In this long-standing feature, we explore the many reasons why people choose to live in Crozet. At the top of the list are the people who offer their knowledge and time in the dozens of volunteer positions necessary for a community to thrive. Tom Loach has had the good of his fellow citizens at heart ever since he fell in love with the community decades ago.
Tom Loach first found Crozet by accident, on a spur-of-the-moment drive out Garth Road from Charlottesville and then south on Rte. 810. He got some directions at the gas station (now the BP station), drove around town and knew right away he wanted to live here.
That was 30 years ago. Since then, he has found many ways to serve his new community. He became a volunteer firefighter, served two terms as a member of the Albemarle County Planning Commission, was president of the Crozet Community Association, and a member of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee. In his retirement from the U.Va Health System, he’s continued his volunteer work and also added an additional volunteer job processing warrants for the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
Before the move, Loach was trained as a health professional and worked at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. As specialized medical software was introduced, Loach became proficient in his understanding of the technology, so when U.Va began to integrate the same software as Sloan-Kettering, he was more than happy to accept a job outside New York. “I was so glad to give up that commute,” he said.
Loach doesn’t fit into the unfair––and often untrue––stereotype of the transplanted New Yorker who comes to a small town because of its difference from the big city, and immediately wants the new home to become more like the old one. Instead, his biggest wish for Crozet is for it to retain its essential character while embracing changes that make sense for the good of the community.
He loved the idea that ordinary people in a small town could shape their lives and future in a way impossible in a metropolitan area: “We had everything and we had nothing,” he said. He’s talking about the many things that the close-knit community did on its own, with little reliance on Albemarle County. He named Crozet Park, a resource owned by the community, run by a local board, with activities supported by the Crozet Arts and Craft Festival. Firefighters served the community, not only with emergency help, but by providing small-town entertainment: the July 4 parade and the holiday parade followed by “Christmas with Santa” at the firehouse. The Lions Club drew hundreds with its annual dinner and talent show.
The Crozet Community Association helped organize other projects, too, such as coordinating the painting of the mural at the railroad overpass. Members of the Association also took their mission––that of providing guidance for Crozet’s growth and development––very seriously, and studied every aspect of the county’s first comprehensive plan for Crozet.
“We were not anti-growth, not at all,” Loach said. He felt so strongly about shaping the best decisions for well-planned local growth that he pulled in faculty from U.Va’s school of architecture. He said Professor Mark Schimmenti was especially helpful for two reasons. Schimmenti had come from a Florida town decimated by thoughtless development, and he had helped plan another town in his home state that reflected the principles of new urbanism, a concept Loach believes fits Crozet very well.
Loach describes “new urbanism” as a model where homes of various sizes and prices are clustered in a small neighborhood, usually with some kind of common area, as with the Bargamin Park and Waylands Grant developments off Jarmans Gap Road.
The original plans called for these types of neighborhoods to be a guide for developers he said, “But developers thought of them as just one model among many.”
Loach has questions, many of them surrounding the relationship between the county, its staff, and the Crozet Community Advisory Board, the relationship between developers and the county, especially as it affects affordable housing, and the board itself: “The role of that board is now purely to support county staff,” he said. “It no longer serves as the voice of the people.”
He would like more citizens to support the original Crozet Community Association, which filled that role before the formation of the CCAC.
Despite his concerns, Loach remains very hopeful for the future of Crozet, with some examples of appropriate and successful progress:
The persistence of volunteer groups—“Most of the groups that were here are still active, and still serving Crozet,” he said.
The library—built with more than $1 million coming from the community in small and large donations.
The Crozet Trails Crew—responsible for interconnectivity between Crozet’s neighborhoods.
The preservation of village centers—“If we have clusters of commerce downtown, at the heart of Old Trail, and in the old Acme plant, that will keep Rte. 250 from looking like 29 North,” he said.
The people—“I truly believe that most of the people who have moved her in the past 20 years want the best for Crozet,” he said. “They may not be aware of the opportunities to participate in civic life.”
To help people understand what’s at stake as Crozet moves forward, Loach has started a blog, “About Crozet.” It documents the changing expectations for growth as well as some of the problems with affordable housing, and gives concrete statistics tracing the changing demands on Crozet’s density and infrastructure There’s a survey that offers each Crozet citizen a chance to agree or disagree with specific steps as outlined by the county in the comprehensive plan update.
“When I was on the planning commission, I had some tools, mainly the comprehensive plan and surveys we did, to guide me,” he said. “So I knew what the people wanted. It’s much better to have the hard data than to have some vague verbal complaints.” Within hours, the polls on the blog had more than a hundred respondents.
Loach also hopes to seek citizen opinions on smaller issues around town, to catalog information on Crozet’s small businesses, and to offer a calendar for community members to post events.
In the end, though, it all boils down to the quality of life. “I was so glad to raise my daughter here, where she was safe and where she was known,” he said. “I want future families to have the same thing.”
Find detailed information on recent discussions of the comprehensive plan update, the surveys, and a glimpse of Crozet’s past at aboutcrozet.com.