Crozet Master Plan talk turns to implementation; Crozet Plaza update
(This article is adapted from the June 21, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)
The Albemarle Planning Commission will next take up the Crozet Master Plan at a work session on Tuesday, June 22. At the June 9 CAC meeting, committee members and participating residents got a presentation on the implementation of projects intended to bolster Crozet’s urban character. They also had the chance to comment on the plan update to date.
But first, the implementation projects. The master plan is a large overview of the entire area, and further studies are suggested. The draft implementation chapter shows a list of ten potential topics ranging from a Downtown Neighborhood Architectural and Cultural Study to a stream health study for Parrot Branch, a local waterway. Initial feedback has already been submitted and planner Tori Kanellopoulos gave the rundown for how planning projects scored.
“The top ranked projects were the Crozet Avenue Shared-Use Path feasibility study, the Three Notch’d Trail feasibility study, and the Route 250 West design guidelines,” Kanellopoulos said. “And then the policy projects were also ranked and the top priority was updating residential zoning designations to allow for more preservation of natural resources.”
Potential capital projects were also ranked. Kanellopoulos said the highest ranking projects are the completion of Eastern Avenue, downtown Crozet intersection improvements, and sidewalk connections.
Let’s hear more about that Three Notch’d Trail.
“Lately there’s been a lot more focus and attention on the potential Three Notch’d Trail which would ideally connect from the Blue Ridge Tunnel along Crozet and over to Charlottesville,” Kanellopoulos said. “A feasibility study would look at this alignment and there are opportunities to partner with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and the Planning District Commission and trails groups to look at the feasibility study for the alignment.”
Supervisor Ann Mallek said later in the meeting that VDOT planning may not have staff to conduct that feasibility study this year, but community work can be done now to prepare for that work possibly in 2022.
“And the other blessing that goes along with that is 2022 is when [Virginia] is going to take over the rail access right of way from CSX and therefore that increases greatly the possibility that we will be able to have a trail beside the rail,” Mallek said.
Another “catalyst” project now in the implementation chapter is Western Park, which has long been called for in the plan and for which the county received 36 acres in 2010 as part of the Old Trail rezoning. A master plan for that project was created in 2018 that identified three phases. The first is recommended for funding, a decision which would be made by the entire Board of Supervisors during the budget process.
“This phase one would include the access road with parking, a playground, and additional support of infrastructure and utilities,” Kanellopoulos said.
Committee member Sandy Hausman noted the rankings were based on responses from fewer than a hundred people.
“I wonder if anybody feels like this there needs to be a bit more outreach, like a mass mailing to everyone who lives in Crozet,” Hausman said. “It just feels to me that this is a relatively small group of people who tend to be paying attention to this stuff and everybody else will be unpleasantly surprised in a year or two when things start happening.”
Committee member Joe Fore said he wanted to see all three phases of Western Park listed as catalyst projects, meaning they would be prioritized first.
“I think just given the fact that it’s been in the works for so long, that the phases of at least getting started, the land is already there,” Fore said. “I understand it’s expensive but it’s not an Eastern Avenue or Lickinghole Creek bridge expensive.”
Fore also said he would support the creation of a special taxation district to help pay for new infrastructure. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has previously been briefed on how service districts or a “business improvement district” could be levied in certain areas to fund amenities.
“I looked through currently, and this may be a comment for the full draft, there’s only one mention of service districts in the entire draft and that’s in reference to funding ongoing activities and services at the plaza and downtown,” Fore said. “But I would like to see maybe a little bit more and maybe a full suggestion saying maybe this is something we should explore in Crozet to fund some of these capital projects so we’re not constantly having these be projects are ten years out.”
Fore has looked up the section of Virginia code that allows for the creation of such districts.
“It’s a pretty broad statute as I read it,” Fore said. “Things like sidewalks, roads, programming, cultural events, economic development, beautification and landscaping. It’s a very broad statute. It seems to me you could raise money for most of the kinds of projects that we’re looking at. When we look at the list of priorities and say, yikes! Where are we going to get all the money for this? Well, rather than say let’s raise taxes on everybody in the county, you might be able to say let’s raise funds specifically from Crozet that would stay in Crozet for some of these projects we want to see in Crozet.”
