County planning staff presented a set of six questions regarding proposed Crozet land use policies, most in a yes-or-no format, to Planning Commission members at a January 12 work session (see list of questions at the end of this story). The questions pertained to issues that Crozet residents and staff have been debating for months, and meeting attendees were dismayed to see that a significant portion of their prior feedback was entirely missing from the staff presentation.
Long-time Crozet resident Tom Loach’s opening statement set the tone. “I strongly object to the format that county staff has decided to use to present to staff,” said Loach. “[The question format] has put the planning commissioners in a position where they would essentially have to veto the recommendations made by the Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC)… Reading the staff report, it appears as if votes taken by the CCAC are at best incidental findings.”
Loach, a CCAC member, estimated that of approximately 330 affordable housing units that should have been constructed during the last 20 years in Crozet, a total of only 21 homes sold as affordable have been built. “The county staff wanted nothing more than to stuff as much housing as possible into the Crozet growth area to cover up the 20-year history of failure of their affordable housing program,” he said. “What staff is presenting tonight is not the voice of the Crozet community. At this point it would be better for the community to take a vote of no confidence and complete the Master Plan ourselves.”
Rebecca Elliott, a Wayland Drive resident, agreed. “There is a pretty strong, united feeling that this plan is something that’s being imposed on the people of Crozet, rather than something that’s supported by the majority of the community,” said Elliott. “Crozet has the opportunity to continue growing in a beautiful, welcoming way, but that’s not this way. I think there’s pretty widespread awareness of that fact.”
In the meeting, county staff presented the same recommendations for new land use designations and specific applications that they had proposed at a series of contentious CCAC meetings throughout 2020, absent any changes reflecting ardent resistance from Crozetians and multiple votes taken by the CCAC. Residents have opposed the Middle Density Residential category, for example—which allows housing density of 6-24 units per acre and is intended to replace Urban Density at 6-12 units per acre—as a change that would increase density without commensurate infrastructure.
“The county has made significant investments in downtown,” said CCAC member Brian Day, “but we’re still getting a lot of fringe development which is not in keeping with county policy, with the existing master plan, or with the wishes of citizens who have participated in huge numbers, both pre-Covid and during Covid.”
Jennie More, who serves on the Planning Commission and as Planning Commission liasion at the CCAC, said the description of community opinion in the staff report “doesn’t feel quite as accurate as what I remember hearing in multiple meetings. I would like to ask staff, can you explain at what point the feedback of the CCAC and the community is taken into consideration?”
County planner Rachel Falkenstein responded. “We found ourselves in a place where we felt like the feedback we received early on during the visioning workshops was in conflict with the [CCAC’s] decision to not support staff’s recommended changes,” she said. “So instead of tweaking the map a little bit here and there we thought it best to get the commission’s feedback on some of these concepts and the way we applied them before we make any changes to the map.”
More countered, “Early on when people were putting stickers on large displays that staff had created showing different housing types, it was a really good exercise, but we know it isn’t always that attractive in practice, and we often have difficulty controlling the way it looks in terms of architecture. I think that’s why you get some pushback when you start to move into reality.”
Early in the meeting, local public policy analyst Neil Williamson suggested that Crozet could not simply refuse further development with his question: “The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has indicated that you will need 11,000 new residences to serve the needs of the [Crozet] community by 2040. Where will those residences be?”
“I don’t support the notion that development should stop,” said More, “but I do support the idea that in almost all the cases the land use designation should either not be changed or it should be put at the lower end of the range.”
Commissioners who spoke during the meeting such as Tim Keller and Rick Randolph were generally supportive of the staff recommendations. “With Middle Density Residential, you’ve cut back dramatically on the potential for office and institutional development in those zones, so they’re much more appropriate for affordable housing and residential growth,” said Randolph. “This is a reasonable category to describe the intent and purpose to maximize residential growth, and I support that.”
