In their third appearance before the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board Feb. 1, developers of the Restor’n Station on Rt. 250 near Yancey Mills were told again that the project is too large-scale for the site.
The convenience store plan has been reduced to 4,750 square feet, with an additional 1,000 square feet of office above it, and two gas pumps have been dropped from the main pump island to reduce the size of its canopy, said Jo Higgins, who represented developers Jeff and Michelle Sprouse. She ticked off changes in the project made in response to the ARB’s earlier 48-point list of objections. Higgins described the changes as “very drastic,” but in the end the ARB left its list of objections intact.
The plan was first reviewed by the board in February 2009. The ARB has authority only over aesthetic considerations that are in view from a highway designated as an entrance corridor. Other aspects of a site plan are the purview of the Planning Commission.
Restor’n Station will require a Special Use Permit to proceed, county zoning officials decided in November because of uncertainty over whether it can function under its limit of 1,624 gallons of water per day. The site is not eligible for public water and must draw on a well.
Higgins said the developers disagree with the county’s ruling and their SUP asks for a allowance of one gallon, a symbolic figure, with a water metering plan, “to test it.” They contend metering will prove the county is wrong. Higgins argued that there were few water-using fixtures in the building, but board members noted that it does include a kitchen and the number of toilets is less material than how often they are flushed. Higgins said they have taken a WaWa gas station in Richmond of similar size as their model. This issue was outside the ARB’s scope, however.
ARB members balked at making a decision about the plan because it shows the location of an addition to the building which might be constructed at a later date. The first plan presented showed a stub road to a future building location. The ARB must limit itself to assessing what is being proposed for construction now, not that which is hypothetical. The current plan did not show where the 52 parking spaces required to serve the addition would be placed. Building locations on the parcel are tightly constrained by space requirements for two drain fields.
Board members were concerned about critical slopes on the parcel’s east, south and west boundaries and the likelihood that the lights in the diesel pump canopy at the rear of the site would shine into houses in Freetown, which sit 30 feet lower than the lamp elevation. The ARB was also concerned about the amount of asphalt shown on the site. To remove those issues, the location of the convenience store would have to more north and west on the lot, towards Rt. 250. But the addition, which would add 5 or 6 offices, was shown on the west side of the store and therefore limited a shift that direction.
Freetown residents Richard Brown and Jonathan Hunt raised objections to run-off and to the noise of tractor-trailers being brought to the diesel pump at the back of the parcel near their homes.
Architect Kirk Train, a past chair of the ARB, who spoke representing Scenic 250, raised scale issues. “The site is stressed even before the addition of future parking,” he said. “There is a lack of mitigation being offered for the scale and inadequate buffers on the boundaries. I find the design mediocre and unsustainable in its characteristics. We deserve a better, smaller effort on the site.”
Train was also concerned about two large underground tanks that are intended to catch storm water runoff from the pavement for reuse watering the landscaping. “Pumping water out of those tanks, does that accomplish anything?” he said, meaning that the water could contain pollutants. The tanks might also capture water that would otherwise recharge wells in Freetown.
“I’m persuaded that the impact on the neighborhood is pretty severe,” said board member Bill Daggett. “None of us would want this embankment next to our homes. Parking would cover this site with asphalt. I would like to see the full impact of the addition. We are cramming a lot on the property.” The parcel is 4.4 acres.
“We’re supposed to pretend the addition does not exist,” said ARB member Paul Wright. “They are trying to maximize space and not shield their uses from neighbors. We should say forget that addition and move the building and get some relegated parking. That is less worse, but still not good. This is a rural area and we shouldn’t have a Rt. 29-style gas station on a scenic highway. It’s too big and unacceptable to ARB guidelines.”
“Let’s really see the addition or let’s see what you would do without it,” said Daggett. “Whatever it is, it has to fit the scenic and historic nature of this area.”
“I’ve changed a lot since I started looking at this site,” agreed Wright. “My knowledge of the historic provenance of Freetown has affected me.”
“The scale of the development remains excessive and inappropriate as the entrance to an historic area,” concurred ARB chair Fred Missel.
“This building is not in context with the nature of the area,” summed up Daggett. “Scale has been an issue from the beginning and they want to add to the scale. Even without the addition, scale could still be an issue.”