Doris and David Harding carefully selected their dream home in Glenbrook at Foothill Crossing in 2019 for its location on a quiet cul-de-sac and its panoramic Blue Ridge mountain views. After living in Western Ridge for 16 years, then spending five years in Germany, the couple returned to Crozet as an ideal place to retire. “The selling point for us—and what was specifically promoted by the developer—was the breathtaking view,” said Doris. “We felt lucky to have the first pick of the new lots.” But when Phase III of Glenbrook began construction a few months ago, the builders erected a solid wall of attached villas only 20 feet from their property line, completely blocking the Hardings’ view of anything at all.
“We were led to believe, by the site plan drawings of Phase III and everybody we talked to, that those would be single-family homes like ours, and that the rooftops behind us would be no higher than the ones in Parkside [to the northwest],” said David. “We knew something would be built there, and we put tens of thousands of dollars into improving our back yard, including planting a privacy fence that is now eight to twelve feet high. I thought that would be sufficient for anything and still preserve the mountain views. I was wrong.”
The Hardings are devastated by the new construction. “Of course, people want to live in Crozet, so we know there will be building, but [developers] need to think about how this affects people who already have a home here,” said Doris. “This was our retirement, our dream home. We spent so much time and money making it perfect, and now we feel blindsided. We had no idea this would happen until they started building.”
The Hardings say they believe that neither their own real estate agent, Jim Duncan, nor the (builder) Evergreen’s agent Tom Ridley knew of the planned contiguous density and height of the next phase’s construction. “There was discussion about what would go there, but the Evergreen guys didn’t know, the Stanley Martin guys didn’t know, our realtor didn’t know, because the drawings changed back and forth,” said David. Ridley did not respond to the Gazette’s request for comment.
Crozet realtor Duncan said that while he and the homeowners knew there would be houses built behind the property, he did not foresee three-story townhomes. “I’ve said to my clients for years, when they ask ‘what’s going in next door?’ that they should assume it’s going to be a Walmart and condos,” he said, “because unless you buy that piece of land, there’s nothing that you can do to change it.” The county’s Architectural Review Board does not review any part of a development that is not on designated “entrance corridors.” “I genuinely don’t think anybody [at the county] considers the viewshed of other properties unless it is a historic structure,” said Duncan.
The Hardings and their nextdoor neighbor, Becky Reid, who is in the same predicament, as well as others on their cul-de-sac are considering legal action, but the process would be expensive. “Without hard evidence that [the builders] did this intentionally, it’s difficult,” said Doris. “The phase drawings show what to a non-architect person look like single-family lots, but somehow we were supposed to understand that could change at any moment.”
Greenwood Homes [the Phase III builder] Managing Partner Drew Holzwarth compared plans for the villas that were built behind the Hardings home to the Phase III single-family home model and noted that single-family homes actually would have been 21 inches taller than what was built. “I’m sorry that there was a misunderstanding, but every contract is crystal clear,” said Holzwarth. “No one can make commitments to a homeowner beyond the boundaries of that property.” He also pointed to a notarized affidavit recording the 99 notices that were mailed to surrounding neighbors about the site plan review in March of 2021. The Hardings and the neighbors on their cul-de-sac insist they did not receive any notification.
As is common in many Crozet developments, residents do not receive control of the neighborhood’s Homeowners’ Association (HOA) until the majority of units have been purchased. Before that time, control of the HOA remains with the developer. “These HOA’s don’t represent the interests of the homeowners—contrary to what they say, they represent the interests of the developer,” said David. “They tell us we can’t grow a tree over 15 feet tall because it might block somebody’s view, but then they let this happen. If we can’t do it, why should they be able to?”
Doris pointed to a set of “Architectural Review Board Rules” from 2021 that apply specifically to the Glenbrook at Foothills HOA and state that “the ARB has developed rules to provide property owners with broad enjoyment of their homes while ensuring adjacent property owners are not impacted and their views remain as unobstructed as possible.” However, it’s not clear whether there is any enforcement mechanism under the HOA, which is still controlled by Riverbend.
The Hardings’ neighbor Becky Reid said they are still reeling from the construction. “I really think that we want to be compensated somehow—in our best-case scenario, getting money back from what we invested for that view,” she said. Reid and Harding sent an email to Riverbend executives requesting over $80,000 to cover expenses for upgraded decks, porches, plantings, and a hot tub in service of the mountain views. “Worst case scenario is, at a minimum, have a [vegetative] border wall installed, and retaining walls, so our property isn’t eroded and those people that are behind us don’t have problems as a result of that erosion.” The new villas are set 20 feet from and at a steep angle below the Hardings’ and Reid’s property lines.
“We’re appealing to the human decency of the people who did this,” said David. “The builders already have one foot down the road, but Greenwood and Riverbend need to make this right.” Riverbend and Greenwood are both partially owned by Charlottesville real estate mogul Coran Capshaw, and Riverbend is also the contract owner for the proposed development called Oak Bluff to be sited on land between Westlake and Rt. 250.
County planning manager Rebecca Ragsdale said in an email to the Gazette that Glenbrook Phase III was built by-right, in compliance with county code, and did not require public hearings with the county Board of Supervisors or the Planning Commission. “The final site plan for the 2019 section showed future Phase III with a different lot configuration that appeared as single-family units,” she said. “That was not approved at that time and the plan notes ‘currently under plan review.’”
Between 2019 and final plat approval in 2022, the plans changed and villas were slated for the lots adjacent to the Hardings’ cul-de-sac. “As long as the site plan meets ordinance requirements, the County must approve the plan,” said Ragsdale. “The developer may build to the full extent or density and height permitted in the district.”
Amid the discussion of the Hardings’ lost views at the April CCAC meeting, Ragsdale addressed a separate Glenbrook construction issue: a different set of townhomes recently built in Phase III of Glenbrook just beyond the villas are taller than county regulations allow. “The zoning for Phase III allows structures up to 35 feet in height,” Ragsdale said at the meeting. “Unfortunately, [there was an] error with eight townhouse units that were built about a foot taller than they should be.” Ragsdale said that if the error had been caught within 60 days of the permit approval it could have been remedied under state law, but now the county has no recourse.
Riverbend Development’s President Alan Taylor and Vice President Ashley Davies visited the Hardings on May 26 to see the view issues in person, and Doris said they were sympathetic to the neighbors’ predicament. “They both said they will try to work with us and come up with a landscape design for us to approve,” she said, “some kind of privacy fence with trees and shrubs along the abutting properties. When that happens, I’ll feel more positive.”