A plan to expand Claudius Crozet Park that would allow more recreation opportunities has moved forward, but some neighbors aren’t happy because of the lack of sidewalks and potential for increased traffic.
On Tuesday night, the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended approval of an amendment of a special-use permit for the park to expand.
The plan would add a two-story, 34,200-square-foot recreation building, which would include exercise areas, sports courts, community meeting spaces and a pool expansion. A second phase of the project would include an indoor pool facility adjacent to the existing pool deck.
“I think … they heard us from the March meeting and have done some significant work to adjust the plan and the concept to reflect our conversation with them and certain people in the community, so I’m supportive of this plan,” said Planning Commission Chair Julian Bivins.
In March, the proposal was deferred after commissioners and community members had concerns about greenspace, traffic and the size and scale of the expansion. After that meeting, the park board shifted the north entrance of the park to the east to intersect with Indigo Road and shifted the main community center building, including the indoor pool, 25 feet to the south. With the building shift, the proposal no longer needs a special exception for the pool distance.
Another change include using the secondary park entrance off Park Road as the construction entrance — which the nearby Parkside Village Homeowners Association had asked to happen. In addition, 150 new trees will be planted on the site to offset the loss of about 45 trees and new pedestrian paths/sidewalks will be added.
The recommendation also comes with nine conditions, including sound and lighting limitations and a number of fencing and screening requirements. The commission also added a tenth proposed condition that the park should include additional on-site bicycle infrastructure, such as bike racks, bike lockers, bike lanes and other on-road or adjacent bicycle access.
The commissioners also recommended that the county prioritize the installation and/or repair of sidewalks along High Street, Hill Top Street and Park Road.
The park is about 22.8 acres and is owned by Claudius Crozet Park Inc., a nonprofit. According to its website, the park generates revenue from contracts for operations of the aquatic and fitness facility, festivals that use the property, project-specific grants and donations from community members and businesses. It also has a restrictive covenant agreement with the county that has helped fund some projects and maintenance.
The site already has a special-use permit from the county but needs an amendment to add the building.
The park board and its developers said new facilities are needed to serve the growing population in the area.
“This isn’t a new use for this location — this is a modification of an existing special use permit to simply provide better facilities than exist currently,” said Kevin Schafer, with architecture firm Design Develop, which is working on the project. “Already on site is a recreation and exercise facility, an indoor pool when the dome is installed and community gathering facilities.”
According to a presentation from Schafer, about 5.6% of the park’s total area for greenspace, trails, ball fields and park amenities space will be converted to building space and parking/sidewalks.
In 2019, a park board member came before the Board of Supervisors and asked for $2.4 million from the county for the expansion.
Commissioner Karen Firehock said there have been rumors about the county already contributing money to the park expansion.
“None of that is true, yet, but we could say that we would like to see the county use part of its investment, should it decide to invest in this property, in actually doing the infrastructure repairs on the surrounding streets and sidewalks,” she said. “I think if the county of Albemarle is going to be benefiting from having a new, expanded recreation facility that it didn’t have to build, but it needs to have built, in its midst, then it’d behooves the county to actually invest in the infrastructure to accommodate the safety of the residents who live around there.”
Albemarle doesn’t currently operate any recreation centers in the county, but does offer some sports, camps and other athletic-related programming. It has contributed $2 million for the YMCA at McIntire Park and $2 million for The Center facility in the Belvedere development.
During public comment, more than 30 people spoke and most were in favor of the amended permit, citing the need for after school programs, more swimming space and options for seniors in the area.
Allen Freeman said in the past 48 years he’s lived in the area the park has responded to the changing needs in Crozet.
“The park is ready to expand yet again, and it’s important that it does,” he said. “It’s more than parking spaces, it’s more than traffic, it’s about the community and we need to build the community spirit and have space for community activities.”
Marc McKenney said he’s at the park almost five days a week with his family, and he’s a permanently and totally disabled veteran who needs a place to swim.
“I know there are many other residents that have physical, mental disabilities that having an expanded park will … help their quality of life improve,” he said. “We need this, we needed this probably two decades ago. We cannot wait another 20 to 50 years for the infrastructure projects in Crozet to finally catch up before we do this park project. We need this part for the community.”
Those who were not in favor of the proposal mostly live in Parkside Village, a housing development north of the park, or in the older homes on Hill Top Street, and said they were concerned about traffic.
“The proposal is asking for the park’s surrounding residential streets, and the key words there are ‘residential streets’ to bear the entire burden of traffic for the benefit of the Crozet community,” said Scott Casen. “The roadway network is not designed to support the projected traffic levels coming with the park expansion. The most acute example of this is the new north boundary entrance that connects to Indigo Road.”
He said vehicular traffic on Hill Top Street is always driving around pedestrians who are forced to walk in the street because the asphalt paths have been crumbling for years.
“They are literally unusable, where sections actually disappear into the landscape under dirt and grass, which has overtaken them,” Casen said.
Sandy Hausman, who lives on Hill Top Street, said public officials should be planning for current and future recreational needs by setting aside more land and finding ways to pay for its development.
“I know that land in the development areas very expensive to have now so let’s look on the periphery and the non-development areas along [Route] 240 or [U.S.] 250, make some of that available for construction of a new recreation center and reserve the rest for baseball and soccer fields, pickleball, tennis courts and other forms of active recreation,” she said. “Indigo is a tiny street, it’s virtually an alley, it’s already parked up for pickleball almost every day. I think it’s just a fantasy to think that over 300 more trips could be allowed via Indigo.”
Kevin McDermott, an Albemarle planning manager, said the sidewalk along the southside of Hill Top Street is not within the public right and was constructed years ago with no official easement recorded.
“If the county wanted to do anything with that, we would need to either acquire easements or acquire right of way for that,” he said. “If a private group wanted to work with those property owners and do that, they could do any improvements they wanted to, although that’s a lot of owners that they would have to work with.”
The county evaluated sidewalk improvements from Tabor Street to High Street and down Hill Top Street a few years ago, McDermott said, but decided not to move forward due to “exorbitant costs” with the right of way issues. He said the Board of Supervisors could decide to apply for state funds, but some of those programs require matching funds.
A public hearing before the Board of Supervisors has not yet been scheduled.