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Faced with a surprising degree of opposition to plans for a 47,000-square-foot recreation center and 115 more paved parking spaces, the Crozet Park Board had two choices. It could look for creative ways to address the concerns of area residents, or it could attack critics and urge supporters to press ahead. It chose the latter with Board President Kim Guenther and Vice President William Johnson sending long letters to the Crozet Gazette.
Guenther worried that “the conversation to build an expanded Aquatics and Fitness Center at Crozet Park is getting caught up in the anger and resentment over Crozet’s master planning process and the recent development occurring on the north and south sides of the park.”
No kidding! A park board elected by the community would understand that context is important to any public project. Unfortunately, this park board is not elected. Its members appear to be chosen through a process of friends recommending friends. Its meetings are not well-attended, and it has not done a recent survey of community wishes. Had it done so, the board might have discovered a large constituency for more open space and less development.
Residents living on Hill Top could have recounted a year of noisy construction equipment parading down their narrow residential street to clear-cut six wooded acres adjacent to the park. They could have expressed their frustration at the lack of new access roads to so many new subdivisions nearby. They might have shared their fears at having no reliable sidewalks for safe pedestrian access to and from the park.
Fortunately, the Crozet Park Board is accountable to Albemarle County. The county is accountable to voters, and it’s apparently hearing from quite a few of them who are unhappy with the board’s plan.
So perhaps it’s time for the board to consider alternatives, and come up with an approach that suits the needs and wishes of critics as well as supporters. Ideally, it should acquire land along Route 240 or 250, adding recreational capacity there rather than squeezing more construction onto the relatively small Crozet Park site.
The board should add a green roof to its new building—essentially replacing some of the natural acreage it plans to pave, and it should recognize that the need for more parking is limited to a few events each year. Applying more blacktop to the land may not be necessary. For decades we’ve parked cars on the grass for the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival and the Fourth of July. Might we continue that tradition? Or perhaps the board could explore permeable parking options—the use of paving stones that allow rain to seep back into the earth and plants to grow in the spaces between stones.
That’s important, because nearly 60% of the stream/river miles that Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has tested in Albemarle County are impaired, including Lickinghole Creek and several others in Crozet. Adding pavement and buildings is correlated with worsening stream health. A proposal that would result in one-third of green space being covered is environmentally irresponsible.
As a region that considers itself enlightened and educated, the county has a responsibility to limit over-development and to preserve more natural open space. Experts say we need to maintain at least half of our land for nature if the planet is to survive. Even with a small natural park at Old Trail and a larger expanse at Mint Springs, we’re falling far short of that goal.
We can no longer rely on developers to proffer tiny parcels for playgrounds and water detention. The county should make land acquisition and maintenance a priority so that communities like Crozet can have a thoughtfully designed center that meets the recreational needs of active families, additional fields for soccer and baseball, new play lots and more natural areas for wildlife and passive recreation.