(This story was originally part of the March 14, 2021 episode of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

A review of the Crozet Master Plan is slowly making its way through Albemarle County’s planning process and this is a good time to check in. Crozet is one of seven designated growth areas in Albemarle County, and the master plan has been in place since late 2004. 

On Wednesday, March 10, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee reviewed the draft land use chapter for the plan which sets the vision for the future of the unincorporated area.  Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein said they are in the third phase of the community process, where the actual chapters are written based on broad recommendations that have been discussed with community members in previous phases.

“To kind of develop that content we’ve had all virtual engagement,” Falkenstein said. “Because of COVID, we’ve been virtual for this phase of work. Several CAC meetings through the summer and fall of 2020. We’ve had the online engagement opportunities, and then just feedback we’ve received through email, comments, discussions with community members and stakeholders.” 

There have also been two work sessions with the Planning Commission.

There are five goals in the draft plan:

  • Goal 1: Support the continued revitalization of Downtown as the historic, cultural, and commercial heart of Crozet with distinctively urban design and support a mixture of uses in Crozet’s other designated centers of activity. 
  • Goal 2: Provide a variety of housing options that meet the needs of Crozetians at all income levels.
  • Goal 3: Support existing neighborhoods and the historic context of Crozet through ensuring that new and infill development is compatible in design and scale with existing neighborhood fabric and allowing reuse of historic buildings. 
  • Goal 4: Maintain a distinct rural edge along Crozet’s boundary to provide a visual connection to its cultural heritage as a town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Goal 5: Leverage and amplify Crozet’s artisan community, culture, history, and entrepreneurial spirit through creative placemaking projects and partnerships. 

“I’ll remind you that this is a working draft,” Falkenstein said. “There are some sections that need some work. We have some placeholders in there. We’re still developing graphics and images to support some of the narrative. The land use content itself is still a working draft. We have this meeting. We have public engagement that we’ll put online, and we have a Board meeting coming up. All of that feedback will continue to refine the draft as we go along.”

At this meeting, some CAC members wanted to get right into their critiques of the plan. Those five goals are in support of a new guiding principal . 

“Support and strengthen Crozet’s history as a self-sustaining town, while welcoming new and infill development that is compatible in scale and design and provides housing choice for all community members.”

Staff had intended to go through a presentation before taking comments from CAC members, but Doug Bates said he wanted to get his comments out ahead. 

“And it’s at that very first guiding principle that I have my most fundamental question,” Bates said. “It says ‘Support and strengthen Crozet’s history as a self-sustaining town, while ensuring new and infill development that is compatible in scale and design… ’ with what? is my question. You can’t have a comparison with nothing.” 

“I think the intent was with the small town identity and the scale would be appropriate there, but we can take that feedback and look at revisions to clarify,” Falkenstein said. 

“Rachel, that’s great,” Bates rescinded. “I just know that things are in the eye of the beholder and if you don’t make it very specific, then it’s whatever you imagine it’s compatible to is the right answer. I would suggest that you compare it to the neighborhood model.” 

The Neighborhood Model is a zoning district in Albemarle that is intended to be used in the designated growth areas where developments are required to conform to 12 principles including pedestrian orientation, human-scale buildings, and redevelopment of existing buildings when possible. 

Image of 12 principles taken from appendix to the Comprehensive Plan, page A.8.3

Tom Loach, a CAC member who also served on the Planning Commission from 2008 to 2015 called for the guiding principles to be removed in favor of keeping what is already in place. 

“There are already a set of guiding principles that were in the first master plan in 2004 and they were repeated in the second master plan in 2010,” Loach said.  “There are seven guiding principles and I think we should stay with the guiding principles that have stayed with use for all of these years.” 

Image of seven guiding principles from the 2010 Crozet Master Plan, page 7

Loach also wanted two statements inserted into the plan to retain guidance to limit future growth.

“One statement is a restatement of the original intent of the consultants in the master plan that Crozet wouldn’t build out in about 20 years to a population of 11,200 to 12,000 and that we have reached that mark.” Loach said. 

Loach said his second statement would state that the existing infrastructure cannot support existing traffic. 

This came before a presentation of recommendations from staff such as “update residential zoning categories to remove barriers to housing affordability where appropriate such as minimum lot size requirements, minimum frontage requirements, and minimum parking standards.”

Falkenstein carried on with her presentation on land use changes.

“The majority of the land use changes, this is to the map itself now, are kind of clean-up related changes to kind of do two things,” Falkenstein said. “To try to bring greater consistency across all of the county’s master plans in terms of our land-use categories and the second is to bring consistency with existing zoning where appropriate to make sure that expectations, you know, we set expectations for what development can happen when existing zoning is there to allow development.” 

Falkenstein said growth projections remain similar to the 2010 master plan in part because there are not many vacant parcels of land in Crozet. She said the new land use map doesn’t make too many significant changes. One change, though, is the creation of a “middle density residential” land use category. Other changes relate to downtown Crozet. 

“Themes of the feedback we’ve heard [include] concern about neighborhoods around downtown  experiencing teardowns, and then also experiencing new construction that would be out of scale with some of those existing neighborhoods,” Falkenstein said. “So we’ve heard a desire for more protection for some of these homes, especially the historic homes and those are existing affordable housing in some of these neighborhoods.” 

