The draft of the updated Crozet Master Plan took another step forward Tuesday night.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the updated Crozet Master Plan with one change — land near downtown that had previously had its possible density increased in the future land use map was recommended to be reduced.
The Crozet community and Albemarle County began updating the Crozet Master Plan in 2019, which helps to guide decisions about land use, transportation and parks in the area, and the draft will now move forward to the Board of Supervisors. The board is scheduled to hold its public hearing virtually at 6 p.m. Oct. 20.
When adopted, the Master Plan will be 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 process has been contentious, especially around 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.
Planning Commissioner Jennie More, who represents the White Hall District which includes Crozet, said some of the process could have been done differently.
“I do believe there’s an opportunity for the county to examine how this process has gone and identify changes that can help facilitate future community engagement efforts, and possible tools to manage community expectations,” she said.
Some in Crozet have expressed interest in exploring what it would take for the area to become an incorporated town.
Last week, at a meeting of the Crozet Community Association, which is not affiliated with the county, Drew Williams, with Harrisonburg-based local government consulting firm The Berkley Group, spoke about generally what it would take to become a town in Virginia. Williams did not yet have specifics around how much tax revenues Crozet could generate as a town.
Broadly, there are two ways to incorporate a new town — by petitioning the Circuit Court or by an act of the General Assembly.
“As you’re moving forward, make sure that decisions are really based on facts and not emotion,” he said. “Sometimes emotions can get the best of us, but make sure that whatever path you’re walking down is based on good sound reason and facts and not just how you’re feeling today or tomorrow.”
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 draft 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 is six to 12 housing units in Crozet’s current plan, except for apartments in the Old Trail development. It was also added in three other areas.
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.
More said she understood that the proposed change is a future land use designation, meaning it is something that can happen in the future.
“But from a process perspective and a planning perspective, I believe this area needs closer attention and that it should not be included in this plan and revisited at a future time,” she said, noting that it should stay designated Neighborhood Density Residential, which recommends three to six housing units per acre.
Commissioner Karen Firehock said that “to maintain the character of Crozet,” she would like an historic preservation ordinance in place before the county moves forward with middle density in that particular block.
“But in general, I like the middle density idea, and I think we need more density in Crozet in order to make downtown work,” she said.
Rachel Falkenstein, a county planning manager, said the draft implementation chapter includes a downtown neighborhoods architectural and cultural resources study. The first phase would update a study done in 2009 and include additional neighborhoods, while the second phase would work with neighborhood residents to develop strategies that would allow appropriate infill and redevelopment in the area while “supporting residents’ desires for neighborhood preservation.”
“There could be recommendations such as doing a historic overlay ordinance, or design guidelines, or some other mechanism to have a little bit of historic protections in some of these neighborhoods while still allowing growth and development,” Falkenstein said.
If that is included in the approved updated master plan, Albemarle’s Director of Planning Charles Rapp said the county will have to work though it’s Comprehensive Plan update and a “major” zoning ordinance update before studies included in the draft implementation chapter can move forward.
During the public hearing, some members of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee — a group appointed by the Board of Supervisors to provide assistance, feedback and input to county staff and the board on efforts around the area’s Master Plan — were supportive of changing the designation.
“I think that this late edition really raised, or perhaps sort of confirmed for some Crozetians, doubts about how much the county was valuing the process,” CAC member Joe Fore said. “As a practical matter, the landowners have lived on these properties for generations and they’ve made clear they have no intent to sell or seek rezoning, so it seems to me this is really an unforced error if it goes forward. It’s generating some animosity in the community with no real tangible benefit.”
Fore and others also asked about moving up future phases of Western Park, a planned 36-acre public county park in Old Trail, in the implementation chapter, where it was recommended in the future projects category of 10-20 years.
“We’ve been living in Old Trail for 10 years and still there is no community park in Old Trail,” said Valerie Long, another CAC member. “That’s the western park for all of Western Crozet and as Joe indicated, we really, really need the amenities there and it’s just long overdue.”
Commissioners agreed to make supervisors aware of comments around the park, but ultimately decided to leave it up to the board.