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Albemarle board approves Crozet Master Plan

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors late Wednesday night approved an updated Crozet Master Plan without a change recommended by the Planning Commission.

The Crozet community and county staff and officials began updating the Crozet Master Plan in 2019, which helps to guide decisions about land use, transportation and parks in the area.

The updated Master Plan is now part of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides the county’s long-term vision for land use and resource protection. County staff and supervisors look to the Comprehensive Plan as part of the rezoning process, but it is not law.

The Planning Commission recommended approval in September, while also recommending that land near downtown, which had previously had its possible density increased in the future land use map, have its density reduced.

The board voted 5-1, with Supervisor Liz Palmer casting the dissenting vote, to approve the updated plan, and include changing seven parcels bordered by Crozet Avenue, Tabor Street, High Street and Dunvegan Lane in the future land use map from Neighborhood Density Residential to Middle Density Residential.

“As somebody who lives 10 minutes away from Crozet, and somebody who did live in Crozet and one of those folks who left it because of the development, I’m very, very familiar with this property, and I do understand why the community wants more time,” Palmer said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, who represents the district, said she did not want that property included, but did vote in favor because she wants the community to know that she wants the master plan to be adopted and to respect the work that everybody has put into it.

The process has been contentious, especially when it came to the potential for population growth and infrastructure issues around roads, schools and sidewalks in Crozet, which has seen its population increase from about 5,565 in 2010 to approximately 9,224 in 2020, according to census data.

During the Master Plan update process, some community members have taken issue in particular with a future land use designation called Middle Density Residential, which would allow for six to 12 housing units per acre on a site, or up to 18 units per acre to accommodate additional affordable housing.

According to the plan, the designation is to bridge the gap between single-family housing and multi-level apartment buildings, and would allow for small and medium multiplexes, small single-family cottages, bungalow or cottage courts, live/work units, accessory dwelling units and tiny houses.

Land use categories are assigned to properties and serve as a marker to community members and developers about which kinds of potential projects the community wants to see on a site. Land use categories are not zoning categories. Ultimately, a developer would need approval from the Board of Supervisors to change the zoning of a property to allow for any designated land use denser or different than existing zoning.

In the update, Middle Density Residential replaced the previous Urban Density Residential areas, which was six to 12 housing units in Crozet’s previous plan, except for apartments in the Old Trail development. It was also added in three other areas.

Middle Density is not in other area master plans, but county staff said it will be utilized elsewhere in the future.

In May, after some supervisors said they wanted more opportunities for affordable housing within Crozet, county staff proposed changing seven parcels bordered by Crozet Avenue, Tabor Street, High Street and Dunvegan Lane in the draft future land use map from Neighborhood Density Residential to Middle Density Residential. The properties, which are currently zoned for two units per acre, total almost 16 acres and have seven existing dwellings on them.

Two of those property owners have objected to the future land use designation change.

Planning Commissioners in September said that those properties should not be marked for higher density in this plan, and that they should be revisited in the future. Commissioners also said a historic preservation ordinance should be in place before the county moves forward with middle density in that particular block.

But many supervisors said that the houses on the Tabor block could still be protected even if the property was ultimately rezoned ahead of a historic preservation ordinance.

During questioning from board members, Rachel Falkenstein, a county planning manager, said if someone did want to come in and rezone these properties, the board could utilize conditions to require a developer to protect structures as part of their approval.

“That was staff’s original recommendation, that there was narrative in the text to say that if a rezoning were to occur on this property, that historic structures should be protected,” she said.

Supervisor Donna Price gave examples of places where historic structures have been saved in redevelopment projects.

“I really think that there are a variety of possibilities if we give the community the tools that allow them to do that, so I support keeping in the Tabor property,” she said. “I generally believe this type of density should be more towards the center of a community rather than on the border.”

During the public hearing, Tom Loach, a former Planning Commissioner and former Crozet Community Advisory Committee member who has spoken out against the plan, continued to question Middle Density and the update process.

“The truth is had the county come to Crozet with an open hand instead of a clenched fist, I’m sure the process would have been much different,” he said. “Had the county come to Crozet with explanations instead of edict, many of us would not feel the master planning update had a predetermined outcome before it even started.”


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