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Council narrowly adopts permit for Emmet Street car wash

The Charlottesville City Council has given a green light for a couple to operate a car wash on Emmet Street on the site of a former fast-food restaurant.

“The applicant proposes to replace the existing building with a 1,100-square-foot office and sales building fronting on Emmet Street, an outdoor landscaped seating area and a canopied wash and vacuum area to the rear of the proposed building,” said city planner Heather Newmyer.

Councilors voted 3-2 Monday to approve a special-use permit for Aqua Car Wash, a business that will be run by Ginger and Jeffrey Kamrath.

City councilors Wes Bellamy and Kathy Galvin voted against it.

Galvin said the car wash does not meet the vision of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan, which calls for entrance corridors such as Emmet Street to serve as mixed-use gateways that create a “sense of place.”

“Do we want people to see and feel a discernible difference when they cross the city line along U.S. 29,” Galvin asked. “The character of the street itself should signal that you have arrived some place distinctive.”

The property is located in the city’s urban corridor zoning district, and a car wash requires a special permit for that use.

The Planning Commission recommended approval at its May meeting but set eight conditions, including limiting hours and banning the use of loudspeakers. They also wanted to make sure that customers would be discouraged from turning right onto Meadowbrook Road as they exited the site.

“These are in hopes of mitigating some of the impacts as well as complying with some of the Comprehen-sive Plan’s visions and goals of making a commercial site both automotive- and pedestrian-friendly,” New-myer said.

Another condition would close off access to Meadowbrook Road from the site when the business is closed. Signs must be erected to direct traffic away from turning right onto Meadowbrook Road.

“Thanks to all of the neighborhood feedback, we think we have a better site plan,” said Jeffrey Kamrath.

Many in the Meadowbrook Heights neighborhood continued to oppose the idea and maintained that traffic still would be an issue.

“The configuration is still going to allow customers to go through the car wash and out onto our residential street, and we are concerned this will set a precedent,” said Dena Imlay, president of the Meadowbrook Hills and Rugby Neighborhood Association.

Imlay also said she is concerned that the proposed CVS development at the corner of Barracks Road and Emmet Street also could lead traffic onto Meadowbrook Road.

Kamrath said a fast-food restaurant in the location would generate much more vehicle activity. He also said he or his wife will be on-hand daily as managers.

“We think our business is one of the best opportunities to limit traffic to that road,” Kamrath said. “If there is ever an issue, [the neighbors] can come right to us.”

Galvin said the car wash is another example of why she believes the city needs to review its zoning code to ensure it matches the aspirations of the Comprehensive Plan.

“I cannot continue to approve uses along that corridor that have been determined by our community for decades to be a mixed-use, vibrant pedestrian and bike-oriented corridor,” Galvin said. “Our zoning is terribly, terribly out of whack with our Comprehensive Plan vision.”

Newmyer stood by her recommendation for approval.

“While it’s an auto-dependent use, it’s a manual [car wash], so it is a lesser impact,” Newmyer said. “By working with the applicant, we have made some strides and tried to make this more pedestrian-friendly.”

Other councilors said they respected Galvin’s point of view but were convinced to move forward with an approval.

“In this particular case on this particular site, this may not be our best place, or at least not for me, to make that stand,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos. “I strongly feel that this particular business being a local business with the owner on the site makes a huge difference.”

Mayor Mike Signer said he agreed with Galvin that the zoning code needs to be reviewed but was not prepared to vote against the permit.

“I think this City Council should really shift into higher gear on getting our government working on making our zoning code match the priorities in our Comprehensive Plan,” Signer agreed.

The code audit is scheduled to begin after the council adopts the Streets That Work guidelines. The Plan-ning Commission will consider that item June 14.

Kamrath said he would be willing to hold another meeting with the neighborhood as the site plan for the car wash proceeds through city review.

“We’ve moved back here for a purpose,” Kamrath said. “We want to live in a city and start a business here. That business involves the community.”