Downtown Mall West? Crozet wants to be on the map
Crozet, the small village to the west, has ambitions.
Two decades ago it was known mostly for Mint Springs Valley Park and Crozet Pizza, the quirky, family-owned restaurant that was recently selected as one of the top 51 pizza parlors in the country by USA Today. Since then, however, the village with a population around 3,000 has grown in stature, welcoming the ambitious Crozet Master Plan in 2001, Starr Hill Brewery, Old Trail Village, the production of the Hollywood film Evan Almighty (which included the construction of an "ark" and visits from giraffes and elephants), various other popular eateries like Cocina del Sol, Jarman's Gap, and the Mudhouse; the Crozet Music Festival, the Blue Ridge Shopping Center anchored by a Harris Teeter, an ACAC, and the brand-spankin' new $10 million Crozet library soon to be built.
Charlottesville's reputation as an attractive location over the same period, no doubt, has led to an interest in Crozet, which still remains relatively undeveloped, a new frontier that might harken back to Charlottesville's earlier days, when UVA students weren't even sure where the Downtown Mall was, and before we started making those number-one-places-to-live lists.
Indeed, that was the idea behind Old Trail Village, the ambitious 260-acre mixed use 'village" with a town center, green space, a golf course, and beautiful houses nestled in a valley with spectacular views. However, while Old Trail has had some success, a drive through shows it to be a development still trying to become a village.
“The development can’t become something else,” real estate blogger Jim Duncan told the Hook, referring to the proffers and the master planning that governed its creation. “But it’s just going to take time.”
Meanwhile, other plans on the table include a 184-acre industrial park in Yancey Mills that would be three times the size of Charlottesville Fashion Square and the topic of this story: an attempt to replicate the success of Charlottesville's Downtown Mall with one of their own.
Indeed, such a pedestrian mall, which would be located on the site of the J. Bruce Barnes Lumber Company, a 20-acre property that developer Katurah Roell and his Piedmont Development Group would redevelop for lumber company owner Carroll Conley, would be about the same size as Charlottesville's popular Downtown Mall.
"The pedestrian mall concept is very well received in Crozet," says Crozet Gazette publisher and editor Mike Marshall. "The goal of the master plan is a walkable downtown. What we don't want is more sprawl-style highway shopping centers on Route 250."
The new downtown would hug the CSX railroad tracks stretching eastward from the parking lot serving "The Square," the town's current commercial hub.
Of course, the question arises of whether the dream will become reality.
"I think it's a good idea," says Crozet-based Duncan, "but the chance of it actually getting built is minimal."
However, as developer Roell points out, his company is already building Crozet's new Main Street, a design that could tie into the pedestrian mall and which features three auto lanes, bicycle and pedestrian lanes, as well as new sidewalks and street lights.
"Crozet needs a downtown to attract people," says Roell, describing his quest for 655,000 square feet of building space, a walkable area about the size of two football fields. His plan envisions restaurants, retail, apartments, high-tech office space, a five-story senior living facility, 713 new parking spaces, and a 70-80-room, five-story hotel, which Roell describes as a key component.
"All the vineyards in the area draw people here," says Roell, "but there's no central place to stay."
Indeed, such wineries as White Hall, Cardinal Point, King Family, Mountfair, Veritas, and Afton Mountain–- as well as the Blue Mountain and Starr Hill breweries–- all lie within a 20-minute drive of Crozet.
Roell notes the project's plans have been approved, having been backed by the the Crozet Community Advisory Council and having won the favor of both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, which included it as part of the Crozet Master Plan.
While Roell admits the zoning application will take about a year, he says some construction could begin in two years.