The Albemarle County Planning Commission approved the revised version of the Crozet Master Plan at its meeting July 13 and rejected a proposal to create a 184-acre light industrial park at Yancey Mills.
The plan’s revisions reduce potential residential densities, especially on the western and northern sides of Crozet where the character of neighborhoods is predominately set, and eliminated several “centers” conjectured in the earlier version that would have allowed apartment buildings or commercial uses to be introduced in existing neighborhoods. Mixed use zonings (combining residential and commercial use) bordering downtown on all sides were also eliminated except along the west side of Carter Street. With the new density designations, the build-out population of Crozet should range from 15,500 to 17,500 people.
The commission had been briefed on details of the revised plan in workshop sessions in May and June. After the June meeting they asked the Crozet Community Advisory Council to revisit the question of creating a mixed-use area north of the drainage ditch near the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad. The CCAC, after hearing from property owners who wanted the change and neighbors who did not, voted 10-2 to leave the ditch as the boundary between residential and commercial uses. After hearing from those residents themselves, the commission also took this position. According to the plan, parcels in that area can redevelop as residential units at up to six units per acre, which is a townhouse scale of density.
Also at a previous workshop, Will Yancey, representing a Yancey family proposal to create a 184-acre light industrial park around the existing lumber mill near the intersection of Interstate 64 and Route 250, had claimed that the public process for revising the master plan was “rigged” against the proposal. The Planning Commission had voted down the proposal in 2008 and the Board of Supervisors later instructed that the concept be examined again during the plan revision process.
CCAC chair Mike Marshall, in encouraging the commission to adopt the revisions that emerged from the yearlong process, reminded commissioners that more than two-thirds of Crozet residents who completed a survey on master plan issues opposed the industrial park, which was specifically asked about in the questionnaire. Marshall also pointed out that during the public forum in January devoted to industrial zoning issues Yancey had been given the floor to make his appeal. He presented a slide show and every chair in the room had had a professionally prepared brochure describing the concept placed on it. Roughly 200 people attended and the crowd was strongly opposed to the idea.
“The CCAC’s recommendation is that it is bad for the master plan,” Marshall said.
“The public very adamantly said they were opposed to having a 1.1 [million] to 1.8 million square foot [of building space] industrial park outside the master plan boundaries,” Mary Rice told commissioners. County policy requires all such development to be within growth areas. Rice pointed out the revisions to the plan designated more light industrial land within the growth area.
Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center told the commission that “the proposal has serious flaws. The property is located in the water supply watershed. It drains to the South Fork Rivanna River and ultimately to the reservoir. Major development on this land would almost certainly increase the amount of sediment and other pollutants entering that drinking water reservoir.”
Butler said the proposal would create sprawl in a rural area, would undermine efforts to invigorate downtown Crozet and negatively impact traffic at the interstate interchange.
Yancey told the commission that Albemarle County has a shortage of industrial land and said his land is the very best in the county for the use he wanted. “It’s either here or nowhere,” he said. Yancey claimed that opposition to the plan stemmed from “an animus against people who work with their hands for a living” and repeated his offer to give some of the parcel to the county for athletic fields at Western Albemarle High School.
Sandy Wilcox, owner of the Blue Goose Building in downtown Crozet, told commissioners that in his experience attempting to develop his parcel, bankers are waiting for “a clear signal” that the county intends to uphold the plan’s primary emphasis on downtown. “Bankers will not cooperate with downtown development if your signal is an end run on the plan” by approving development on Rt. 250 or Yancey Mills, he said.
Kelly Strickland, a CCAC member, surprised commissioners by informing them that R.E. Lee Construction company, which he works for, is drafting a concept for the redevelopment of J.B. Barnes Lumber Company at the request of its owner, Carroll Conley. He asked the commission for flexibility in language that would define where light industrial uses would be allowed on the 20-acre parcel. Commercial uses on the parcel, currently zoned heavy industrial, would presumably fall under the rules for the adjoining Downtown Crozet District, which are designed to create a walkable, traditional downtown business district with a mix of apartments and shops.
Interviewed later, Conley said that discussion of the plan that has been submitted to county planners, planning commissioners and supervisors for reaction was premature, but that he believed that county leaders would like the concept. He said the lumber yard will continue to operate as normal.
The concept shows a central, 600-foot pedestrian mall flanked by three- and four-story buildings and the extension of Main Street to Parkside Village with two- and three-story buildings along it, a small park, a greenspace median and numerous parking areas.
Commissioner Duane Zobrist proposed two motions to deny the industrial park, one addressing it as it relates to the Crozet Master Plan—the instruction given by supervisors—and the second on its merits as a stand-alone amendment to the County’s Comprehensive plan, which the Crozet Master Plan is a part of.
Scottsville District Commissioner Linda Porterfied objected. “We have not studied the Yancey proposal,” she said. “We can’t vote it down if we don’t know anything about it. There is no place else that I am aware of in this county right now that there is one entity that controls that much land with good transportation.” She said that the county is too dependent on residential taxes.
Chairman Tom Loach pointed out that the revisions show that the growth area can provide additional light industrial space and that the news of the Barnes Lumber concept shows that downtown may be nearer to providing it too.
Zobrist’s first motion to deny passed 4 to 3 with Loach, Zobrist, Mac Lafferty and Calvin Morris in the majority and Porterfield, Don Franco and Ed Smith against. The second motion to deny passed 6 to 1 with Porterfield voting against. Thus the commission’s recommendation to the Board of Supervisors was that it not proceed with the Yancey plan.
In other related votes, the commission voted to leave the area west of Blue Ridge Avenue at its current R-6 designation, to leave the zoning of a parcel at the northwest corner of Crozet Avenue and Rt. 250 owned by Celeste Ploumis unchanged (not commercial), and to remove a suggestion of a road from Crozet Avenue through Eaglehurst Farm to Old Trail from the plan.
The commission asked for minor language changes in the text of the plan that left some possibility for rezonings along Rt. 250 and some flexibility in the usage configuration of future development of Barnes Lumber Company.