Split Architectural Review Board sends Crozet gas station to another work session

By Tracie Cabler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

After years of setbacks and reviews, a controversial gas station in Crozet is potentially one work session away from approval by Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board.

Following the Re-Store’N Station’s latest review on Monday, some members said they were pleased with the project’s design progress.

“This is not an eyesore,” board member Charles Lebo said. “I think they’ve come a long way, they’ve done a lot of work [and] it’s starting to fit in somewhat with the character of the neighborhood.”

Crozet resident Frank Calhoun

However, while there was a general consensus with regard to the overall appropriateness of the station, the board remained split over whether to move forward and approve the project. Board member Bruce Wardell expressed reservations about granting approval before viewing more design and structural details.

“I feel like we’re reviewing a moving target,” Wardell said. “It’s not that I disapprove of it, it’s that I don’t really know what I’m in fact being asked to approve.”

“I don’t know the railing details, I don’t know the cornice details … all of those things have to do with the texture of a building, and that’s one of the primary vehicles that we have in the entrance corridor to make a contemporary building have a sense of appropriateness,” Wardell added.

This is not the first time architectural and site details have challenged the Re-Store’N Station. Since the property was purchased by Jeff Sprouse in 2006, the proposed gas station at Freetown Lane on U.S. 250 West has faced a series of design dilemmas. Plans for the station have been reviewed and rejected by the board several times. At the previous review in May, the board again expressed concerns over the station’s size and outward appearance.

Neighboring residents of Freetown Lane have voiced continual opposition since the project’s inception. Some residents have taken issue with various design aspects of the station, including its size and appearance, in the context of the rural character of their Crozet neighborhood.

“[Jo Higgins] didn’t discuss the lighting of Freetown and how high this building’s going to be, because it’s changed from time to time,” said Freetown Lane resident Richard Brown. “Before the final say, let’s make sure we cover all bases; so far today I haven’t heard too much about Freetown.”

Residents also aired their dismay over the process by which Higgins, the project’s developer, has taken to achieve approval for this project. Some took issue with how Higgins showed the most recent illustrations only to the board members at the meeting.

“We’re at a disadvantage here,” said Crozet resident Frank Calhoun. “We don’t see the illustrations you see. I would still like this to look like a Greenwood Gourmet and not a Sheetz.”

While Wardell and fellow board member Paul Wright were in favor of postponing the vote, board member Bill Daggett expressed his belief that the devil in this case was not necessarily in the details.

“It seems to me that they’re working pretty hard here to try to mimic some of the vernacular forms,” Daggett said. “We’re 200 feet away from the entrance corridor and at 45 mph … I don’t think that the depth of detailing is going to be an overwhelming negative to the overall form of this.”

However, Wright said it remained important to verify specific details of the plan.

“To be honest, this is the first building I thought was approvable,” Wright said. “I think in this project we would do well to be very specific — that you’re getting what it is you think you’re getting.”

The ARB drafted a detailed list of conditions for the gas station’s approval. Despite this compilation, when a vote for approval was taken, a split 2-2 vote occurred, with Wright and Wardell remaining in opposition. Both desired to see the ARB’s conditions met before signing off on a certificate of appropriateness.

“Our goal is to not simply establish a kind of bottom level or kind of lowest bar possible,” Wardell said. “At 45 mph and seeing this building from one direction or another, I guarantee you that the details make a difference.”

The board agreed to postpone a final vote until after a work session can be held with the developers.