Albemarle Supervisors ponder “middle density residential” in Crozet Master Plan

Albemarle County staff are currently working on a strategy to update its Comprehensive Plan. At the same time, the update of the Crozet Master Plan continues.

“As you all know, we do this kind of on a rolling basis in the county because our master plans are actually part of our Comprehensive Plan so every master plan update is a comp plan update,” said Rachel Falkenstein, a planning manager in the county. “We also do topic updates periodically. Our most recent one was the Biodiversity Action Plan and Housing Albemarle is working its way through the process right now.”  

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors reviewed the draft land use chapter of an updated Crozet Master Plan at their meeting on April 7. The plan was first adopted in 2004 and last revised in 2010, and it is intended to guide development in one of Albemarle’s growth areas.  For background, read my account of a discussion of the plan at the March meeting of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee.  (watch the BOS discuss this item)

One of the new aspects of the plan is the creation of a new category in the Comprehensive Plan of “middle density residential” which would allow for more units closer to downtown in duplexes, bungalow courts, and other places to live with smaller footprints. Rachel Falkenstein is a planning manager with the county.

“The community wanted smaller housing types and not large apartments and we thought that there could be a new land use category that could accommodate those smaller housing types and have the appropriate density applied,” Falkenstein said. 

Falkenstein noted that the Crozet Community Advisory Committee took non-binding votes in November 2020 on staff’s proposed changes. 

“They voted against the majority of the proposed changes,” Falkenstein said. 

That included the middle residential density category. The Planning Commission, however, supported the idea but asked for the density to be reduced. The current draft was released in early March. Tori Kanellopoulos is another Albemarle planner.  (read the draft

“The major revision included a second draft of the middle density residential land use category which has been revised from the maximum recommended density of 24 units per acre up to 18 units per acre if missing middle housing types are provided,” Kanellopoulos said.

The staff report for the Board of Supervisors included a summary of public input, including a detailed list of non-binding votes the Crozet Community Advisory Committee took on the plan

Before the Board took up the plan, Falkenstein summarized the growth potential included in this update. 

“The draft plan does not add significant additional development potential on vacant properties or areas where we expect any significant redevelopment,” Falkenstein said. “We hope this plan is a reflection of the overall feedback we’ve heard throughout the master plan engagement process. A desire we’ve heard from the community to keep Crozet’s small-town identity and not to encourage significant growth but also to provide additional housing choices and affordability on areas where remaining development potential exists.”

Crozet is an unincorporated community within the White Hall Magisterial District, which is represented by Supervisor Ann Mallek. She explained why many were opposed to the middle density category. 

“One thing to point out that has been with the Crozet Master Plan all along has been their description of urban density was 6 to 12 [units per acre] so that threw us down a tunnel at the beginning because middle density seemed to be so much bigger,” Mallek said. She noted there was support from some CAC members for the revised definition and referred to a new development called Bamboo Grove that fits the description.

“Everybody is completely charmed by the idea of the Bamboo Grove small houses development and that’s really what people will want to see for infill,” Mallek said. 

A rendering of Bamboo Grove, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2020 (Credit: Chris Fuller)

Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District said she supported making it easier for developers to build more housing in the growth areas. 

“The more we reduce or have restrictions, especially in height perhaps in certain areas, how is that going to affect the areas for affordable housing?” LaPisto-Kirtley asked. “And it’s not just for Crozet. It’s in all the other districts. What are we going to do? It’s kind of like put up or shut up because everyone wants small, wonderful little cottages. We all want that. But that’s not realistic if we have an affordable housing plan and if we need to get affordable rentals, we have to go up at some point.” 

Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District said she thought the plan should do more to encourage affordability through increased density. 

“I  understand that people may not be in favor of large apartment complexes,” Price said. “I totally understand that and I’m not necessarily pushing for that. Can you define for me what a bungalow consists of? I have a sense of what a tiny home is. I don’t necessarily see either of those being housing for families.” 

Falkenstein said bungalow courts could be two story buildings with 1,200 square feet.

“The defining feature of these is that they are situated around a common amenity space and either don’t have individual lots or very small individual lots lots,” Falkenstein said. “That helps with the affordability component.”

“Tiny Homes” are defined in the state building code as being 400 square feet or less. 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel of the Jack Jouett District agreed that the plan as written did not seem to encourage production of meaningful amounts of affordable housing.

“I just don’t think this is encouraging affordability and its setting us up to have one development area very different from other development areas,” McKeel said. 

The limited power of Community Advisory Committee

McKeel was also concerned that the Crozet CAC took votes. County regulations do allow them, but McKeel said she didn’t think they had been.

‘I have been operating under the understanding and telling my CAC that they are providing input, advisory in nature, and we really are not supposed to be voting on issues,” McKeel said.    

Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District said he was also concerned about the appearance that the CAC’s votes are binding. He was particularly concerned that the account of the March 10 CAC meeting states that one member said the middle density issue had been decided.

“That third bullet point says ‘comment that MDR concept is already voted on and decided,’” Gallaway said. “The ‘and decided’ is what.. What is that? I get that they’re going to take votes but it’s always advisory… Just because you vote a certain way doesn’t mean staff will be required to follow.”

Gallaway said the conversation about affordable housing in Crozet is also happening in other development area where existing residents ask for moratoriums on any more new homes. 

“What do we do with growth? What do we with density? And what do we with the infrastructure that’s currently in place whether it supports it, or doesn’t support it?” Gallaway asked. “We’ve seen it play out 250 East with a recent application. It was the conversation around Parkway Place. It’s going to be the conversation about projects that come to us up 29 north.”

Mallek said the specific concern about additional density through the middle density residential category relates to a sense much of the community is already built out. 

“The reason there was concern about having higher density and having everyone of those houses have accessory units, for example, was ‘where is the traffic going to go’ and ‘how are these streets going to be able to handle doubling the population?’” Mallek said. 

Mallek acknowledged that there was one CAC member at the March 10 who insisted that the CAC’s vote should be binding. 

“There was one member who was very upset and he tried to make a motion and it didn’t get a second,” Mallek said. 

The Crozet Community Advisory Committee next meets this evening. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the April 14, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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