Supervisor Ann Mallek Hosts Town Hall in Crozet

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Board of Supervisors White Hall representative Ann Mallek hosts a budget town hall at Brownsville Elementary on April 13. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Albemarle Board of Supervisors White Hall District representative Ann Mallek hosted a town hall meeting at Brownsville Elementary School on April 13, and topics brought up by the citizens in attendance ranged from parks and proffers to development and taxes. The meeting began with an update from representatives of the Albemarle County Police Department on safety in Crozet.

“We want you to know that out here you are in a fairly safe area within Albemarle as a whole,” said Deputy Chief of Police Terry Walls. He noted that among all types of violent crime countywide, Crozet has experienced fewer than 10 incidents since 2020. The area’s biggest problem is larceny, with an average of 50 incidents each year (out of the county’s 1,500 total). “So, you’re more likely to be a victim of somebody stealing something from your car than anything else, and the best way to prevent that is just to lock the door.”

Walls said that this simple advice is especially critical for citizens that exercise their right to carry a firearm. “You have no idea the number of firearms that are stolen in this region from unlocked cars, some of which have ended up in the shootings we’ve had over the last 18 months,” he said. “We’ve had an uptick in stolen vehicles as well, but, again, in 99% of those cases somebody left a key fob or valet key in the vehicle.” 

Walls said the county is also very focused on reducing the number of car crashes related to distracted driving. Officers are seeing more drivers wearing earbuds, putting on makeup, or looking at their phones while driving. In the discussion on locking firearms in vehicles, White Hall resident Joe Jones decried a recent county ordinance that made it a misdemeanor to have even “component parts” such as unattached magazines or shell casings in one’s unlocked car, and Mallek said she “would get clarification on that.”

Rampant development and a lack of accompanying infrastructure improvements dominated much of the rest of the meeting, as residents pressed Mallek on relief from proposed dense housing projects in Crozet. One attendee asked why more is not demanded from developers in the form of “proffers”—either cash payments or land donations to the county—during the approval process. 

“The board is forbidden from denying an application based on the refusal of a developer to provide upfront cash,” said Mallek. “The 2019 state amendment came with lawsuit capability for individual staff people who even talked about offsite proffers. So, it’s an important dilemma and we’re certainly using any leverage we can and trying to work with the legislature so local governments can have the ability to provide services for their residents and protect their quality of life.” She suggested that people should vote for state representatives who are willing to change that law.

A proposed development called Oak Bluff—for 134 housing units on about 25 acres between Westhall Drive and Rt. 250, spanning Lickinghole Creek—drew the ire of neighbors near the project for a variety of reasons. Westlake resident Carol Fairborn highlighted six detriments the plan would bring, including damage to the water quality and indigenous plant and wildlife in and around Lickinghole Creek, increased traffic on small connecting roads, and an incompatible appearance with surrounding houses, including plans for stacked townhomes up to 65 feet high. Fairborn asked Mallek for her thoughts.

“My thoughts are that the project has a long, long way to go [in the process],” said Mallek. “Many changes will be needed before it could be considered. This is a ‘throw it on the wall and see what sticks’ kind of thing, and that’s really distressing for the neighbors because I think there’s an element of [the developer] waiting to see how hard will people push back.” Mallek went on to talk about creek and reservoir water protection and conservation and the upcoming Beaver Creek Dam construction project, but did not return to Oak Bluff.

Mallek’s opponent in this fall’s White Hall Supervisor election, Brad Rykal, recently announced that his campaign would accept no funding from developers and special interests, and an attendee asked if she would make the same pledge. The attendee was referring to $10,000 in donations she received this cycle from Seminole Trail Properties, LLC, a Charlottesville property management company. 

“I do not take money from people who have or have had applications before the board,” she said. “I’ve taken lots of money from people who are involved in environmental organizations and that kind of thing, and that’s the difference. There is a real estate person who had donated to my campaign, and I’m full of admiration for what he’s done. I don’t know what ‘outside money’ means, I don’t know what ‘special interest’ means.” She did not indicate that she intended to adopt Rykal’s pledge.

