Montclair Plan Deferred as Neighbors Intensify Efforts

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The two parcels that make up the planned Montclair development are situated on Rt. 240, directly west of Wickham Pond and north of Western Ridge.

Residents of Western Ridge and other neighborhoods across Crozet have joined forces to draw Albemarle County officials’ attention to a stream running across a parcel on Rt. 240 slated for development. The proposed development, called Montclair, is planned for a site on the south side of Rt. 240 immediately west of Wickham Pond. The project, first brought before the public in January, calls for two parcels totaling 17.5 acres to host a maximum of 157 units, plus 16,500 square feet of commercial space and 3.5 acres of green space.

A group of concerned and persistent Crozet residents have spent the last six months asking for information about the stream from Albemarle County planners and engineers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Environmental Protection Agency, only to be presented with contradictory assertions and incongruous timelines that left fundamental questions unanswered. 

County officials finally declared in April that the stream in question had been reclassified as “ephemeral,” and as such it was no long considered by the USACE to be in the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) jurisdiction. Therefore, they said, the county’s Water Protection Ordinance no longer applied to the waterway. This declaration appeared to clear the way for Montclair to build atop the stream, even as questions remained about whether the county’s assertions were supported by the USACE.

Undeterred, several Western Ridge residents established a nonprofit citizens’ group called Crozet United to press their case. In May the group submitted a 60-day Notice of Intent to file a Citizens Suit under the Clean Water Act against several national agencies for failure to comply with nationwide permitting conditions. Several representatives from the USACE, including Vincent Pero, who inspected the stream in 2021, agreed to meet with Crozet United president Eric Schmitz and other residents on July 26.

The meeting concluded with a set of clear statements from the USACE that (1) confirmed that the Montclair stream is in fact under the jurisdiction of the WOTUS rules, (2) clarified that it is not a “non-stream” or an “ephemeral” stream as county officials had asserted, and (3) affirmed that the landowner will still need to secure appropriate permits from the USACE if he intends to pipe the remainder of the WOTUS stream on his property.

This information was immediately relayed to the Planning Commission (PC), which then posed additional questions to the Montclair developer ahead of the meeting scheduled for that evening. At the 6 p.m. start of the meeting, with more than fifty community members in attendance and many prepared to speak about the project, Montclair developer Vito Cetta approached the podium and asked for an indefinite deferral. “We received a phone call today at 4 o’clock from the county, and there’s some confusion about some aspect of the site that we couldn’t get resolved in a couple of hours,” said Cetta. “We hope to be back [before you] shortly.”

PC Chair Karen Firehock appeared to accept the deferral request before the commission was able to vote on it, as she addressed Cetta. “So, you’re requesting a deferral until you can clarify the answers that you need for this evening?” she said. “Okay, we need to have a motion to accept the deferral, but [do any commissioners have] questions they’d like to ask about the request to defer, not about the specifics of the application itself, because we’re not hearing that this evening.”

There were no questions, the commission voted unanimously to accept the deferral, and the attendant crowd left the chamber without making their public statements. After the meeting, Board of Supervisors White Hall representative Ann Mallek said she will wait to see how the developer responds.

“I have been struggling with the details provided on Montclair,” said Mallek. “I understand there is new information available, and I look forward to understanding the interpretations of the regulating agencies and how those will impact the design of the project.” She also encouraged Cetta to reconsider the housing types proposed for Montclair.

“As I conveyed to the developer in January, the property is well suited to the density of Out of Bounds (his development on Barracks Road), where trees could be saved and more of the watershed could be protected,” she said. “During the master plan process the community loved the idea of clusters of small houses, which is a housing type missing in new Crozet.” 

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