County Staff Propose Land Use Changes in Master Plan

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Map showing the White Gate Farm parcel on Rt. 240 (the middle orange property just under “Three Notch’d Road”) that spurred debate at the September 23 CCAC meeting. Photo: courtesy Albemarle County Planning Department.

The Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) held a special meeting on September 23 to discuss land use changes proposed by county planning staff as part of the ongoing Crozet Master Plan update process. The meeting was called after the CCAC’s regular meeting on September 9 ran out of time to fully hash out the proposed changes, and the latter meeting fared no better.

At issue are several land use category and parcel-specific recommendations presented by county staff that deal with housing densities and allowable uses. Two new land use categories are proposed for Crozet—a Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay and Middle Density Residential—and the recent meeting focused on the impacts and implications of the latter. The Middle Density Residential form envisions 6 to 24 dwelling units per acre, allowing such structures as multiplexes, townhouses, bungalow courts, and accessory dwellings in several areas in Crozet. 

Planning staff say that the new Middle Density category is proposed based on goals articulated by community members, including “to provide increased housing choice and affordability and to encourage smaller-scaled development patterns that are more consistent with existing neighborhoods and supportive of Crozet’s small-town identity.” The category is specifically proposed for a 12-acre parcel on Rt. 240 just west of Wickham Pond known as White Gate Farm. 

County planner Rachel Falkenstein described the Middle Density designation as intending to serve the “missing middle” of more affordable housing in Crozet, and said that Middle Density would mostly replace the Urban Density category (6-34 units/acre) in the 2010 Master Plan. “The designation aims to preserve existing housing and historic structures and would allow infill,” said Falkenstein, noting that older houses could be reconfigured to hold multiple residents or families. “It also allows for smaller units on smaller lots that are naturally more affordable.”

Currently designated as rural greenspace, the White Gate Farm parcel is slated to be changed to a mix of Middle and Neighborhood density categories, which could allow 49 to 143 additional dwelling units to be built on the property over the 2010 Master Plan allowance. The debate over this particular parcel, as well as over whether non-residential uses should be permitted at the corner of Rt. 250 and Old Trail Drive, highlighted the ideological divide between those who support more intense development in Crozet and those who don’t.

CCAC member Sandy Hausman kicked off the discussion with a prepared statement (printed in this issue as a letter to the editor), in which she decried the recent clearcutting of eight acres next to Crozet Park for the development of 64 townhouses. “To minimize growth until infrastructure catches up with need, I am asking the county board not to approve any further up-zoning—no increase in density—and to stop facilitating growth until the county’s able to support it.”

Some members such as Joe Fore argued that the White Gate Farm property is currently overgrown and unsightly and is not currently viable as greenspace. Fore suggested that the higher density designation would be “in harmony” with nearby development in Wickham Pond, and that a developer would likely make a pedestrian connection to the commercial area to the west. “I think this is a good compromise for this area, and a good spot to implement the Middle Density category,” said Fore.

Differences in the Crozet Master Plan Proposed Land Use Changes between 2010 and 2020. Photo: courtesy Albemarle County Planning Department.

Tom Loach spoke to obfuscation in the planning process. “‘Missing middle’ is another cliché for multi-family housing,” he said. “What is the difference between a townhouse in Old Trail and a unit in a fourplex in this Middle Density category? I don’t see why we need yet another designation. We were told by the county [during the 2010 process] that the ideal population for Crozet was 12,198. Was that a lie, or was the concurrency of infrastructure that they promised a lie, or now is the ‘affordability’ of this new middle category a lie? Again, what is the difference?”

Valerie Long echoed Joe Fore’s “compromise” comments, noting that if Middle Density was not implemented and the property was developed as low neighborhood residential density, “we might get a couple of McMansions there or maybe it would just continue to look the way it does now.” Doug Bates suggested that the Board of Supervisors should try to get the proffer language changed at the state level, and that the board not approve up-zoning until it secures proffers from developers to support infrastructure.

Hausman put in that “to call this development a ‘compromise’ when we’ll conceivably have another 286 cars coming and going is a bit much. Building these houses assumes that some of these people are going to work in Crozet, but I think it’s obvious that Charlottesville is where the jobs are, so you’re just adding to the traffic problems of getting in and out of Crozet.” She noted that a specific planning goal is to maintain a distinct rural edge around Crozet, and this project didn’t fit that goal.

The Crozet Gazette’s editor and publisher Mike Marshall weighed in by recalling the original intent of the Master Planning process that got underway in 2002, which was to anticipate the plans of developers coming into the area and to head development in the direction Crozet wanted. 

“Those land use decisions were supposed to be intact, basically forever,” said Marshall. “The growth principle was supposed to be pyramidal density outward from the commercial center, and White Gate Farm is an outrage against that concept. The growth area is based on watershed boundaries, and any increase in density on the north side of Rt. 240 is a threat to the water supply. Any development at White Gate Farm should be strictly by right. We want the county to show solidarity and good faith with the people of Crozet, who agreed to grow, but only on terms that were predictable.”

During a discussion about increasing densities along Rt. 250 near the Brownsville/Gateway Market and Old Trail Drive intersections, David Mitchell supported the staff’s proposals and stressed the need for more affordable housing. “The only way to get to reasonable prices when you have limited space to build is through density,” he said. “It’s incumbent on us to be part of the affordable housing solution county-wide, and I hear people saying this is not the place for it. It’s very exclusionary and unfortunate. Crozet is a country club in the western part of the county.”

CCAC chair Allie Pesch and Tom Loach countered that Crozet has affordable housing now, but what it doesn’t have is sufficient infrastructure to support increased density. Pesch stated that she “opposed inviting an opportunity for more houses in Crozet when we’re already behind on infrastructure.” She said that the land use of these areas has already been negotiated in the previous Master Plan and in the original Old Trail zoning map amendment, where the community’s intent was for all commercial development to be focused in the downtown area.

Toward the meeting’s end time, Jennie More and Allie Pesch expressed frustration with the rushed nature of the discussion. “I’m frustrated that this seems like the most important meeting that we’ve had over this entire year, and now after all this fluff we’re finally to the part where we’re talking about the actual changes we’re making to the plan, and we’re having to rush through it in an hour and a half lunch meeting,” said Pesch. “I can’t even call on everybody who’s here and we have so much to cover. We’ll need to meet further on this.” 

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