The Crozet Community Advisory Council met with county planner Claudette Grant April 17 to discuss her report on a proposal by developer Frank Stoner to develop the Barnes Lumber property.
“The county and you [the people of Crozet] are looking for primarily employment there and commercial opportunity and some residential, but not heavy residential. We have asked the developer for clarification of residential use,” said Grant. Her report found seven “big issues”: the builder’s commitment to employment; the location of a community “green” or plaza; transportation, referring, she said, to a lack of connectivity in the road plan; phasing of development; stormwater concerns; proffers that need revision; and a water and sewer capacity concern raised by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.
“Housing would develop first,” said Grant. “We don’t want to end up with a residential development. We want an employment base.”
She suggested that one way to regulate that concern would be to link construction of residential units to construction of commercial spaces.
White Hall District planning commissioner Tom Loach said, “Mixed use is apartments over shops or offices. We want more apartments in downtown. On affordability, our standard is 15 percent and we don’t accept cash as a substitute. Old Trail and Wickham Pond were held to that.”
“I think we are heading into this already deviating from the plan for the Downtown Crozet District,” observed CCAC member Jennie More.
“It’s a problem if the developer doesn’t want to pay the proffers or follow mixed use,” said Loach.
“The developer says that banks don’t want to finance apartments over commercial space,” noted Kim Connally. She pointed to the commercial buildings in Old Trail village as a case where it has been done.
Both White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek and Loach said they were surprised to hear of a concern about water capacity. Mallek said she took that to mean a concern over transmission capacity, since the Beaver Creek reservoir has plenty of water in it.
Grant said the concern could be that water planners are taking into account the units already approved for construction in Crozet that are not yet built.
“I very strongly support residential over commercial,” said Lisa Goehler. “We need rental apartments. It keeps downtown from being a dead downtown and it keeps it safer. We should stick to our guns.”
Mallek said her understanding was that banks do not like condominiums over commercial space, but do not feel that way about rental units.
Stoner had been listening to the discussion and took a seat at the table to offer his reactions.
“We are committed to mixed use in the red shaded area [of the plan drawing] next to The Square,” he said. “We are concerned about residential above commercial.” He argued that putting different sorts of buildings in the same block is mixed use and pointed to the example of blocks in Washington, D.C.
“We need a downtown,” said CCAC member Brenda Plantz.
“We don’t trust you to build the housing first, the part that makes you the most money,” said CCAC member Phil Best. “Build the commercial parts first.”
“We need more specifics before you get your rezoning,” said Loach. “If it’s good we’ll recognize it.”
“Employment is critical to downtown,” agreed Stoner. “We are absolutely as committed as you to bringing employment to downtown. It’s unlikely we would build a spec building. We want businesses to buy lots and build their own buildings.”
He raised again his concern over the need for a railroad track crossing at the east end of the property, “or a grade-level crossing at the closed location” [opposite Crozet Great Valu].
He was also concerned about parking. Surface parking for the scale of commercial use envisioned in the Master Plan would use up 9 acres of the parcel, he said.
“You should spec build the first commercial building to show your commitment,” proposed Bill Schrader, whose term on the CCAC just ended.
“We’d be happy to if you can find the investors,” retorted Stoner.
“I think people would come if it was there,” answered Schrader.
Audience members spoke up in favor of a downtown that is “attractive, even quaint.”
“We don’t want to be stuck with a trashy thing,” said Goehler.
In other business, Schrader, chair of the Build Crozet Library fundraising committee, reported that prospects are slim that the County budget will increase staffing at Crozet Library so that it can offer evening hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Schrader noted that March circulation was 22,000 items and the door count was 11,000 patrons. He said that 1,453 new library cards have been issued at the library since it opened in September. He said the fundraising committee continues to work toward its goal of raising the collection to 75,000 volumes by next year.
Mallek suggested that the community consider a fundraising drive to install landscaping in front of the fence in The Square that marks off CSX property. An estimate by Watkins and Company landscaping in Crozet put the plant cost at $1,500.