After encountering stiff resistance at their March 23 Planning Commission hearing, the Claudius Crozet Park (CCP) board and its design team have revamped their request for a permit amendment and waiver to build a new 47,000 square-foot aquatic and fitness center in the park. Commissioners had expressed concerns about the elimination of greenspace, the location of a second entrance to the park, potential increases in local traffic, and the proximity of the new pool to nearby neighbors’ property lines.
Following a deferral to prepare a response to the commission’s concerns, the board has issued a point-by-point document accompanied by new maps and drawings describing changes to the plan. They will present their modifications to the commission in September. The resubmittal is currently being reviewed by county planning staff, who had recommended approval of the original project design even as the commissioners raised objections. Here’s a look at the major changes to the plan.
The design team had originally requested a special exception to locate the new indoor pool 30 feet from the nearest neighbor’s property line, as zoning regulations typically require a 75-foot distance. In the updated design, the entire facility footprint has been shifted to the south so that the pool edge is now 80 feet from the property line and is additionally buffered by a “Quiet Zone” of offices and meeting rooms along the north wall. CCP board member Drew Holzwarth says the park will likely still request the special exception.
“I still think we need it,” said Holzwarth. “We made the move in good faith, moving the structure farther away to help with the buffer. The other thing is that we added a considerable amount of greenery to that corner of the building [for a visual and sound buffer] as well.”
North entrance location
The proposed park entrance on the north side of the property has been relocated eastward—to the right of the small community center building on Indigo Road—to preserve the existing trees adjacent to nearby residences. “There was poor sight distance as you’re coming out [originally onto Hill Top Street] because of the bend in the road there,” said CCP board member Joel DeNunzio. “The new entrance on Indigo is much safer, keeps sight lines within the roadway more maintainable, and meets VDOT regulations.” The park plans to remove the current north exit and seed the area in grass for an additional buffer for neighbors.
Though the CCP board originally planned to use the existing north entrance on Hill Top Street for construction vehicles while the new facility is being built, complaints from Parkside Village neighbors prompted a switch to the emergency access off Park Road for the majority of construction traffic. “We’ll use the Perkins Gate area [to the west of the main park entrance along Park Road], and we’ll have to take down some of the fencing to make it wider,” said Kim Guenther, CCP board president. The shift will require a temporary gravel road on the hillside to accommodate construction vehicles.
The planning commissioners also expressed dismay at the size of the new facility itself, saying it was “out of scale” for the park. “I don’t think tucking all of that massing into a small neighborhood park is the right solution,” said Karen Firehock.
“Should the commission be supportive of a car-intensive, asphalt-intensive use in a green space area?” said Rick Randolph.
“It’s starting to look like a shopping center with a series of physical opportunities,” said Tim Keller.
The CCP board directly addressed these complaints in a series of renderings that show how the new two-story facility will look and fit within the park once completed. A building scale comparison shows the fitness center will be the same height as the Mudhouse building and shorter than the nearby library. Views from the Park Road entry and soccer field show limited impact with mature plantings in place. “The blue dome we put up in the winter is actually taller than the new facility will be,” said Guenther.
Most striking is a Proposed Site Breakdown which demonstrates that building space in terms of square footage will increase by less than 3 percent and parking and hardscape areas will increase by 2.7 percent, meaning that total greenspace/amenities in the park will decrease by only 5.6 percent. The project’s engineer (Collins Engineering) also notes in its comment response letter to county planners that “the proposed stormwater management features and landscaping [will] mitigate this minimal increase in impervious area on the property.”
“We increased the scope of the landscaping package from the original plan to increase the buffer between the park and the Parkside Village neighborhood,” said Holzwarth. The site plan notes that while 44 trees will be removed in the immediate construction area, 194 trees will be planted around the building, parking lots, pond, and along Hill Top Street. The board’s goal is to install much of the Hill Top buffer before even breaking ground on the project.
Discussion at the Planning Commission meeting focused on 985 as an estimate of the number of daily vehicle trips to be generated by the new facility, but that number was based on an older land use model for a generic facility. DeNunzio recalculated projected daily trips using more appropriate land use codes and estimated 847 additional trips per day with the proposed new facility.
“The highest increase is in the PM (afternoon) peak hour and generates an increase of 68 vehicles per hour [or about one per minute],” he said. “Also, one car coming in and leaving is counted as two trips, one ingress and one egress, so that’s really half as many vehicles.” The latest VDOT traffic count on Park Road is 1,700 vehicles per day, and DeNunzio estimated an increase of up to 305 trips per day on that road, with the largest increase during the PM peak hour of 24 trips during that time [or about one additional vehicle every two minutes].
“It’s not the roads that cause congestion,” he continued, “it’s the intersections. If you look at the congested areas of Crozet, they’re on Crozet Avenue, Rt. 250, Rt. 240. As Library Avenue is developed and Eastern Avenue is completed, you’ll have a network of access to the park which will reduce traffic to these more congested intersections, and allow traffic accessing the park from Library Avenue Extended to avoid the less improved sections of Hill Top. Better network connectivity reduces trip times, reduces emissions, and disperses traffic to less congested intersections.”
For details, visit crozetpark.org and click on Aquatics & Fitness (and then Future Facility). The Planning Commission will meet again to hear the CCP board’s request for a Special Use Permit and Special Exception for the fitness center on Tuesday, September 28.