Randolph also supported the higher-density Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay proposed for the Crozet downtown area including Pleasant Green. He suggested that a path to Crozet township could solve many of its problems. “If Crozet sought to become a town, it could request its own historic district [to protect the downtown], and that would also address a comment that we’ve heard a lot in emails that the county should be doing more in road infrastructure,” he said. “The county is not a road department, but with taxing authority that a town would provide, then Crozet would be able to fund whatever it wants to fund. That may be a way for it to proceed.”
White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek, who did not speak at the meeting but commented for the Gazette afterward, amplified her position on the Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay (DNO). “I support a designation for older, more affordable neighborhoods in which any new housing would be compatible with those existing,” she said. “Especially important is that the rules would ban teardowns [which could then be] rebuilt with huge structures.
“While this idea of the DNO came forward to accomplish that—and to more easily accomplish a project like Bamboo Grove, which had to have a special permit to increase the density from 6 to 9—now the plans allow huge increases in density, doubling the standard previously allowed. I think that is the basis of concern from the citizenry.”
Falkenstein said that the staff would package up all of the comments in preparation for their presentation to the Board of Supervisors, and that there would be additional opportunities for the Crozet community to weigh in on these issues at future CCAC meetings.
At the subsequent January 27 CCAC meeting, the committee and meeting attendees were stunned to learn that the county had, unilaterally and without prior notice, disabled the Chat and Q&A Zoom features for members of the public to be able to contribute to online county meetings. No explanation was given other than that it was “too hard to manage” the Chat while in meetings. Ann Mallek and several CCAC members made further remarks about the overall tenor of the planning process going forward.
Ann Mallek delivered an opening statement in which she encouraged comity going forward. “We are here tonight at a crucial point in the update process,” she said. “We are now to the heart of the matter and it is so important that community members constructively contribute and not allow disagreement over the wording of drafts to separate you from the process. There are many parts of the draft [Master Plan] so far that have found strong support, but some of the newer elements raise alarms, and our goal is to achieve those details that most of the community can support.” She later noted that she looked forward to future drafts which accurately reflect the community’s input when offered to the Board of Supervisors for feedback.
CCAC Chair Allie Pesch and others tried again to explain their frustration with the process to county planners. “We were assured that this is the community’s plan, but no changes were made to the county’s recommendations at the PC work session, so I feel disregarded and I don’t know where to go from here,” said Pesch. “There has been a whole year’s worth of feedback from the community, but then when it goes to the decision-makers you presented it as ‘do you like middle density as an idea?’ but the point is it’s the specific areas around Crozet where it would be applied that are the concern.”
CCAC member Tom Loach was more blunt. “The meeting was a betrayal of the community and of this committee,” said Loach. “We had three land use meetings and held votes on all of the issues, but staff put their plan first and said ‘Oh, by the way the community didn’t like it,’ and that wasn’t a fair a representation of what happened at those meetings.”
Kostas Alibertis, CCAC member and Crozet Rescue Squad Chief, said that Falkenstein’s answer—that it would be too much extra work to change the maps to reflect CCAC votes—struck a nerve with him. “I think of a year’s worth of hours and hours of folks contributing their time, all of us volunteers, the community all showing up for meetings,” he said. “You’re paid with tax dollars and your role is to represent community input. That’s why you have these public hearings. Then for you to say that it takes too much work to reflect that input [in the plan], I don’t know how you can say that with a conscience.”
These questions were presented by county planners to the Planning Commissioners at their January 12 work session:
Q1 – Middle Density Residential:
Does the Commission support the application of the Middle Density Residential land use designation on the draft Future Land Use Plan?
Q2 – Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay:
Does the Commission support the Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay as proposed? If not, are changes recommended to the boundary or overlay criteria?
Q3: What approach should be used for designating the future land use of identified “Greenspace parcels” in Crozet?
Q4: Does the Commission support the land use changes shown on the White Gate Farm properties and the addition of a Neighborhood Center on the draft Future Land Use Plan?
Q5: Does the Commission support the recommended Land Use Designations shown on the Railroad Ave Parcel?
Q6: Does the Commission support the land use changes within Old Trail shown on the draft Future Land Use Plan?