Improvements to The Square Coming This Summer

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The Square is finally getting a facelift this summer. Photo: Michael Marshall.

The first step in a long-awaited transformation of downtown Crozet will soon begin as Albemarle County and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) launch a revenue sharing project to build and enhance parking, sidewalks, and traffic flow in The Square. Scheduled to begin construction this summer, the project will complete Oak Street, which runs north-south on the east side of The Square down to the library, and will add and improve parking in the area and align roads and sidewalks with the future Barnes Lumber project design.

Lance Stewart, the county’s director of Facilities and Environmental Services, spoke to the Crozet Community Advisory Committee on Feb. 14 to explain The Square project’s goals and timeline. “Oak Street, which right now is sort of stubbed out right by the library and then it turns into a gravel area, will be a completed road network with on-street parking and storm water drainage, etc., and will connect to the improvements in The Square proper,” said Stewart. 

Lance Stewart, director of Facilities and Environmental Services for Albemarle County. Photo: Crozet Gazette YouTube.

“Also, right now you know what the parking situation is like out there—it’s unstructured and rough with potholes—so we will get not just more parking, but better parking for businesses and the community,” he said. Stewart said the project will emphasize pedestrian safety with better connectivity for walkers, and there will be ADA accessibility with structured parking plus enhanced traffic flow. “All of this will have new curb and gutter and drainage systems for better stormwater management.”

Fifty-four structured parking spaces (an increase from the roughly 40 there now) will be arrayed on either side of The Square and down the east side of Oak Street, which will be convenient for visitors to the future plaza as well. “One of the challenges that held up this project was negotiating with the [Virginia] Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which now owns the [railway gate in the fencing by the track]. We had to get them to pay attention and allow us to move that over so we could pick up more parking and so access would be easier for them,” said Stewart. “We finally just got that paperwork signed about a month ago, so we’re moving at a high rate of speed now after a lot of time has passed.”

Improvements to The Square will include parking, sidewalks, and traffic flow. Photo: Albemarle County.

Stewart pointed out a key feature of the project at the intersection of The Square with Crozet Avenue. “Right now, you can turn in from either direction, and you can leave from either direction,” he said, “but this will change to where you can only turn in from the south and only leave to the north at that intersection. If you want to head south from The Square, you’ll have to go down Oak Street to Library Avenue and turn left onto Crozet Avenue from there.”

“I’m just going to say I hate that,” said an audience member immediately, “because you can’t get out of Library Avenue turning left.” 

“This is a difficult intersection either way,” said Stewart, “because it’s at the top of a hill and sight lines looking left or right are difficult. But this was a VDOT requirement and not a design decision. This is now going to be a public road, so it’s got to live by public road guidelines. VDOT was concerned that waiting traffic would back up in The Square and cause congestion all the way back to Oak Street.” 

Stewart said the traffic light will remain at the intersection, but will be modified to exclude turning left out of The Square. There will also be a crosswalk (north-south) across The Square entrance on Crozet Avenue that will have a “refuge” section in between the two lanes of incoming and outgoing traffic.

The first phase of the eventual downtown Plaza project is the county’s improvements to The Square—the area in orange. Photo :Albemarle County.

Construction will proceed in three stages. Stage 1 will be the parking and improvements on Oak Street. Stage 2 will be the new parking on the west side of The Square, during which the Crozet Avenue entrance will be closed as it is reconfigured. “Because the Oak Street parking will be done, we’ll still retain parking and pedestrian access for people to go to those businesses,” said Stewart. Stage 3 will be new parking on the east side of The Square, with the entrance and west side open to vehicles. One attendee asked about The Square’s traditional Christmas Tree, and Stewart said that will be going away, but could potentially reappear in the future plaza. 

Stewart said that the county had intended to bid this project together with the Barnes Lumber (Plaza) project, to be able to coordinate construction and possibly realize some cost savings, but the timing did not work out. “We got a break and recently acquired our last property [for the right of way], and the Barnes Lumber project is just entering that phase now. So, we think that delaying this project for a year or more to align with that one would probably cost us more money and then the whole area would be a construction zone and it would take away some of our options to maintain accessibility, so we’re going ahead.”

The $2 million project will go out for bids in March, with an expected construction start in July and completion in June of 2025. 

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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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