By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A proposed gas station on U.S. 250 in Crozet is coming under increased scrutiny by the public and the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board .

At its meeting Monday, the ARB told the applicant’s representative, Jo Higgins , that the Re-Store’N Station plan had not improved enough over the past year and still had a negative impact on the adjacent neighborhood and historic area of Free Town.

Albemarle County Architectural Review Board members (L to R) Bruce Wardell, Fred Missel , and William Daggett

“It is less worse than it was in the beginning, yet it is still not good,” said board member Paul Wright. “I think it’s too big and its scale is significant, and I think the site [plan] makes it currently unacceptable to ARB guidelines.”

“This is a very rural area of Albemarle County, this is not [U.S. 29 North],” continued Wright. “We shouldn’t stick a 29 North store on this specially designated scenic byway that’s different from almost any other road we have in the county.”

Jo Higgins speaking on behalf of Michelle &
Jeff Sprouse for the Re-Store’N Station proposal

Higgins, a former Albemarle County Planning Commission member, first brought the Re-Store’N Station proposal before the ARB in February 2009. The 4-acre parcel owned by Michelle and Jeff Sprouse was previously the location of a small-engine repair shop and is zoned for highway commercial activity. It is located across the street from an Exxon gas station and next door to the Crozet Moose Lodge.“We are on our third visit to the ARB,” said a frustrated Higgins after the meeting. “We find there is inconsistency with respect to their review of this project.”

Higgins said she was “disappointed” with the ARB’s feedback and suggested the ARB was overstepping its mandate.

“There seems to be blurred lines between the Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Board, and there is no appeal process that works,” Higgins said. “We have proceeded diligently to present something we thought was appropriate for highway commercial zoning.”

While a gas station is allowed on the property by right, buildings along U.S. 250 require approval from the ARB, which is responsible for reviewing development projects in Albemarle’s road entrance corridors. Typically the ARB provides feedback on details such as the building’s appearance and orientation, landscaping, lighting and signage.

Higgins came prepared with a new plan that she expected would address the ARB’s past feedback on those aesthetic matters. However, Higgins became visibly frustrated as the ARB critiqued the project’s potential impact on Free Town and the difficulty of the site to accommodate additional parking and a conceptual future building addition.

Speakers during public comment included two Free Town Lane residents and two former county officials, all with concerns about the project.

October 2009 concept plan for the Re-Store’N Station

“Although the initial plan has been downscaled a bit, when you look at the other proposed site [for a second building] you are still looking at possibly 9,500 square feet of space,” Free Town Lane resident Jonathan Hunt told the board. “Although this is situated in such a way to minimize its impact on Route 250, it maximizes its impact on our neighborhood, the noisiest part of the service station is closet to our neighborhood.”

Kirk Train, an architect and former chairman of the ARB, spoke on behalf of Scenic 250 , an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the rural and scenic character of U.S. 250 west of Charlottesville. He also encouraged the board to focus on the scale of the project and the lack of mitigation and buffers.

“I find the design mediocre, and we ought to accept better,” Train said. “We deserve, and 250 deserves, a better effort, a smaller effort on the site.”

Marcia Joseph , former chairwoman of the Albemarle County Planning Commission, asked the ARB to consider the additional 56 parking spaces that she said would be required if the second structure is built. She said that parking would consume areas now proposed in the plan as open space.

As they began deliberations, Chairman Fred Missel encouraged the board to find balance in its recommendations by taking into account that the proposal was by right and had been under review for the past year. However, he also said that the ARB’s purview included taking adjacent historic properties into consideration.

Over the past year, the size of the proposed gas station has decreased in response to county concerns. What was originally a 7,000-square-foot, two-story building is now a 4,750-square-foot building with a convenience store on the first floor and 1,000 square feet of office space on the second floor.

Wright said the public’s input at the meeting was a significant factor.

“We can go through weeks and never have [the public] come talk to us,” Wright said. “Just the fact that they are here and objecting to it, to me makes a great difference.”

“Now with my knowledge of the historical providence of Free Town, it has in fact impacted my view of this site from the very first time I saw it,” Wright said.

In the end, Missel echoed the conclusions reached by other board members.

“The scale of the development remains excessive and remains inappropriate in an entrance corridor adjacent to a historic district,” Missel said.

Michelle Sprouse said her goal was to get the gas station open for business by January 2013. No formal vote was taken by the ARB and the Re-Store’N Station plans are expected to be reviewed further at a future meeting. Higgins said she would come prepared to address the board’s latest round of feedback.

For Charlottesville Tomorrow’s previous coverage of Free Town and development along Route 250 West near Crozet, see this article from December 2009 : Amid growth in Crozet, Albemarle seeks to maintain US 250 as a scenic byway


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