Southern Development to Seek Special Permit for Stream Crossing

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The location of the proposed development adjoining Orchard Acres is outlined in blue in the three parcels on the left.
The location of the proposed development adjoining Orchard Acres is outlined in blue in the three parcels on the left.

Southern Development Company will seek a special use permit from the Albemarle County Supervisors to allow the company to build a road across Powell’s Creek and access undeveloped land around Crozet Crossing, company vice president Charlie Armstrong told the Crozet Community Advisory Committee at its Dec. 16 meeting.

The proposed road would connect to Orchard Drive, not far from its intersection with Jarmans Gap Road, and slice through critical slopes and across flood plain and then channel the creek into a culvert and build the road on top. The new road would connect to Cling Lane, which is now a dead end with the 30 houses that make up Crozet Crossings flanking it.

Armstrong called the presentation “conceptual,” noting that no application for a permit has been made yet. He said the county planning staffer assigned to the project is Rachel Falkenstein. He had a poster-size drawing of the parcel boundaries in the affected area west of downtown Crozet, but no map or drawing that could have been projected on the meeting room’s screen.

In 1990, Armstrong said, when the property owner, Piedmont Housing Alliance, wanted to build Crozet Crossings, then conceived of as an affordable housing development, it sought 60 units. It also needed a special use permit to build the culvert and road to extend Cling Lane, which was ultimately approved. But the Supervisors then allowed only 30 houses on the grounds that fire and rescue standards do not want more than that number on a street with only one way in.

Thus arises the concept of connecting Cling Lane to Orchard Drive again across the creek. Orchard Drive connects to Jarmans Gap Road on the south and to Lanetown Road on the north. The network of streets based on those connections currently has 155 houses on it.

“The reason we chose this point [for the crossing] is that engineers found it to be the easiest point of access. There are no wetlands at this point,” Armstrong said. The crossing would be just west of Pleasant Green, believed to be one of the oldest houses in Crozet, the seat of the Wayland family, who first sought a freight depot for the area around 1875 and launched Crozet into the apple and peach business. Armstrong said the new road would lead to an 80-unit, by-right project on 18 acres that has R6 zoning dating from 1990 (from three to six units per acre, usually a townhouse-style development). It would feature 49 single-family houses and 31 townhouses, some of those backed up against the railroad tracks.

He said a trail would be built along the creek to tie in with the Crozet trail system.

“We have met with [county trails planner] Dan Mahon and he really wants this connection to happen.”

Armstrong said an investigation of the creek revealed a old dam with a small pond that he speculated may have been built for orchard irrigation. He suggested removing the dam.

Armtrong said that “because of our partner, we’re looking at 15 percent affordable housing.” He did not identify the PHA as the partner.

“Affordable” housing is a house that costs 80 percent of Albemarle median household income, which puts the price considered affordable now at $240,000, Supervisor Ann Mallek informed the CCAC.

Armstrong predicted that an average acre in the project would have 4.5 houses on it.

County policy allows unbuildable acreage on a parcel—flood plain, steep slopes—to be counted toward the final allowable density rather than subtracted. Armstrong was asked what the actual density on useable land would end up being. He said they had not calculated it. Later when asked what the dimensions of a lot would be, he offered a 40-foot width and a one-tenth of an acre lot size, or a density of R10.

Orchard Acres and Cling Lane residents complained about the concept. “What about the impact on schools,” asked one. “We can’t answer the question about schools,” said Armstrong.

“You’re talking about doubling the size of the Orchard Acres neighborhood,” said another. “You’re taking away the reason we live here.”

CCAC chair Jennie More observed that VDOT standards say each house generates 10 car trips per day, raising the prospect of 800 more cars a day using Orchard Drive’s two connection points.

Orchard Acres residents complained about tractor trailers using Orchard Drive to reach the railroad crossing on Lanetown Road and problems with speeding through the neighborhood. One called for a traffic light at Orchard Drive and Cling Lane.

Armstrong said that traffic impacts had not been analyzed. “This group comes first,” he said.

He described the bridge as earthen fill over a double box culvert that would be 12 feet by 8 feet and slightly buried in the creek. The length of the culverts was not given.

“Can you build if you don’t cross the creek?” an audience member asked.

“We’d have to have a different access,” answered Armstrong. “This property has some access to McComb Road,” which parallels the railroad tracks and connects to Blue Ridge Avenue and to Carter Street behind Mountainside Senior Living.

“For us this destroys our neighborhood,” said a Cling Lane resident. “Our kids are playing in the street now.”

Armstrong answered that connecting roads had the effect of distributing traffic.

“You’re saying that making it a through street rather than a dead end would reduce traffic?” came an incredulous voice.

“Traffic would increase,” Armstrong acknowledged.

“There’s only two ways into Orchard Acres,” said a resident. “You haven’t changed that. You’re only increasing traffic in Orchard Acres.”

“We were told when we bought our house that the flood plain meant this land could not be developed,” asserted another.

Of course, Southern Development had come forward to prove otherwise. The only question in play is whether the Supervisors would approve a special permit for the stream crossing. Armstrong said they expect to submit a permit application in January and that construction would not likely start for a year and a half.

“You have a lot of work to do,” observed Mallek.

“I can assure you this will change,” answered Armstrong.

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In other business, CCAC chair Jennie More conducted her final meeting. She resigned her seat to become the White Hall District planning commissioner as of January 1. CCAC vice chair David Stoner will conduct meetings until the CCAC chooses officers in March, the customary month for their election. Meanwhile former vice chair Mary Gallo will stand in as interim vice chair.

More thanked retiring commissioner Tom Loach, who served in the post for eight years of weekly meetings. “There’s not enough words I could say,” she said, “to express the wisdom and dedication he has served this community with.”

Loach told the CCAC, “I never made a decision without input from this committee.” He also thanked Crozet Community Association President Tim Tolson. Loach suggested that a new community survey be undertaken to gauge opinion on the town’s future. A growth-issues survey set up by Tolson in 2005 drew 700 respondents (the town had a total population of 2,500 at the time) and 1,200 comments. Loach warned that “There’s a move afoot to weaken the community advisory committees—not just this one—and we know how valuable this committee has been. Our plan has been improved by miles.” He suggested that the chairs of the advisory councils meet to develop a common agenda and to build connections between the local committees.

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