The Albemarle Planning Commission voted unanimously at their September 28 meeting to recommend approval of the Claudius Crozet Park (CCP) board’s plan to build a 47,000 square foot aquatic and fitness center next to the existing outdoor pool. The CCP board and design team recently resubmitted revised plans to the county based on feedback from their initial March meeting (during which the board requested a deferral), and their point-by-point response impressed several commissioners this time around.
“I commend the design team on actually listening to the comments of the Planning Commission,” said commissioner Karen Firehock. “It’s refreshing.” The resubmission addressed concerns about the elimination of green space, increased traffic, the location of a second entrance to the park, and the proximity of the new facility to nearby neighbors’ property lines. The new plan shifted the building location to the south, moved the north entrance to the east, presented a more detailed traffic analysis, and increased landscaping buffers and plantings around the facility.
Thirty-three people spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting, with more than two-thirds in favor of the project. Almost all of those who spoke against the project were residents of the adjacent Parkside Village neighborhood, and their concerns were primarily about increased traffic along Hill Top Street and the poor condition of the road and crumbling sidewalks near the park, as well as the size and scale of the proposed building and parking areas.
“The developers’ proposal to construct a building with a three-quarter acre footprint and an additional 192 new parking spaces should be denied,” said Phil Kirby, a Cranberry Lane resident who has vocally opposed the park project since its introduction. “Using a small public park to build a facility that is intended to be occupied by a for-profit business that needs that much parking should be considered unconscionable. What the developer wants to do in the park goes against all the reasons that people live here and what the Crozet Master Plan urges for green spaces. The project does not fit in the park now, and it will overwhelm surrounding neighborhoods in the future.”
Crozet residents in support of the project pointed to the community’s strong desire for additional pool space for local swim teams, plus organized fitness classes and workout areas, as well as the promise of greatly expanded after-school care programs for families. Charlottesville resident Lee Grimes spoke on behalf of one group not represented in the proceedings: kids. “That’s the group that probably, more so than anyone else, will take advantage of this new facility,” he said. “The problems we’ve heard about traffic and entrances are problems that can be solved, but the kids are where the focus needs to be.”
Kathy Floyd painted a detailed and vivid image of what she had seen the previous evening during her visit to the park with friends. “It was a beautiful evening,” she said. “The ball fields were filled with kids as their coaches prepared for the next game, families were out for a stroll being led by their energetic puppy, pickleball teams exchanged high fives, a young parent chased a toddler in the grass, and under the pavilion an exercise class stepped to the beat of the music. Please support this project … to assure that a community continues for all to come together for recreation, play, fellowship, and sharing.”
Commissioner Tim Keller referred to one comment in his remarks later in the meeting. “What a great evening of discussion and civil dialogue among folks of Crozet who love their community,” he said. “As I reflect on it more, I think what really came home for me was the person that talked about it being for the kids. I think about projects in Charlottesville that have not happened in my lifetime, and … I’m inclined [to support this project] if we can get conditions in this.”
“This plan would become sort of one of the legs in the stool in revitalizing the whole downtown area,” said commissioner Julian Bivens, “so the Barnes [property] and the library and this—you would start to diffuse some of the activities down there, and we actually have something that would work well in enlivening that area. I would like [the plan] to be less car-centric, for the designers to rethink the approach of how you come to that place.”
After discussion of how enhanced bicycle and pedestrian access could mitigate the effects of increased car trips to the expanded facility, along with county engineer Kevin McDermott’s description of future roads that will connect to Hill Top and provide other traffic outlets, Firehock suggested a condition be added to approval. “To encourage people to [use bicycle access more often], there need to be facilities on site to make people feel comfortable,” she said. She proposed language that the applicant should “add additional on-site bicycle infrastructure including, but not limited to, bike racks, bike lockers, bike lanes, share roads, and other on-road or adjacent bicycle access.”
Firehock also suggested, but did not make into a formal condition, that the county take seriously its commitment to improving sidewalks and other infrastructure in the Hill Top neighborhood. “If the county of Albemarle is going to be benefitting from having an expanded recreational facility that it didn’t have to build, but needs to have built, in its midst, then it behooves the county to invest in the infrastructure to accommodate the safety of the residents who live around there,” she said. “That should be the county’s investment.”
Firehock’s bicycle access enhancements condition was accepted and the plan as a whole was approved. The project’s final administrative step, a hearing by the county Board of Supervisors, is tentatively scheduled for early November.