Wind Turbine Factory Could Create 200 Jobs
Developer Frank Stoner will exercise his contract option to complete his acquisition of former Barnes Lumber property by the end of the year, he told the Crozet Community Advisory Council Nov. 19 at its meeting at Crozet Library.
Stoner had previously said his purchase was contingent on a successful rezoning of the property into the Downtown Crozet District. Stoner has not said when he will advance a plan to the Board of Supervisors for approval. In July, the Albemarle Planning Commission allowed Stoner to defer a vote on his first development plan when it appeared that it would be rejected.
“We’re moving forward. The documents are drafted,” said Stoner. “Next year we’ll get from vision to plan. We’d like to get from ‘us versus them’ to ‘we.’ For us to be successful it has to be ‘we’.”
CCAC vice-chair Jennie More reminded Stoner that the CCAC, in a series of extra meetings in June, had responded specifically to the features of Stoner’s first plan and included descriptions of elements the community considers necessary for the future of the property and downtown.
“We want to create something special,” answered Stoner.
Steve Kostiw asked if anything could be done to remove the ruins of the lumberyard.
“I don’t know when that will happen,” said Stoner.
He said a small hotel downtown is still a possibility. “We’ve talked to somebody about 30 to 32 rooms. They are doing a market study. They have experience. We’ll see where it goes.”
CCAC member David Stoner asked when Stoner expected to return to the county approval process.
“It depends on when we can address bigger issues—like a parking plan—that give security to prospective businesses. VDOT still has access issues with downtown. We still need an access under the tracks at the east end of the site,” said Stoner.
In related business, Rich Pleasants, CEO of Pleasants Industries, told the CCAC that he and his investors have narrowed their search for a plant location to two sites, the 1.75–acre, triangular-shaped CSX parcel in downtown Crozet that once served a spur to the lumberyard (it is now under contract to Frank Stoner), and the former Mohawk Industries carpet plant in Waynesboro, which also has rail access, as well as useable buildings. “We have not decided to put the plant in Crozet,” repeated Pleasants. He described Waynesboro officials as “helpful.” In reserve are possible locations in Nelson County and southern Maryland, he said.
Though that choice is unresolved, he said that the plan to establish the Renewable Energy Academy of Virginia in Crozet will go ahead.
Pleasants advised the CCAC to remember that they needed to attract business people who will be employers. “A fundamental weakness of committees is that they are not agile. I’m focused on agility. Perception is reality. You don’t want a perception [about Crozet] that you don’t want employers.”
Planning commissioner Tom Loach asked Pleasants how many jobs his plant would have.
“Twenty–five to start,” he answered, “and 50 by the end of a year. With five new product lines we are contemplating, we could have 200 jobs in four years.’ He said average pay for one of those jobs would be $45,000.
Pleasants said he has raised $5.9 million for the plant, including some funds from local investors. He said the building envisioned would be 80 percent solar powered and would not require public water.
It seemed a perfect moment for a resolution of support for the wind turbine plant, but none was offered.
The CCAC returned to the discussion of whether Crozet needs a Community Development Corporation to attract investment.
“The work involved is way more than the CCAC could do,” said chair Meg Holden.
Lee Catlin, assistant county executive for community relations, who was observing, said the CCAC can write grant proposals that the county could receive and administer.
CCAC member Kim Connelly said, “We don’t need another organization.”
David Stoner said, “We have the cart before the horse. What do we want to get done in the next five years? Are we the right vehicle? I think there are lots of benefits to a CDC. I think we should continue to consider it.”
“I’ve been a part of this group four years,” said John Savage. “I’m not sure I’m ready to sign on with a CDC. I wouldn’t want to do anything to disable in any way what the people in this room have done.”
“I’m with John,” added George Barlow.
“You have to have a staff [for a CDC],” said Connelly. “Where does the initial budget come from? The county may well be able to do what we would want a CDC to do.”
“I assume a CDC is outside consultants coming in,” said Jon McKeon. “We’d come up with a bastardization of the vision.”
“Why multiply entities?” asked Lisa Marshall.
“It’s outside this group to build a CDC,” said Phil Best. “It’s not a bad thing to be ‘reactive.’ We approve plans we like.”
“I agree with Phil,” said Brenda Plantz.
“We were ‘proactive’ when we did the master plan,” asserted Mary Gallo. “Then we brought in consultants, we broke into groups. Now is the time to be reactive, to judge whether a project is good. How involved should we be in a developer’s plans?”
“We are a well-formed group [appointed by the Board of Supervisors],” said More, “that’s done a huge amount of work. We can take on what’s before us now.”
“The Master Plan is our guide,” said Loach. “The library came about after years of nudging. The streetscape is several years of nudging.” His point was that the CCAC does advocate in its way.
“What’s the next nudge?” asked David Stoner.
White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek observed that, “The [advisory] councils are most successful when they work with applicants to get their plans ready to go to the Supervisors.”
David Stoner said, “I don’t want to wait. Let’s go.”
Catlin spoke up. “I’m definitely glad to hear this group wants to engage in economic development. This is a group that can do that. A CDC takes you in a different direction from what your charge is now.”
The CCAC’s charge is to advise the supervisors on the implementation of the Crozet Master Plan and to judge conformity of proposed projects to the plan. The county formally adopted the plan in 2004 and some features were amended in 2010.
The matter of whether a subcommittee should be formed and tasked with meeting with prospective businesses was raised. David Stoner volunteered for it and to meet also with county staff.
Mallek discouraged the idea. “Working as a committee of the whole is more appealing to me,” she said.
“This is not the end of this discussion,” summed up Holden, but majority opinion on the CCAC seemed unconvinced about the utility of a CDC or of creating a subcommittee that would talk to investors.
In other business, Mallek reported that VDOT will repaint lane lines on Rt. 250 in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Shopping Center in the spring to create dedicated left-turn lanes in the place of the current middle “suicide” lane. The measure is expected to slow traffic speeds in an area that has seen two pedestrians killed by cars.
Mallek said the patch paving laid down where the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority replaced a water line along Three Notch’d Road between Starr Hill Brewery and Western Ridge will be milled and repaved.