A young mother rocking a toddler said that she has been lobbying Mallek for almost a year in hopes of getting a “spray park or splash park” in Crozet for all of the families who have small children in the area. “I know the budget is limited, and that’s why I’m here,” she said. “I’d love to know from you how we can get this, how many grants do we have to apply for, what kind of funding do we need to [generate]? We raised about 200 signatures last summer in the course of two weeks, so folks want this, but I’ve just been told no, no, no, it’s too expensive.” Another attendee added the same could be said for the long-promised Western Park in Old Trail.

“My understanding from [the Parks department] is that they want to avoid those types of [spray parks] because they’re very high maintenance and a safety risk as far as keeping them germ-free,” said Mallek. “But I can certainly find out from Waynesboro what theirs cost and go from there.” As an aside, she commented on the larger process of governance. “It is fascinating, and one of the bigger challenges, that staff is [operating] at the direction of local government—the Supervisors hire an executive and all the staff works for him—and turning that ship when it needs to turn has been a really interesting and challenging process. But I am absolutely all in to keep hammering away at this. There is now more awareness on the part of the entire board of the need for recreation.”

Turning to the dramatic increase in real estate assessments for this year and whether or not the county will adjust the tax rate downward to ease the tax burden on residents, Mallek said, “I think that we can have confidence in the science of the assessments. Peter Lynch is following the law accurately and exactly.” After recounting the period during 2007-8 (at the beginning of her first term) where the board reduced the tax rate, the economy cooled, and the board then had to “zero out” the capital program, Mallek said she will vote to keep the current tax rate where it is. 

“The reason I would cling to the tax rate we have now is because it would allow us to eat away at the building deficit that we have now, and to continue to provide money for the elementary schools the division says are needed,” she said. She also pointed to stiff competition and increased compensation requirements to hire many types of staff positions such as public safety, planning, and tech staffing, which are necessary to be able to keep up with rapid growth, as another reason not to reduce the current tax rate.

In response, one attendee asked a question that seemed to sum up the concerns of many at the meeting. “So, why not just pause all of the expansion and development?” she asked. “It’s a little like filling up a bucket that has holes. There are already so many sections [of the county] that are underfunded or under-resourced. So, if we already don’t have big enough schools and you put a huge development there, then that means you’re going to need another school [while] the first residents still don’t have what they need. So why not bring everyone up to speed, catch everything up before expanding more?”

Mallek replied as if she didn’t know if such a pause was possible. “Well, the first thing I’m going to do tomorrow is find out if we have the authority to do that,” she said, “because that is something that we would have to ask first. Can the county limit its population or limit growth using that [reasoning]?” But in the next exchange she seemed to answer her own question. “One thing we are not allowed to use as a reason for denial is a [concept called] ‘adequate facilities,’” she said. “That is straight from the state legislature.” 

Mallek was referring to the fact that Virginia localities are restrained by state law: they cannot limit the pace of development by phasing growth based on the (lack of) availability of “adequate public facilities” such as schools, parks, and road improvements. Originally intended to protect the rights of landowners to maximize their property value via development, the rule also serves to prevent counties and cities from slowing growth until infrastructure catches up. The higher density designations embedded by county planners in the Crozet Master Plan—some bitterly contested by residents—now pave the way for developers to request and receive up-zoning.

Attendee Jones half-jokingly suggested that since the county had a $15 million surplus due to the increase in assessment values, perhaps the board should cut the tax rate by five cents (representing about $15 million in tax receipts) and call it square. Mallek tried more seriously to explain her position. “My job as a Supervisor is to find out which programs are most important to you,” she said. “I’m here to gather priorities from people because there are 1,000 different things that could be on the chopping block or not, and I would like to have some shared input about what goes on.” 

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Lisa Martin joined the Gazette in 2017 and writes about education and local government. She also writes in-depth pieces about division-wide education issues and broader investigative pieces on topics from recycling to development to living with wildlife. Her Coyotes in Crozet story won a 2017 Virginia Press Association “Best in Show” award for the Gazette. Martin has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, taught college for several years, and writes fiction and poetry. She co-authored a children’s trilogy about two adventuring cats, the Anton and Cecil series, which got rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and others.

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