The Claudius Crozet Park board’s plan to build a 47,000-square-foot aquatic and fitness center in the park was unanimously approved by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors at its November 3 meeting. First unveiled in August of 2019 and slowed through the 2020 pandemic year, the park board’s plans required an amendment to an existing Special Use Permit to allow for expansion on the property, and the supervisors supported the project’s scope and goals.
“This is a fabulous project, and it should be in every single district,” said Bea LaPisto-Kirtley, representing the Rivanna district.
The project encompasses 34,200 square feet of fitness areas and meeting rooms and a 12,800-square-foot adjoining space that will hold an 8-lane indoor pool, plus new basketball courts both indoors and out and expanded parking and landscaping features. The plan ran into opposition at the county Planning Commission (PC) in March of this year. Commissioners objected to the placement of both the main facility and a new northern entrance to the park, as well as the scale of the proposed building and the removal of green space and trees.
Claudius Crozet Park (CCP) board members and their design team returned to the PC in September with major revisions to the plan, including relocating the facility 25 feet to the south and moving the northern entrance to the east, increasing landscaping buffers to address concerns about impervious surfaces, committing to replace trees removed at a 3 to 1 ratio, and using bioswales and other methods to address stormwater runoff. The PC unanimously approved the revised plan under the condition that the final plan will provide “additional bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure” to increase walking and biking access and reduce vehicular traffic on local surface streets.
Fourteen speakers addressed the supervisors during the public hearing phase of the meeting, all but three in strong support of the park project. Local residents lauded the park’s role as the “center of social and community activity in Crozet,” and expressed excitement for the new facility’s expanded access to fitness classes, indoor swimming, and vastly increased capacity for after-school child care.
Local resident and Crozet Community Association president Tim Tolson, speaking as a citizen who has lived here for more than three decades, observed that “the new plan has made numerous changes that mitigate or eliminate the majority of the community’s concerns over parking, traffic, loss of tree cover and greenspaces, and noise levels. I’m excited about the proposal because it increases the recreational opportunities in Crozet, and the residents of Crozet have asked for this for quite a long time. I think this is the right facility in the right place at the right time and I support it.”
Three speakers from the adjacent Parkside Village neighborhood, which sits across Hill Top Street from the park property, decried the size of the proposed new building. “How this project has gotten this far is amazing to me,” said Phil Kirby. “Imagine a 32-foot high, 300-foot long, 125-foot wide building with 192 parking spaces—I just described a strip mall in a 22-acre park whose land … is already filled with outdoor activity. For me, to propose a building like this in a park this size is dumbfounding.”
In addition to the bike access condition, the Planning Commission had inserted a recommendation in their approval of the plan—that the county should “prioritize the installation and maintenance of sidewalks along High Street, Park Road, and Hill Top Street”—to alleviate some nearby residents’ concerns about the crumbling infrastructure along those roadways. Supervisor Diantha McKeel of the Jack Jouett district took issue with the contingent nature of that suggestion.
“I’m separating out these issues to prioritize sidewalks,” said McKeel. “I’m not interested in dealing with reprioritizing some of our sidewalk projects that are currently in the pipeline, especially those that affect some marginalized communities [in other areas of the county] in need of attention. I want to make sure that for this discussion I don’t have to worry about reprioritizing our projects. That would be a discussion for later.”
Samuel Miller District Supervisor Liz Palmer wondered why the language of the county approval document allowed for “no more than 55 decibels of noise between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7a.m.” “Why is the park so noisy at night?” she asked. “I don’t understand why we would allow that.” County staff explained that 55 decibels is the standard allowable noise level during nighttime hours county-wide, and so it was written into the approval as boilerplate.
“I really appreciate the diligence that the park board and their engineers have undertaken to improve this plan,” said Ann Mallek, White Hall representative, in supporting the project.
After the meeting, CCP board president Kim Guenther expressed appreciation for the community’s support of the plan. “The benefits of moving through this process were significant,” said Guenther. “Most encouraging were all the many community members who signed up to speak about the need for an expanded facility. This level of support was continuous throughout the multiple meetings and we likely wouldn’t have received unanimous approval from both planning commissioners and the Board of Supervisors without these speakers.”
Next steps for the CCP will focus on identifying additional improvements to the park that can be made ahead of breaking ground on the expanded facility, as well as continuing to fundraise for the project. “We will develop a multi-phase community fundraising campaign, identify and apply for grant funding, and start discussions with area banks to understand loan terms,” said Guenther. “We will also craft a Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit proposals to operate the expanded facility. We expect to issue this RFP early next year.”
To address the Planning Commission’s request for additional pedestrian and bicycle access and infrastructure in the park, the CCP will be working with EPR, a transportation planning and engineering firm that has done prior traffic analysis work for the park project. “EPR will evaluate vehicular and pedestrian movements and provide recommendations to reduce conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians and minimize vehicular impacts such as queues during large events,” said Guenther.
In remarks summarizing her approval of the park expansion during the meeting, supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley implied that the county would have no role in supporting the planned community improvement. “What excites me even more is that it is going to be funded not by the county, but by the citizens of Crozet, and I commend them in their efforts to get this built and to make this wonderful park for so many people to enjoy it.” However, CCP board members say they have been clear about their vision for a partnership with the county from the first time it was presented to the supervisors in 2019.
“As we’ve done with past very large capital infrastructure projects, we will rely on a mix of private and public funding to include community donations, grants, and a bank loan,” said Guenther. “We intend to have the county participate in the original construction cost for the project but not future ongoing operations. We are unsure why the county supervisor made that statement, since our messaging has been consistent. This is very similar to the investment the county made at The Center at Belvedere—they helped with the construction and now they have an amazing facility that is responsibly run for their citizens for years to come!”