The Albemarle County Planning Commission meets virtually at 6 p.m. There are two public hearings. (meeting info)
In the first, the Field School is requesting an amendment to a special use permit that requires them to begin construction of their new facility on Barracks Road. The Board of Supervisors approved a permit in March 2017 for a new school to be constructed on land in the rural area. The terms of the approval state the new building has to be under construction by the end of February 2022.
“Construction plans to establish the new Field School Campus on the property were put on hold as the global pandemic created a great deal of uncertainty for future funding opportunities and general construction feasibility,” reads the narrative by Shimp Engineering. “Field School of Charlottesville looks forward to continue working towards creating its new campus on the property and in light of some funding setbacks and the global COVID-19 pandemic; respectfully requests more time to bring this long-anticipated and worked-for vision to fruition.”
The Field School currently operates out of the old Crozet High School, which is addressed in the draft version of the Crozet Master Plan.
“The County should solicit community input to help determine an appropriate use of the school building and adjacent grounds,” reads page LU-25 of the plan. “Consideration should be given to uses that support the County’s goals for Affordable Housing, school needs, and uses that provide historic and cultural programming.”
However, I suspect that is not the kind of input the Planning Commission will hear at the public hearing on the plan. Comprehensive Planning can tend to bring forward strong opinions about the future of communities as we’ve seen with the Cville Plans Together initiative and during the Crozet plan’s review.
Crozet is one of several designated growth areas in Albemarle and the first master plan was adopted in December 2004 as a subsection of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
The Board of Supervisors approved an update in October 2010. The idea is to review these plans every five years, but an update was delayed as work continued on other master plans such as one for Pantops and the Rio-29 Small Area Plan. In recent years, Albemarle has conducted this planning work in-house.
This update finally got underway with a community visioning process followed by many input sessions with the Crozet Community Advisory Committee. The Board of Supervisors reviewed a nearly complete draft in early August.
“The Board of Supervisors reviewed the draft Master Plan and agreed with the majority of the Planning Commission’s implementation recommendations,” reads the staff report.
To achieve the land use goal of creating more units that qualify under county guidelines as affordable housing, staff has created the land use category of “middle density residential” to have a range of between six to 12 units per acre, with up to 18 if below-market affordable housing is guaranteed. Some stories about what’s been going on:
“The Board discussed the application of the Middle Density Residential land use category both throughout Crozet and specifically to the block bounded by Tabor Street, Crozet Avenue, Dunvegan Lane, and High Street,” the staff report continues. “They directed staff to leave the future land use plan as is for the public hearing process to allow for additional community and Planning Commission feedback on the proposed change to the Tabor Street block.”
In conversation with a client last night, I was asked, “how do you know all of this about what’s happening in Charlottesville and Crozet?” My first answer was that I read – a lot, and one of the best places to do so is Sean’s Charlottesville Community Engagement weekly roundup, daily email, and podcast. It’s why I pay to subscribe. Part of my job is to try to know more than my clients. Sean helps with that.
And frankly, it’s our job as citizens to try to know more, and be more involved in our community.
Today’s show focuses on Crozet in western Albemarle County. Crozet is not a town, but it is a designated growth area under the county’s growth management policy.
But it is a place with traditions. Here’s an announcement made at the June 9, 2021 meeting of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee about an event coming up on Saturday, July 3.
“I’m Tim Tolson, president of the Crozet Community Association, and along with other civic groups in Crozet we’re hosting the annual Crozet Independence Day celebration parade at 5:00 p.m. as part of the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department that ends at the Crozet Park where the celebration will take part, take place. We’ll have fireworks around 9:30 or quarter to 10 when it gets dark.”
The Albemarle Planning Commission will 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.”
The Board of Supervisors last had a formal presentation on service districts at their meeting on December 7, 2016. (presentation) (story)
“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.
You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement. On June 22 at 7 p.m., the Jefferson Madison Regional Library and the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society gives a glimpse into the cemeteries at Pen Park in Charlottesville. Tucked behind the Meadowcreek clubhouse are three, enclosed, family cemeteries, with the oldest dating back to the Colonial era.