Falkenstein said staff also had support for new housing types to add a little more density while not being out of scale, such as bungalow courts, duplexes and accessory units.” Staff suggested a downtown overlay district to allow that additional density, but also heard concerns from many.

“Concern about inadequate infrastructure to support new density here and concern there was not enough clarity in it so that there is a cap on the density and the ‘infill’ wasn’t defined,” Falkenstein said. 

The new draft chapter recommends further architectural and cultural resources study to further inform how development might look in the future with an eye toward neighborhood preservation. Another recommendation is an acknowledgment that there may not be as much demand for commercial uses in some of downtown. 

Doug Bates said existing neighborhoods could not support that additional density. 

“Just because there may be more land behind some of these older homes, the roads do not support new growth at the expansion level that’s being described in this document,” Bates said. He said there be no higher density by-right than R-2, or two units per lot. 

“And if you want to build something more, you’ve got to ask if we can build something more,” Bates said. 

Loach said the draft reflected the words of the staff and not the words of the community. Before the meeting, he circulated a five page list of changes he wanted to see and said he would ask for a motion on his changes. (download Loach’s suggested changes)

“Otherwise what’s going to happen is that we’re going to be here, we’re going to be talking, it’s going back to the staff and it’s going to go forward the way it is,” Loach said. 

Loach would have to wait to make his motion, as Falkenstein had not yet finished her presentation, which included details on the “middle density residential” category that is new to the updated plan. The idea is to encourage development of townhomes with accessory apartments.

“We pulled feedback from the community survey kind of two sides of the coin here,” Falkenstein said. “One is that there’s not enough affordable housing or increasing the availability is very or somewhat important to the community, but also limiting growth is important as well so trying to strike that balance was what we were trying to do with this category.”

Falkenstein said the Planning Commission had supported this concept, but Loach objected and said they and staff were overstepping their bounds. 

“So, let me get this right,” Loach said. “This is no longer the Crozet Master Plan, this is now the Planning Commission and staff master plan. Because we voted against middle density and here we are back with it again.”

Votes by the Community Advisory Committees, and the Planning Commisison, are not binding. 

CAC member Joe Fore said the vote against middle density had been based on an earlier definition that had a higher density. He supported the updates staff had made. 

“I very much appreciate Rachel and staff’s tweaking of the middle density category,” Fore said. 

“I really like this definition and I think this gets at…I appreciate the form recommendations, the scale recommendations. I do think, Tom, the point of whose plan this is, I do think a lot of this in terms of the form guidance… tiny houses, accessory units, cottages, bungalow courts, that kept coming up at meetings where people were putting stickers on things and saying what they liked and wanted to see more of.”

Fore said he was disappointed that the middle density residential wasn’t shown on many more areas of the map, which would mean those kinds of units won’t be built. Loach interjected.

“Joe, we voted on this,” Loach said. “I understand you like it, but we voted on it. If you want to redo the vote, based on the new information maybe that’s something we should think about.”

Fore tried to respond, but Loach kept talking until Chair Allie Pesch told him to let Fore finish.

“I’m just suggesting Tom that the thing we voted on previously has been changed,” Fore said. “It’s not what it is now. We voted on something that is now different.”

The presentation continued. Next were changes to the section of Crozet were the Old Trail Development is to reflect what’s been built and to better align terminology used in other master plans, such as the Pantops Master Plan. Tori Kanellopoulos is another county planner. +

“With our public feedback online as well we heard support for designating Old Trail as a village center and heard it needs to continue to be a distinct and secondary center of activity compared to downtown and heard the same feedback about why Crozetians visit Old Trail for those gathering, shopping, and recreational uses,” Kanellopoulos said. 

The Board of Supervisors will have a work session on the draft land use chapter on April 7. Before then, many Crozet residents want their views heard and they took that opportunity at the CAC meeting.

“I’m Matt Helt, born and raised in Crozet, and live off of St. George Avenue. I’m going to drop about fourteen things.”

Let’s hear the first two. 

“One, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructures. We’ve talked about it. We’ve beat the dead horse. Sidewalks, bike lanes, parks. It doesn’t matter what zoning you do. We need the infrastructure investments, period. No more ifs, and or buts or excuses from the county, period. Number two, whatever zoning allowed the development of the apartments on Jarmans Gap Road, or the intersection of Jarmans Gap Road and Blue Ridge should be banned from Crozet permanently. Quite frankly it should be demolished. If we’re going to say it’s providing low-income housing, I would love for the county to produce a survey that shows any of the residents who moved into those apartments are former residents of Crozet who needed low-income housing.”

Helt was referring to the Vue, a 126-unit development under the R-6 zoning built by Pinnacle Construction on land that Piedmont Housing Alliance had previously intended to build at a slightly lower density. A historic home was demolished to make way for new buildings, prompting a lot of concern. 

Helt also took aim at those who spoke from Old Trail, revealing a divided community.

“Really interesting perspective from the Old Trail Community, I greatly appreciate your sentiment but I don’t know that you recognize the irony in your statements,” the speaker said. “For those of us who grew up here, played in those fields and sixth-grade science class in Slabtown Branch Creek, I’m glad you finally are opposed to more dense zoning. I would have preferred Old Trail not be developed either, but we’re 20 years past that conversation.”

Loach wanted to keep on with the critique of the plan, but Pesch suggested waiting until the public comment period opens. There’s a lot more time to continue these discussions.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors discussed the matter on April 7, 2021.

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