Mechum’s Trestle under construction, owners considering whether to lease or start new restaurant

A site near Crozet that housed numerous restaurants over the years but has sat vacant for nearly two decades soon will be home to a new eatery.

“This may be the most difficult site in all of Albemarle County,” said Melton McGuire, co-owner of Mechum’s Trestle, which is at the intersection of Route 240 and U.S. 250 between Ivy and Crozet.

The property is bordered by Lickinghole Creek directly to the north and Route 680 to the east.

McGuire and business partner Bill McKechnie purchased the property in 2004 with plans to eventually build a restaurant. They have been going through the process of getting their project approved in recent years.

“It’s been a long haul, it’s a very difficult piece of property — it’s bounded by [Route] 680 and [Route] 240 and Lickinghole Creek and it just sets off a ton of zoning issues,” McGuire said. “So for the last couple years, we’ve been working through that and we’ve succeeded and got permission for a restaurant with 53 parking places and everything else required to actually run a restaurant.”

The process of moving forward with the 100-seat restaurant included a site plan review, as well as securing approval from Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors for a special-use permit for water usage exceeding 400 gallons per site-acre per day. A certificate of appropriateness was also required from the Architectural Review Board because the property lies within an entrance corridor.

Construction is currently underway and McGuire said he thinks the building likely will be ready by the fall.

McGuire and McKechnie have not yet found a tenant for their restaurant and are also considering the possibility of opening their own establishment.

“We’re building it out with the idea that either, preferably, we’d find someone else to lease it out … and if not, then we both have restaurant experience and we would just kind of do our own thing there,” McGuire said. “So either way, it’s going to be a restaurant.”

McGuire has previous experience owning and operating brewpubs in Northern Virginia, and McKechnie owns the local Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchises and has a background that includes starting Great Harvest Bread Company in Alexandria.

“We really want someone who has experience and has a local presence and can do it right,” said McGuire, who explained that they envision a neighborhood-friendly spot that will appeal to the surrounding community.

Some special characteristics of the property McGuire highlighted include its access to public sewer and its designation as a commercially zoned parcel in the county’s rural area, which generally limits commercial development.

“It’s a unique opportunity for sure,” he said.

With the opening of a new restaurant, the site will be restored to its historic use as a restaurant, which included establishments such as Pop and Ethel’s and Gallerie. It was known as the Ridge Restaurant in the early 1990s before a damaged septic system shut it down.

Over the course of the ’90s, supervisors authorized access to public sewer and the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a variance for a reduced setback for the site. However, plans for a place called Café No Problem didn’t pan out and the property fell into a state of disrepair, with the abandoned shell of a building occupying the site until its demolition in June 2016. The site fell victim to vandalism and illegal dumping.

“Our goal is to restore a 100-seat restaurant to the former building site, thereby transforming this highly visible piece of property into both an attractive landmark, consistent with the ‘look and feel’ of the setting, as well as to add a productive element to the commercial tax base,” McKechnie said in an April 2015 letter to the Crozet Community Advisory Committee.

The Mechum’s Trestle area will also see a transportation project in the coming years that will transform the intersection of Route 240 and U.S. 250 into a roundabout.

The project has an initial cost estimate of $8.6 million, but that number is based on a potential 2026 construction date and may break ground sooner than that. The roundabout is being funded in part with the fines collected from violations of the state’s open alcohol container laws.

“The designs I’ve seen can avoid that restaurant and the actual structure,” Kevin McDermott, the county’s transportation planner, said in a previous interview. “We’ll work with them to do the access off of that roundabout.”

McGuire said they have not had formal discussions with the Virginia Department of Transportation about the roundabout. He said he generally supports the project, but he also noted that one of his main concerns would be the impact of the construction time.

“It’s a great benefit to the space because it slows everybody down and makes our deceleration lane a lot easier to handle,” he said.