Panel recommends denial of 24-hour fuel pumps at Crozet station

The Albemarle County Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend denial of a request to allow Legacy Markets on U.S. 250 west of Crozet to operate its fuel pumps 24 hours a day.

The convenience store known in planning documents as Re-Store’N Station has a controversial history in the community.

“Our primary fear is this will become less of a service station and more of a gathering place,” Bruce Kirtley said at a public hearing Tuesday night.

The Comprehensive Plan adopted in 1980 designated this site as within the county’s rural area. That means both that business uses are discouraged and that the property cannot be connected to public water and sewer service.

However, the underlying zoning remained as “highway commercial” at the time. That allows the county to require a special-use permit to withdraw more than 1,624 gallons a day from a well.

“Staff is very aware that this property being zoned highway commercial is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, but it is zoned for highway commercial and that has not changed,” said Bill Fritz, the county’s chief of special projects.

The Board of Supervisors approved such a permit in 2010, which allowed for the property to use no more than 1,625 gallons of water per day. The permit allowed the county to place conditions on the business, such as the current limit of 16 opening hours a day.

A previous application to amend the special-use permit was denied by supervisors in 2016. That request involved building additional structures on the site and was denied in part out of a concern the water usage limit would be exceeded.

The new request is to extend permitted opening times for the actual store to 20 hours a day. The business also has requested increasing the number of fuel pumps from seven to nine.

“Although customer activity is least during the evening hours, the 16-hour limit currently prevents competition in the market and does not allow for flexibility during the summer season,” said Jo Higgins, a former planning commissioner who is representing the owner. “[Approval] does not mean the store would be required to stay open 20 hours but it does let the business owner decide.”

To demonstrate compliance with the existing special-use permit, the applicants tracked water consumption between September 2015 and September 2017 and demonstrated an average use of 383 gallons per day. That is 24 percent of the total allowed under the special-use permit.

“Three-quarters of the water allowed has not been used,” Higgins said. “This application is a request to amend two of the nine conditions that have imposed unreasonable and disproportional restrictions which limited the ability of Re-Store’N Station to compete in the market and operate consistent with other convenience stores in Albemarle County,” said Higgins.

Since July, the applicant has been taking daily readings and has demonstrated a daily use of 289 gallons.

The fuel pumps were turned on 24 hours a day when the store opened in 2013 but were turned off in summer of 2016 following complaints by neighbors.  

“Allowing pumps to operate when the store is closed doesn’t affect water usage in any way,” Higgins said.

White Hall resident Mary Rice said she was concerned that only a handful of people were at Tuesday’s public hearing.

“The community has been working on this for almost 10 years and there have been other meetings where there were lots of people,” Rice said. “The community is pretty much worn down at this point.”

Rice said the limit of 16 hours a day was placed on the site to address the quality of life concerns of neighbors, including the historically African-American neighborhood of Freetown.

“We are very tired,” said Jason Crutchfield of Freetown Lane. “I find it interesting that the staff can make a recommendation based on facts they did not collect.”

Erica Haskins pointed out that images of the site used by Higgins in her presentation were taken during the day, whereas the additional use would be at night.

“We are very fearful of the disturbance that will come with 24-hour-a-day fuel pumps,” Haskins said. “Crozet is a sleepy town and that will probably stay true for most, but not for us.”

Higgins said the station’s owners have complied with noise and light ordinances.

“Regretfully, there is a lot of activity here that is a disruption,” Higgins said, referring to several commercial properties nearby that also contribute to the issues.

“We don’t know what the future of Crozet is,” Higgins said. “There are a lot more people coming.”

Some commissioners were persuaded by continued opposition from Freetown residents.

“You’ve come in and despite the accommodations you may have made, it still doesn’t speak to the quality of life issues,” said Commissioner Daphne Spain.

However, other commissioners said they sympathize with the neighbors but the use is one allowed under the county’s rules.

“This is just documenting the reason why highway commercial is not recommended to be in a rural area,” said Commissioner Karen Firehock. “It does not comport with what our Comprehensive Plan says, but zoning trumps the Comprehensive Plan.”

However, Commissioner Tim Keller voted against the request resulting in the 3-2 vote. The request will move on to the Board of Supervisors at a later date.