Press "Enter" to skip to content

Key Crozet building closed by water damage

A massive structure that once seemed to symbolize confidence in a Crozet renaissance has been rendered inoperable by an internal flood.

A hand-lettered sign on the door at Smoked, a downtown Crozet barbecue-based restaurant, spoke of reopening Wednesday after a brief holiday closure. But a December 25 water pipe failure inside the building known as Piedmont Place has brought Smoked and several other businesses to a soggy halt.

With water removal companies overbooked and the structure’s electrical power disconnected, puddles remain on the main and ground floors of Piedmont Place more than a day and a half after public employees turned off the main water supply.

Among the businesses shuttered by the Christmas Day deluge is a branch of a Staunton-to-Charlottesville chain of exercise centers called Newtown Fitness.

“Of all the times to lose a few weeks of business, this is the worst,” said Newtown co-owner John Fontaine, noting that exercise is a popular self-improvement resolution this time of year.

Standing next to emergency cordon tape outside his fitness center, Fontaine said that local water extraction firms appear busy after a recent Arctic blast burst dozens of pipes in Central Virginia.

“We’re on the waiting list for two different companies,” said Fontaine.

“Anecdotally, I’m seeing a lot of calls for burst water pipes,” said Albemarle County spokesperson Abby Stumpf. “We had a major influx,” said Stephanie Dean, a veteran customer advocate at Paul Davis, an emergency contracting company. “It was one of those double whammies with the cold on top of the wind.”

“Our guys and gals worked through the holidays,” Dean continued. “We’ve got a short waiting list, but we’re working through it.”

After years of urban planning, the 20,000 square-foot mixed-use structure Piedmont Place opened in 2017 as the herald of a hoped-for Crozet renaissance that would redevelop a nearby lumberyard. The lumberyard plan stalled, but Piedmont Place did create a rooftop lounge that serves as a private party venue and six residential suites that serves as an inn managed by Guesthouses of Virginia.

There’s also an ice cream shop, a beer and wine shop, a hair salon and office space. Yet it appears that nobody was present in the building to notice when the flood began on the third floor in the afternoon or early evening hours of Christmas Day. That means, tenants say, that several hours of water rained down.

The Crozet Volunteer Fire Department responded, but water didn’t stop until a crew from the Albemarle County Service Authority turned off the main valve to the structure, according the Authority’s operations manager, Mike Lynn.

Still, things could have been worse. Tenants say that the concrete main floor appears to have diverted much of the water out of the building instead of letting it settle in the basement where Smoked and Newtown Fitness are located.

“It’s a lot drier than I thought it would be,” says Newtown’s Fontaine.

One person with two businesses in the building is Greg Slater: a realtor at Nest, which rents office space; and co-owner of the Crozet Creamery. Slater cautions against assuming that freezing pipes caused this calamity.

“It’s about 60 in here,” said Slater, standing on the main food court chatting with fellow tenants Tuesday morning.

Records from the National Weather Service show that on the day of the leak, the sun was shining, and outdoor temperatures climbed four degrees above freezing. The week’s most severe weather began December 23 with sustained winds in the upper teens and gusts topping 30 miles per hour. The coldest temperatures occurred overnight on December 24 when the weather station at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport recorded a low of just six degrees in the early hours of Christmas.

Calls and messages left for Piedmont Place’s owner, Andrew Baldwin, were not returned.

Jennifer Blanchard, co-owner of a food company in the building called Morsel Compass adopted an accepting stance.

“It is what it is,” said Blanchard. “We’re just gonna try to pick up the pieces and see where it takes us.”

She said that she appreciated the outpouring of support she has received since revealing what happened on social media. But the positivity has made the closure even more upsetting.

“We feel like we’re important to Crozet, and for that we’re sad,” she said.


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    %d bloggers like this: