Crozet’s prospect of landing 25 manufacturing jobs worth at least $45,000 each is over. Pleasants Industries CEO Rich Pleasants told the Crozet Community Advisory Council Dec. 17 that the company will instead locate at the unused former Mohawk carpet plant in Waynesboro. Pleasant had said to the group in November that the addition of new product lines means the plant will eventually employ 200.
Pleasants had said his first choice for a location, which must have rail access, was a triangular 1.75-acre CSX parcel jutting into the Barnes Lumber property in Crozet, a former rail spur, then under option to Frank Stoner of Milestone Partners, a real estate development firm, which has since purchased it on behalf of an unidentified investor.
“We received a contract from Milestone,” Pleasants said. The price was acceptable, he said, but the rest of the deal was not.
“We decided not to make a counter offer,” said Pleasants. “The terms and conditions were not acceptable to us.” He declined to be more explicit about what broke the company’s interest.
“We will put in [a proposal] on the RFP on the depot but not on the library space because it will only be available for two years,” said Pleasants, referring to his announcement last month that the firm will open the Renewable Energy Academy of Virginia in Crozet to train workers for jobs in renewable energy technologies.
Albemarle County announced a Request for Proposals in December to solicit potential users of the 2,600-square-foot Crozet Depot, vacant since the new library opened in 2013, as well as for 1,000 square feet available on the first floor of the library next to Crozet Running. The RFP’s goals are to avoid competing with private commercial landlords while finding a use that will increase foot traffic downtown, create a lively street presence and show careful stewardship of the historic building.
“We are looking at other commercial property in Crozet,” Pleasants said. “We’re now intending to build an academy after two years.” The academy needs at least 2,000 square feet to get started. According to Pleasants a new building would be 5,000 square feet. He told the CCAC that he has signed a deal with a similar German academy to offer online training.
“The old Mohawk plant is a perfect place for us. It has a rail spur, plenty of parking and a four-lane road,” he said. “We want to open the plant by next November. It was a hard decision not to put the plant here.” Pleasants lives in Crozet.
CCAC member Jennie More offered a motion declaring general support for the academy and wishing it success in finding a Crozet home. The vote passed 13-1, with David Stoner voting against.
Kathleen Mistry, leader of the Crozet Artisans, said 20 artisans are now involved with the store, which opened in November in the purple house, formerly the home of Bark Avenue, in the Olde Town shops. Their lease there ended in December.
“I wish I had a nickel for every person who walked in and said, ‘We need this in Crozet,” Mistry said.
“We talked to [county economic development facilitator] Susan Stimart. We were waiting for the RFP to be issued. We propose to share the [depot] space as an artisan gallery and information center. That still allows us to double our space. We feel our proposal aligns with the goals of the CCAC.” She argued that that use would increase foot traffic in downtown and help develop other small business. Several local artisans supporting the idea had turned out to observe the meeting.
“Artisan Center of Virginia director Sheri Smith came by the store to say that she’s excited and that the depot would be an ‘anchor location’ for the Artisans Trail,” Mistry said.
Jennie More offered a second motion declaring general support for Crozet Artisans and wishing them success in finding a new home in Crozet. It passed 14-0.
David Stoner said that he disagreed with RFP’s goal of charging market rate for the depot. “The county should offer a below-market rate for the right business,” he said.
More said she agreed with that.
Build Crozet Library chair Bill Schrader told the CCAC that the “adventure outpost” idea first imagined for the vacant library space will shift instead to the lower floor lobby area and rely on screens to convey information provided by the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.
White Hall District Planning Commissioner Tom Loach told the CCAC that up-coming zoning text amendments to the County’s Comprehensive Plan show that the zoning ideas in the Downtown Crozet District are being promulgated county-wide. County planning staffers prepared a graphic presentation of what that code looks like when built and Loach showed the slides to the CCAC.
Berkmar Drive in Charlottesville was shown converted to three and four story buildings with apartments above commercial uses. Another slide showed Albemarle Square with the same code applied. Parking, including parking garages, is relegated to locations behind the streetfront.
“These are consistent with downtown Crozet plan,” Loach said. “Even the 1993 Crozet Development Plan text has basically the same form.” Loach said Old Trail Village is an example of the form, which can also be seen now in the Clarendon section of Arlington. “The Comp Plan docs are now full of pictures of Crozet,” Loach noted.
Loach’s point was that the county has answered Frank Stoner’s June question to the CCAC of what the DCD is supposed to look like when achieved.
“It occurs in stages over time,” observed CCAC member Leslie Burns. “We have to be patient, determined and keep our eyes on the prize.”
Planning Commissioner Mac Lafferty (a former Crozet resident and CCAC member), who now represents Jack Jouett District, asked Frank Stoner why his response to the CCA’s June list of principles for downtown development had been delivered to the CCAC the night before its meeting.
More, who handles the agenda as a preparation for becoming chair next spring, spoke up to say that the matter of Stoner’s comments would be discussed at a future meeting.
Stoner answered, “We called time-out to focus on the closing [on the lumberyard]. Now we’re shifting back to the rezoning.”
CCAC chair Meg Holden said, “There are still issues with connectors and parking. No developer is going to pay for those on their own. We need to get the county involved.”
Frank Stoner said that a new trestle under the tracks near the firehouse is “vital.” No engineering study of the idea has been done and the location would require waivers of turn lane and sight distance requirements, he acknowledged. “It may be possible to get car, but not truck, access,” he said.
White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek called “Eastern Avenue” a projected road connecting downtown with eastern Crozet and with Cory Farm on Rt. 250 a “long term dream.” She said a bridge required over Lickinghole Creek would cost at least $5 million.
David Stoner said, “We need a collaborative effort to solve these.”
The collaboration would be that taxpayers would pay for some of the lumberyard’s infrastructure development.
More reminded CCAC members who have had private meetings with the developers to be “mindful” to report to the CCAC generally what they had learned and talked about.
“We want to get to a plan,” responded L.J. Lopez of Milestone. “We have set out a vision, but a lot of questions that we propose are about getting us to a plan that is executable.”
“We haven’t seen enough details to say whether we like it,” said CCAC member Phil Best.
CCAC member Beth Bassett observed that Stoner had made his first presentation to the CCAC in December of 2013. “It’s been a year that we’ve been involved with this.”
“We, as of two days ago, did not know if we were going to close with the bank,” said Frank Stoner. “We’ve consolidated the CSX and Barnes property. We want to build something special and work with the community and we have patient capital.”
CCAC member Mary Gallo asked if Milestone had reached out to other downtown business owners to see what their views of parking needs are and what they think of the new trestle idea.
Stoner said he would do that.
Speaking from the audience, Bill Schrader next held up a copy of the CCAC’s mission statement from the county, pointing out that it prohibits members from working for “special interests.” The implication was that some CCAC members were acting consciously as advocates for the developer.
“You work for the Master Plan,” he said. “Keep the Master Plan in mind. When you meet with special interests, part of the information gets back and part does not. Be careful. I’m pro-business, but only if it complies with the Master Plan. It’s our guiding implementation tool.”
“I felt extremely unsatisfied with the November meeting,” Bassett followed up in the same vein, reading a prepared statement. “Working in special groups is beyond our purpose. We represent all the people of Crozet,” she said.