Crozet Board of Trade agreed to serve as a sponsoring organization for grants that could potentially aid the development of the downtown area and other Crozet causes at its Jan. 24 meeting at Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery. The vote came as the result of a presentation by Frank Stoner, a partner with Milestone Partners, who is spearheading the development of the Crozet plaza.
Stoner informed CBT members of new developments with regard to the Crozet Plaza and provided a list of next steps for the project, as well as a generalized timeline for their implementation. Foremost of the items presented were suggestions for the plaza in the form of drawings that have been provided by retired internationally acclaimed landscape architects Warren Byrd and his wife, Susan Nelson.
“They came forward gratis,” said Mike Marshall, president of the CBT. “They were very deeply involved in the creation of the Master Plan in 2004, they know the long-term picture. And these guys are stellar in their field—Warren won three American Institute of Architects awards in one year. So we’re very lucky that we have them wanting to help out.”
The Nelson/Byrd sketches were circulated as Stoner explained the architects’ main concern was how to best divide the plaza into partitioned areas that would allow the overall space to feel warm and intimate whether there were 400 or a dozen people present.
“One of the current challenges is that, in its current form, the plaza is quite large,” said Stoner. “If you attended the Dec. 8 Downtown Crozet Initiative Design & Dine event you’ll recall we actually flagged off the area where the plaza would be. And one of the concerns Warren and others have expressed is that it not be so big that it loses a sense of intimacy. So the scale of the buildings around it needs to be such that it feels enclosed and not just a wide-open field. We really want it to have a unique identity, a sense of place.”
Also high on Nelson, Byrd and Stoner’s concerns are the costs of maintenance for the plaza and who would assume responsibility for its maintenance. “There’s no entity that is currently identified that can take over the maintenance of the plaza,” said Stoner. “However, there are a couple of options: the Board of Trade might be one, Crozet Park Board another, or maybe the DCI organization could be another if they became a 501(c)(3) and got more organized. But someone is going to have to maintain it and the county doesn’t really want to, nor do they have the funds allocated—they’re just not in that business.”
However, it was Stoner’s opinion the county would potentially provide a degree of supplemental funding were another organization—such as the Crozet Park Board—to assume primary responsibilities for the plaza. Overall, he emphasized the point that maintenance will absolutely require an entity to manage the space. “It’s not unlike Charlottesville’s downtown mall,” said Stoner. “There will be farmers’ markets, other markets, events, concerts and so on held here, and someone is going to have to organize all that, make it happen, and figure out how to pay for it.”
Toward the end of making the maintenance burden more manageable, the Byrd/Nelson drawings focused on reducing grass and providing more hardscapes. “We want to be thinking about this in terms of how the plaza might function in a variety of different contexts,” said Stoner. “On any given day you might only have a handful of people in the plaza. So it has to be a place where people can go and feel like it’s intimate space.” Hence the partitioning.
So far, Mahan Rykiel, the landscape architects contracted to design the plaza, has been provided with public feedback from the Dec. 8 Design & Dine Event as well as the drawings from Byrd and Nelson, Stoner told board members.
“When do you think you’ll have a design solidified and be able to bring all this before the [Albemarle County] Planning Commission?” posed Marshall.
“We’ll have sketches from Mahan Rykiel in a couple of weeks or so, and we’ll likely be presenting those at the next DCI meeting,” said Stoner. “After that, if everyone seems positive, we’ll probably have one more meeting with the community, where everyone can come to look at it and provide feedback. Assuming that goes well, we’ll formally adopt the design.”
Stoner’s presentation concluded with a discussion of how to fund the plaza. “The big challenge with the plaza is figuring out how to pay for it,” he said. “It’s estimated to cost $3 million and right now nobody has the money to pay for that. Next week, we’re going to meet with the county to talk about strategies for funding. One of the cases we’ve made is that, with $20 million worth of private investment in Phase 1, that’s a lot of tax revenue that will be generated. So we think we can build a pretty strong case that, over a reasonable period of time, if the county would issue bonds, they could then get a pretty heavy return on investment.”
However, according to Stoner, while the practice is common for other localities, it isn’t something the county has done before, and will thus likely require an extensive amount of legwork to make it happen.
Additionally, as Greg Sharer, COO of Perrone Robotics, pointed out, there’s the problem of expediency. “We’re highly invested in the plaza’s realization because, as we see it, it’s critical to the success of the square, which is, in turn, critical to our ability to attract talent,” he said.
“You’re absolutely right, it is critical,” responded Stoner, addressing the room. “When Perrone was deciding to move downtown they wanted to know ‘What’s the vision, what’s the vision?’ And while we have a number of other businesses that want to move in, including two hotel developers, the plaza is a critical catalyst to making that happen. It’s not a huge leap to get there, but it is significant. The challenge for us is, when it’s all said and done, we have to be able to build space and lease it at a rate that people can actually afford.”
Another funding avenue that is being explored is a variety of grant opportunities. “We hired a grant writer to work with the DCI and they’re currently looking at 15 different opportunities that would provide funding for things like planning, construction, streetscape improvements, and many more uses that would help us get this thing off the ground,” said Stoner. “Some of these grants will require different kinds of participation—some can be applied for by the county, but some will need to be applied for by a local 501(c)(3).”
As the CBT is a 501(c)(3), Marshall proposed a vote wherein the majority of board members agreed they were open to sponsoring grants. None dissented.
Closing the meeting was a discussion of the finalization of an upcoming community-wide scientific survey. “The survey will essentially give us the ability to go to the county and provide them with scientifically verified information concerning the collective opinion of our residents,” said Tim Tolson, president of the Crozet Community Association. “Also, as there’s a Master Plan revision that will soon be coming up, we’ve developed questions that will seek input on that matter as well.”
The survey will be available both online through the CCA’s website, at the Crozet Library, by mail, and in print copies of the Crozet Gazette. It will be about 40 questions long and take less than 20 minutes to complete. “Last time we did this over 1,200 comments came in,” said former Albemarle County Planning Commissioner Tom Loach. “I knew as a planning commissioner that that information was invaluable to helping me make decisions that I felt represented my community. However, while the prior survey was ultimately deemed non-scientific, as a scientific survey, this one will sample from each of the geographic areas and increase our credibility exponentially.”
The CBT agreed to raise funds for the survey, which Marshall estimated would cost around $4,000. The survey is slated to be issued in March.
Additionally at the meeting Greg Scharer, COO of Perrone Robotics, and Cor Carelsen and Jennifer Blanchard—owners of the new Crozet Bike Shop and Morsel Compass restaurant respectively—introduced themselves to the board. “We’re so happy to be a part of this community and to watch it grow through the years along with our business,” said Carelsen.
The next meeting of the Crozet Board of Trade will be Monday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the event room at Crozet Pizza. All Crozet-area business owners and interested citizens are invited to attend. For more information visit facebook.com/crozetboardoftrade.