The derelict location of former restaurants at the intersection of Rts. 250 and 240 at the Mechums River bridge east of Crozet will become a restaurant again if the owners of the parcel can get a special use permit for its water needs, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee learned at its meeting May 20.
What was once know as Pop and Ethel’s and later as The Gallery Restaurant will be rebuilt on essentially its original footprint, according to William McKechnie, a restauranteur who is planning the project. He has jointly owned the property with Melton McGuire since 2004.
The shell of the former building has been left standing so that the property would not lose its right—but be considered “grandfathered”—to be resurrected as a restaurant at some point. The location was once the scene of an encampment by Stonewall Jackson’s army in 1862 in the opening stages of Jackson’s audacious Valley Campaign. The rebel army boarded trains at Mechums River to go face a Federal force approaching Staunton from the west.
“We’re very invested in this project and we want it to be transparent to the community,” McKechnie said. The 1.3 acre site would have a 5,500-square-foot, 100-seat building and 51 parking places. Entry to the lot would be located as far from the main intersection as the parcel allows, McKechnie said.
“There are many challenges to restoring it,” he said. “We’ve been working through the process. We want something aesthetically pleasing. We’re in initial site plan review to see if we can meet requirements.”
McKechnie said he has a signed letter-of–intent to open there from “an experienced restaurant operator” who he declined to reveal, hinting only that the firm has restaurants in Charlottesville and Richmond.
“It is not a franchise restaurant,” he said. “They match their presentation to the community.
“We want to be worthy of the spot on two entrance corridors,” he said, and they are going through review by the county’s Architectural Review Board “to see that it matches the environment and adds to it.”
The planned restaurant would need more than the 560 gallons of water per day allowed by ordinance. McKechnie said a professional engineer’s water study the size of a phone book found “the highest ground water availability” at the site, “favorable to the proposed use” and with geological properties that “will lead to steady recharge of the well.” The study also found no contamination threats on the site or in surrounding fields and no effects on water users near the property. A copy of the water study is on file at Crozet Library. The study has been accepted as valid by the county, McKechnie said.
McKechnie said a well will be drilled only after the plan has been approved and only then will a well’s flow rate be known. McKechnie said he expected to return to the CCAC to keep it informed. He said the restaurant would likely use 1,500 gallons per day and the SUP request asks for a limit of 5,000 gallons per day because of sewer requirements.
“It’s a placeholder building that assures that a building can take its place.” Former restaurants were on a septic field, but the new restaurant will tap into the sewer line, thanks to a connection made by a previous owner. The plan has no need of public water, he said. The building, which sits near the confluence of Lickinghole Creek with Mechums River, is not in a flood plain, though a portion of the parking lot is.
Adjoining property owners Gale Pickford and Jeff Clayton challenged McKechnie on the status of easements necessary for sewer access, and met with him and McGuire privately after the presentation to the CCAC.
New CCAC member Alice Lucan asked if a traffic light was called for at the intersection and McKechnie said the Virginia Department of Transportation is reviewing the points of the plan.