A large crowd numbering more than 160 came out to The Field School in Crozet May 27 for a town hall discussion about how to develop the 20-acre former Barnes Lumber Company site in downtown. The meeting was hosted by the Crozet Community Association and Milestone Partners, the new owners of the lumberyard parcels. It was facilitated by White Hall residents Christine Gyovai and Reed Muehlman of Dialogue and Design Associates, a Charlottesville firm that offers architectural and consensus-building services, plus advice on permaculture systems.
Milestone Partners paid for Dialog and Design’s services and the CCA sprang for dinner (provided by Sal’s Restaurant) for those who attended a meeting that started at supper time.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to shape the place where you live,” said Gyovai to open the meeting. “All ideas are welcome. The goal is to engage the community to transform Barnes Lumber into a vibrant town center.”
Citizens were asked to comment specifically on how three design components should be handled: the road system, civic space and green space.
The walls had photographs offering examples of the town design taken in places such as Richmond’s Carytown, Staunton’s Beverley Street and a market square in Bellingham, Washington. Participants were encouraged to put green stickers on things they liked and red stickers on things they didn’t.
Gyovai said the firm had been interviewing people in town. “Across the board we heard people love Crozet.” She said they mentioned things like the Christmas parade. People also brought up their pride in Crozet’s locally grown businesses and when she asked how many in the crowd had contributed to the Crozet Library fundraising drive, a large majority raised their hands. She said Crozetians also showed a sense of pride in their agricultural past as “Virginia’s peach capital.”
“We don’t want to lose the refined and folky spirit of Crozet and we don’t want to lose the small town flavor of Crozet,” she said.
County planner Elaine Echols, who was involved in the original development of Crozet’s Master Plan in 2004, gave a sketch of the master planning history of Crozet.
“I’m amazed so many are new. The people who developed the plan are well versed in it. One thing is that Crozet cares and it has a vision. The Barnes site is pivotal and that’s why you are here tonight.”
She said the Master Plan for downtown envisions it as mixed commercial and residential use (with up to 36 residential units per acre) with an emphasis on employment uses, a block form of development, and an orientation to support tourism.
Development of the lumberyard, now zoned heavy industrial, will require rezoning action by the county supervisors to add it to the Downtown Crozet District (DCD), a unique zoning description in the county. The meeting was designed to help develop a consensus on what the proposed plan should look like.
White Hall Planning Commissioner Tom Loach followed Echols with conjectural illustrations the county had devised of what the DCD terms would look like if built out, on Berkmar Drive or Albemarle Square in Charlottesville.
“We wanted downtown to continue to be the commercial and social center of the community,” he said of the goal of the zoning rules. “Our downtown ordinance is so good, the county has copied it for other locations. Crozet leads, we don’t follow.”
The illustrations showed three-story buildings flanked by street trees with commercial lower levels and apartments above. “Crozet needs more diversity in housing, especially apartments,” Loach said. He concluded by showing the photo of The Square in 1954 that hangs behind the library’s circulation desk. “Back to the future,” Loach explained.
Frank Stoner of Milestone, representing the group of investors in Barnes incorporated as Crozet New Town Associates, whose photos he showed, enumerated some of his previous projects, including Belmont Lofts, the Jefferson School, Queen Charlotte Square and Lochlyn Hill in Charlottesville.
“Barnes Lumber falls into our categories,” he said. He noted that there are no railroad crossings between the Crozet Avenue trestle and Park Ridge Road in eastern Crozet. “We need a possible connection across the tracks.”
Stoner said that when the Planning Commission rejected the first plan for Barnes they presented last July, which contained 40 percent single-family housing, the commissioners said he should work with the Crozet Community Advisory Committee.
“We’re not used to working this way that we are working now on Barnes Lumber,” Stoner acknowledged. “This has to be a community effort. This is not going to be Stonefield [which Stoner has no connection to] with national franchises brought in. We envision an organic process of development with parcels sold off to individual builders.”
He showed a one-quarter-mile radius from the site, representing a walking distance. “We need more people in walking distance,” he said. Then he showed photos of St. Michaels in Maryland and Serenbe, Georgia. “These have the eclectic nature people say they want for Crozet,” he explained. “We want it to be authentic but not a copy of somewhere else.
In answers to questions from the crowd, Stoner said all that utilities will be underground.
“The county has created a Master Plan,” he added. “The problem is most people are driving their cars downtown. Parking is already a problem.”
Asked by Fardowners Restaurant owner Mark Cosgrove, “Who says what businesses get in?” Stoner answered, “No national retailer will want to locate in downtown. We have to create affordable spaces for businesses. We really need help—led by the community— to establish businesses in downtown.”
“Please don’t put in a McDonald’s,” said voice in the crowd.
“Structured parking is the answer long-term,” continued Stoner. “As private builders we can’t recover the cost of building them. We’ve made a decision that we’re not going to focus on the residential. That’s contentious. We’ll focus on the commercial. The Master Plan does not say how to get from here to there. There is interest in a hotel downtown. That would be a game-changer.”
The crowd divided into five smaller groups, each assisted by an architect, to sketch street and public space ideas on tracing paper placed over photos of the site. After an hour, the groups reassembled and representatives of each group summarized their ideas for the whole.
One group showed a plan with a single trunk road through the site stemming from a traffic circle on the west end that connected The Square, Library Avenue and High Street. The concept was similar to one proposed by Stoner before.
Two other groups showed Library Avenue and a parallel road extending from The Square along the tracks with connecting roads in between, creating a grid street system.
A compilation of group comments recorded on large pads showed that the groups tended to agree that they wanted the mountain views incorporated in the plan and that parking lots should go alongside the railroad tracks. They wanted a multi-use town square, preferably on the higher elevation at the west end, and they said the first floor of buildings should be commercial or office space and the upper floors should be residential. They want a connection to Crozet Park from the site’s southeast corner. They declared a preference for a grid road system that was not strictly straight so as to reduce traffic speed. Some suggested roundabouts. They want attention on pedestrian priorities. They preferred a slow rate of growth and they resisted franchise businesses. Essentially, Crozetians asked for the same things they have been asking for in downtown since formal planning for it first began in 2006.
A follow-up meeting is set for June 11 at Crozet Elementary School (new location!) where design options derived from ideas at the May 27 meeting will be offered for the public to react to. Food and child care will be available again at 5:30. The meeting starts at 6 and is expected to last until 8:30.