Westlake Hills Plans Slightly Trimmed Down

The current Westlake Hills plan

A plan to build houses on the last remaining large tract of land in eastern Crozet has gotten a little smaller after the developer heard concerns from Crozet residents at a preliminary site plan meeting in June.

Alan Taylor, vice president of Riverbend Management, told the Crozet Community Advisory Council at its Sept. 19 meeting that the subdivision to be known as Westlake Hills has shrunk from 145 to 131 units and the parcels have been pulled back from critical slopes on the site. The project is by-right and does not require more county approvals.

“I heard a lot of concerns and I want to show you what we’ve done about them,” he said. Making these modest reductions means that the revised plan will require only half of the earthmoving of the earlier plan, he said. Taylor said that they examined the tract for the locations of large old trees—there are many along the creeks that form two sides of the arrowhead shape of the parcel—and then shifted the planned locations of roads to make sure they do not encroach on any venerable giants. These creeks are intended to have trails along them, according to the greenways plan of the Crozet Master Plan, and Taylor said he wants to cooperate in creating the trails that will lead from eastern neighborhoods to Crozet park and downtown. In all, 30 acres of trees will remain undisturbed, he said.

Taylor, whose company is currently developing Foothill Crossings, a 91-unit project that connects extends along Park Ridge Road westward from Western Ridge, said the 45-unit first phase of Westlake Hills will likely begin this winter. That first phase will be accessible only through Park Road and the Westhall subdivision. This caused consternation among residents of Westhall and the Crozet park neighborhoods who were at the meeting.

The project will build a middle segment of “eastern avenue,” a north/south road called for in the master plan that will connect to Rt. 250 at Cory Farm and to Rt. 240 near the former Acme Visible Records buildings.

As Foothill Crossing proceeds, Taylor explained, it will connect Park Ridge Road to the eastern avenue segment, and an east-west route from Tabor Street/Park Road to Rt. 240 will be opened. A second east-west street is also intended to connect eastern avenue through Parkside Village and the Barnes Lumber Company tract into downtown.

“There won’t be a long lag between sections of eastern avenue,” Taylor predicted. “Work will be going on simultaneously in Westlake Hills and Foothill Crossings.”

The problem with creating the north and south conjunctions of eastern avenue is an expensive railroad crossing, perhaps a bridge or a trestle, at the Acme end and an expensive bridge over Lickinghole Creek to reach Cory Farm at the south end. Neither a private or public builder of those structures has come on the horizon. Taylor reminded the CCAC that his company deserved some credit for building the central stretch of the road. The development’s streets will have trees along them, he said.

Taylor said the phasing plan is partly to conform to a county rule that allows no more than 50 houses to be built when they rely on a single access route.

Taylor said he expects Westlake Hills to have a 10-year build out. The lot sizes will be from one-half acre to one acre and houses will be priced in the $350,000 to $550,000 range.

An “amenities center” including a community pool, with membership open to the public, will be built “soon after the first phase sells out,” Taylor said. The plan shows the pool and community building near the Westhall side of the project.

A storm water detention basin that now exists on the phase-one section of the property will continue to perform that function, he said, but it will look like a pond (it will be stocked for fishing) and function that way year-round.

“It pains every developer to give up units,” Taylor admitted. “You have to build expensive houses because land is expensive and the county wants entitlements.”

Jim Loman and his wife Cathy, both architects and residents of Western Ridge, were among those who raised objections to the first version of the plan in June.

“This is a much-improved plan,” said Jim Loman. “It keeps the trees and the paths around the area. I think they’ve done a nice job.”

White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek said she appreciated Taylor’s efforts at pulling the houses away from slopes.

What Use for the Library’s Lower Level?

In other CCAC business, county spokesperson Lee Catlin told the council that the county is opening the question of how to use the two spaces on the lower level of the new Crozet Library that will face Crozet Avenue.

The lower level totals 4,800 square feet with a 200-square-foot lobby that has two bathrooms, a stairway and an elevator shaft off it, but these will not connect to the library level for the time being. The two available spaces are roughly 1,700 sqft and 1,000 sqft. They should be available next summer.

Catlin said the county’s criteria are that the uses generate foot traffic on Crozet Avenue, generate enough money to cover the county’s operating expense for the space, avoid competition with private property owners, be compatible with the library’s mission and be flexible enough for the library to be able to claim the space if it needs it.

The library will contain a meeting room that will accommodate 70 people, CCAC member Bill Schrader noted.

“What rises to the top for us is a visitor’s center,” said Catlin. “There are so many tourist attractions in this area.” That might include a Crozet-area museum, she added. A center would have to be staffed by volunteers.

CCAC member John Savage observed that many people now use their phones to search for that sort of information. “In the digital age, do we need racks of brochures?” he asked.

Another idea is a “business support center” or “co-working space,” said Catlin.

Schrader suggested a police substation.

Planning commissioner Tom Loach asked why the spaces would not be rented to businesses.

To avoid competing with local landlords, Catlin answered.

Revenue from rents could help cover the library’s operating costs, Loach responded.

Catlin said the county had not thought about what use the depot might be put to after the library moves out.

The use question will come before the public again in October when the county will host a town hall meeting at Western Albemarle High School to update Crozet-area residents on the status of local county projects. No date has been set for that meeting but the 18th or the 24th are candidates.

In other news, Catlin said that Barnes Lumber property was fenced off by its bank owners because people had begun throwing trash, such as old appliances, on it.

White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek told the CCAC that 60 building permits were issued in Albemarle County in the last quarter with 48 of them in Crozet.