On the heels of a public hearing in January for the proposed Montclair development, which envisions 157 units on 14 acres just west of Wickham Pond, came a Planning Commission review of another development a half-mile west on the north side of Rt. 240. Old Dominion Village has been in the works for a few years and now proposes to build 110 residential units on just under 24 acres on property owned by Martin Schulman, who made the application. Old Dominion Animal Hospital plans to remain on the site.
The two adjoining parcels that make up the proposal encompass a mix of land use designations from rural and green systems to neighborhood and middle density residential areas, and portions of the property contain critical and steep slopes and a long northern section that lies in a 100-year flood plain. Along with Montclair, Old Dominion Village is one of several sections of Crozet where the new “middle density residential” land use category, strongly opposed by many community members, was nonetheless imposed by county supervisors. Middle density allows 6-12 units per acre, and up to 18 units per acre if certain housing type requirements are met.
Plans for Old Dominion Village propose dedicating the 7.8 acres that lie within the Water Protection Ordinance flood plain buffer surrounding Parrott Creek to the county. The plans also designate additional adjacent acreage for a tree buffer and bioretention pond and an amenity area that would contain a recreation space and pedestrian paths. Altogether these special designations represent 57% of the total acreage under consideration. The county’s vehicle trip generation estimator forecasts about 795 additional trips per day in and out of Old Dominion Village due to the new development. The proposal includes internal public roads including sidewalks, and it commits to constructing a sidewalk and bike lane across the Rt. 240 frontage.
The applicant has offered cash proffers to offset impacts of the development on local schools, as the county estimates the enrollment of an additional 50 students across the Crozet Elementary, Henley Middle, and Western Albemarle High School feeder pattern. The proffer will be calculated at $3,000 for every single-family detached unit and $2,500 for each attached unit, which could total $283,000 if the development is built out as designed. The applicant also will provide 20 affordable dwelling units for sale or rental and will proffer the amenity areas to the neighborhood’s HOA.
County zoning regulations require that “any commercial kennel with soundproof confinements shall have no structure located closer than 200 feet from any residential lot line.” The applicant is requesting a Special Exception to modify that requirement to reduce the maximum distance to 50 feet. The applicant had a noise study done that shows the maximum decibel level of 55 is not exceeded by noises from the kennel, noting the facility is primarily a vet office and does only occasional overnight boarding.
Beyond the exception request, the applicant will need approval from the Board of Supervisors to build a private pump station for water service, and to amend the Albemarle County Service Authority jurisdictional area to expand to include Old Dominion Village in its purview. They must also identify a connection to a public sewer line during the site plan stage.
During the period for comments from the applicant, Schulman spoke about his vision for the property. “My personal interest has always been [focused on] an initiative that was brought up in the Master Plan meetings, and that was a continuous greenway trail,” he said. “I would very much like to see this [land] dedication be a continual trail that will go east to the Beaver Creek dam area and west to the downtown. That’s been a big feature for me looking at this development, and also to minimize impacts on our nearest community to the north, Emerson Commons.”
In response to one commissioner who asked if Schulman considered moving the vet practice rather than leaving it in the middle of the development, Schulman said no. “Actually, in our evolving culture, the role that vet hospitals play in our community has only expanded,” he said. “Vets are seeing an average of a 30% increase in demand for an important service that gets to the heart of the extended family, as our community wants to take care of those four-legged critters as family members.”
Following the county presentation, Planning Commission members discussed the project for almost three hours, including hearing from about a dozen neighbors—many of whom are residents of the nearby Emerson Commons—who expressed concerns about increased traffic and safety, environmental damage and light pollution, unsightly building types, and the loss of rural space.
CCAC member Michael Monaco noted that in the design, “[b]lock 3 scrapes right up against that 100-foot stream buffer, and the front driveway[s] of those houses are sitting right on top of the gas line easement in that area. That’s a big risk to me. The 57% [proffered] land seems to be undevelopable anyway, so that’s just a wash for the developer. I would like to see Block 3 reduced or eliminated in favor of giving those units some breathing room.”
The commissioners struggled mightily with the request to reduce the lot line noise buffer from 200 to 50 feet, as the denial of the request would effectively exclude a significant portion of the dwelling units in the design. “I don’t believe we’re seeing a development that’s appropriate, currently, and [allowing] the special exception would only facilitate it,” said Luis Carrazana. “We’re taking this [veterinary] facility and making it the centerpiece [of the neighborhood], and then reducing the buffer around it. And it’s truly incompatible with the idea of the center of a village, which is what we’re calling this.”
Other commissioners supported the special exception, arguing that, in essence, dogs bark whether they are at a vet’s office or in the townhouse next door. “Let us not forget that there may be dogs in, let’s say, a quarter of the houses, so even if this vet’s office goes away, that’s not going to solve the problem of dogs barking,” said Julian Bivens.
The commissioners ultimately decided to approve (7-0) the recommended zoning change for the parcels to accommodate greater density for the development, and to deny (4-3) the recommended special exception to allow houses to be built only 50 feet from the veterinary hospital. It was not clear at the meeting whether the latter decision would doom the project, and the matter now goes to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.