Crozet weighs in on Barnes Lumber

Developer postpones submission of redevelopment plan

“You gotta love Crozet.”

Tom Loach’s assessment came after two meetings totaling more than six hours of discussion in which a dozen residents critiqued plans and pitched new ideas for a mixed-use development intended to transform downtown Crozet.

“The input from this community is second to none,” said Loach, the Albemarle County Planning Commission’s representative on the Crozet Community Advisory Council.

The council has been meeting over the past several weeks to discuss the Barnes Lumber redevelopment project.

“We have worked very hard to come out with a recommendation for a plan that we think is going to benefit the community,” Loach said after a council meeting last week. “It’s going to spur economic development downtown and give jobs to our citizens.”

Developer Frank Stoner, of Milestone Partners, has the challenge of navigating through the community’s feedback, as well as the county’s development expectations, which are spelled out in a new downtown Crozet zoning district.

He has sought approval for more residential development as part of his plan to expand downtown Crozet on vacant industrial land that was previously home to Barnes Lumber.

Stoner has said most of what he intends to build will be two- or three-story buildings with a total of 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of commercial space and 65 to 288 units of housing.

The Planning Commission reviewed the plan in mid-June, which resulted in Stoner deferring his application to address concerns raised about issues such as traffic, parking and the intensity of new housing versus new businesses.

The Crozet Community Advisory Council has seized the window of opportunity to provide more specific feedback.

The consensus? Council members want less housing, more green space, views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a stronger contribution by the developer in the form of proffers to help pay for community infrastructure needs.

Stoner wasn’t at the meetings where community leaders dug into the details of specific proffer requests, an incentive for age-restricted housing, and the shifting of locations for the development’s homes and businesses.

The council’s co-chairwoman, Meg Holden, told the group she had met with the developer and county staff shortly after the project had been deferred. She encouraged the council to not get bogged down in the details of a plan actively being updated.

“Frank Stoner and Milestone Partners have been working diligently to redo a plan that they feel will be more appropriate based on the feedback we have given,” Holden said at last week’s meeting. “But they don’t have anything to show us tonight.”

Stoner said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow that he is working to submit a revised plan to Albemarle County staff by today, “but only if we think we can address concerns and still make the economics work.”

Stoner has said that one financial challenge is the Downtown Crozet District’s requirement that residential development be located exclusively on floors above commercial space. He’s asked the county to allow some buildings with first-floor residential — and that has triggered a soul-searching debate among the members of the advisory council.

“What do we want downtown?” Holden asked. “Do we want a big factory or do we want a walkable, more commercial area?”

“We need to focus on what Frank Stoner has proposed,” said council member John Savage. “Is it consistent with the [Crozet] Master Plan? If it is not, what are the factors that are at variance with the Master Plan and is there room for compromise?”

Savage said the approved Master Plan already made the community’s goal clear.

“Include a mix of office research and development, flex uses, retail and service uses in the redevelopment of the lumber yard property,” Savage said, quoting from the plan. “Residential and light-industrial uses are secondary uses for this area.”

“I think [Stoner’s] original concept was much different than the intent of what was in the Master Plan,” Loach said.

As part of a two-page set of comments approved last week, the council said it wants to see, in effect, very little residential development. If homes are to be built, they should be limited to single-row as a buffer area against existing neighborhoods.

The council’s advisory opinion states the focus of the redevelopment should instead be on maximizing the “job creation potential within the ‘center’ of the development” and to “seek to attract targeted industries identified on the county Comprehensive Plan.”

If homes are built, the council also wants the developer to pay according to the county’s cash proffer expectations. Albemarle County staff has estimated the cost to the developer for proffers to be between $1.2 million and $4.2 million, depending on what is built.

Stoner previously has said that other amenities in the development should be accepted in lieu of cash proffers. The council said it would support eliminating or reducing proffers for homes built above retail or those restricted to ages 55 and older.

Other feedback included a request for pocket parks and a public plaza and green space that doesn’t require the use of nearby properties. Stoner had said his plaza concept is contingent upon the purchase of a neighbor’s lot.

If Stoner’s plan is resubmitted today, Holden said she expects the Planning Commission’s next public hearing on the matter to be Aug. 19 at the earliest.

UPDATE at 11 a.m. Monday July 7 — Developer Frank Stoner has informed Charlottesville Tomorrow that he has postponed the resubmission of the development plan to Albemarle County.  It will not be submitted for review today as previously anticipated.