Scott Watkins is a lifelong resident of Albemarle County who has operated a landscaping business here since 1984. However, the future of his livelihood is currently in jeopardy.
“The County has determined that I cannot have my landscape business in a rural area because it’s not agricultural,” Watkins told the Planning Commission on October 30, 2007. Watkins and Company is located on Route 20, outside of the growth area.
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The County classifies his business as a contractor’s storage yard, which is only allowed in land designed as Highway Commercial or Light Industrial. Watkins said he could not afford to purchase any land already zoned in one of those two categories, so he and his wife purchased two parcels of land totaling three acres in the growth area along Route 250 and are requesting a rezoning to Highway Commercial. The land is currently zoned as R-1 residential.
“Currently my livelihood is at stake,” he said. “I’m not looking to develop this property for profit, but merely to keep my business in the County.”
The Commission held a work session to find out more information on the project, and to consider whether a landscaping business would be an acceptable use of the property. Staff also wanted to know if Watkins would be required to connect to sewer. The house has a functioning well and septic system, and Watkins said he would likely not want to hook up to public water. Watkins is also not interested in contributing to the construction of an interconnecting road to the proposed Liberty Hall subdivision, something staff has suggested may need to be part of a rezoning.
Adjacent to the property on the west is the Cloverlawn development, which features town houses as well as two commercial buildings fronting Route 250. To the east lies the rural area boundary.
For his part, Watkins said his business would make a good neighbor for the Cloverlawn department.
“I think that we would make a wonderful transition between what is currently the rural area to a commercial area.” He said he would be willing to improve the current landscaping on the property, and there would be no retail traffic at the location. However, a handful of trucks would be dispatched each morning.
Because the property is within the boundaries of the Crozet Master Plan, staff has also requested Watkins to consider building pedestrian connections with surrounding neighborhoods, both existing and proposed. Watkins said he did not want to do so because his business is not a retail establishment.
“A quick scan of the local maps shows that there is a dearth of industrial land in the County for service businesses,” Watkins said.
Landscape architect and former Planning Commissioner Will Reilly has been working with Watkins to find a new location. He spoke up in favor of the rezoning.
“I think the really crucial issue here is to recognize that this parcel is in the growth area,” Reilly told the Commission. “If you look at the various criteria in the Crozet plan for where this kind of operation would occur, the closest category is the one that it’s proposed to be in.”
But the rezoning is opposed by at least one neighbor of Cloverlawn, and by an organization that is dedicated to preserving the route 250 corridor. Scott Peyton is the president of Scenic 250.
“I’m deeply concerned that a rezoning from R1 to Highway Commercial would set an extremely disturbing precedent,” Peyton said. “I think you all could count on seeing additional requests come before you and the Supervisors. If you approve this rezoning, I don’t know what the County’s footing would be to deny future rezoning requests.
“I’m deeply sympathetic to Mr. Watkins personal and professional plight,” Peyton added. “I think it is imperative for the County to take steps to make provisions for appropriate locations for service industries to be in place to support both the commercial and residential development in the growth area.”
Reilly told the Commission that the road will look even more scenic if Watkins can operate his business, because he will plant trees along Route 250.
Commissioner Duane Zobrist (White Hall) asked what would happen if the land was rezoned, and Watkins goes out of business. Reilly said there would be a lot of limitations placed on the rezoning.
Anita Jacobson lives next door in the Cloverlawn townhouses, and she says she would not have bought her home if she had known the property next door would go commercial. “I’m unfortunately only one of 18 homeowners here tonight at this meeting to make that objection,” Jacobson said.
Zobrist said he had a lot of sympathy for Watkins but was skeptical the rezoning would occur.
“I just think he probably picked the wrong piece of property,” he said before listing several reasons why he is opposed. They include the presence of heavy trucks entering the property, the preservation of 250’s character, and a fear that the property may end up being sold to another commercial interest in the future.
Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) agreed, and added that he could not support any more rezonings until the County has rural protection strategies in place.
But Commissioner Pete Craddock (Scottsville) said he was concerned that Watkins and other small businesses will end up moving to another county in order to keep going. But, he added that he was not sure if this particular piece of property would be a good fit.
Commissioner Calvin Morris (Rivanna) said he felt it was an appropriate use, because a landscaping business would provide a good transition from rural to commercial. Though, he said he was not sure how to handle the potential traffic issues.
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) said he was struggling with how to proceed, and wanted more information on exactly how many trucks would enter and exit the property each day. Watkins responded that at most, two trucks would be loaded up with supplies each morning, and would return in the afternoon, and the occasional 18 wheeler would supply the business.
“I hear the concern about the expansion of commercial,” Edgerton said. “This is certainly not on the level of expansion of yet again more shopping centers.” He added that residential uses would likely generate more traffic.
Chair Marcia Joseph (At-Large) said she had a problem with rezoning the property as Highway Commercial, which she called the County’s most intense zoning classification. Her proposed solution would be to try to find a way for Watkins to continue operating his business in the rural area. She added that she concerned that Watkins did not want to do many of the items requested by staff, such as connecting to public water and building transportation improvements.
Zobrist asked if it would be possible to simply rezone Watkins’ existing property. County Planning Chief Wayne Cilimberg said that would not be consistent with the comprehensive plan designation, and would be spot-zoning. Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) said that he thought rezoning Watkins property on 250 would be consistent.
“I don’t think you need to be hung up on highway commercial if we tailor [the rezoning] so that it is what it needs to be for this particular site in a way that can be enforced,” Cannon said.
Commissioner Craddock said the rezoning would have to be worded very carefully. “I certainly don’t want to see this done to Highway Commercial, and then six months later Joe’s Used Car Lot comes out there,” Craddock said.
Four of the seven commissioners agreed to proceed with the process, and a public hearing before the Planning Commission will be held on December 11, 2007. Zobrist and Strucko were the two votes against proceeding, and Joseph did not voice a specific position.
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