In a shift little noticed in Crozet, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 11 to change a zoning rule in the Downtown Crozet District to allow residential uses that were formerly forbidden.
Acting with unusual alacrity to please a potential developer of the 18-acre former Barnes Lumber Co. property, the supervisors agreed that residential use of the first floor of a building will be possible through the special use permit process. Previous zoning, developed with extensive public input in 2006-07, barred the first floor of a building from being a residence with the aim of favoring commercial and light industrial development in downtown.
The first floor rule had been extensively debated when the district was created. One view was that it was too restrictive and would inhibit growth. The prevailing one was advocated by independent planning consultants the county hired to draft the downtown zoning plan, Community Planning and Design LLC, led by Kenneth Schwartz, who had been involved in developing the Crozet Master Plan. It held that without the barrier the 50-acre downtown commercial zone could be diluted by apartment buildings or fail to attract larger businesses that would offer employment and thus fail to mature into the town center. Downtown zoning requires all buildings to be from two to four stories tall and formerly envisioned residential uses on upper floors.
County planning chief Wayne Cilimberg visited the Crozet Community Advisory Council meeting in October to introduce the concept to the CCAC. The idea was that townhouses along the eastern and southern edges of the lumberyard would create a buffer zone with established residential areas Parkside Village and Hilltop Street. CCAC members supported that. But members were surprised to learn at their December meeting that the change had already been enacted and they now had to consider that the rule affected all downtown properties and not just the described edges.
When he presented the change to the Supervisors, Cilimberg pointed to the special use permit process as giving county officials and the public control over whether townhouses or single family houses were to be built in downtown.
“The request originated with the applicant,” said Cilimberg, declining to name him, “and has been passed by the Planning Commission.”
The applicant was Frank Stoner of Milestone Partners, which has a conditional contract to buy the Barnes Lumber property, which is currently zoned heavy industrial and will have to be rezoned to be added to the DCD. The purchase is contingent on the property becoming part of the DCD, Stoner said.
One speaker from Crozet suggested that the board delay the rule change until it was clear what the plan for rezoning the lumberyard would look like and to make it an element of the eventual rezoning, characterizing the request as the first phase in a “negotiation” with the developer over what would happen in the lumberyard.
Stoner addressed the board in rebuttal and said the change “is a policy decision. It is or it is not your policy. It’s not a negotiation related to the Barnes Lumber site. If the board doesn’t want to change the policy, we will rethink whether we want to proceed.”
White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek said, “People understand. They want the lumberyard to proceed. I’m confident this will work.”
Retiring Jack Jouett District Supervisor Dennis Rooker agreed. “This change makes common sense. I think in a downtown area you would want some townhouses. It will enable Crozet to move forward.”
The change passed on a motion by Mallek, 6-0.