Architect Kurt Wassenaar and real estate investor Mark Green are the principal partners in a group of investors that recently bought the main commercial properties in north downtown Crozet.
The group, operating as Blue Springs Development, based in Charlottesville, paid $3.35 million for the stores stretching from Over The Moon Bookstore to the Crozet Great Valu, about 25 percent less than the county’s tax assessment value. Their Crozet project is incorporated as Crozet Center Partners LLC.
The properties had been gradually assembled into consolidated ownership over many years by former owner Frank Wood. His heirs came into it upon his death about 10 years ago. Renee and David Wyant had been serving as property managers and oversaw recent improvements intended to catch up maintenance issues.
The barn-like Fruit Growers buildings, as they were once commonly known, on the west end of the properties, were built in 1902 to serve as cooperages that supplied crates and barrels for the local fruit industry. The cooperage’s office is now Crozet Pizza. The Crozet Shopping Plaza on the other end dates to 1965, when the Crozet IGA Foodliner moved to larger quarters from its former location on The Square.
Wassenaar and Green are also partners in the South River Mills property in Waynesboro, the former Compton Mill, where corduroy and velveteen were manufactured until the collapse of the American textile industry to foreign competition in the 1980s. The company has an office there where they handle their property management operation. South River Mills now has 28 tenants in a variety of businesses, mainly light industrial.
Wassenaar, who formerly taught in the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, is a serial entrepreneur who started Wassenaar and Winkler, an architectural and planning firm that specializes in commercial building design; Vibethink Corporation, a digital marketing and website development (among his clients are Stanford University and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts); and a clinical information system for medical uses, a company he has since sold.
Green had a career in property development and management in California before coming to Virginia, where he has family.
“We’re a vertically integrated company,” explained Wassenaar. “We can provide all the services we need in-house.” He described his partnership with Green as one with “very complimentary skill sets.”
“We got interested a year ago [in the Crozet properties],” he said. He already knew the Wyants.
“We’re sort of careful, quiet developers. Our first thing will be to get the property maintained.”
All the spaces are now leased except for the former Patterson’s Flower Shop, which started in the world as a Virginia ABC store with counter-only sales and has windows only on the street front, and the former bank branch office, an end unit with a drive-up teller’s window. They said they will lease space at a monthly rate of $15 per square foot.
“It’s pretty much all leased,” said Wassenaar. “We don’t want to disrupt that.”
“A lot can be done without new buildings,” said Green. “Just a general upgrade. There’s an ideal tenant mix you want to get to.”
“The buildings are pretty much what people think Crozet is about. It’s an important and delicate exercise to preserve that in a careful and thoughtful way when you redevelop,” said Wassenaar, who noted that the firm has also done a commercial redevelopment project of historic buildings recently in Michigan.
“We’ll be cleaning up the vacant spaces, fixing leaky roofs, working on some persistent drainage issues and painting and making façade improvements,” said Green.
“We’re locally friendly developers,” said Wassenaar, who lives in Ivy.
Parking is a chronic issue on the Fruit Grower’s end. “Space behind the buildings is not developed,” Wassenaar said, also describing the pull-in parking along Rt. 240 as “a muddle.”
Wassenaar said the firm has made a digital three-dimensional model of all downtown Crozet to explore design possibilities. He said he has examined the zoning terms of the Downtown Crozet District. “I basically agree with it,” he said. “We’re starting to look at opportunities. It’s a longer-range plan. One of the keys to good [downtown] development is a mix of residential and commercial properties.”
He said Crozet needs more apartments. “Anything that’s built is already gone,” he said.
“The last thing we want to do is upset the apple cart,” said Green. “It can be improved, but there’s value in what we have there today.
“We’re very much an urban re-development company,” said Wassenaar. “We restore commercial buildings. We have a sensitivity to town fabric and structures. We’re renovating the King Lumber building on Preston Avenue [in Charlottesville] now.”
He said he has been consulting with Barnes Lumber property developer Frank Stoner about plans for those 20 acres. Wassenaar said he has also seen plans drawn by architect Bill Atwood nearly a decade ago that proposed two floors of apartments over some of the existing structures he now owns. That plan stalled and then expired when the real estate market deflated in 2007.
A previous version of this story gave the sale price as $1.46 million. The correct price is $3.35 million. The Gazette’s figure did not account for all the parcels in the sale. We regret the error.