The Albemarle County Planning Commission discussed details of the Crozet Master Plan on September 14 in the plan’s penultimate step before heading to the county Board of Supervisors in October for final approval. The commissioners ultimately agreed upon a change in density recommendations for an area of Crozet’s downtown before unanimously approving the plan.
White Hall District representative Jennie More set the tone by summarizing the major ideas that have emerged from the Master Plan process that began more than two years ago. “In this process there were two new concepts that emerged—the Middle Density designation and the Downtown Neighborhood Overlay,” said More. “While the Overlay didn’t make it into the final draft, I still believe it has a lot of potential. Late in the process the Middle Density land use designation was applied to the Tabor Street/Crozet Avenue area … that [increased] density from the potential for 3 to 6 [units per acre] to up to 18, and I don’t support this change.”
More was referring to land bounded by Tabor Street, High Street, Dunvegan Lane, and Crozet Avenue which currently hosts larger, low density homes and mature trees. In May of this year, county planners abruptly recommended that this land be redesignated as Middle Density, to the dismay of many community members as well as the block’s current landowners.
Commissioner Karen Firehock added that some of the concern for that site focuses on the fact that it contains unprotected historic structures. “We do not currently have a historic preservation ordinance (HPO) so, were those [lots] to be developed, there would be no protection for those structures,” said Firehock. “I’m a little reluctant to move forward with Middle Density in that block without such an ordinance in place. A local historic district prevents teardowns. We could also create a historic conservation district in which we say you can’t tear down your structure but can put in less expensive windows and roofs, for example, while the structure itself remains intact. To maintain the character of Crozet, we need this.”
In the public comment section of the meeting, Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) members Allie Pesch (chair) and Brian Day lobbied the Commission on the same issue. “I definitely think this is not the right time to be putting Middle Density on the Tabor Street property,” said Pesch. “I hope you will all consider recommending the removal of that.” Pesch also thanked the planners for their engagement with the community. “I know it’s been difficult and I’m sorry we had to do this during the pandemic, but I’m excited we’re here, so thank you.”
“Middle Density on Tabor Street is at least premature,” said Day. “Maybe ten years from now, but not until we’ve sorted out traffic problems along Crozet Avenue and the county has a historic preservation ordinance. My read as a CCAC member is that the majority of people really don’t think that’s the right place for it. If downtown really goes and we need expansion space ten or more years out, then that could be a serious consideration.”
Joe Fore, vice chair of the CCAC but speaking just for himself, had a park suggestion. “I would urge that the plan move all three phases of Western Park to ‘catalyst’ status,” he said. (In the plan, Catalyst Projects are those expected to be completed within the next 0 to 10 years, while Future Projects are in the 10- to 20-year horizon in terms of priority.) “Crozet lacks sufficient public play spaces and sports fields for the many families and children who live here,” said Fore. “The current draft only lists Phase One of Western Park as a Catalyst Project and Phases Two and Three are relegated to Future Park status. At a minimum, Phase Two, which includes basketball courts, athletic fields, and natural play areas [should] move to a Catalyst Project.”
Fore also echoed the comments by Pesch and Day regarding the Tabor Avenue density question. “The designation simply came up too late in the process and didn’t have enough opportunity for public input,” he said. “I think that this late addition really raised, or perhaps sort of confirmed, doubts about how much the county was valuing the process. The landowners have lived on these properties for generations and they’ve made clear they have no intent to sell or seek rezonings, so it seems to me this is generating some animosity in the community with no real tangible benefit.”
CCAC member Valerie Long, who worked on the original zoning for Old Trail in 2004-05, also chimed in about the prioritization of Western Park. “The land and funds were dedicated for the park and now we’re in the second Master Plan and still we have zero infrastructure in place,” she said. “We’ve been living in Old Trail for ten years and still there is no community park; it’s just long overdue.”
Long said she thought that Tabor Street was a good location for Middle Density land use. “The reason that it was [introduced] late in the game was because members of the CCAC and others, frankly, rejected other locations where staff had proposed Middle Density residential, and when the Board of Supervisors provided feedback and said to go find somewhere else to put some, they came up with a fifth location. If the goal is to have industrial-oriented development in residential areas where people can walk to downtown and to all the other amenities nearby, then that’s a good location.”
Commissioner Rick Randolph recommended holding off on applying the Middle Density designation to the Tabor Street area until further study can be done. “I suggest that we recommend to the [Board of Supervisors] that they investigate the creation of a Small Area Plan, taking into account the historic nature of the area and the opposition of the landowners, and providing an opportunity for a focus study which includes community members or staff, planning commissioners, members of the board, to explore what is the best use for these properties.”
Commissioner Tim Keller lauded the work of the planning staff in drafting the Crozet Master Plan. “I think this is potentially a state award or maybe even an [American Planning Association] award-winning project,” he said. “It’s been an amazing job and many have spoken to that.” In their final motion to approve, the commission removed the Middle Density designation from the Tabor Street area, but did not change the current Catalyst/Future classification of the phases of Western Park. The latter may be taken up by the Board of Supervisors at their October 20 public hearing.
To view the latest draft of the Crozet Master Plan online, click here.