A map depicting existing and potential library locations

Albemarle County officials and the Board of the

Jefferson Madison Regional Library

are currently putting the finishing touches on plans to open a new library in Crozet by 2011. Soon after construction begins, they’ll begin planning  work on a new facility to replace an overcrowded branch in the Albemarle Square shopping center. But the location of this new branch has not yet been finalized.

“[Northside] Library is too small for the amount of use it gets,” according to John Halliday, director of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library. He said the library spends $250,000 to rent the 15,572 square foot space, which opened in 1991.  Halliday says the County would like to get see the replacement project get underway by 2013.

By 2015, the County projects a population of 111,000 residents, who will need 77,700 square feet of library space.  That’s based on a goal of 0.7 square feet of library space for every resident, according to Halliday, and a projected deficit of over 37,000 square feet.

In 1999, the Jefferson Madison Regional Library conducted a building assessment survey for its entire area, which covers Albemarle, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties as well as the City of Charlottesville. The top priority for Albemarle County was to build a new library to serve Crozet, which currently only has 1,728 square feet in the town’s former train depot.

A replacement site downtown has been selected and is expected to open in 2011 at a cost of $8.5 million.  While the 20,000 square foot building will be two stories, all of the library’s services will be provided on one 15,000 square foot level. A June 2007 fact sheet on the new Crozet library states it will “insure a consistent and complementary approach to the look and feel of Downtown Crozet.”

The second priority identified was to replace Northside Branch. The report suggested replacing it with two facilities. In addition to a replacement near the existing branch, a second building would be built north of Airport Road.

“But, recently, in discussions with the county and population projections and all of that, what we pretty much settled on is a library that would be a minimum of 30,000 square feet at Forest Lakes South,” said Halliday. That’s in line with current library policy, which is to locate facilities so they are spaced six miles apart. Halliday says the board recently determined a library north of Airport road would be too close to Greene County, and would not adequately cover Albemarle’s urban fringe.

“The county and the regional library are pretty much focusing on building a library at a minimum of 30,000 square feet at the intersection of Ashwood and 29,” said Halliday. According to county records, this land was donated to the county as part of the rezoning of Forest Lakes South, and is adjacent to the current entrance of that subdivision.  The land was given ‘for such public use facilities as the County may select,’ but the developer retained the right to hide any building with a visual buffer.

“The intent was to leave the use of this land flexible so as to accommodate the most appropriate public use for that area at the appropriate time,” said Elaine Echols, the County’s Principal Planner, in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Artist’s conception for how a library at North Pointe might be integrated into the community. The building is on the left.  Image from northpointecharlottesville.com

But, last summer, the Board of Supervisors approved the North Pointe development, and in doing so, accepted a proffer from Great Eastern Management Company for space to construct a branch library 2.2 miles North of Ashwood Blvd with a footprint of 12,500 square feet.

Since that decision, Supervisors have said they didn’t realize a site had already been designated in Forest Lakes South.

“What they proposed at North Pointe, it’s a small site, and it would be a two-story library at half the space we need to serve that area of the county,” Halliday said. He added that the library board’s preference would be to have all new libraries built on one floor to minimize operating costs, as well as for safety reasons.

“The main reason for that is that parents don’t want to come in to the library and have their kids upstairs while they’re downstairs,” said Halliday.

The proffer accepted by the Board of Supervisors sets forth a pad of 12,500 square feet on which the library would be built. The plan would allow for a two story building to be built for use as a library.

Valerie Long represents the Great Eastern Management Company, the developer of North Pointe. She says the proffer was written to allow for flexibility when it comes time to build the library, which she calls an important component of North Pointe’s effort to embrace the County’s Neighborhood Model.

The library block set forth in a proffer made by the developer North Pointe before rezoning. Image from northpointecharlottesville.com

“The library block is an important component of the mixed use community,” she said.  “Down the road, if for whatever reason they want a bigger building, the proffer permits that to happen.”

But to do so will mean a trade-off which would alter the character of that spot, with either a smaller park, or

a smaller parking lot. Long says the developer would work with the county to find a solution.

“I’d be surprised if they wanted the park reduced or eliminated completely,” she said, adding that open space and the library are both crucial elements of the development.

“It creates a real destination for the residents to come down to that part of the community, and for others to come in. It creates a pedestrian friendly environment and adds to the synergy of the development.”

Long compared North Pointe to the Downtown Mall, and said many people go downtown to the library, and then end up having lunch, running errands, or going shopping. She says a library developed in the lot proffered at North Pointe would make the community more successful.  If the County opts not to use the land to build a library, there is the opportunity to build another county building for other public purposes.

“It would be nice to have a library in the North Pointe development, but as far as county-wide needs go, I think we’d be better off with the Ashwood-29 location,” Halliday said.  “We’d be happy to have a small branch up there, but looking at the larger scheme, it doesn’t really fit into the pattern of one library serving a six mile radius.” He added that the Ashwood location would be more convenient to Albemarle residents who are closer to the City.

The area marked in red is the JMRL Board’s preferred location for the Northside replacement

A library at Ashwood and 29 would sit at the entrance of Forest Lakes South. To get to this location, patrons would most likely have to make a separate trip in their vehicles. While the draft Places29 Master Plan calls for increased pedestrian/bicycle paths and future bus rapid transit along Route 29, which would give patrons other ways to reach any library in the corridor, it also shows the need for a grade-separated interchange to be built near this location.  Residents of the Forest Lakes Neighborhood Association are asking that the County-owned land  be used for the right of way for that interchange.

In making their final location decision, Albemarle County officials will have to evaluate both proffers and the transportation issues, making a determination if the new library should be on the edge of a traditional cul-de-sac development or in the town center of what North Pointe’s developers intend to be an example of the County’s new neighborhood model.

Meanwhile, the Jefferson Madison Regional Library has other projects in its pipeline.

“Another project we have online is the renovation of the Central Library,” Halliday said. The building on McIntire Building was built in 1903 and is showing signs of its age. The renovation project has a current price tag of $21 million to be paid for by the City and the County. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has set $10.5 million in its preliminary fiscal 2013 capital improvement budget for that project.

After Northside’s replacement is built, the next major project in line will be a new facility to be built across from Monticello High School.

Sean Tubbs


Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.