A plan to build a gas station with eight pump islands and a 7,000-square-foot convenience store on four acres zoned highway commercial just east of the Interstate 64 interchange with Route 250 ran into trouble in January when Albemarle County water resources officials rejected water-use data submitted by the developer, Jeff Sprouse, and the Architectural Review Board sent his design back to the drawing board.
According to the county’s interpretation of its rules, the property has the right to draw 1,624 gallons a day from its well, 400 gallons for each acre in the parcel. The project’s documents assert that water usage at five comparable stores show average water use of 720 to 760 gallons a day.
Neighbors of the project in Yancey Mills and on Freetown Lane met with county groundwater manager Josh Rubenstein to challenge the water-use data, asserting that the existing gas stations offered by Sprouse as comparable operations in fact were not. Later county zoning director Amelia McCulley wrote Sprouse to say that the data did not prove that the station would be within the parcel’s allowable limit and that the project would need to get a special use permit to proceed.
Sprouse’s options include revising the scope of the project, presenting new “comparables” data that prove his predicted water use is accurate, or appealing the special use permit ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Subsequently, Sprouse invited neighbors to a meeting at the Old Trail Golf Clubhouse where Jo Higgins, a former county engineer who is handling design documents and official approvals for him, offered to build a stockade fence to screen the store and pump canopies from Freetown Lane. Higgins also proposed that evergreens be substituted in the requirement to put deciduous trees along the Lane. But nearby residents, who want the project scaled down, were unmoved by the ideas and declined to say where they preferred a fence to be placed.
At a February 2 presentation of the project to the ARB, the panel rejected the proposed plan and called for a new design and site plan.
Fred Missel called the design a “sea of asphalt. It doesn’t relate to the road. It’s very visible from the entrance corridor. I don’t see this as in any way different from a typical strip development.”
ARB chair Paul Wright faulted the plan for “land banking” (trying to leave room on the parcel for future development). “I feel like it’s designed to preserve a building space, not to design the best building for the site,” he said. “If you’re proposing a building it has to be the best building for the site. I really don’t like it that the site design is limited.” If there is to be another building on the parcel it should be shown in the plan, he said.
Bill Daggett called the roadway around the pump islands “contorted” and predicted that “getting in and out of there with a trailer would be a nightmare.” He also rejected the proposal of a copper-colored metal for the roof as too bright and reflective. Real copper would be okay because it would mellow into a patina.
Daggett suggested that the building be moved to the center of the parcel. “We look at the entire parcel for the building proposed.”
Missel said that the presentation of the design “made the case that the land is too small for the use you want in this building configuration.”
The ARB added a requirement to the list of 48 prepared by county staff, calling for the next version of the design to “respond to the surrounding rural and historic area.” The store’s relationship to the entrance of Freetown Lane onto Rt. 250 had been criticized earlier.
“I expect that requirement will mean a new design,” Daggett said. He suggested that a new plan could require the sacrifice of one of the three possible locations for drain fields on the parcel, a possibility that could further complicate the site’s water limitations. Higgins said the drain fields identified can accommodate 2,700 gallons per day.
“We really are asking you to reconsider this,” Daggett said.
Sprouse must decide by Feb. 15 if he wants to appeal the water ruling to the BZA.