Should uses in Albemarle’s Crossroads Communities be expanded?

On Wednesday, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors will review work to date on AC44 process. That’s the name given to the review of the Comprehensive Plan that’s currently in the second phase. 

In this part of the exercise, staff are presenting a series of questions about ways that growth area boundaries might be adjusted to allow for more land to accommodate the county’s potential need for additional room for housing and business uses. 

The Planning Commission had a work session on four “toolkits” on August 8, 2023. I’ve written up two of these to date:

This time around the topic is Rural Crossroads Communities of which there are currently seven in Albemarle. They are Advance Mills, Batesville, Covesville, Free Union, Greenwood, Profitt and White Hall. 

These Crossroads Communities are intended to provide support services such as country stores, doctors offices, post offices, and community centers. Here’s more from county planner Tori Kanellopoulos. 

“They can provide businesses and services for surrounding community members and are intended to encourage adaptive reuse and historic preservation,” Kanellopoulos said. “They can potentially have community resilience hubs or places that can serve as full community gathering spaces and emergency response and preparedness locations.” 

Kanellopoulos said the current plan does not clearly define what makes up a crossroads community. In the AC44 process, staff has listened to Planning Commission feedback and further identified what “services” might mean.

“The service aspect of Crossroads Communities would be focused primarily on health, well-being, safety, and emergency preparedness,” Kanellopoulos said. “Public water and sewer would not be expected in Crossroads Communities.”

One of two stations from recent AC44 open houses. Learn more on the AC44 page on this topic (Credit: Albemarle County)

Two options are being considered with the first being no changes. Kanellopoulos said under this approach, staff would engage with the seven current communities to identify any potential zoning updates as called for in the existing plan. Some of these areas already have underlying commercial and residential zoning. 

Staff recommends option two. 

“Option two is to have a clear definition of Crossroads Communities and to apply the definition during AC44 to have an updated list of communities,” Kanellopoulos said. “There would also be recommendations for the community resilience hubs and preservation of existing buildings.” 

These hubs are of interest to the Virginia Department of Health and their wellness efforts, as are the Department of Fire and Rescue. 

Additions to the list could include Esmont. Scottsville, North Garden, and Earlysville. 

Commissioner Lonnie Murray (White Hall) said he was concerned about option 2 in part because of some of the suggested uses to be allowed. 

“Staff mentions hardware stores, auto and household goods, banking, restaurants,” Murray said. “That would be a significant impact on the rural area. We do have some of these uses already in our existing Crossroads Communities but I don’t see a compelling need to change those.” 

Murray said he was particularly concerned about the possibility of fuels leaking into the watershed. He said restaurants use a lot of water and more of them in the rural area would change its character. 

However, Murray said he could support small medical practices as well as use of Crossroads Communities for emergency management practices. But he said doing too much would undermine the purpose of the county’s growth management strategy. 

“As I’ve said in other conversations, the primary use of the rural area is not for residential use so in providing services, past Comprehensive Plans have said pretty explicitly that our primary method of controlling sprawl into the rural area is by restricting services,” Murray said. 

Commissioner Corey Clayborne (Rivanna) disagreed with Murray about the restriction of services.

“From an equity standpoint, from a climate action standpoint, it doesn’t make sense not to have basic services up there,” Clayborne said. “If I wanted to open a bakery up there and a coffee shop, I should be able to do that. I think that supports the rural area. 

Commissioner Karen Firehock (Samuel Miller) agreed with Clayborne. 

“A lot of people live in the rural area and they’re not all farmers,” Firehock said. “Families that want to have a home where they can afford to live—tradesmen, teachers, firemen—a lot of these people live in rural area.” 

Firehock said more discussion is necessary about what each Crossroads Community might provide especially in a world where more people work from home. She said the Crossroads Corner Shops in North Garden is a model though its not technically designated by Albemarle.

“They have a bank, they have a doctor’s office, they have a pizza place,” Firehock said. “They had a laundromat for a while but they don’t have that anymore. There is a post office there. There is the fire station there. There are a number of small businesses operating there that are providing local jobs but it still remains relatively compact and part of that is that we don’t have the zoning around it to allow people to put more stuff.” 

Commissioner Fred Missel said he could support concentrated development of Crossroads Communities such as at North Garden. He added he wasn’t as concerned as Murray with no auto-specific uses.

“Honestly I have seen so much degradation to streams in rural areas caused by farming,” Missel said. “It seems to me there are more regulations on gas stations then there are on farms in some cases.” 

Commissioner Julian Bivins (Jack Jouett) supported the concept of restoring areas that at one point had more vital economies but that stopped due to shifting economies and ways of life. 

“There were places that at one point in our history as a community… people gathered, they went there, they did all of the things that people did,” Bivins said. “Because our lives became what they became, those communities have gone small.”

SIngling out Esmont, Bivins said renewed county investment in that area such as the Keene Convenience Center and the Yancey School Community Center could help reinvigorate that community. 

“For me, I would love to be able to say I’m going to Esmont and having lunch out there,” Bivins said. 

Murray said he was concerned about unintended consequences that come when a rural attraction becomes popular. 

“There’s also been a past history of well-intentioned efforts to enable things we want that inadvertently created loopholes that allow someone to drive a Mack truck through,” Murray said. 

Murray said he was concerned about scale and the possibility of a chain restaurant in the rural area that could come about by exploiting a loophole. Bivins said he thought that was an unlikely prospect. 

The discussion for each Crossroads Community will likely be different for each. Firehock said some of the current areas are limited by size. 

“Batesville is a great example and that’s in my district,” Firehock said. “I will tell you there’s no room in downtown Batesville but that store and that’s fine and they like it and it’s great and that’s that.”

“And it creates community,” Bivins said. 

Missel said any discussion of additional uses would need to be accompanied by a traffic study and cited again the Crossroads Corner Shops in North Garden.

“That intersection of U.S. 29 and Plank Road is dangerous so as we think about developing those areas, even concentrating those area, we’re going to be concentrating traffic and turning movements and intersections and I just think it needs to be woven into this process,” Missel said. 

Commissioners seemed geared toward option 2.with Murray a hold-out on leaving things where they are. 

This will not be the last of this discussion and the Board of Supervisors will have their say on Wednesday. 

Still waiting to be summarized from the Planning Commission meeting is a discussion of allowing more development at interstate interchanges. I hope to get to that by tomorrow. 

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 September 5, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

Additionally, this was posted during a time I’ve upgraded to a new WordPress theme. Some things may not look as they should. But, it’s a fun experiment!

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