A plan to redevelop the 20-acre J. Bruce Barnes Lumber company into the core business district of Crozet took a formal step forward in February when the Piedmont Development Group submitted a request to Albemarle County to include the property, now zoned heavy industrial, in the Downtown Crozet District.
PDG President Katurah Roell said the change is need to satisfy banks and other potential investors in the project that the parcel will have appropriate zoning. “The banks just see the heavy industrial and until that’s changed they’re not ready to proceed,” he said. “DCD is the zoning that was intended for this parcel, and it’s what’s appropriate.”
Inclusion of the lumberyard in the downtown district was talked about when the district was created in 2006, but it was left out so that the lumberyard, for so long as it continued with its usual business, had the zoning suited to kiln operation. Lumberyard owner Carroll Conley signed for the new zoning request.
Downtown zoning is intended to create a traditional, walkable commercial area. It requires buildings to be at least two stories high, allowing as much as four stories by right (even five or six with a special request), wide sidewalks, parking in the rear of buildings, and buffering for nearby residential areas.
The plan submitted by PDG includes an 600-foot-long pedestrian mall in the center of the project, anchored at the west end by a large building. Roell said a national firm that builds boutique hotels is interested in the site. Other features include the extension of Library Avenue (still an unofficial name for the road partially constructed in downtown) to connect to Parkside Village and a walking path junction in the southeast corner of the property nearest to Claudius Crozet Park that will connect downtown to the extensive system of trails laid out in the Crozet Master Plan.
Roell said that CSX railroad is willing to sell a triangular-shaped, roughly three-acre parcel, now zoned commercial, it owns in the north boundary of the parcel. The plan shows how that parcel would fit into the development should a sale be finalized.
The project includes 124 apartments and about 750 parking spaces, most of which would be built along the tracks and be planted with trees to help buffer the area from the noise from trains.
VDOT has reacted to the plan and the design does include traffic calming features, Roell said.
County planner Elaine Echols said the planning staff will return its comments to PDG in mid-March, but that action on the zoning will have to be deferred until a traffic study can establish how road construction should be phased. Roell said that study will take 60 days to complete and could be in planners’ hands for review for an equal time. He predicted the zoning change would not be put on the Planning Commission’s agenda for at least another four months.
Roell said there are investors who he believes are sincerely interested in funding the concept and who understand the vision for downtown Crozet. “I really do think they want to be involved,” he said. “They like the plan, but nobody who is looking at investing millions of dollars just says let’s do it without careful preparation. It takes time.”