County Wants State Tourism Designation for Crozet

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Crozet’s first library was on The Square in 1907. The storage room in which it was established (see arrow) was located next door to Crozet’s combination Hotel-Hardware-Drug Store building. Photo courtesy of The Phil James Historical Images Collection.
Crozet’s first library was on The Square in 1907. The storage room in which it was established (see arrow) was located next door to Crozet’s combination Hotel-Hardware-Drug Store building. Photo courtesy of The Phil James Historical Images Collection.

The Crozet Growth Area could become eligible for the state’s Virginia Tourism Development Financing program, which would help finance tourism industry infrastructure in western Albemarle, county spokeswoman Lee Catlin told the Crozet Community Advisory Council at its Sept. 26 meeting.

“It’s a gap financing program that will fund 20 percent of a project’s cost if financing for the other 80 percent is already in place,” Catlin said. “Once the project is running, the state will rebate one percent of the project’s sales taxes. The county would have to match that amount. It’s borrowing against future revenue. If a hotel has a restaurant we get a number of tax revenues from it.”

County staffers proposed the idea to the Board of Supervisors in April and in June returned with a fleshed-out proposal.

To qualify for the state money the county would have to pass an ordinance creating a tourism zone and then adopt an official tourism development plan for it. The plan would identify infrastructure deficiencies in the zone and those considered “critical” could be met by projects with state and county government financial participation in the form of tax rebates. The Board of Supervisors would have the authority to decide which projects would be financed and in each particular case would have to create an ordinance authorizing the project. The public contribution to the project’s financing would continue until its debt was paid off. State law allows the term to be as long as 20 years, but Catlin predicted the county’s likely terms would be for no more than 10 years.

The county’s report to the supervisors showed that the amount rebated by the county in the future would be less than the sum of the taxes it is likely to receive from a hotel. A hotel with a restaurant pays real estate taxes, food and beverage tax, business personal property tax and transient occupancy tax, it noted.

“The county’s assessment showed that Crozet is a deficit area,” Catlin said. “There’s not a hotel.” She said the county’s investigation showed there is no public lodging within a 10- to 15-mile radius of Crozet, other than a handful of bed and breakfast inns, and no place that can accommodate 12 visitors.

She had earlier briefed the CCAC on the county’s plans to use the other space on the lower level of Crozet Library as an “adventure outpost” and had gone over the familiar inventory of attractions in western Albemarle, such as wineries and breweries, parks, scenic drives, orchard stands, Crozet’s growing restaurant scene, proximity to Rt. 151 attractions in Nelson County, etc., as well as lodging demand posed by weddings the wineries host, visiting relatives of area residents, small conferences, and others.

“It would need to be an appropriately scaled hotel,” she said. And it would have to be within walking distance of amenities travelers would need, such as in downtown Crozet or Old Trail. Catlin said that the Crozet Growth Area boundary would also define the tourism development zone.

David Hilliard, the developer of The Lodge at Old Trail, has announced intentions to build a small hotel, sometimes called a boutique hotel, of four stories with 48 rooms and a restaurant in Old Trail Village adjacent to The Lodge. Catlin said Hilliard had “expressed interest” in the VTDF program to county officials.

White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek asked for active support from CCAC members when the matter of the county’s decision to join the VTDF program comes up soon before the supervisors. It has the status of being under “reconsideration” now, summoned back to the floor by Mallek from a 3-3 stalemate on the question in June. Some supervisors had the view then that “we don’t do incentive programs,” Catlin said of the original tie vote.

Mallek asked for CCAC representatives to come before the supervisors and convey Crozet’s support for the idea. She said the VTDF program is already employed in Fredericksburg and Virginia Beach.

The CCAC drafted a resolution describing the area’s lodging situation and expressing their backing for the tourism development zone and then passed it on a unanimous voice vote.

Catlin said she would see that it reached the hands of the supervisors.

Downtown’s Zoning

Mallek told the CCAC that developer Frank Stoner, who is also an owner of the Mountainside Senior Living building, has reactivated the zoning text amendment begun by former Barnes Lumber Company owner Carroll Conley that would include the lumberyard in the Downtown Crozet District, a special zoning area, unique in the county, that establishes rules for the 50-acre commercial center of town. The lumberyard is presently zoned heavy industrial. Stoner has been given a 12-month extension on the revived application, Mallek said.

Stoner is also interested in modifying the DCD’s existing rule that does not allow residences on the first floor of a building. He would like that relaxed so that townhouses would be allowable on the east and south sides of the 20-acre lumberyard parcel that border residential sections now. That rule was wrestled over in 2006 during the development of the DCD zoning, when some argued that it was too restrictive.

Mallek said Stoner will come to the next meeting of the CCAC to discuss the idea.

Future of the Depot

Catlin said the county intends to “step back and look at attributes and defects of the [Crozet] depot and to figure out what it’s highest and best use” might be before deciding what should happen next at the former library. She said the county staff, presumably with input from the CCAC, will promulgate a set of guiding principles for how the building should be handled that will go to the supervisors. Noting its “constrained parking,” she said county officials will do an assessment of the depot’s condition and that meanwhile the county is aware of its “stewardship of a place of historic value to the community.” She described it as a “connector” between the north and south parts of downtown and “a natural hub.”

“We can either sell it, or lease it, or use it,” she said. There have been some inquiries about leasing it, she said, but none that have become earnest. The county may issue a request–for-proposal about the use, since that tactic produced the outcome of Crozet Running, a new store going into the new library’s first floor.

Catlin said the county is expecting to hold a town hall meeting in Crozet in late October to go over implications of the Crozet Avenue streetscape project with the public and that the use of Crozet depot would likely be on the agenda too.

CCAC members discussed possible uses, such as the proposal by county police to make it their first substation.

Catlin said, “A police substation may the right thing for Crozet, but the depot may not be the right building.”

Several CCAC members had been at the Crozet Community Association’s meeting two weeks earlier, when county police chief Steve Sellers, attending merely as a Crozetian, he said, had answered questions about the police proposal.

“Geo-policing is officers connected with citizens, getting to know each other’s names and building trust. It’s the future of policing,” he said. “We’re in phase one [of implementation]. Phase two is about getting the manpower to do it and phase three is about decentralizing services into the community. We’re not near there. It’s about five to 10 years out. Our first priority for a station is in Hollymead. Crozet will need a police station. It’s a growth area and it’s an attractive place to live.

“I first heard this idea a year ago at a CCA meeting,” Sellers noted. “Crozet has happened to have a building come open and our report on the building said it’s a place where we could kick-start decentralization.”

Sellers suggested that other county departments could also offer services in the depot in a concept he called ‘hoteling.’ He said the police department would look to the volunteers in the Crozet Safety Corps to man the office, since police officers would normally be out on patrol or answering calls.

In evident relief to many who heard his talk, he settled an apprehension that prisoners might be kept at the substation. That is not allowed, he said, and a person is either in custody in a police cruiser or at the regional jail. They are not held any other way.

“[The depot] is not big enough to be a police station,” Sellers said, “but it would help us lower response times by 40 percent. Now the average response time in the rural west side is 15 minutes. The depot is an opportunity that’s come up.”

Some sentiment at the CCA meeting favored finding a commercial user, some speakers were adamant for the police station as a visible deterrent to crime in downtown ,and many were attracted to the idea of a multi-service government office that includes police. Those same options were also talked about by the CCAC, with no clear preference emerging, and even its possible use again as a train station was suggested.

In other business, CCAC member Phil Best called for improvements to the 4-way stop at the railroad trestle with a pair crosswalks marked off that would connect to its orphan northeast corner near Over the Moon Bookstore.