Riverbend Development has submitted preliminary plans for Oak Bluff, a two-phase neighborhood that will be situated south of Westhall Drive and north of Rt. 250 in two sections spanning Lickinghole Creek. Most of the land for the project is owned by Weather Hill Homes developer Vito Cetta and is under contract to Riverbend. Cetta has been seeking to develop the Montclair project on Rt. 240 amid a lengthy debate over whether a stream exists on that property.
The project narrative describes a cluster of five parcels that add up to 33 acres to host Oak Bluff’s 134 units, with a mix of housing types and public amenity spaces. The design incorporates “20-25% greenspace and recreational amenities” and will have to accommodate steep slopes, stream buffers, and flood plain restrictions on both sides of the creek that runs east-west through the center of the plan. Riverbend’s application says that the proposal’s central location creates “an opportunity for lifestyles that are less dependent on the automobile and more focused on the human experience and enjoyment of place.”
Oak Bluff’s layout nestles its dwellings against the route of the future Eastern Avenue Connector and will use it as the main (though not only) access point for residents. The long-awaited $25 million road/bridge will connect the existing Eastern Avenue in Westhall/Westlake south to Rt. 250, providing a throughway to Crozet Park and the downtown area from the east and south and (hopefully) relieving Crozet’s drive-time congestion.
The Connector is not quite fully funded, however, and is likely to lag the new development. “Oak Bluff will be developed in two phases,” said Riverbend Vice President Ashley Davies. “It is likely that Phase 1 will be completed in advance of the connector road, but not necessarily. We anticipate the connector road to be complete before Phase 2 comes online.”
The development is expected to generate an additional 1,100 vehicle trips per day, but the application states that “given the proximity to the proposed Eastern Avenue Connector, we do not anticipate any other transportation improvements will be necessary.” No assessment of the project’s impact on local school populations was provided in the description—Davies said that impact was “yet to be determined.”
The Oak Bluff narrative mentions “new and innovative housing types” as well as plans for affordable housing. “The plan features a variety of housing types—single family detached, townhouses, and other attached products such as 2-over-1 units,” said Davies. “This variety of unit type creates a neighborhood with visual interest and multiple price points.”
The project is focused on a “pedestrian orientation,” with a network of sidewalks within the property as well as direct accessibility to existing trails, and it grants an easement and new public greenway area to complete the Lickinghole Creek trail network. “Each phase has amenity space that is centralized to the neighborhood, as well as dedicated open space and trails leading to and along Lickinghole Creek,” said Davies.
Terri Miyamoto, president of the Crozet Trails Crew, said that while there is currently an official trail from the creek up to the southern end of Eastern Avenue, it will likely be paved over when the connector road is built. “On the opposite side, there is no public trail up to Rt. 250,” said Miyamoto. “A few years ago, the county acquired an easement across the easternmost edge of Cory Farm, up to Patriot Way in Liberty Hall, with the hope of building a bridge and trail there, but it proved to be too difficult to cross the creek so we gave it up for now. I hope that with Oak Bluff, we will somehow find a way to get a reasonable trail down to the creek so people can enjoy paddling their toes in the current on a hot summer day. I think it would be nice if the path on the Cory Farm piece can eventually get built as part of this, because there’s a beautiful place to put a bench and look out over the creek and the hills.”
Nearby residents view the project with a mix of interest and wariness. Marc McKenney, former Crozet Community Advisory Committee member and current resident of Westhall (but speaking from his personal perspective), is concerned about the balance of increased density with needed infrastructure. “[With this proposed development] there will be more and more traffic cutting through adjoining neighborhoods—Westlake, Cory Farms, FootHill Crossing, Westhall—putting more children, residents, and personal property at risk,” said McKenney. “There continues to be a lack of sidewalks to enable Westhall and other residents on Park Road to walk to the park safely. I know these sidewalks are on the county’s priority list, but how much longer will people have to wait?”
McKenney also noted environmental and affordable housing concerns related to Oak Bluff. “Lickinghole Creek feeds into the basin, which houses wildlife in the immediate area,” he said. “Does a 100-foot stream buffer have to be expanded in this case, and can the county impose that? The proposed northern area of Oak Bluff will be built on a slope with the low end at the creek. What does all this runoff mean to the creek and the basin being at the south end of the development? I also have a hard time seeing how the project will provide any real affordable housing, which means we continue to drive lower income people out of Crozet.”
The county’s lead reviewer for the project is Kevin McCollum, who described the review process going forward. “This application was submitted on February 20 and is currently under review by staff,” he said. “Our review comment letter is due to the applicant on April 24.” The applicant will need to hold a community meeting at the CCAC meeting in the Crozet Library on Wednesday, April 12 at 7 p.m., prior to proceeding to the Planning Commission for a public hearing. After the Planning Commission public hearing, a public hearing with the Board of Supervisors will also need to be scheduled.
Update 4/14/23: The print version of this article incorrectly named Vito Cetta as owner of Riverbend Development. Most of the land for the project is owned by Weather Hill Homes developer Vito Cetta and is under contract to Riverbend.