Oak Bluff Developers Hold Second Public Meeting

Revised illustrative plan for the Oak Bluff development proposal in Crozet. Photo: Riverbend Development

Representatives from Riverbend Development and Collins Engineering met with Crozet residents on the evening of June 8 at Brownsville Elementary for an unusual second public meeting concerning Riverbend’s proposed Oak Bluff neighborhood. Over 100 community members sat and stood in Brownsville’s cafeteria to listen to and ask questions of Riverbend’s senior management about the plan for 134 units on 33 acres situated between Rt. 250 and Westhall Drive on five parcels spanning Lickinghole Creek.

The project’s first public airing at the CCAC meeting on April 12 was also well-attended, and residents of nearby areas such as Westhall and Westlake expressed strong concerns about housing types and heights, increased traffic volume, stream protection, and potential crowding at local schools. Riverbend’s vice president Ashley Davies began her presentation at the June meeting by highlighting changes made to the application in response to residents’ comments from the earlier gathering.

“At this point, our team has had one submittal to the county—the initial rezoning submittal—and we didn’t want to move forward with any additional resubmittals before having this meeting with the community,” said Davies. That first application was reviewed by county planning staff and was not recommended for approval, primarily because the “height and massing” of the proposed development were “inconsistent with the Crozet Master Plan.” Davies displayed a revised illustrative plan for Oak Bluff with changes to the northern (Phase I) portion—in particular an altered housing layout to increase the amount of preserved green space surrounding Lickinghole Creek. 

“We now have over seven acres of land that will be kept in conservation and green spaces,” she said. “Instead of doing a trail easement, you do get a larger greenway [along the trail] that will stay in conservation for the future. [Another] pretty big shift is that we’ve pulled all the housing out of those upland preserved slopes, so now the nearest houses are over 450 feet from the stream.” 

A depiction of potential traffic flows from the proposed Oak Bluff development’s projected 1,100 daily car trips without an Eastern Avenue connector road down to Rt. 250. Photo: Janie Holbrook.

As a result of the redesign, the number of single-family detached homes in the plan declined from 28 to 20, while the number of attached townhomes rose from 17 to 32. The detached units are placed around the outside perimeter of the site so they match the surrounding housing types in Westlake, and their driveways have been flipped so they face an interior street rather than Westhall Drive, both of which had been concerns expressed by neighbors. The eastern buffer with Jonna Street has also been doubled in width.

Turning to the issue of traffic flow for the estimated 1,100 additional vehicle trips per day that Oak Bluff will generate (550 for the Phase I portion), Davies talked about plans for the Eastern Avenue connector which will eventually link Eastern Ave. in Westhall to Rt. 250. The connector is a not-yet-fully funded $24 million Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) project with an uncertain timeline, and neighbors have safety concerns about Oak Bluff traffic being funneled onto the already-crowded local streets.

“I think one of the good things about this project is that it actually could assist with the budget gap that exists for the Eastern Avenue connector right now,” said Davies. “We will be privately building some of that road to county and VDOT standards, so that’s money that the county doesn’t have to spend on the road. In addition, this entire area [where the road runs] through the site—a 2.65 acre area—we are also going to be donating to the county. I think both of those things will actually assist in getting the Eastern Avenue connector underway, hopefully as quickly as possible.”

The original site layout proposed a mix of housing unit styles including some that were 65 feet tall, leaving nearby residents to protest that Oak Bluff would be “out of character” from the existing neighborhoods. Davies said that in the new design, “nothing in the community will be more than three stories,” at a max of 40 feet. “We’re committed to building a variety of housing, including 22 affordable units,” she said. “There’s a dire need for more housing and a variety of housing types in this area, and it’s getting more challenging every day. The Crozet Master Plan calls for three to six units per acre [on this site], and we can fulfill that plan and we’ve been really careful about this.”

Tensions Rising

Attendees of the meeting peppered Davies and Scott Collins of Collins Engineering with questions, many of which were county- or state-related infrastructure issues such as the need for more sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic calming. “There’s no sidewalks [along stretches of Park Road],” said one attendee. “Children are walking in the street and cars are lined up and there’s no way to pass them. It is so unethical to put more people and children into these neighborhoods until the infrastructure is in place, and it’s on the county to stop it. They have a master plan for high density? Fine. Find a place that supports the high density or put the infrastructure in before you approve these projects.”

