The Western Albemarle Rescue Squad plans to build a new station on two lots in downtown Crozet that it has purchased from lifelong Crozetian Sandy Wilcox. Though only a quarter-mile south of its current location on Crozet Avenue across from Green House Coffee, the squad’s new spot behind the Blue Goose Building will give it room to expand and better access to area residents who need their help.
Wilcox acquired five parcels in downtown Crozet—the Blue Goose building (across from the library) and the two lots on either side of it, plus two adjacent lots to the west facing Carter Street—in 1990. “I had always planned to develop something there but it was difficult because of county regulations and also the banking part of it,” he said. “Around 2000, a few of us started the Downtown Crozet Association (now the Crozet Board of Trade), and we were able to change some of the regulations for a downtown district that made it more able to be developed.”
When he heard that the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad (WARS) was looking for a new home, and that local real estate broker Rod Phillips and his wife were seeking developable property, Wilcox felt it was a “kind of serendipity.” “I’ve always seen the rescue squad as such a key community resource that defines Crozet, and Rod is young and eager and connected enough to do things that I, regretfully, wasn’t able to do,” he said. “I’m so glad these guys can.”
A three-way deal, conveying the three Crozet Avenue lots to Phillips and the two Carter Street parcels to WARS, came together quickly. “It was very nice working with both of them,” said Wilcox. “They have worked out shared access and parking arrangements that will allow the squad to have access to Crozet Avenue so they can come and go safely.” Wilcox hopes that both projects will accomplish their goals and enhance the downtown area. “I think downtowns matter, and we need to keep our focus on downtown as a prime hub for Crozet, to be able to both live and work here.”
As long-time Crozet residents know, the current WARS station was formerly the old fire house. “We got it as a hand-me-down in 1986 or so, and before that we were in another hand-me-down right next door,” said Kostas Alibertis, rescue squad chief.
Building its own new station has been a strategic goal of WARS for many years as Crozet’s population has steadily increased. Covering over 200 square miles, WARS’ service area is the largest in the county, and calls have been increasing in recent years by double-digit percentage rates, reaching almost 2,000 calls in 2019.
“We’d like to add an ambulance to our fleet [to four from the current three] to handle the growth and to help in case one is in the shop,” said Alibertis, “and we’d like to add more space for classroom training, bunk rooms, and space to be able to put our equipment inside.” The current building would need major renovations to accommodate growth in the 80- to 100-member all-volunteer force. WARS has a roughly 20% rate of “concurrency,” a measure of how often the station is responding to multiple calls at the same time. “That’s a high percentage, and is a number often used to determine when you need to build a bigger station,” he said.
In thinking about the best new location for a station, Alibertis and the WARS board relied on the county’s comprehensive plan and WARS’ call demographics and response time metrics. “When we look at the surface area of what we could call the ‘Crozet pie’ shape, the population concentration is really in Old Trail and Crozet proper,” he said. As well, moving south to a site below the downtown railroad overpass will help ambulances to get where they’re going with fewer traffic snarls.
Staying in the downtown area is important for another, lesser-known reason. “We also have a fair number of folks who drive up to our station if they have an emergency,” said Alibertis. “That’s not uncommon, especially if there’s a power outage and no phone service. So it’s important for us to be in a place where folks know where we are.
“The land agreement [for the Carter Street property] is a critical piece,” said Alibertis, “but there is a lot more work to be done before we change our address.” Once all of the details are settled, WARS will announce its plans for design and fundraising, and Alibertis hopes the squad will be in their new space within a couple of years. “This is a great group of people and a wonderful organization, supported by the community and the county and our peer agencies, and we’ve been surprised and pleased that this opportunity has come through.”