From the Editor: Not Good Enough

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Not Good Enough

Frank Stoner’s vague plan for developing the former Barnes lumber yard in downtown does not deserve rezoning approval. It’s a cheap version of downtown Crozet’s future, and if it proceeds, it will effectively sabotage the comprehensive vision of the Crozet Master Plan. The people of Crozet will get to decide on the fate of this property only once. Once it’s rezoned the prerogatives are with the developer. So we must be confident we are right in granting it.  Stoner’s approach has been to be vague and promise details after the public turns over authority to him.

We must choose higher than Stoner’s vision. Downtown must be understood as something cultural, beyond even its commercial significance to the town. It shouldn’t be looked at as a few blocks of shops and houses.

Crozetians watched the growth of Charlottesville, and the master plan they (by way of the Supervisors) ratified for Crozet (twice now) tries to create something like the city’s downtown mall in the heart of our town, essentially on the lumberyard, and to prevent Rt. 250 from developing in the same fashion as Rt. 29 north. The plan tries to keep Rt. 250 as “the bypass” around the center of density in downtown.

Given the projected population of 17,000—there are about 7,000 here now, and 12,000 are expected circa 2020—a downtown of just 50 acres, with the built legacies of history in it—is a small downtown. Stoner’s plans call for 39 percent of the Barnes parcel to be residential. That reduces the remaining commercial area downtown to about 42 acres. When does small start to mean unviable?

If the prominent, tabula rasa location downtown is squandered, how soon should we expect pressure for commercial rezonings on Rt. 250? Development on Rt. 250 should not happen for another generation, after downtown is established and thriving. Only then would the south boundary of Crozet in fact be the logical place to grow. Should Rt. 250 grow before downtown it would likely mean a long-stunted existence for downtown.

Crozet has had a sense of its own identity as a place, as a community, for a long time.  Crozet was a village. Now it’s a town. The Stoner vision challenges us with whether we are going to survive as a distinct place or become a suburb of Charlottesville. Stoner sees downtown as basically more bedrooms for Charlottesville workers. The Master Plan sees it as the place you find the heartbeat of Crozet and where people, we would hope lots of them, are going to work. Downtown is supposed to have magnetism. We should hold out for that future. Stone’rs gesture toward the district’s employment goal amounts to  shrug.

Besides resorting to the greedy expediency of using the lumberyard for housing (when large empty parcels sit on the east and west sides of downtown already zoned for townhouses), you see the complete failure of the plan in the nonexistence of civic space in it. The highest ground in downtown ought to inspire something worthy of its views and, connected to The Square, a better plan would be aware that it is expected to carry on Crozet’s pride of place.

No single-family residences should be allowed on the lumberyard. A suitable plan would include more roads, maybe a grid, to handle the density of movement that should be expected downtown.

This is not the plan envisioned in the Master Plan. This plan has no vision and it’s not a pitch to swing at.

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Mike,

    I’m sorry you felt the need to be mean spirited and judgmental in your letter.

    The issue that will come before the Planning Commission on June 17th is about land use, not about the built vertical form. We have not submitted a design for anything other than the primary streets that will connect the Barnes Lumber site to Parkside Village and High Street. The reason we haven’t submitted detailed designs for the rest of the project is that downtown Crozet already has a code of development that defines the parameters for the vertical development form. This code was developed to insure that any future development downtown would look and feel consistent with the vision of the Crozet Master Plan. That’s why every other property in downtown was proactively zoned DCD by the County without any proffers or plans from property owners. We’re simply asking for the same consideration so that, together with the Crozet Community we can begin to design a downtown that is both culturally authentic and functional.

    There are challenges, however, and we’ll need help from both the community and the County to ensure that Barnes Lumber and the Downtown Crozet District as a whole is successful. One challenge addressed in our application is that the DCD code, as currently written, prohibits any residential use on the first floor anywhere in the downtown district. While well intentioned, the effects of this mandate are damaging in several ways. First, they limit the residential options in downtown to upper level apartments and condominiums and residents deserve more choices. Second, it does not allow for an orderly transition of use and density that is sensitive to the existing surrounding neighborhoods on Hilltop and in Parkside Village. The professionals that developed the original Crozet Master Plan recommended this transect as early as 2004 but it was abandoned in the final code in favor of a special use permit process. The terms of our special use permit would require that first floors be adaptable for commercial uses in the future. It doesn’t mean there can’t be commercial uses in the area covered by the SP request as submitted. It does mean that the residential and commercial uses don’t have to be in the same building. This approach is far more consistent with the way towns have developed historically. In downtown Charlottesville, there are still single family residential uses within a block of the downtown mall and the further you move away from the Mall, the more residential uses you see.

