On Two Wrong Projects
The Crozet Master Plan essentially hinges on two concepts learned from Charlottesville’s development history. First is the success of the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian landscape where people like to go. Second is the abject failure of Rt. 29 North and Rt. 250 east on Pantops Mountain, both areas that people try to pass through as promptly as they can.
The master plan accepts that Crozet is an official Growth Area. Yet it tries to direct Crozet’s downtown to turn out like the Mall, and it tries to prevent Rt. 250 west from becoming like 29 North or Pantops. The zoning goal for downtown was also, hopefully, to enable the survival of Crozet’s small town culture as it perforce absorbed five and six times it original population in new residents. Thus the survival of downtown’s viability is integral to Crozet’s community integrity. Downtown may grow prodigiously, but it should remain the place Crozetians routinely head for their business. The density should occur downtown and, to the greatest extent possible, Rt. 250 should survive free from traffic lights as the “bypass” around Crozet. There is no route for a bypass around Crozet once we forfeit the highway we have now to congestion and shopping centers.
After the master plan had been adopted in 2004, weaknesses in it became apparent in the light of development events. When the citizens convened in the plan review process that ended with clarified rules in 2010, they had two objects. One was to remove pockets of potential high-density housing next to established neighborhoods, such as happened in Haden Lane and Killdeer Lane with the construction of Haden Place. This shift essentially homogenizes the character of neighborhoods with relatively consistent housing types and densities and it was strongly sought by both long-time and newer Crozetians.
Second was the concentration of density in downtown and its reduction at the edges of the growth area distant from downtown, not practically within walking range of it. This concept was referred to as “pyramidal density.” If you were to imagine the future geography of Crozet’s population expressed as a bell curve, then the hump would be centered on downtown and the “fringes” of the growth area, as they were called, would be comparatively low density. Acreage along Rt. 250 that was originally in the Growth Area was removed (imagine that!) and the already built areas of north Crozet were added to it, to make this desired density outcome more explicit and probable.
Developers routinely tell us that people won’t walk more than a block from their cars. The improvement of Jarmans Gap Road with a sidewalk put the lie to this. We’ll readily walk even a half-mile or farther if we have a safe path. Foot traffic along Jarmans Gap is greater than anyone foresaw, and it’s why we now have sidewalk projects in north Crozet intended to allow residents living there to reach downtown feeling secure. Cars are essential. No one is going to lug his groceries home on foot if he can avoid it. So downtown needs parking, but nonetheless we should consider the pedestrian, a person, a higher priority in planning than his car. Otherwise we foreclose the option of being able to walk to places. This is also why Crozet is so determined about its trail plan; it creates a secondary sidewalk system based on natural terrain.
This brings us to two plans now before the public for approval. One called Adelaide is on Rt. 250 next to Cory Farm, an established neighborhood, and the second is the expansion of Re-store’N Station on Rt. 250.
In conformity with pyramidal density, Adelaide should not be rezoned from R1 and should proceed as a by-right development. The 20-acre parcel, once unbuildable parts are avoided, and assuming that density “bonuses” are granted for leaving some green space open and adding “affordable” housing, would likely yield about 28 houses. That would make it similar to and compatible with its neighbor, Cory Farm, and reduce the chance that a traffic light will ultimately be needed there.
Adelaide demonstrates that the easy-to-develop parcels in Crozet are now history and, increasingly, only problematic ones still have potential. Those have not been developed yet precisely because they are problematic and they should not be developed unless those problems, which often involve safe access, are satisfactorily solved.
Given the contentious history of Re-store’N Station’s existence, a four-year fight over water use that finally ended with a court ruling denying the developer’s interpretation of what he had been granted permission to do with building square footage, it is astonishingly cheeky of him to advance a substantially larger project. This application to change the existing special use permit should be rejected out of hand. It is exactly the sort of commercial growth the master plan aims to prevent in this location. Seven conditions were imposed as part of the SUP approval, one limiting the parcel’s building size to 3,000 square feet, and they should be steadfastly enforced. Re-store’N Station would not exist today had the owner not agreed to accept the conditions. Now he must live with them and Crozet should be left at peace with the deal it made, reluctantly, in 2010.