Perrone Robotics will be able to relocate from Charlottesville to Crozet with the action taken Wednesday by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to amend proffers on the former Barnes Lumber Yard.
Perrone Robotics, a software firm specializing in driverless cars, expects to employ 30 people by the end of 2017, and could grow to 120 employees within five years.
“It’s a really unique opportunity for us, and a really unique opportunity for Crozet,” said developer Frank Stoner of Milestone Partners.
Stoner requested a proffer amendment to enable the construction of laboratories and offices on the Barnes Lumber property. The existing agreement limited uses of the 18.7-acre site to heavy industry, public utilities or a rescue squad station. The Crozet Community Advisory Committee endorsed the change at its meeting Dec. 14.
The supervisors approved the request on a 5-0 vote at a 15-minute joint meeting with the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Wednesday. Supervisor Brad Sheffield was absent. The Planning Commission recommended the rezoning by a 4-0 vote, with Mac Lafferty, Pam Riley and Daphne Spain absent.
Greg Scharer, chief operating officer of Perrone Robotics, said the company plans to move into an existing building and a new modular office on the former lumber yard in early 2017. But it is likely the company will need to build a larger office on the site in the near future.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the county fast-tracked the rezoning for Perrone Robotics as part of an established process for applications from target industries and locally owned companies.
“As a local company, Perrone Robotics is more likely to stay in Crozet and grow,” Mallek said. “We hope that this experience will help [Albemarle County] improve the rezoning process for everyone.”
Neil S. Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said in an interview that the county could do more to encourage other businesses to relocate to the county’s growth areas by proactively rezoning land.
“The goal of proactive rezoning is to make the county’s zoning map agree with the community-vetted Comprehensive Plan map,” Williamson said. He added that the county’s current rezoning process can force property owners to “drop $100,000 on a speculative rezoning that has an equal chance at passing or failing.”
While the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects, Williamson commended the county for holding the joint meeting to accelerate economic development in Albemarle.
The Barnes Lumber property would contain most of Milestone Partners’ planned Crozet Square development. Milestone also has requested the rezoning of an adjacent 6.25-acre parcel that would incorporate it into the Downtown Crozet District and facilitate a public plaza.