One questioner tried to nail down the specific hold-ups for the Eastern Avenue connector. “In the first meeting we heard that the design for the road was at 30% completion, and that it’s generally but not totally funded,” he said. “Why are we only in the 30% planning stage, what do we need to do to dislodge VDOT from that position, and what is the realistic timing to actually construct the connector all the way to 250 so that we at least alleviate some of the traffic problems?”

Supervisor Ann Mallek responded that “the funding shortfall is about $3.2 million. The county has already allocated funding, and if the donation of the right of way and paving of part of the roadway is done by others that will help slow down [future increases in] the project’s cost. VDOT has set aside $300 million for exactly this kind of purchase, to fully fund things that have already been funded and just need a little more [because of inflation]. That money becomes available in 2025.”

Riverbend Development Vice President Ashley Davies at the April CCAC Meeting. Photo: Crozet Gazette YouTube.

Eric Schmitz, president of Crozet United, said he had been told by county officials that VDOT’s estimate of the cost of the connector road had recently been revised upward to $40 million. “I’ve learned that the state can contribute only up to $10 million through its revenue sharing program, so that says to me that we need to come up with $30 million as a county to complete it,” he said. “If we don’t know how much it will cost or the funding gap, why are we looking at any housing projects at all in this location?”

Kimberly Gale, president of the Western Ridge Homeowners Association, raised a concern about school overcrowding. “You say the infrastructure doesn’t come until the needs are there,” she said, addressing Mallek, “but we’re already there. Our schools are at max capacity. How many kids are you expecting that this [development] will add to our already overcrowded schools?” 

“I don’t have that number tonight,” said Davies. “I know that there’s a standard calculation that the county school system will have us run.” Two other recent proposals in the area that have applied that calculation are Montclair (Rt. 240)—which estimated that 25 students would be added to western district schools for its 157 units, all of which were attached or multi-family units, and Old Dominion Village (Rt. 240)—which estimated that 50 students would be added for its 110-unit development, which included single-family detached units.

Quid Pro Quo

Westlake resident Bill O’Malley pointed to a narrow parcel sandwiched between the Oak Bluff proposal and the south side of Westhall Drive, which he said is owned by Riverbend but is still controlled by the Westlake Homeowners Association. The development plans an egress road out to Westhall Drive across that property. “You would have to get an easement approved through our HOA to be able to build that road, and that’s a pretty big deal,” said O’Malley. “The monument signs and trees along there were installed and paid for by the homeowners, and you’ll have to deal with us if you want to do anything on this parcel.” Riverbend representatives did not respond directly to O’Malley’s claim.

One attendee asked Ann Mallek whether she was in favor of the rezoning request, as the final decision ultimately rests with the Board of Supervisors. “I am not prepared to comment on support for this yet because I don’t have enough information on what it’s going to look like,” said Mallek. “We all have a lot of learning to do over the next many months as this goes forward.” 

Mallek’s response was met with groans of frustration from the audience. “Come on, stand for something or fall for everything,” said one attendee. “You literally just admitted it, you’re not for us, you’re for them, you’re on their payroll. You have to take a side. [The developers] only care about getting their money … and we’re going to be left here to pick up the pieces.”

Lonnie Murray, White Hall Planning Commission representative, said that in many cases the only tool the county has to force developers to install infrastructure like sidewalks is by demanding some kind of quid pro quo for the approval of increased housing density. “If this development gets put in as R1 [one housing unit per acre, as currently zoned], then there will be no contributions toward infrastructure because they can build it by right,” said Murray. “So the zoning application is when really important things happen. If you want any kind of contribution to infrastructure, it has to be rezoned [upward]—it has to be to the point where [the developer] wants to contribute something.”

In discussing the two phases and the construction of the connector road, Davies and Collins described the typical timeframe for projects like Oak Bluff. “In terms of timing, we go through the rezoning [which includes additional staff reports and public meetings with the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for approvals], and then you get into the site plan phase,” said Davies. “That’s sometimes nine months, and then the construction phase is another nine months, so we’re still a couple of years out.”

Following the April staff report not recommending approval of the project, Riverbend requested and was given a 12-month deferral on its rezoning application, and the next step in the process will be their application resubmittal to the county, which would be followed by a scheduled Planning Commission public hearing. 


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