The Albemarle County Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-0 June 1 to reject appeals of determinations made by county zoning administrators regarding the proposed ReStoreN Station’s conformity with domestic waste and highway commercial use ordinances. Opponents of the station, who mainly object to its scale and impact on adjoining areas along Rt. 250, argued that the station’s kitchen and asphalt run-off should be considered sources of industrial waste, according to their interpretation of the pertinent ordinance. Similarly, the station’s design to accommodate tractor trailers puts it outside the bound of the ordinances that, they said, were written specifically with automobiles in mind.
County deputy zoning administrator Ron Higgins, who had made the original rulings, asked the BZA to back his decisions. Those were challenged by Duane Zobrist, representing Chris and Anne Suh, owners of Brownsville Market, who bought it from the developer of ReStoreN Station, Jeff Sprouse. Higgins said the disputed term in the ordinance, “food processing,” referred to food manufacturing, such as once occurred at ConAgra in Crozet, and not to cooking in restaurants. He said the challenge over the term “automobile” in the highway commercial uses ordinance was inconsequential and that the ordinance includes the concept of truck fueling. “This practice has long been allowed,” he said. “The code does not distinguish.”
Zobrist contended that the deeper issue is sprawl. “This project is a test of the county’s resolve to maintain a community or neighborhoods—or will all our entrance corridors turn into Rt. 29,” he said. He urged the BZA to look at the intent of supervisors in writing the ordinances, which date to 1969 and 1980, and also noted that a gas station is not a by-right use for highway commercial zoning in a case where a special use permit is required. Sprouse’s request for a special use permit for water use will be heard by the Planning Commission June 8.
The issue of domestic waste includes sewage and, Zobrist argued, pointing at oily runoff from the station’s parking lot, that the site would not “be free of industrial waste” as required to qualify as domestic waste. “I have a hard time getting to ‘domestic waste’ as covering everything that happens on a service station site.”
He said that zoning officials “overstepped their authority” in making the definition of ‘automobile’ apply to the design of the station. “If this is upheld then we can have Sheets and WaWa—which we don’t have in Albemarle County. If we wanted them we would have them. We don’t because we don’t want them.” He referred to those types of stations as “hyperstations.”
Zobrist argued that the ordinance envisioned smaller convenience store stations. “It shouldn’t be staff that changes ordinances.” He said ReStoreN Station should be required to get a special use permit for waste.
Gardy Bloemers, representing Scenic 250, backed Zobrist and called the station “a diesel truck stop.” Her group would not oppose a smaller station, she said. She agreed that ‘food processing wastes’ are industrial and not domestic.
Jo Higgins, the Sprouse’s consultant for developing the station, said “The state of the art in convenience stores has changed. We are not doing a Sheetz or a WaWa station, which in their latest iterations are as large as 10,000 square feet.” ReStoreN Station began as a 5,750 square foot project and has been reduced to 4,750. The plan reserves a location to add on to the building.
Higgins said opposition to the station was “about trying to keep competition from opening,” a reference to the Suhs. She said, “This could be a truck terminal, but it’s not.” If truck uses appear after the station opens, “that would be an enforcement issue for the county. There is no way diesel will be in the run-off. ‘Domestic’ is the appropriate designation.”
Bruce Kirtley countered that the resistance to the plan was based on its scale and its impact on neighboring area. “It looks like a truck stop hybrid, not a gas station. Gas is a loss leader; the profit is in the deli,” said Kirtley, who owns Toddsburys, a convenience store in Ivy.
About a dozen people spoke to the board, some raising points outside the BZA’s purview to decide, such as the impact of truck traffic on Rt. 250, especially with teenage drivers to Western Albemarle High School so near. Richard Brown of Freetown drew attention to the fact that run-off from the site will flow directly into the Charlottesville and Albemarle reservoir and has “the potential to pollute the water supply.”
“We shouldn’t even be talking about putting this on top of Freetown people,” he said. “We have the same rights any one else has.” He said Jo Higgins had admitted to him that she would not want to live in his house once the station was built.
Mary Rice argued that since the site is within the drinking water watershed, the project should be required to get a special use permit for waste. No information about the kitchen in the building has been offered, she noted, so how could county officials be satisfied that they knew what wastes might be produced in it? She said a traffic study is needed to determine what patronage of the station would likely be.
Mary Gallo, a chemist, pointed out that diesel exhaust contains 40 known carcinogens or disrupters and that research shows that diesel run-off contains 482 chemicals. “How could that be domestic waste?” she asked. A heavy diesel engine produces 100 to 200 times more particulates than car exhaust, she added.
Crozet Community Advisory Council chair Mike Marshall said the CCAC had discussed the questions of ‘domestic’ or ‘industrial’ and ‘automobile’ or ‘truck’ at its May meeting and by a show of hands gave their verdict that the station’s wastes were industrial and that the existing ordinance speaks specifically about automobiles. The CCAC concluded that station intends to attract truck traffic off Interstate 64, he said.
After public comment closed, BZA member L.F. Woods said, “It’s clear to me that the staff designation is accurate and correct and has been there a long time. Domestic waste is very clear. This is a permitted use.” He moved to support the staff ruling and was seconded by Randy Rinehart. Chair David Bass noted that “It is unfortunate that the definitions of domestic waste are so broad. It needs to be looked at.” And with no more discussion, the board cast its vote.