The Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) took a firm stance against increased housing density without commensurate infrastructure at its November 30 meeting after months of discussion during the ongoing Master Plan update process. Two new land use designations proposed by county planning staff generated pushback from a majority of the committee members, which led to the adoption of a formal resolution opposing future up-zoning requests unless accompanied by supporting civic structures such as roads and schools.
The crux of the debate lies in competing visions of how Crozet will grow. While the 2010 Master Plan anticipated a population of 12,000 by the year 2030, Crozet is estimated at 10,000 now and many residents feel the county has approved increasing housing development here that is not supported by infrastructure spending. These residents want less—and lower density—development until the county holds up its end of the Crozet Growth Area bargain.
Others believe that housing development should continue apace to meet strong demand in the area, and that greater density will allow for more affordable housing choices for lower income families in relatively affluent Crozet. In support of this view, county planners have recommended higher density neighborhood definitions in the 2020 Master Plan draft. The two new categories are the Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay and Middle Density Residential designations. (Note that these designations would not change the zoning itself—that can be done only by county officials through legislative process—but would be used in reviewing rezoning or special use requests by landowners and developers.)
The Middle Density form envisions 6 to 24 dwelling units per acre, allowing such structures as multiplexes, townhouses, bungalow courts, and accessory dwellings, and would replace Crozet’s Urban Density category, which only allows 6 to 12 only units per acre. The Downtown Overlay aims to incentivize the maintenance and preservation of naturally occuring affordable housing by allowing densities greater than 6 units per acre in existing historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown, where bonus density could be achieved by meeting certain criteria that include providing additional workforce housing, converting homes into multiple units and/or adding accessory dwellings or other infill development.
County staff point to the currently proposed White Gate Village project (see story here) on Rt. 240 as an example of Middle Density land use. Developers hope to build 125 townhouses and villas on what is now twelve acres designated as Green Space. In order for the project to move forward, the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors would have to approve the application of the Middle Density Residential form to the land.
As an example of the Downtown Overlay in action, county staff described a house on St. George Avenue on a half-acre lot built in 1903 that could be converted into a four-unit structure and could add an accessory dwelling on the parcel, resulting in five units on a half-acre, or 10 units/acre density. Another overlay example suggested that further infill at the new Pleasant Green development could occur in as-yet-undeveloped spaces adjacent to Cling Lane and McComb Street.
The proposed Downtown Overlay boundaries extend significantly beyond those of the Crozet Historic District, including such areas as Hill Top Street and Three Notch’d Road out to Music Today. At the CCAC’s Nov. 12 meeting, Chair Allie Pesch questioned the appropriateness of some of the overlay areas, such as Stanley Martin’s 39.4-acre Pleasant Green, which included three historic homes before its development began last year. “[Two have] been torn down and one already preserved, so there’s really no reason they should qualify for this bonus density,” said Pesch.
Also at that meeting, Supervisor Ann Mallek noted that the criteria for the higher density Downtown Overlay did not preclude the tearing down of the existing structure. “Originally we were talking about protecting existing older neighborhoods,” she said. “To me, the example of a little house on St. George all of a sudden having 10 units is not the scale that we’ve been talking about for the last six months. The prevention of the teardown was one of the original goals of this process.”
Beyond the Middle Density recommendation for White Gate Farm, planning staff have presented a list of specific suggestions for several other specific parcels and areas around town. These recommendations were debated and voted on one by one at the Nov. 30 CCAC meeting. (See chart below.)
The CCAC also debated a resolution asking the county to consider the status of available infrastructure in its rezoning decisions and to prefer the lowest designated densities when considering new projects and rezonings. (See text of the resolution Featuredbelow.)
CCAC David Mitchell described why he did not favor the resolution. “This is how, if you want to increase the cost of living and make this place even harder to move into, vote for this,” he said. “[The resolution] will be used to shoot down every proposal for development, it’s a poison pill. The reality is that infrastructure never gets ahead of a community because politicians would be killed if they spent money on things before they are needed. This is the antithesis of what we should be doing.”
“This is a long term, comprehensive document,” said Joe Fore, referring to the 2020 Crozet Master Plan. “I agree that the Master Plan should allow for these higher types of densities. But when the rubber meets the road and it’s time to get the rezoning to approve a project with high density, we’re saying it’s appropriate for the governing body to monitor infrastructure for individual rezoning requests. If it’s there, then go forward; if not, maybe it’s not time to rezone.”
“I’ve been here 30 years and going back to the original Master Plan, we were told we’re going to be over 12,000, and we were promised concurrent infrastructure and that hasn’t happened,” said Tom Loach. “If you look at Crozet as an island, the island is damn near full. You can call us NIMBY [‘not in my back yard’], but in the last decade 30% of growth in county has been in Crozet. We’re not NIMBY.”
“I don’t think it’s our place to be telling the [Board of Supervisors] to not approve projects because infrastructure is lagging,” said Valerie Long. “If they could do it, they would, and they’re getting there, but it takes time and they have to find resources for that. If we approve [this resolution] it creates a false sense of security of what might happen. It’s not appropriate for this committee to tie infrastructure to development.”
Mallek chimed in as well. “I think what this is saying is, when there’s a range allowed in the Master Plan, aim for the lower [density] end until we have ability for people to walk and these other things,” she said. “No one is suggesting we go back to R2 everywhere. Put yourselves in the places of the people on Park and Tabor with cars and trucks going back and forth every day for fifteen years and they have no sidewalks. This is a really big deal for people.”
“When we close Crozet Avenue [to replace the bridge] and there’s no other way through, how are we going to survive that?” said Pesch. “Eastern Avenue needs to be built and we need more capacity for our schools or the whole bubble’s going to burst.”
A final vote on the resolution passed 11-3 in favor with one member absent. Watch the full meeting on the Albemarle County YouTube page, here.