Property Owners on The Square to Form LLC to Provide Parking

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About 25 parking spaces reappeared on The Square May 21 as business owners there signed a temporary deal with the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Owners of the parcels bordering The Square will form a limited liability corporation to manage the parking lot in front of the stores. CSX railroad will soon transfer ownership of most of the lot to Albemarle County, ending a long period of confusion over who had clear title to the parking area and thereby allowing improvements to it to be made.

CSX will retain control of the area within 50 feet of the main line track, the one closest to Crozet Library. According to White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek, CSX has agreed to execute a quit claim deed giving up any right of possession. A final plat of the area being ceded is being drawn up. A permanent fence at least six feet tall will separate the lot from the tracks. The fence will run parallel to the tracks roughly 10 feet north of the town Christmas tree.

County officials Bill Letteri from facilities planning and Jack Kelsey, the county engineer, meet with property owners Sept. 22 to acquaint them with the deed transfer implications.

“CSX is packaging this and giving it to somebody,” Letteri told the owners. “The county does not want to get into commercial ownership or running a parking lot. We want to transfer it to an entity that could own it and operate it.”

“We have to give it to a nonprofit,” added Board of Supervisors chair Ann Mallek. “We can’t just hand over public property.”

Sandy Wilcox and Brenda Plantz represented the Downtown Crozet Association, which is incorporated as a nonprofit and therefore is qualified to serve as the entity the county is looking for. In the interest of supporting the economic development of downtown, the DCA would accept the lot if The Square property owners chose not to form their own organization, they said. But because the DCA is an open membership organization, issues of how to improve or manage the lot, how to clear snow from it, and how to pay for such things, would not be as likely to find as speedy a resolution as could happen among the six adjacent owners whose commercial tenants would be directly affected.

The owners agreed it is best for them to form an LLC and accept responsibility for the parking lot. Ross Stevens, owner of the Barksdale Building, will coordinate the project.

“I’d rather build one fence right than one several times over because people keep running into it,” said Stevens later. The owners are waiting on specifications for the fence from CSX, he said. He imagined a low retaining wall that would prevent cars from butting the fence and an attractive and hard-to-climb barrier above it. CSX also wants a gate at the east of the lot that will give it access to the tracks (it is most concerned about access to the trestle), but the owners were put off by the proposed location and size of the gate, which looked like it would eliminate several parking spaces.

A 40’ foot VDOT highway easement runs from Crozet Avenue to the Barnes Lumber yard and it is not changed by the new arrangement. The parking spaces that are directly in front of the businesses are in fact in the VDOT easement and the sidewalks are covered by the county’s public alley ordinances. Business owners on the Square now provide liability insurance coverage for the parking lot as part of their deal with Buckingham Branch Railroad to keep the lot open.

Should the new parking lot LLC some day dissolve, the property will revert to county ownership.