CCAC Goes One More Round in Land Use Debate

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Draft land use map showing the planned change in categories in Old Trail. Pink is Mixed Use, orange is Urban Density Residential, and the (new) brown is Community Mixed Use Density. Courtesy Albemarle County Planning Dept.

At a March 10 meeting that was intended to reconcile differences in the Crozet land development visions of county planners versus those of local residents, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) again found itself at odds with the county’s recommendations. After a more than a year of lengthy meetings in which a majority of the CCAC has rejected major elements of the county’s proposals—including by painstakingly debating and casting votes on every change in the new Master Plan’s land use chapter—the planners had made only minor concessions.

“What we have here are the words of the staff and not the words of the community,” said CCAC member Tom Loach in frustration. “I’ll make my objection into a motion if you want, but [it’s obvious that] this plan is going to go forward the way that it is.”

The county and the CCAC have been at loggerheads over several new and repurposed land use designations such as the “Middle Density Residential” category. Designed by planners to replace an Urban Density Residential category that allowed 6-12 dwelling units per acre including apartment complexes, Middle Density is set to allow 6-24 units/acre. As well, a “Downtown Neighborhoods Overlay” intended to prevent teardowns was proposed for a wide area in central Crozet, including unbuilt areas of the Pleasant Green development, at 3-6 units/acre or higher. 

Both new categories were challenged by CCAC and community members who oppose increased housing density without attendant infrastructure such as road improvements and school expansions. In their March 10 iteration of the land use proposals, planners lowered the Middle Density designation to 6-12 units/acre, with allowances for up to 18 units/acre if certain housing types such as bungalow courts and cottages are used. They also removed Pleasant Green from the Downtown Overlay category. The changes were not sufficient for some committee members.

Draft land use plan showing the areas in Crozet where Middle Density Residential would be applied. Courtesy Albemarle County Planning Dept.

“We voted against Middle Density and here we are back with it again,” said Loach to the planners. “It was clear what we were voting for. If you’re going to overstep your bounds and the planning commission is going to overstep its bounds, then I just don’t know what the hell we’re doing here. We might as well let you do whatever the heck you want.”

CCAC member Brian Day pointed out that where the new designations would be applied—places like the proposed White Gate Farm on Rt. 240 near Wickham Pond—was also problematic. “I like the bungalow courts, etc., but my concern is that it’s getting applied to the fringe areas of Crozet when these densities are what we need closer to downtown,” said Day. “It totally undoes the primary principle of trying to drive density toward downtown.”

A few committee members took issue with the overarching vision/mission statement at the beginning of the draft land use chapter, which reads: “Support and strengthen Crozet’s history as a self-sustaining town, while ensuring that new and infill development is compatible in scale and design, and provides housing choice for all community members.”

“One question I have is, what does ‘self-sustaining’ mean,” asked Kostas Alibertis, CCAC member and chief of the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad. “If it means we’re going to have as many jobs as people in Crozet, well, we know that’s not going to happen. If we talk about sustaining our culture, that’s a different thing and that’s real and reasonable.”

“We mean that you take issues head on and pull together as a community,” said county planner Rachel Falkenstein. “Early on in Crozet, jobs were how you developed.”

CCAC member Doug Bates asked what “compatible” meant in the statement. “You say ‘ensuring that new and infill development is compatible in scale and design,’ but compatible with what?” said Bates. “You can’t have a comparison with nothing. Is it compatible with itself, or with the neighborhood model, or something else?” Falkenstein answered that development would be compatible “with a small-town identity.”

Other committee members liked the land use adjustments. “I appreciate staff’s tweaking of the Middle Density category, and I appreciate the form and scale changes,” said Joe Fore. “I do think these forms are what we asked for. My disappointment is that it’s in so few places on the map.”

Committee member Valerie Long disputed Loach’s characterization of the primacy of the CCAC’s prior votes. “Obviously our input as a committee is important, but we’re just a small sample of people in the community,” said Long. “We’re not a single voice that makes these decisions, there is a variety of input from a variety of sources. Let’s not make this an attack on the staff.” Loach replied that the CCAC’s positions were reflecting the results of a community-wide survey which had over 700 respondents, as well as feedback from dozens of attendees of prior meetings.

In the Old Trail Village section of the plan, the planners’ efforts centered around “aligning future land use designations with existing zoning and approved development potential.” This means that they are trying to “correct” the land use map in Old Trail to reflect development that has already been approved and existing zoning that does not match the map.

For instance, in Block 26 along Golf Drive and encompassing the area between the two roundabouts, the Mixed Use and Urban Density Residential (pink and orange) designations have been replaced with a (brown) Community Mixed Use density to reflect the Old Trail developers’ intentions for the property, including what is already built. 

“A lot of the 2010 designations are not in alignment with what the owner intends to build in this block,” said county planner Tori Kanellopoulos, “and from a zoning standpoint they’re allowed to build [a variety of] structures in there. Under Urban Density they would be allowed 31-63 units/acre, however by right it can be up to 150 units, so having that Community Mixed Use designation more accurately reflects what can be built there by right, along with other uses such as restaurants, commercial, and retail.”

“It just seems like an unnecessary change to me,” said CCAC Chair Allie Pesch. “Since this is a vision document, it seems like if we change our vision then we are more incentivizing these types of development. But, as Tori said, it seems like it’s already possible.” 

Residents calling in to the meeting had a similar issue with re-classifying Block 19 at the intersection of Old Trail Drive and Rt. 250 as a mix of Neighborhood and “Institutional” densities to allow for the development of the proposed Crozet Sports facility there. Instead of limiting approval to that specific project, a change in designation would allow (or could invite) other types of large public or governmental facilities in that area.

Next up in the process is a Board of Supervisors work session on April 7. To view the video of this meeting, go to the Albemarle County YouTube page here.

Courtesy Albemarle County Planning Dept.

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