By Sean Tubbs
Saturday, January 30, 2010

A spirited crowd of Crozet residents was on hand at a public forum Thursday to challenge the notion that western Albemarle is a prime location for expanded industrial development. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has asked for consideration of a new light industrial business park in the Crozet Master Plan’s first five-year update.

“We’ve been waiting for this meeting and don’t know if the Board of Supervisors has already made a preliminary decision or not,” said Meg West, a Crozet resident for over 25 years who is opposed to the new park. “We’re hoping they will listen to us.”

In early January, the Board of Supervisors approved a pro-business action plan that identified the Yancey Mills area as one location for expanded industrial zoning. That directive coincides with a request from the Yancey family to expand the county’s designated growth area for a new business park.

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The Yancey Lumber Company sits on 36 acres along U.S. 250 that represents about 32 percent of all the heavy industrial zoned land in the county. The family also owns 148 surrounding rural acres, some of which has been in the family since 1878. It is this land, which borders Interstate 64 and Western Albemarle High School, on which Will Yancey is proposing a new light industrial business park.

Area of proposed business park

While the Crozet Master Plan will not come before the Board of Supervisors until later this summer, supervisors will hear a report from staff on Wednesday detailing the county’s inventory of industrial land . The report claims that while the Comprehensive Plan designates an adequate amount of land for industrial use, there is an inadequate amount land zoned and ready for that activity.

Several of Thursday’s attendees shared their disagreement with conclusions in the report.

“Part of the reason why we don’t have enough light industrial land is because it gets very easily converted to commercial,” Crozet resident Lucy Goeke said. She pointed to a table in the report that lists more than 160 acres rezoned from industrial to other uses in the past five years.

Yancey said many potential business owners have told him his family’s land would be an ideal location for them to locate because of its close access to I-64.

“What we’re trying to do is create a discrete employment center with no retail component,” Yancey said. “We would be happy to proffer away any kind of highway commercial use that’s associated with U.S. 29.”

Mike Marshall

That was not enough for Mike Marshall, chairman of the Crozet Community Advisory Council . He suggested county officials begin their search for more industrial land at interstate interchanges closer to Charlottesville. He said the Yancey proposal would siphon away investment from parts of Crozet already zoned for industrial and commercial uses.

“We can’t get building to happen in downtown Crozet,” Marshall said. “We’ve got vacant parcels next to the post office. All through downtown there is vacant land.”

In late 2008, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to include consideration of the Yancey proposal as part of the Crozet Master Plan despite a lack of support from the county Planning Commission . When it was reviewed, staff and commissioners pointed out that the business park was inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, affected the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir’s watershed and might compete with downtown Crozet.

However, a section of the inventory report recommends studying the potential of opening up the rural area near interchanges to certain uses, such as contractors’ storage yards. County planner David Benish said this category of uses would be less intensive than what would be allowed under the Yancey proposal.

Many in the community were skeptical.

“It’s like you’re taking a baby-step towards light industrial rather a full step,” Marshall said.

When asked by Benish if the crowd wanted staff to continue refining this concept, the majority shouted out a loud “no!”

In the interest of fairness, Marshall also asked the crowd if anyone approved of the concept.

CCAC member Tim Tolson argues with Waynesboro businessman Dave Seegers, who had suggested Yancey Mills would be his choice to build new industry

One “yes” came from Wendell Gibson, a building contractor who lives in Ivy. He said it made more sense to have truck traffic concentrated near the interstate, rather than along residential roads such as portions of Route 240.

After members of the crowd booed his comments, Gibson questioned their commitment to business.

“We’re losing tax dollars to other counties because we will not sit here as a community and realize that we have to grow,” Gibson said.

Despite Yancey’s willingness to give up commercial uses, Marshall said he could not support the proposal.

“We don’t have any confidence that in a couple of years [the land] won’t be flipped to another use,” Marshall said. “We have an issue developing our existing infrastructure, our existing commercial area and our existing downtown. When those are full, it’s a different question.”

Supervisor Duane Snow (Samuel Miller District) said by his count about 90 percent of the crowd appeared to be against the Yancey proposal.

“A lot of people don’t trust government and they don’t trust developers to do what they say they will,” Snow said in an interview.

Snow said he was keeping an open mind over the Yancey proposal because there is still time before supervisors weigh in directly. He said he was personally considering the argument that some industrial uses might be more appropriate in Yancey’s business park rather than on Route 240 near downtown in Crozet.

A decision on the Yancey proposal will come later this year as the Crozet Master Plan is updated by the Board of Supervisors.


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