Crozet Park’s Expanded Facility Doesn’t Threaten Crozet’s “Greenspace”

via email from Joe Fore

The Crozet Park’s proposal for an expanded recreational facility goes back before the Planning Commission this Tuesday, September 28, at 6 pm. (Meeting information here.) I support this amended plan, and I hope others do, too. (For the record, I’m not affiliated with the Park in any way—just a Crozetian who spends a lot of time there with my preschooler.)

The Park’s initial proposal did, indeed, raise many issues—from parking to construction traffic to loss of tree cover to noise levels—and the revised proposal has made numerous changes that mitigate or eliminate the vast majority of the community’s concerns. So I think this is actually a terrific example of the Park and the community working together: neighbors raised legitimate issues, and the developer took them seriously and used that feedback to improve the project. Aside from the Downtown Crozet Plaza, that kind of collaboration is rare in Crozet. It should be a model for other projects.

I’d encourage everyone to see for themselves the Park’s presentation, which details the current plan and the revisions they’ve made in response to community members’ concerns. (As just one example, I was originally upset that the plan would eliminate the small playground just to the south of the pool. The revised plan addresses that by adding a brand-new playground just to the west of the facility building.)

Online, some Crozetians have opposed the project because, in their view, it would result in a loss of “greenspace.” After looking at the revised plan, I wanted to briefly respond to their specific points.

(1) The proposal doesn’t meaningfully “reduce existing greenspace”

Yes, it’s true that this proposal would increase the amount of concrete in the Park, but it’s not a huge increase—compared to the overall Park land. The Park’s presentation (p. 8) notes that buildings would go from taking up 1.6% of the Park’s total land to 4.6%. Sidewalks and parking lots would go from about 10% to 12.5% of the park’s total area. So, overall, the project would increase the Park’s hardscape from about 12.5% of the Park’s total land to about 17%. But more than 80% of the Park would remain “open space” and athletic fields.

More importantly, though, it’s not as if they are clear-cutting forest or building on undeveloped land to do this. Consider what’s currently on the land where they propose to build the facility: A recreation center, pool, parking lots, roads, playground, and trees. And what does the Park propose for that site? A larger recreation center, pool, parking lots, roads, playground, and trees. To be sure, not all of those replacement trees will be mature; they’ll take time to grow. And, yes, we’ll lose a bit of grassy field—though in a part of the park that folks hardly use. But it’s not fair to equate this with other kinds of new development that we’ve seen in Crozet—like the clearing of virgin forest to build neighborhoods.

Lastly, a quick point about the trees: while the project will require removing some trees, the project will actually result in a net gain of 150 trees. Page 10 of the report notes that they will have to remove 44 trees; but they are planting 194 new ones to replace the ones lost and to create a visual buffer.

(2) “Greenspace” doesn’t just mean “open land”

As some have correctly noted, Crozet Park is currently designated as “Greenspace.” But “Greenspace” is a bit of a misnomer; that designation isn’t reserved for vacant, untouched forest or natural areas. Even under the 2010 Master Plan, the “Greenspace” category included both “environmental features, “open space,” and “privately owned park and recreational areas which may be active or passive.

Moreover, the updated Crozet Master Plan (page 13) clarifies this somewhat confusing category and replaces “Greenspace” with two separate designations: “Green Systems” and “Public Land.” “Green systems” are what we typically think of as “greenspace,” and it includes “sensitive environmental features,” “privately-owned open space,” and “natural areas.” But Crozet Park is designated as “Public Land,” which is intended for “active, passive, or social recreational use.” Indeed, the Plan specifically says that while such land should contain few buildings, “community serving uses such as public recreational amenities can be considered.” That’s exactly what this project is.

(3) The proposal doesn’t reduce recreational opportunities; it increases them

Some commenters have noted, correctly, that the Crozet Master Plan’s Conservation section emphasizes enhancing “outdoor recreation.” But (a) the proposed facility doesn’t decrease outdoor recreation opportunities, and (b) outdoor recreation is not the only type of recreation we need in the area.

First, the proposed facility doesn’t diminish Crozetian’s opportunity for outdoor recreation. The proposed facility is being built on the sparsely used western side of the park. I’m at the park several times per week with my preschooler. We specifically play and practice our bicycle riding on that side of the park because there’s rarely anyone there. The proposed facility won’t disturb the walking trail, the soccer fields, the baseball fields, the basketball courts, the pickle ball courts, the dog park, or the large playground, and it will retain a smaller playground in the area. So where are we losing opportunities for outdoor recreation?

Second, while the Master Plan’s Conservation chapter emphasizes outdoor recreation, that’s not the only type of recreation we need. Sure, outdoor recreation is great when the weather is warm and sunny. But what about rainy days—or the entire months of December, January, and February, when the weather is often too cold to play outside for long periods? (Of course, kids can bundle up and do some things, but it’s pretty tough to play basketball in gloves and a ski coat.)

Moreover, the facility will be more than a pool and a gym: it will be an important community gathering place. For example, the Park Board has noted that the facility will allow for greatly expanded after-school programs for kids–something that’s sorely lacking in our area.

These kinds of amenities are desperately needed in Crozet. And where would be a better place to build them? On some undeveloped open space elsewhere in town? On some currently wooded area that we’d have to clear-cut? Clearly, the least-disruptive place to put a new recreation center is right where there is already a recreation center.

While there may be minor things we can quibble with at this point, the overall plan is sound, and I hope that others will attend the planning commission meeting and support this important project.

Joe posted a variation of this on Nextdoor, but Nextdoor is not open, and these conversations and debates need to be. I’m grateful for his taking the time to put this together for us all.

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2 Replies to “Crozet Park’s Expanded Facility Doesn’t Threaten Crozet’s “Greenspace””

  1. Agree completely with the opinion. The changes made to the park plan were fully detailed in the Gazette a few issues back. I hope the revised plan is approved.

  2. via email:

    Joe Fore’s acceptance of minor modifications to the plan for a large recreation center in Crozet’s small private park gives Albemarle County a pass it does not deserve. As the population here grows, public officials should be planning for current and future recreational needs by setting aside more land and finding ways to pay for its development.

    Crozet Park is too small to host any additional traffic or construction, and – once again – residents of a modest surrounding neighborhood are being asked to sacrifice their quality of life so that everyone else can enjoy what should be a public amenity.

    Access to the ACAC-style facility would be by fairly narrow residential streets with no sidewalks, and the addition of any more impermeable pavement can only worsen water quality in the county’s already impaired streams.

    The National Recreation Association suggests community parks be 25-50 acres. At 22 acres Crozet Park is on the small side, and the county continues to approve more and denser residential developments.

    There is general agreement among planners that 30-50% of park land should be set aside for active recreation. Crozet is devoting less than 12% of its park land to active recreation.

    Since land in Crozet’s development area is now limited and expensive, the county should acquire a sizable property just outside the development zone off 240 or 250. Make some of it available for construction of a new recreation center and reserve the rest for ball fields, pickle ball, tennis courts and other forms of active recreation.

    When the Planning Commission meets Tuesday, it should plan and not follow the lead of those who profit from further development.

    One final note: Before the county provides any support for this project, the unelected park board must tell the public who will finance it. If ACAC, which currently manages the property, has played any role in planning it, taxpayers deserve to know. After all, it is our land that will be provided at no charge to any firm that ultimately benefits. Even if ACAC continues in a management capacity, this big new center would likely increase its profits and discourage any competitors from building in Crozet.

    Sandy Hausman

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