A vacant lot at the intersection of Route 240 and U.S. 250 between Ivy and Crozet could be home to a new restaurant by this time next year.
“It’s been a long, arduous process to restore rights to the property. It took a while, and we are happy that we are successful at this point,” said co-owner Bill McKechnie.
In April, Albemarle County officials approved a site development plan for Mechum’s Trestle — a 1.4-acre property that has been unoccupied for two decades. The site will feature a one-story, 100-seat restaurant.
Mechum’s Trestle has been a familiar spot in the local food scene, with restaurants such as Pop and Ethel’s and Gallerie.
“It is a site that has high recognition and it seems to be prominent in a lot of people’s memories,” McKechnie said. “We do hear a lot of stories from folks as to their familiarity with the spot and with various restaurants that have been there in the past.”
It was most recently home to the Ridge Restaurant in the early 1990s, but it was forced to close after a storm flooded Lickinghole Creek and damaged the property’s septic system.
“We would like it to be approachable — certainly we want families to be comfortable there — something that represents everyday use and that is a comfortable gathering place for the community and visitors to the county.”
“I remember taking guests and family members there,” said Sally Thomas, who represented the Samuel Miller District on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors from 1994 through 2009. “A storm took out whatever they had in terms of a septic system … it couldn’t put its sewage straight into the creek, so it had to close.”
In 1992, the Board of Supervisors granted the site access to public sewer services, and in 1995, the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a variance to reduce the setback of 30 feet from public streets to nine feet from Route 240 and seven feet from Route 680, which also connects to the intersection.
In the 1990s, the site began to be developed into a restaurant called Café No Problem, but those plans ultimately fell through, leaving an empty structure on the property.
“That really just sets us all to laughing because it’s obviously been a lot of problem, and it’s sat there all these years,” Thomas said.
A letter from Mechum’s Trestle LLC to the Crozet Community Advisory Committee in April 2015 took note of the site’s conditions.
“While the parking area has been used regularly as a staging area for work performed by Dominion [Virginia] Power, [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and their respective subcontractors, there have also been numerous incidents of illegal dumping and vandalism that have threatened the area both environmentally and aesthetically,” the letter read.
The structure was removed earlier this month.
“We were anxious to remove it once approval was received,” McKechnie said. “We wanted to move quickly remove it, start the cleanup process and make sure that people understood that we were serious about cleaning it up and restoring it to its previous use.”
According to county records, McKechnie and his partners at Mechum’s Trestle LLC purchased the property in 2004, and pre-application work for the current plans started in 2014.
Now that a final site plan has been approved, McKechnie said the goal is to break ground on the site in six to eight weeks and also finalize arrangements with a tenant for the restaurant. The developers are hoping for a spring 2017 opening.
They also say they hope the restaurant will be a family-oriented, comfortable establishment.
“We would like it to be approachable — certainly we want families to be comfortable there — something that represents everyday use and that is a comfortable gathering place for the community and visitors to the county,” McKechnie said.
The site is located just outside Crozet’s designated growth area and is on a parcel zoned for commercial use.
The 3,922-square-foot, by-right restaurant will be only the second restaurant in the county — besides Duner’s in Ivy — to be constructed in the rural area, where commercial development is limited.
“I think most people associate that spot with a restaurant and are comfortable to see another one take its place,” McKechnie said. “Given its location and proximity to Crozet, we think that the best concept will be one that embraces the community.”