Meeting at Crozet Library Jan. 5, the Downtown Crozet Initiative announced the results of its December Design & Dine event, which was held at Piedmont Place and intended to gather community feedback for the proposed Crozet plaza.
With the buzz surrounding the announcement, the meeting took on a tone of excitement. This was acknowledged by the committee members’ opening statements, which praised a record-breaking attendance of around 30 people. “I’m thrilled to see that so many have come out to offer feedback and be a part of this process,” said Meg Holden, the committee’s co-chair. “As we move forward with this project, we hope the support will continue and gain momentum.”
After Milestone Partners’ Frank Stoner recapped DCI goals and summarized for new attendees the phased development of the overall Crozet Square project, and where the plaza fit into those plans, the floor was turned over to committee chair Mary Beth Bowen. “Over the past month we’ve been tallying the results from the Design & Dine event as well as comments we’ve received via email and social media threads,” she said.
At the Dec. 5 D&D event, the public was invited to view three prospective renderings of the new plaza provided by architectural design firm, Mahan Rykiel Associates. Feedback was solicited, with attendees offering commentary on slips of paper that were subsequently either taped to the drawings themselves or compiled in a large box. After the event, a Facebook thread was opened asking for comments as well. According to Bowen, opinions were offered by around 300 individuals and families.
“So we basically divided the feedback by design concept, as well as the most popular features, and the biggest overall concerns,” said Bowen. Most popular of the three designs was the Railroad Roots rendering, with 49 percent in support. Second was Orchard Grove, with around 37 percent, leaving 15 percent in favor of the Industrial Heritage option.
Beyond overall popularity, results for favored features were mixed and were pulled from each of the three drawings. “Much to my own personal dismay, we heard that the active water feature in the Orchard Grove design was the winner,” reported a smirking Bowen, eliciting a chuckle from the group. “Beyond that, people said they loved the idea of a water feature in general and wanted to make sure some version was included in the final design, and that while they liked the Orchard Grove option, overall, they preferred the Railroad Roots design.”
Second in popularity was the inclusion of a fire-pit. Third was the boxcar stage design featured in Railroad Roots. Additionally, many said they wanted to retain the arbor from the Industrial Heritage plan, as well as the covered area where outdoor events like a farmers’ market could be held.
When Bowen finished her presentation, Stoner provided context regarding Milestone’s aims for gathering the information, as well as what they were planning on doing with it. “The intent of the design meeting was to get people to say what they liked more so than choose a particular design,” he said. “Now that we have that data, we’ll go back and revise. We’re going to request that Mahan Rykiel take this input into account and make modifications reflective of the community’s desires.”
Additionally, Stoner said that while most of the feedback came in the form of verbal or hand-written notes, there was one notable exception. After attending the meeting and discussing the various renderings with Mahan Rykiel representatives, Crozet residents Warren Byrd and Susan Nelson, retired landscape architects of international renown, the founding partners in the Charlottesville / New York City-based firm Nelson Byrd Woltz—which has won over 80 national and regional awards for city parks, zoos, botanical gardens, academic and business campuses, and other public and private landscape designs—offered the DCI drawings of their own for free.
“Warren contacted me after the meeting and told me he and wife had taken a personal interest in the project,” said Stoner. “They asked about the plaza and whether we were open to ideas, and we subsequently met twice, before and after Christmas.”
At that point, Stoner displayed Byrd’s drawings, which featured suggestions the architect hoped Mahan Rykiel would take into account. The press and other attendees were asked to refrain from photographing the hand-rendered drawings out of respect to Mahan Rykiel. The drawings had, according to Stoner, been passed on to the firm for input.
“There were several things Warren wasn’t wild about,” explained Stoner. “Specific among these was the arch in the Industrial Heritage design, which he felt was too contrived, and should have run west to east. In particular, he loved the idea of connecting in some way to the railroad, but thought all designs had too much grass and were trending away from an urban plaza into a park. As grass easily turns to mud and is costly to maintain, he felt the schemes should include more hardscapes.”
Another issue was scaling. According to Byrd, the plaza should be inviting and warm regardless of whether there were 20 or 200 people. “Warren subsequently broke the plaza down to smaller pieces that would feel more intimate than the larger expansive spaces,” said Stoner. “That resulted in designs that are more sectionalized.”
The apportioning approach, especially with its emphasis on trees and shade areas, was met with general approval. “Overall, the goal here is character—we don’t want the plaza to turn out like Old Trail, where it’s like it’s been dropped in via crane and actually belongs somewhere else,” said Stoner. “So what Warren was saying is that you don’t want it to be too urban—you can offer different options that are funky and localized.”
In rounding out the meeting, the group discussed next steps. Among these was a request that Mahan Rykiel provide an itemized list of maintenance costs associated with various design options, as well as a use-based assessment. “I think we need to look at these areas and think about programming and events,” said Dave Stoner, chair of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee. “That data would help quantify all of these observations and allow us to make better decisions moving forward.”
With Byrd’s designs and the D&D feedback sent to Mahan & Rykiel, Frank Stoner said the immediate next step was updated sketches. “Concerning a timeline, we’d like to have a conceptual and schematic drawing finalized in March,” he said. “In the meantime, we need to be considering financing—like, can we get grants that will allow us to maximize the private dollars that we’re putting in, and get that public investment to do as much as possible to yield the results we’re trying to attain?”
Toward that end, Dave Stoner will offer a presentation of possible grant options in February. Jennie More, Albemarle County Planning Commissioner for the White Hall district, stated that all community members interested or experienced in such endeavors should either attend the meeting or reach out to the DCI to provide insight and consider taking on a role assisting with the effort.