    Access, parking, and retail/commercial economics are among the other challenges that must be addressed in order for downtown to be successful. No developer can address these problems alone. Access is severely constrained to 240, the primary commercial corridor in downtown. We’d like to help fix that problem with a connection under the tracks at the east end of the Barnes site and have hired an engineer to study the feasibility. Full build-out of downtown will require a long range parking plan that includes parking structures when the time is right. We’re committed to helping develop and implement the plan for the benefit of all the DCD properties. This plan is needed to attract businesses and retailers downtown. The businesses and retailers will likely be homegrown and it’s critical that we offer them affordable options for both rental and ownership.. Despite a master plan and a business friendly zoning code, there has not been a single commercial project in the DCD since it was conceived. We’d like to change that and feel strongly that the elements of the plan submitted will help jumpstart development in the DCD.

    Most importantly, we’re committed to building a vibrant downtown that has unique, Crozet character. There seems to be strong consensus within the community that downtown should feel eclectic, organic and unpretentious.. We fully support that vision and will share architectural precedents in an effort to build consensus about how it looks and feels. I look forward to expanding that effort during the next stage of design and review but the process will involve not just us and the community, but people who want to build and own their own building in downtown. I don’t expect that everyone will agree with the all the architectural decisions made at Barnes Lumber but that’s not essential to make downtown a success. Solving the parking and access issues are.

    I’ve heard a number of people say to me, “we only have this one chance to get it right.” I couldn’t disagree more. Downtown will have many chances to get it right and they don’t depend on this rezoning. 2/3rds of downtown is rezoned already and waiting for development, waiting for new businesses, waiting for new restaurants and services. There are 13 undeveloped parcels in the DCD and another 33 underdeveloped properties. And yet businesses and multifamily development are choosing to locate in Old Trail. If you care about Crozet, I hope you’ll ask why this is happening and be open minded to those of us who build places for a living. Downtown needs improved access, employment, a long range parking plan and more residential within walking distance of the commercial core. By my count, there are 86 homes within ¼ mile of downtown (the generally accepted limits to considered “walkable”)and yet the master plan envisions reduced parking demand because people will live within walking distance. 86 homes, most without sidewalks cannot support new commercial development. Crozet needs more people living downtown. Unfortunately, most of those people won’t want to live in an apartment above retail so you’ll need other options. Our plan shows 260,000 square feet of commercial space and we’re only 31% of the downtown area. Do you really think that’s not enough?

    My livelihood doesn’t depend on the Barnes Lumber rezoning. There are plenty of other development opportunities in our region that are easier and more profitable. We chose Barnes Lumber because it’s brownfield redevelopment that has the potential to be a transformational catalyst for downtown. I’ve already invested in the largest building in downtown (Mountainside Assisted Living) and offered to give the County our parking lot to create a downtown plaza. I have not made single dollar on my investment at Mountainside. The returns go to subsidize JABA and their mission to provide affordable assisted living there. I don’t say this to toot my own horn but to to suggest that your use of the word greedy in your editorial is misguided.

    I am committed to an inclusive process and a successful outcome that is consistent with the intent of the Crozet Master Plan. I hope you’ll reconsider your position with regard to our application, but I respect your right to express your opinions in your own paper. I’d appreciate it if you could publish my remarks in your next edition.

    Thanks,

    Frank Stoner

  2. I whole heartedly agree with mike. Crozet has one chance with the lumberyard for creating a downtown with unique character. Frank stoner’s plan is ball one. Lets stick together as a community and demand better. A developer’s approach unchallenged meets his goals of highest returns not the communities needs of greatest social investment. Single family homes will not create an economically viable downtown. Lets wait for a better offer.

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