, “the guiding principle [was] that Crozet should remain Crozet.”

Ragsdale sketched out housing density and mixed usage reductions the CCAC had arrived at, after five months of community forums were held, that aimed to reduce the potential build-out population from a figure above 24,000—which county planners had said was possible after the plan was adopted in 2004—toward the 12,500 figure citizens and town planners involved in drafting the plan had settled on as the target limit. The proposed changes likely reduce the build-out population to somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000 residents.

Two specific rezoning requests had been included for consideration during the plan review process. One was to rezone 1.75 acres on the northwest corner of Crozet Avenue and Rt. 250, owned by Celeste Ploumis, from residential to commercial. The second was to create a 184-acre light industrial park in Yancey Mills in what is now rural zoning outside the boundary of the Crozet Growth Area. The CCAC recommended against both and meanwhile identified locations to expand light industrial zoning inside the growth area.

In the public comment period, Ploumis addressed the commission, saying her house, where she has lived 20 years, is now “an unbearable place to live because of traffic.” Some 17,500 cars pass her home now every day, she said. “My use for my house has been destroyed by planned growth. I can’t single-handedly handle the weight of having growth thrust upon me.” She asked to have her zoning changed to allow for a garden center business to establish there.

Her next-door neighbor Chris Holden told the commissioners that while he was sympathetic to Ploumis’s situation, other houses are also subject to heavy traffic nearby, too. “No one wants to see the first [commercial rezoning] domino fall on Rt. 250. We might as well give up on business in [downtown] Crozet if this is allowed. A garden center today is a Burger King tomorrow.”

Lucy Goeke of Yancey Mills added, “I’ve seen what a tipping point is. If this property goes then one after another [along Rt. 250] will be forced to go commercial.”

Tom Oakley, owner of a for-sale house on White Hall Road just north of the Crozet Dairy Queen asked for his property and two others immediately adjoining to the north (on the west side of the road) to be considered for mixed use. He was supported by D.B. Sandridge, who said he was surprised that the CCAC had recommended that that location be kept residential.

Jenny Martin, representing one of the concerned properties, argued that their addition to the downtown commercial area might help retain businesses, such as the U.Va. Community Credit Union and the BB&T branch office, that have moved out to shopping centers on Rt. 250.

Mary Gallo urged the commissioners to support the CCAC recommendations. They are closer to the [original] population numbers, she said, and they preserve the growth area boundaries and Crozet’s scenic qualities. She opposed the Yancey Mills light industrial park, citing the request by SOCA a couple of years ago to expand their facility on Polo Grounds Road. “That was denied solely on the grounds that the property is in the rural area. I would not set a precedent. If that held then, why are we talking about this now?”

CCAC member Mary Rice described the forums as well-attended and warned that the Old Trail rezoning was felt by many in Crozet to be a breach of faith in the Master Plan by the county. Citizens’ trust in the county has been somewhat repaired by the plan review process, she said, and asked the commissioners to “keep faith with Crozet citizens and deny the industrial park at Yancey Mills.”

CCAC member Tim Tolson added, “Our recommendations are faithful to what we heard the community say. We want to preserve and enhance the small town character of Crozet.”

Will Yancey, speaking on behalf of the industrial park proposal, said that there are competing visions for business centers in Crozet, in the vicinity of MusicToday or at Yancey Mills. At Yancey Mills, large trucks would not go around Crozet to reach Rt. 240. He disputed the notion that Rt. 250 is scenic. “We don’t think of the sawmill as scenic.” Next he offered to donate land to expand Western Albemarle High School’s athletic fields. “We’re offering land. Think about it before you say no.”

Once public comments were over, Planning Commission Chair Tom Loach observed that the lowered build-out population is “still 30 percent above where we were supposed to be and with no infrastructure improvements. So the community has made enough concessions to growth.”

He said the Ploumis rezoning would be contrary to the master plan and against prior decisions such as a denial to the now-defunct Crozet Moose Lodge.

As for the argument about truck traffic on Rt. 250, he noted that even if an industrial park were built at Yancey Mills, the industrial operations on Rt. 240 would continue and trucks would still go there.

He said that the land proposed for the industrial park is in the county’s protected watershed—streams that feed into the reservoir—and county policy is not to build in the watershed.

“All in all,” said Loach, “I am in complete agreement with the CCAC, which is backed up by substantial survey data that shows the community backs the positions taken by the CCAC.”

Commissioner Duane Zobrist suggested that the plan include the possibility for residents to put their properties into conservation easements.

Commissioner Don Franco said he agreed with that point and, saying that he has not made up his mind about the Yancey proposal, asked “If the county decided that it made more sense to put [light industrial use on Yancey’s property] . . . what would make that bearable?”

There was no answer for that question, but Loach pointed out that the revisions increased available LI land inside the Growth Area.

County Planning Director Wayne Cilimberg noted that a proposal to create a special designation of “interstate interchange light industrial use” remains outstanding.

Commissioner Calvin Thomas suggested that the CCAC revisit the possibility of designating the Oakley, Claytor and Conley properties north of downtown as a transition zone.

The CCAC heard an appeal from those property owners at its April 15 meeting and will review county planners’ draft description of what a transition zone would allow at its May 20 meeting. Descriptions of transition zones were proposed during the 2006 creation of the Crozet Downtown District, but surrounding residents rejected the possibility of introducing commercial uses into their neighborhoods and the new zoning rules, designed to encourage mixed-use structures, was limited ultimately to the just established commercial district.