When arriving in Lane Auditorium before another Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting on a preemptive rezoning for Downtown Crozet , members of the town’s business community and other citizen leaders were shocked to find a draft map that showed a smaller downtown zoning district.
During the fourth work session on the topic, Commissioners overturned staff recommendations to draw a tighter zoning district, to establish a minimum size requirement for mixed use, and also threw out a plan to encourage affordable housing by setting an average maximum square foot floor for residential units in multifamily developments.
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County Senior Planner Rebecca Ragsdale described the reasoning behind the staff recommendation for the boundaries for the rezoning, should the County proceed. Unlike the boundary maps created by the consultant, the staff map does not include transition areas, and does not recommend including the 14.74 acre J. Bruce Barnes Lumber Yard at this time. Ragsdale said downtown under this scenario would be about 53 acres.
Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) asked why the lumber yard wasn’t being included as part of this rezoning. Ragsdale responded that based on current use, the lumberyard would be non-conforming with its heavy industrial zoning classification.
“The lumberyard is only allowed in the heavy industrial category, so we didn’t see where heavy industrial type uses would be appropriate,” Ragsdale said, pointing out that the Master Plan anticipates the lumberyard moving or redeveloping at some point in the future. “This is a way to allow them the flexibility to continue their operations which does provide a number of employment opportunities.”
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) asked if the lumber yard could be included in the rezoning, and somehow allowed to continue operations. “It’s a key part of the future development of the downtown core of Crozet,” he said, adding that doing so might encourage the property owners to redevelop.
CROZET LEADERS EXPRESS FRUSTRATION
Many stakeholders from the Crozet business computer spoke to express their opposition to staff’s proposed changes.
White Hall resident Ross Stevens told the Commission he was concerned about the boundaries. He said that the point of creating a downtown Crozet was to help the community compete with other commercial areas in the County. As the owner of several properties in the area, he would like more consideration of the recommendations of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee and the Downtown Crozet Association .
“I didn’t anticipate Downtown Crozet getting smaller,” Stevens said. “We need more space in order to accomplish the flexibility of developing downtown in a larger space.” He was specifically opposed to the western side of Carter Street being taken out of downtown.
Sandy Wilcox of the Downtown Crozet Association said he was upset about the way the process was turning out. He said the idea of reducing the size of the downtown had never been discussed during meetings between property owners, staff and consultants. He also said he was confused by why the lumber yard was taken out.
“The idea that we had in there was for everything to be the same so there wouldn’t be a wild card out there that we don’t know what is going to happen,” Wilcox said. He added that he felt blind-sided by the staff’s report and that his trust in the process is broken.
The complaints kept coming.
Mack Lafferty, a member of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee, said he felt blind-sided. Another member, Mary Rice, encouraged the Commissioners to walk along Carter Street before following the recommendations.
Mike Marshall, publisher of the Crozet Gazette and chair of the CCAC, said he was shocked that staff issued a new recommendation before the work session.
“It’s not really too much of a surprise because this is sort of consistent with the Crozet experience,” Marshall said. He said he did not think using a 1,000 average maximum size for residential units was the appropriate way to deal with affordable housing, and that the issue of the lumber yard not conforming had never come up before. Marshall said he thought the County was more interested in creating more opportunities for proffers, rather than protecting the heart of downtown Crozet.
“You’re not going to get those proffers on the areas currently zoned commercial, so you take those areas that aren’t currently zoned commercial, like West Carter Street, and the lumber yard, you pull them out. That means in the future they have to be rezoned, when the rezoning comes, you ask for your proffer. So this is really about generating future income for the County.”
Marshall finished his comments by reminding the Commission that the town wants a single district with a unified set of rules.
After the public comment period ended, Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) said he was surprised that members of the Committee felt blindsided. When Commissioner Edgerton asked Ragsdale why areas had been removed, she responded that those particular areas lack appropriate infrastructure.
When Chairman Marcia Joseph (At-Large) asked what improvements would be needed, Ragsdale responded Main Street and Carter Street were substandard, so staff took a conservative approach when drawing the draft boundaries.
“Without proffers, which is a very important tool to the County, as part of the rezoning process, we didn’t have [infrastructure improvements] in the CIP now, we felt it was important to be able to have that tool in the future,” Ragsdale said.
But Commissioner Strucko said he thought proffers would be a disincentive for businesses to locate in the areas that have been taken out of the boundaries.
“And the intent of the Crozet Master Plan was for the Downtown to be the center of commercial activity, an employment center, cultural center, also a center of public exchange,” Strucko said. He recommended staff add Carter Street and the Lumber Yard back to the draft map for the zoning district. Commissioner Duane Zobrist (White Hall) agreed.
Strucko also called for making the mixed use requirement more flexible, and called for removing the 1,000 square foot average maximum, and Zobrist and Joseph agreed with that as well.
While agreeing with the citizen input on the size of the zoning district, Commissioner Edgerton shared concerns about the composition of uses that would be required.
“On every rezoning, we require mixed use, so we’re going to take just the rules off of Crozet and hope that it works out later?” he asked.
Strucko said looking at the map, he saw an intense business center in the middle of an area that contains residential and commercial use. Edgerton said he was scared that without mixed use requirements that mandated residential use, the area would lack vitality because no one would be there at night when the businesses close.
That led to a discussion of how many residential units were within a five-minute walking radius of Downtown. Zobrist said people would walk downtown as long as there was a Dairy Queen, and also added that the Commission recently approved of the Crozet Station development, which includes residential units in downtown.
Strucko said he spends about 15 hours in Crozet each work in his capacity working with the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad, and that the downtown needs flexibility so that it has an advantage over Old Trail and business along Route 250. Commission Jon Cannon (Rio) suggested finding a way to maximize incentives for commercial development in the core.
But Edgerton stuck to his principles, and asked his fellow Commissioners if they would be happy with downtown Crozet being redeveloped without any residential units at all, something he felt would happen unless it is required. Strucko said he would be comfortable with that because many residences would still be within a quarter mile walk.
Though the work session was not a public hearing, Chairman Joseph received public comment and even called citizens back allowing them to provide additional feedback. Sandy Wilcox went back to the podium, and said he was not against mixed use, just having it forced upon Crozet property owners.
“We are not an incorrigible child that has to be regulated into having mixed use,” Wilcox said. “I think the whole world looks at the downtown areas differently than they did before. We don’t want to roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 but we do need the flexibility.”
After the discussion, Joseph said she thought the project needed revision. Edgerton said he would like to see the larger boundaries be revisited.
“We need to make the downtown area as large as possible and the idea of holding back with the hope of getting some future income off of proffers to the County is really counter to what is needed here,” Edgerton said.
Zobrist said he supported using the boundaries approved by the Crozet Downtown Association. Joseph said all Commissioners reached consensus on this point.
They then took up the issue of whether the floor for mixed use for single structures should be raised above the 7,500 square feet figure recommended by staff. To accommodate Edgerton’s wishes to include some requirement, Zobrist suggested increasing it to 10,000 square feet. Strucko said he thought numbers were arbitrary, and Canon wondered if there were ways to apply Neighborhood Model Principles without micromanaging. For example, he suggested using density bonuses for affordable housing.
Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner said mixed used did not only include mixing residential with retail shops. A combination of retail and office would also satisfy the regulations.
County Planner David Benish said he was unclear what the Commission’s directive was in terms of the mixed use requirement. Joseph clarified that the Commission wanted incentives rather than hard targets. The Commission also recommended throwing out the average minimum floor size.
The Commission will take up the matter again in early January, according to Ragsdale.
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