CAC member David Mitchell is skeptical of the idea and said it would lead to Crozet receiving fewer direct funds from the county.
“Over time we will start to be looked at by the other Supervisors as ‘they have their own money, they can do their own thing’ and you’re going to slowly over time lose your share of the general fund,” Mitchell said.
Supervisor Mallek agreed.
“I would really discourage our citizenry from burdening themselves because I think David is right,” Mallek said. “We need to go to toe to toe, to say, this is a need that’s been on the books.”
Mallek singled out the Eastern Avenue connector road that will provide north-south travel. A major obstacle is the cost of a bridge required to cross Lickinghole Creek.
“We have made all of these zoning changes prior to 2007 that were counting on that bridge and we absolutely have a moral obligation to build it,” Mallek said.
Eastern Avenue is ranked #8 on the county’s transportation priority list and there was an update in May. There’s not yet a full cost estimate on what it will cost, but engineering work is underway.
“This project is currently being evaluated through an alignment study and conceptual design which is funded through the Transportation Leveraging Fund in the [Capital Improvement Program],” reads the update. “The alignment report was presented to the Board in January and the preferred alignment was selected. This project is being considered for a Revenue Sharing Grant application.”
Allie Pesch, the chair of the CAC, said she wanted Eastern Avenue to be the top implementation priority.
“I like seeing Eastern Avenue at the top of that list,” Pesch said. “That is a priority for everyone in our area and just so overdue.”
After this discussion of implementation, county planner Rachel Falkenstein turned the conversation to the working draft of the master plan. The draft that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at their work session on Tuesday incorporates feedback from the June 9 CAC meeting. (download the draft)
“We still have a couple of steps to go before we get to our public hearings and we’ll continue to accept feedback and make revisions to the chapters and to the content,” Falkenstein said.
A work session with the Board of Supervisors will take place in August. (Watch the CAC meeting on YouTube)
A few days after the CAC meeting, the Downtown Crozet Initiative held a public meeting to talk about a 30,000 square foot plaza intended to be located at the former Barnes Lumberyard. The plaza would anchor a mixed-use building and a hotel through a public-private partnership. The idea involves construction of a connector road using revenue-sharing funds from VDOT. That process requires a local match.
Frank Stoner is a principal at Milestone Partners which seeks to redevelop the space. They’re putting up $2 million to serve as that match.
“This project started in 2014,” Stoner said. “We developed this road plan in 2016, 2017. Most of the design elements of the road have been resolved. We felt strongly and I think the community felt strongly and the county felt strongly that the streets had to be appropriate for the small town that is Crozet and not be a highway through the middle of downtown which is kind of where VDOT wanted to go with it.”
In all, VDOT is providing $2.49 million in funds for the road improvements. Milestone is paying $2 million and donating the land for the plaza and roads. The Downtown Crozet Initiative will raise $1.6 million or more to program the plaza. Albemarle County has contributed $1.6 million in cash to the project, and will provide another $1.6 million in rebates through a process known as tax increment financing. (read the June 2019 performance agreement)
Stoner said the idea is to build an urban plaza, not a park.
“And most importantly we wanted this plaza to be the heart not just of the neighborhood but the Crozet community,” Stoner said.
VDOT is contributing $2.5 million and the Downtown Crozet Initiative is seeking to raise over a million in private funds.
“Which will be used to fund essentially the furniture, fixtures and equipment, sculpture, artwork, seating, all of that kind of stuff that goes in the plaza,” Stoner said.
The designs aren’t close to final yet, but Stoner wanted to get feedback from the community. There are also no identified tenants for any of the spaces yet.
“We haven’t really been in the position to take commitments because there have been so many unknowns because of the VDOT plans and then we had some stormwater issues we had to work through and so it has just been one obstacle after another,” Stoner said.
Stoner said if all goes according to plan, construction could get underway next year. To Stoner, success means making sure it’s a place to expand what already makes Crozet Crozet.
“If we can’t create a place that’s affordable for local businesses, then we’re not going to succeed,” Stoner said.
In April 2020, the firm Downtown Strategies unveiled their report on a Downtown Strategic Vision for Crozet. Stoner suggested interested parties might take a look. (take a look)
Nearby there is a separate VDOT project to rebuild the existing Square to add sidewalks and address ongoing stormwater issues. (watch the June 14 presentation)