Outside the enclosures of the family plots, the city has confirmed the presence of 40 or more unmarked graves, all likely those of people enslaved at Pen Park. Join us as a panel of three professionals discuss what led to the examination of this site, the process of the investigation, and the efforts to identify and commemorate those buried there. Register on the JMRL website.
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.”
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)
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors amended its zoning ordinance in 2017 to allow property owners to petition for permission to install solar panels on fields in order to generate a large scale amount of electricity for consumer use. So far, none have been installed under the changes.
Now, Sun Tribe Solar has filed a special use permit request for an 8 megawatt facility on a 136 acres property on Craigs Store Road owned by the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. The project would also include a 4 megawatt battery storage unit. The site is currently undeveloped woodlands. More than half of the property would remain forested. The Timmons Group has produced several environmental studies of the property. One found no “recognized environmental conditions” that would halt the project.
The application from SunTribe states the project would be built on about 60 acres of the land and is proposed to last for 20 years, with the option for three more 5-year periods. There is also a decommissioning plan that lays out how the project would be deconstructed when it is no longer being used. (project narrative)
“The land disturbance required for construction of a solar facility is far less than most other types of development, such as residential development,” reads the application. “This carbon-free, renewable energy will power 2,600 Central Virginia Electric Cooperative households in Albemarle County.”
The application states the existing property has only generated $500 a year in local taxes due to the land use taxation program. Now that the property has had its agricultural and forest district designation removed, the new landowner will have to pay the full taxes on the property for the past five years. Other new sources of revenue to the county will also be available in the form of personal property taxes on the solar infrastructure. In all, the application states the project would bring in nearly $1 million in property tax revenue over the next forty years.
“In comparison to the current tax base for this parcel, which would be expected to result in approximately $20,000 over the next 40 years, this project represents an approximately 48 times increase in current tax revenue,” reads the application.
However, special use permits give adjacent property owners and others the right to make a public comment for the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. The first step in the community engagement process is the community meeting that will be held virtually beginning at 5:30 p.m. (meeting info)
There are two meetings in Albemarle County today where a special use permit for a cell phone tower in Greenwood will be discussed. The Historic Preservation Committee will get a briefing on Verizon’s application for a 94-foot-tall monopole to be built near 7418 Greenwood Station Road.
“Verizon has determined that the area surrounding this proposed site needs expanded coverage to better service the nearby residences, businesses, and traffic along the I-64 Interstate,” reads the staff report for the permit application, which carries the name Scruby Property Verizon Wireless. “Therefore, this site is intended to provide infill coverage while also adding additional network capacity by offloading traffic from the company’s nearest existing sites in all directions.”
The application requires a special use permit because of the height. The property is within an entrance corridor which requires review by the Architectural Review Board. The Historic Preservation Committee is receiving the information because the land is within the Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District. For nearly twenty years, Albemarle has had a policy that discourages towers.
“The most important principle for siting personal wireless service facilities in Albemarle County is visibility,” reads a December 2000 report from Kreines and Kreines Inc. that helped shape the county’s ordinance. “Albemarle County should require that sufficient information be submitted with the application to enable the County to measure the visibility of a facility.”
With the pandemic shutting down in-person schools, some have argued the county needs to update its rules. This application has attracted a lot of attention and community members will be able to learn more at the community meeting required as part of the application process. That begins at 6:30 p.m. (meeting info)
In October, staff wrote to the applicant and said they could not recommend approval following a test where a balloon is raised at the site to simulate the tower’s presence.
“The visibility presented at the balloon test is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, the County’s Wireless Policy, or the Zoning Ordinance,” wrote Christoper Perez in an October 16 letter to the applicant’s representatives. The applicants disagree.
“Objective 10 of the Community Facilities Chapter 12 of the Comprehensive Plan is to support the provision of private utilities, including wireless service when its provision is in keeping with other aspects of the Comprehensive Plan,” reads the current narrative.
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