Montclair Approved

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Developer Vito Cetta of Weather Hill Homes describes the design of the Montclair development planned for Rt. 240. Courtesy Albemarle County.

At its February 21 meeting, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors gave final approval to developer Vito Cetta’s application for Montclair, a proposed development on Rt. 240 next to Wickham Pond that envisions a maximum of 122 dwellings on 11.5 acres. The project has been the subject of vociferous community/county debate over the past two years concerning the existence of a stream—and thus a required stream buffer—flowing through part of the parcel. The stream was ultimately officially recognized, and that section of the property will not be built upon.

Beyond the stream’s fate, many Crozet residents have protested Montclair with the argument that important infrastructure—such as roads, bridges, and sidewalks—is not in place to support increasing Crozet’s population. While the project’s boosters have pointed to the 2021 Crozet Master Plan’s designation of the Montclair land as a place where dense development should go, its detractors note that the master plan’s land use assumes that structures such as the Eastern Avenue connector, a bridge that would alleviate much of Crozet’s traffic woes, have already been built. The bridge’s price tag recently rose to $40 million and the county has not proposed a plan to fund it.

After garnering almost 1,000 signatures on an online petition opposing the Montclair project, more than 70 Crozet residents attended the four-hour board meeting and almost 20 of them spoke during the public hearing segment. Many, like resident Minsu Kim, said that Montclair was inconsistent with the county’s overall Comprehensive Plan, which states that growth should be encouraged only in “priority areas,” which for Crozet is its downtown. 

Western Ridge resident Minsu Kim speaks during the public comment period of the Montclair hearing at the February 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. Photo courtesy Albemarle County.

“Crozet now lacks $100 million worth of critical infrastructure just to support its current population,” said Kim. “This number comes from cost estimates in the Capital Transportation Projects section of the Crozet Master Plan, a derivative of the county’s Comp Plan. Furthermore, the master plan states that the intersection of [Rt. 240] and Park Ridge Drive is already dangerous and congested. This intersection is expected to be designated by VDOT with a grade F level of service, [and] approving Montclair will only make this worse.” Montclair’s proposal estimates that it will generate an additional 1,200 car trips in and out daily.  

During the board’s discussion, Albemarle County planner Cameron Langille responded to the priority areas argument. “In the master plan that applied to Crozet in 2010, there was a loosely defined priority area from downtown Crozet to the Music Today area,” said Langille. “There’s no map, no list of tax map parcel numbers, it’s loosely defined. In the 2021 plan, there are no priority areas, and what it focuses on for infrastructure investment is ‘catalyst projects.’” The language that says development should be focused in priority areas—it’s one strategy amongst a half a dozen. This project meets the future land use recommendations from the master plan that is in place and adopted today.”

Developer Vito Cetta noted that his team started on the Montclair project over four years ago, calling it “a wonderful project.” “I think [the density] is a result of what the Comp Plan is intended to provide,” he said. “You have the rural areas, and then you get to Crozet, and it’s supposed to be high density—that’s how we’re going to ensure 700 new homes a year [in the county].” Cetta suggested that the assembled residents should “be more considerate.” “You know, frankly, in all honesty, the folks who live around here, they all live in communities that went through exactly this process [of moving into a previously undeveloped area]. They had plenty of people complaining. What does a neighbor have to gain by having 122 houses built next door? They have nothing to gain. But the community does. We have to absorb these new people moving into our community.”

Project engineer Justin Shimp also addressed residents’ concerns. “I’ve heard about infrastructure many, many times,” he said. “I’ve heard about [the need for] the 240/250 roundabout, but the good news is that problem is being fixed—it starts construction in the spring of 2025, before houses are occupied here.” He addressed what he called neighbors’ “resistance to change.” “That’s a very reasonable perspective to have. But it’s also reasonable to think about before we were here, it was farmland, and the county allowed development because they planned out a development pattern that would yield what you’re getting, which is neighborhoods like Wickham Pond next door, a mixture of housing, nice sidewalks, nice landscaping. That’s what you’re going to get [with Montclair], too.”

Supervisor Ann Mallek, who represents the White Hall District, explained her opposition to the project. “Timing is everything, and no one has been more hopeful than I that progress on these many safety and traffic issues would find solutions,” said Mallek. “The true priority focus of the Crozet growth area is the downtown, and the county has already chosen to invest many, many millions in the downtown. That will not stop until that project has achieved success. [But] hope is not a plan, and it would be wrong of me to continue to say to Crozet residents, ‘Oh, I hope we’ll do it next year.’ 

“I wish there was a signed contract for any number of these projects which are before us today—Eastern Avenue is the primary one of those,” Mallek continued. “That would change everything, but they’re not ready now. To say that I was crushed when that price change happened is an understatement, but it has really thrown all new attention on this rezoning and others to follow, because 1,000 cars a day from Montclair is a lot of extra traffic. And it will spread out to the south and west as well as to the east as people need to get to work somehow. These are serious problems, and everyone at all levels is working on this from citizens to staff, but we’re not there yet, and for these reasons I cannot support this.”

The Montclair development of 122 dwellings on 11.5 acres on Rt. 240 next to Wickham Pond was approved by the Board of Supervisors on February 21

Supervisor Jim Andrews of the Samuel Miller District also had reservations. “I do appreciate the Habitat [affordable] housing, the shared-use path [along Rt. 240], the variety of housing that would be brought in, and the fact that there are neighborhood model densities adjacent,” he said. “That said, I am not supportive, as I have a sense that our Crozet Master Plan expects there to be more of a whole community, not just a bedroom community, and we’re not seeing it—we can’t build everything all at once. At this point, I think it’s not the right place for us to take away the Light Industrial [zoning] we had there and put in more housing when we’re not ready for it.”

The remaining supervisors were broadly supportive of the project. New Scottsville Supervisor Mike Pruitt, who called himself “the housing guy” during his campaign, explained in particular what he found “unpersuasive” about Crozet residents’ arguments. “Legalist critiques using the Comp Plan or other things are not a persuasive point—we have a robust legal department, so if this was [not] compliant with the Comp Plan it would not make it to this stage,” said Pruitt. “I’m grateful we didn’t hear tonight any critiques around the ‘neighborhood character’—that is not a persuasive critique.” Pruitt also objected to the argument that the county’s pipeline and already-approved housing supply is adequate to meet population growth.

“I do think we have not provided the kind of pedestrian and bicycle access that is consistent with the kind of quasi-urban hub that we’re starting to develop in in Crozet,” he continued. “That’s kind of the original sin of Crozet—we have created a community, an urban community that does not have the capacity to support its own population through employment, and this is something that makes it challenging for us to meet our climate goals.” 

Pruitt lauded Montclair and similar projects because they “will increase our tax base to be able to pay for the kind of sidewalks and shared use paths that [residents] want. And it will bring in more people who can potentially show Whole Foods that [Crozet] is a convenient place for them to site a future location, or a Giant or a Lidl. What neighbors gain from a development like this is other neighbors and community [and those are] an amenity unto themselves that I think is really important.”

The board vote was 4-2 in favor, and Montclair will move on to the site plan phase. The previously approved Old Dominion Village development, a half mile to the west on the north side of Rt. 240, is also moving ahead with its site plan for 110 residential units on just under 24 acres. 

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