By Bridgett Lynn
Thursday, June 10, 2010
At their meeting on Tuesday, the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended denial of a special use permit for a proposed gas station called the Re-Store’n Station, which is to be located on U.S. 250 West near the Crozet Moose Lodge.
The preliminary site plan proposes a 5,750 square foot two story commercial building on about 4 acres. The 4,750 sq. ft. first floor is proposed as a gas station and convenience store accompanied by a second floor office of 1,000 sq. ft. The plan also reserves space for expansion of the building showing a future footprint more than double the initial building size.
A special use permit is required for the site because the station intends to use slightly more than 400 gallons per acre per day. At 4.06 acres, the property is allowed to use 1,624 gallons of well water daily. Jo Higgins , the property owners’ representative, said that the station would not exceed 1,625 gallons of water use. The property lost access to public water when the site’s previous structure was torn down by Higgins’ clients.
“[The] most important concern is about groundwater as a resource,” said Higgins. “If that is the case and you want to protect wells…the [ Board of Supervisors ] has the power to allow a public water connection and meter it by the Albemarle County Service Authority , which would relieve staff totally of the burden to monitor this and the staff time that that entails.”
Because the gas station would use slightly more well water than what is allowed by right, Albemarle County staff recommended approval of the special permit if the owners would agree to install a meter on the well to monitor water consumption and to not exceed 1,625 gallons of water per day.
“It’s certainly debatable whether granting this special use permit would be in harmony with the purpose and intent of the zoning ordinance,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center . “It’s even harder to assert that granting this permit to allow extra groundwater withdrawal for a gas station of this scale is consistent with the comprehensive plan . The Crozet Master Plan …specifically calls for limiting the amount of development along this stretch of 250.”
Higgins, who served on the Albemarle County Planning Commission during 2004-2006, said the station’s on-site wastewater septic system was designed according to Virginia Department of Health standards and Albemarle County ordinances. It was also approved by the health department.
“This information that was submitted was approved according to Albemarle County standards, and if you’re asking for a different level of standard, then the rules need to be changed, but not applied indifferently to this application,” said Higgins
Members of the public were concerned that the station’s water usage would not be adequately monitored and that the staff recommendation did not take into account the number of vehicular stops per day.
“Consumption can be determined estimated by vehicular traffic, but no traffic study has been completed,” said Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council . “Until a traffic study establishes estimated traffic, water use cannot be determined. Therefore the application does not provide sufficient information to make this determination.”
Property owners close to the proposed station worried that their adjacent properties to the proposed station would be at risk for well failure.
“[A Freetown Lane resident] brought up the fact that supposedly a well was dug on a property which substantially deteriorated the well on an adjacent property. That is data that bothers me,” said Commissioner Calvin Morris .
“We want to be assured that our wells are not hurt,” said Freetown resident Richard Brown. “When you start drilling and digging in the mud, you are going to blow our wells, we’re going to have a problem.”
“There’s no indication of the effect groundwater withdrawal may have on the adjacent properties,” responded Higgins. “All we’ve said is that we don’t think anything will happen to the adjacent properties, but we don’t know that for sure.”
Commissioners Tom Loach and Russell Lafferty did not support the special use permit because the station’s water usage could possibly be a detriment to adjacent residents and the station poses public health and safety concerns.
“I have insufficient information to believe that they will not exceed the allowable usage of water and that the neighbors will be adversely affected,” said Lafferty.
Commissioner Linda Porterfield also voted against recommendation for the special use permit. In her comments she noted that there are already gas stations located near the Re-Store’n Station’s proposed site.
“There probably are other things that the people who live in that area need. At this point I don’t think they necessarily need another gas station,” said Porterfield.
By a 5-2 vote, the Planning Commission recommended denying the special use permit. Commissioners Don Franco and Edward Smith voted against that motion.
“I understand everyone’s concern about exceeding the [water usage] number, but I think that what we’ve done is established a number that is just outside the by-right use in order to enable us to do the enforcement and the monitoring,” said Franco.
Following the denial of recommendation for the special use permit, a proposal for approval of the project’s preliminary site plan and a request to allow clearing of vegetation was heard by the commission.
Members of the public spoke against the size and scope of the project and the idea of having a another gas station close to their neighborhoods.
“After taking input from the [Architectural Review Board], neighbors, the chief of zoning, and other entrance corridor folks, we actually did a totally new concept and reduced the size of the store which was originally around 6,000 down to 4,750 [square feet],” said Higgins.
For Mike Marshall , the chairman of the Crozet Community Advisory Council , the reduction in square footage was not sufficient.
“I think you should deny [the site plan]. One, it doesn’t have the special use permit, second, they’re not showing you the whole plan, third, they don’t deal with [the public] in good faith,” charged Marshall,.
Higgins said she believes that the station would have a positive impact on the community. “Competition in the market is good for the community,” said Higgins.
However, after further discussion by the commission, Higgins agreed to defer the site plan request.
“We would like to defer your action on the site plan and ask respectfully for your input,” said Higgins. In an interview after the meeting, Higgins said she and her client had not yet determined their next steps. The special use permit for water has not yet been scheduled for review by the Board of Supervisors.