Crozet is the frontrunner location for a new manufacturing plant that will produce a critical part for wind turbines with a new technology.
Richard L.C. Pleasants, Crozet resident and CEO of Pleasants Industries, said he is negotiating to purchase the triangular two-acre parcel owned by CSX in downtown Crozet that once was a rail spur into the Barnes Lumber Company. The spur was used into the 1980s but not since then, and the tracks have been removed. The parcel had road access by a grade-level track crossing, removed about 10 years ago, that connected to Rt. 240 roughly opposite the Crozet Great Valu. The parcel is appropriately zoned for the manufacturing use.
Pleasants owns a patented process that allows manufacture of parts on the site where they will be used. The plant will make a part needed in wind turbine manufacture.
Pleasant’s process means the part can be made where the turbines are being installed rather than built elsewhere and shipped to them. The process involves collapsible technology for tooling manufacture of wind turbine blades, he said.
Pleasants said his plant needs rail access for receiving raw materials and also will ship finished products by rail. The CSX parcel is on an unused third track through downtown that can serve as a siding for the plant.
Germany has begun a multi-year program to wean itself from nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources and is aggressively building wind turbines in its North Sea and Baltic Sea waters. Pleasants said that, for now, most of the plant’s products will be shipped to Europe.
Pleasants said the plant will not need truck access and he’s discussing the possibility of reopening the closed crossing with the railroad to allow access for employees. The alternative is to connect to Library Avenue.
The plant will strive to be off-the-grid, supplied mainly by solar power, Pleasants said, and will maintain utility connections only for back-up needs. It will not be a heavy user of water or sewer services. He described the project as “well capitalized.”
Pleasants and his wife Holly and their young son relocated to Crozet this summer and they are in the process of building a house in the Mint Springs area. Pleasants said he has been investigating Crozet as a permanent home for three years.
He was raised in southern Maryland and maintains many contacts there. He said he is being courted by government officials there who are suggesting locations in Calvert or St. Mary’s Counties for the prospective plant. He has also met with Albemarle County and state economic development officials about the project.
Pleasants said he also has a future expansion interest in the former ACME Visible Records property east of downtown that is currently under an environmental remediation plan and recently had all its structures removed.
Pleasants said he prefers the possible Crozet locations because he does not want to have to manage the plant from a distance.
“We’re going to create good-paying, long-lasting jobs,” said Pleasants. “I want to create a benefit for the community.” He said those will include jobs for engineers as well as less-skilled workers.
The project also envisions the creation of the Renewable Energy Academy of Virginia, which will offer training education for high school-aged students as well as community college credits. The academy will prepare students for jobs with the company or other renewable energy companies. “These are skills for 21st century jobs. They are the skills that we will be passing on by our children to our grandchildren,” said Pleasants.”
Pleasants said that if the plant is located in Crozet he expects it to attract four or five other companies with similar business plans that want the synergy of proximity to each other.
Pleasants said he has discussed the development of the former Barnes Lumber property with Frank Stoner of Milestone Partners, who alluded to Pleasants’ project in remarks to the Crozet Community Advisory Council at its August 14 meeting, but that he has no interest in acquiring or developing the former lumberyard.
“I’m in no way affiliated with Milestone Partners and I am not negotiating with Milestone over real estate. I have nothing to hide. I live here. I want to do the right thing by the town and be above-board.
“My actions will speak louder than my words,” he said. “I will be active in the community for the long haul. We are going to be here for the rest of our lives. I am a man of my word. We’re getting acclimated in Crozet and I’m more and more excited about it.”
Pleasants said his plant will not be especially large and will not be more than two stories tall. “The community will have significant input in the design,” he said. “In my opinion, the place for professional jobs is in downtown Crozet—and they will be able to walk to them. There should eventually be complimentary businesses to employ half of Crozet’s residents between the ages of 25 and 50.”
He said downtown will need to develop a variety of retail businesses, but that that sort of commerce should not be the primary goal of the town center.
Pleasants said his contacts with county officials have been encouraging. “I’m impressed by how the County has worked with me. They have been very supportive.”
Pleasants said he intends to be aggressive about setting up the academy and is looking for a western Albemarle location that may temporarily serve. He said he would like to begin construction of the manufacturing plant in early 2015, pending acquisition of a site.