The Albemarle County Planning Commission voted on September 26 to recommend approval of a revised and slightly smaller proposal for Montclair, the planned development on Rt. 240 next to Wickham Pond that has been central to a furious year-long debate about whether a protected stream runs through the property. The 157-unit project was deferred in mid-2022 until a final analysis by the county’s Community Development Department last November, which concluded that an intermittent stream—and its 100-foot required buffer—did exist and must be accounted for.
Montclair was recently resubmitted for county approval as a 122-unit development, with 2.5 fewer acres available to build on due to the required stream buffer. The plan envisions 94 attached units (condos, duplexes) and 28 multi-family (apartment) dwellings, plus 16,500 square feet of commercial area projected to contain office space or a small restaurant in addition to the existing child care facility. The proposal estimates that 21 school-aged children would enter the public school system from Montclair, and that the development will generate an additional 1,200 car trips in and out daily.
The Crozet Leadership Team (CLT) sent members of the Planning Commission a document outlining their concerns ahead of the meeting. In it, they pointed out that the proposal is inconsistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the Crozet Master Plan, particularly with respect to the county’s commitments to providing necessary infrastructure in the Growth Areas.
For example, the project asserts that increased traffic from Montclair was considered by and is consistent with the 2021 Crozet Master Plan’s traffic analysis; however, that analysis assumes that the Eastern Avenue connector road will be built. The connector would provide a direct north-south link from central Crozet down to Rt. 240 and would relieve traffic congestion and improve flow, but the project’s $40 million price tag is not currently in the county’s budget. “Crozet’s Master Plan is obsolete,” read the CLT’s document. “Without critical infrastructure or a viable workaround, approving more growth is irresponsible and threatens our safety.”
The Montclair plan contains no westbound turn lane into the development, so to alleviate backups on Rt. 240 both at the entrance and at the nearby Park Ridge Road intersection, the developer’s narrative proposed a “mini-roundabout” there, presumably to be paid for by the county. In response, the CLT document emphasized the gravity of the problem with a map. “Nearly a third of Crozet’s population has only two ingress/egress options [to the west at Tabor Street and the east at Park Ridge Road], one of which is already gridlocked,” said the document, which also noted that no roundabout at that location is part of the county’s six-year road plan.
Montclair’s developer, Vito Cetta of Weather Hill Homes, said the Comprehensive Plan “has been incredibly successful” at providing housing for county residents, primarily in the Growth Areas. Following Cetta, more than a dozen Crozet citizens spoke to voice their opposition to the Montclair project until sufficient roadways and sidewalks to handle the increased population are built.
During the commission’s discussion, Commissioner Luis Carrazana seemed to sympathize with the residents. “Crozet has taken its share of development, as we all know, over the last several years with minimal infrastructure improvements,” he said. “I would really like to see how we can talk about the Eastern Avenue connector, and we need to look at some incremental steps to improve safety. It’s hard to continue to look at projects [in Crozet] and recommend approval when the infrastructure’s not there.”
Commissioner Julian Bivins bristled at Carrazana’s suggestion. “It feels like there are people in the community and colleagues who are asking us to do a moratorium on development until certain conditions are met,” said Bivins. “I think I’m uncomfortable with that position and I’d like some clarity.” The county attorney spoke up to say that moratoriums are not allowed by the state because every application is entitled to consideration on its own merits. Bivins elaborated on his feeling. “I’m uncomfortable with [a moratorium] since I’m not sure where that line would be drawn. What if an applicant felt that we were being arbitrary?”
Carrazana replied that he was not suggesting a blanket moratorium, but was looking at this particular situation. “I do find this development to have merit, but we need to find ways to expedite some of the improvements that need to be made [in Crozet].”
The majority of the commissioners seemed unconvinced that the safety problems described by residents warranted a “no” on the Montclair. “I wondered how hard it was now for someone to get from this development to, say, Harris Teeter,” said Nathan Moore. “I drove it in six minutes,” he said, smiling, insinuating that traffic was not really much of a hardship.
Commissioner Karen Firehock addressed the assembled crowd. “I know that there’s some level of distrust with this developer from what happened with the stream and the prior proposal,” she said. “The community has done a great service in making sure that the stream stayed on the map, and I do believe that your work has resulted in this [revised] plan. This big blob of green space is now protecting the stream and I see that as a victory, and as an amenity for Mr. Cetta’s development. [But] it’s also true, that middle density was added to the parcel [in the Master Plan process], and I appreciate the development because of the diversity of density that’s provided. So I think it is a good design.”
Lonnie Murray, the commissioner representing White Hall, dissented. “I’m not currently in favor,” he said. “I support the idea of density and could even support it here in this place if there was the infrastructure on the ground, or we thought it was coming soon. It doesn’t look like it is. The point was made we can’t just keep voting for things when the infrastructure doesn’t appear. I think Crozet is reaching a tipping point in its frustration, and the fact that we don’t have a plan yet for the connector, the fact that Park Ridge Road is unsafe, means I can’t support [this project] at this time. It is important that density goes in the Growth Areas, but there’s some weirdness with this proposal.”
The motion to recommend approval of the Montclair rezoning request passed 5-2, with Murray and Carrazana voting no. The final step will be the project’s hearing before the Board of Supervisors, on a date not yet announced.
“The real question before the Planning Commission was a much bigger one than people think,” said Crozet resident Eric Schmitz after the meeting, “and the county’s final answer to it will have deep, wide, and lasting implications for everyone living in Albemarle County, whether in the Growth Area or the rural area. The question is, ‘When making an individual land use decision, do the county’s longstanding Master Plans to build roads (that were deemed essential for public safety) matter at all?’
“The Planning Commission’s answer was crystal clear—‘No, they do not.’ Every resident in every district should listen carefully and urge their Supervisor to think about the message this sends to Albemarle citizens.”