The Downtown Crozet Initiative held its follow-up meeting June 11 at Crozet Elementary School to get public reaction to three preliminary plans for the development of the former Barnes Lumber Company property in downtown Crozet. The plans, which were meant to demonstrate conceptual options, were the product of a well-attended meeting May 27 when developer Frank Stoner asked Crozetians to describe what they thought should happen on the property. Stoner is one of five co-owners of the parcels in Crozet New Town Associates LLC and his development services company, Milestone Partners, is handling the nuts and bolts of their development.
“We opened this up to the public and said this needs to be a public-private partnership,” said Stoner. “Without that, I don’t think we can be successful, but with it, I think we can.”
Stoner estimated the cost to create a public space in the property at $2 million and warned that the cost of it would raise the price of new commercial space to unaffordable levels for tenants or lot buyers. “If the developer has to bear all the costs of the public infrastructure and pass them along to commercial tenants, it will never happen,” Stoner said. He said they are also exploring VDOT funding for the project’s roads.
A public share of funding would be drawn from a local fundraising campaign or county, state or federal funds. “Whatever sources are available we will seek out,” said Stoner. He raised the possibility of a tax surcharge on businesses such as Charlottesville imposed to support the Omni Hotel and the Ntelos Pavilion.
When asked what amount of public funding would be needed, Stoner said it is too early to tell and would depend on how fast commercial space would fill.
Stoner said Milestone will be transparent and accountable to the community. He said development will proceed “organically” and in phases.
Slightly more than 100 people turned out to talk over the options. Milestone Partners hired Christine Gyovai and Reed Muehlman of White Hall-based Dialogue+Design Associates to be meeting facilitators and the Crozet Community Association, as co-sponsor of the meetings, provided food and babysitting to encourage attendance. Meeting participants were asked to concentrate especially on assessing alternatives for road plans and for public and green spaces.
In the opening general session, participants raised questions about the size of the prospective plaza, about parking, the nature of public-private partnerships. The plaza was shown in different sizes in the three options with the largest space, 200-by-200 feet, in “Plan B,” which expressed the grid concept. The public thought the public area should be a mix of lawn, hard surface and trees. Some suggested Lee Park in Charlottesville as a model.
Parking “is a huge challenge,” Stoner acknowledged. The Downtown Crozet District requires only one space for every 1,000 square feet of commercial floor space on the assumption that the downtown is compact enough to allow walking to all parts from any single parking spot within it. More typical zoning codes for suburban shopping centers and malls require five spaces per 1,000 feet, but if that standard were applied to downtown Crozet, the downtown would become essentially a large parking lot. A parking garage is a possibility, but Stoner sees this as another case of public expenditure. Designer Mark Lieberth described all the options as “under-parked by a factor of four or five.” The DCD also requires “relegated parking,” which usually means behind buildings, not on lots on the street.
The crowd divided into three groups, each joined by a facilitator and architect, for deeper discussion of the plans. All three plans include a greenway connection to Claudius Crozet Park, which is near the southeast corner of the property, as well as a new road tunneling under the railroad tracks roughly in front of the Crozet Firehouse. It’s not clear that this new connection to Three Notch’d Road is actually possible as the tracks may not have sufficient elevation to allow it and railroad operations could not be interfered with during construction, which would greatly complicate the effort. All the plans included parking areas along the tracks.
In group one, participants favored Plan A, essentially a restatement of earlier plans presented by Milestone that show an X-shaped intersection on the west end of the lumberyard and one central street through the center of the parcels with another street looping off it. In this scheme the public space compares to the size of a tennis court.
In groups two and three, Plan B, the grid of streets option, was preferred by the public for both its road layout and more spacious park plan. The grid plan was seem as offering more flexibility for traffic management and allowing for two-lane, one-way streets that could handle greater volumes.
Participants also raised the option of designing a central pedestrian mall on the property with parking under buildings. Plan C received almost no support.
Participants were invited to write comments on a questionnaire and about a quarter did. The majority of those backed the grid plan, several calling it the only concept worth pursuing. Some expressed the view that the public-private partnership was an opportunity for the developer to profit at taxpayer expense. Participants again stressed walkability in the design and some also urged that the demolition of the lumberyard be finished.
In a show of hands poll at the meeting’s conclusion about two-thirds of participants voted for the grid plan.
The DCI planning committee met a week afterward and the majority decided to continue as advisors to the developer.
The next step appears to be an evolved design that builds on the meeting’s public comment. There is no timeline for that. The property, now zoned heavy industrial and limited essentially to use as a lumberyard, must yet go through a rezoning to be included in the DCD.