The Batesville Store, Batesville, VA – Photo:
At their July 22, 2008 meeting the
Albemarle County Planning Commission
approved a zoning text amendment that the County expects will help preserve rural country stores as economic, historic, and cultural resources. The changes are intended to provide owners of both new and historic country stores with added flexibility for their operations.
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When Albemarle amended its comprehensive plan in 2005, it identified country stores as an important community resource, and the Albemarle Historic Preservation Plan adopted in 2000 also called for the reuse of historic country store buildings in order to ensure their preservation. County staff surveyed eighty-three country stores in Albemarle to determine what changes could be made to support their continued viability.
While the country store owners were encouraged by the support from local government, they had concerns about a number of issues, including:
The existing ordinance has a maximum size of 4,000 sq. feet included in its definition of a country store, which did not allow for exceptions to be made by the Planning Commission. As amended, this restriction could be waived at the Commission’s discretion. Further, the revised ordinance would allow secondary uses in country store buildings so long as a majority (51%) of the building remains in use as a country store.
Historic country stores, those more than 50 years old, will be exempt from a number of regulations affecting setbacks from the road, entrance corridor design reviews, and sewage disposal. Non-conventional septic systems may be used as long as it can be demonstrated to the zoning administrator that a conventional system would not work. Alternative septic systems would also have to receive approval from the Virginia Department of Health before being implemented.
Several country store owners were on hand to share their views on the ordinance. “I think you’ve done a great job on this,” said Dave Wyant, a former County Supervisor and owner of Wyant’s Store in White Hall. However, Wyant was concerned about the regulation requiring that a country store not use more than 20% of its space for food seating, explaining that in the rural area, the country store table is the real gathering place for the community. Joe Jones, owner of another country store in White Hall, echoed Wyant’s concern about the 20% number, citing stores in neighboring counties with 33-50% of the floor space dedicated to seating.
Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said that flexibility in the seating requirements was important and suggested a 33% maximum for that purpose. The Commission discussed that matter and decided to leave the 20% limit it in place since any store wanting a larger seating area could simply ask for a waiver from the Commission.
Chip Royer, part owner of Boyd Tavern Market in Keswick, voiced concerns about the sale of gasoline. “We can’t take advantage of the economies of scale that someone like a BP or a Sheetz can do….If you knew what we had to pay for gas compared to some of the larger stations, you’d be shocked,” said Royer. The ordinance requires country stores wishing to sell gasoline to receive a special use permit to do so, and allows a maximum of one pump and six nozzles dispensing gasoline. The Commissioners clarified that the regulations apply only to gasoline, and stores have no restrictions on diesel or kerosene pumps, often used for farm vehicles.
Another area of concern were changes that called for the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to use the guidelines for rehabilitating historic buildings, as established by the U.S. Department of the Interior, when determining the appropriateness of country stores located in the entrance corridors. Forty-nine of the country stores in the County (59%) are in entrance corridors where design oversight is provided by the ARB.
Neal Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum thanked the Commission for recognizing the importance of the country stores, and for encouraging private enterprise. ”I am troubled, however, by the continued conflicts that I see between the ARB and other goals of the County…I continue to be concerned that there are 22 entrance corridors to Albemarle County, and a higher level of regulation in those areas,” said Williamson.
Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) pointed out that the purpose of the amendment was to make country stores a more viable business, and argued that factoring in the 59 pages of guidelines from the Secretary of the Interior would be an unreasonable burden on both the owner and the ARB. The other Commissioners agreed to remove the sections of the ordinance that referenced the guidelines.
The Commission also accepted a recommendation by Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Attorney, that all existing country stores be grandfathered in, so their current uses would be considered conforming uses, giving owners further flexibility.
The Commission’s 4-0 vote in favor of the amendments sends the ordinance to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, which will consider the changes at a work session in the near future. Commissioners Tom Loach, Jon Cannon, and Bill Edgerton were absent.