A process to explore the possible future for downtown Crozet began Wednesday night with a meeting designed to get public input about the future of the privately owned Barnes Lumberyard.

“This is a really tremendous opportunity to be able to shape the future of Crozet,” said Christine Muehlman Gyovai, a facilitator with Dialogue + Design Associates. “You have an open invitation tonight to shape what that place looks like.”

Gyovai’s firm was hired by developers Milestone Partners to oversee a series of community meetings regarding the future of the lumberyard, a 20-acre site the firm hopes to develop as a mixed-use community.

“One of the real challenges is to build a place that is authentic but is not a copy of another place,” said Frank Stoner, a partner with Milestone.

The Barnes site is currently zoned for heavy industrial uses, which will require Milestone to obtain a rezoning from Albemarle County before redevelopment can begin.

Milestone presented a redevelopment plan for the site last year to officials and the public but the response was not favorable.

“We took a zoning application to the county last year, and while we never asked for a formal recommendation, we had a recommendation for denial from staff and from the Crozet Community Advisory Council,” Stoner said. “At that point, we stepped back and asked what was important here, and how do we address community concerns.”

There is no current plan, and to inform the next one, Milestone is holding at least two meetings with the Crozet Community Association, an organization that exists to promote civic activity.

“The Crozet Community Association is celebrating its 30th year of helping the community foster dialogue about the kind of place Crozet wants to be,” said Tim Tolson, president of the CCA. “This has been a long-term dialogue over decades that will continue for decades going forward.”

About 130 people packed the gymnasium at the Field School to hear about how redevelopment fits in with the county’s plans for downtown Crozet.

“Crozet is a designated growth area,” said Elaine Echols, a principal planner with the county. “The quality and pace of that growth is being set through the master planning process.”

The Crozet Master Plan, which designates the lumber yard as a future employment center for the community, was last updated by the Board of Supervisors in October 2010.

Tom Loach represents the White Hall District on the Planning Commission and has lived in Crozet for 26 years. He said the zoning for downtown Crozet is form-based and seeks to establish a small-town feel.

“We wanted the downtown to be the commercial and social center for the community,” Loach said. “We did not want to see it become like U.S. 29 or U.S. 250.”

Loach said the preferred vision is to have commercial uses on the ground floor and residential uses on higher stories. Buildings can be as high as four stories but as many as six with a special-use permit.

Stoner said he wants input on what form open space should take and how people thought the future Library Avenue should be aligned through the site.

“What became clear to us last year is that without the community behind it, this commercial endeavor for downtown is not going to be successful,” Stoner said.

Gyovai’s team has been interviewing people in the community in advance of the meeting to get a feel for what might happen.

“Across the board, we heard that people love Crozet,” Gyovai said. “The Christmas parade was mentioned by nearly everyone.”

When Gyovai asked crowd members to raise their hands if they financially supported the Crozet Library, at least two-thirds of the audience indicated they had.

Attendees had several questions.

Could an Amtrak station eventually be located within the downtown area? Supervisor Ann H. Mallek responded that it was unlikely to happen in the near future.

What would the maximum residential population of Crozet be? Echols said the county expects around 12,000 people by 2030 and that denser residential volumes are designated for other parts of the county, such as around the Hollymead Town Center.

While nothing is set in stone, Stoner did list several goals. For instance, all utilities in the community will be placed underground. Stoner also said he does not believe that any national retailers or chain restaurants will come to Crozet, but he did say that a potential hotel has contacted him about space within the development.

Other Milestone projects include Lochlyn Hill, the Belmont Lofts and the Jefferson School City Center. Stoner said he is heavily invested in the project and wants to make it work.

“We tend to like these projects that are complicated and have infill redevelopment,” Stoner said.

Stoner said he will take feedback from Wednesday’s meeting and develop rudimentary concepts that will be presented at a second meeting June 11.

“If everything goes well, my hope is we will come out of the second meeting with some consensus on a direction,” he said.