For most Crozet residents—and especially those that’ve been around a while—there is a sense of personal involvement surrounding the vacant lot at the intersection of Route 240 and Highway 250. This is because, despite the past 20 years of neglect and decay, from Pop and Ethel’s to The Gallery, the site was the home of much-loved eateries. However, after flooding tore through the location in the early 90s, damage to the septic system ultimately led to the building’s abandonment. But even then there were hopes of an eventual revitalization—while your average citizen probably didn’t realize it, in order to maintain the rights necessary to one day open another restaurant, the structure was left standing as a “placeholder.”
Thus the hullaballoo—a near perfect swath of excitement, wariness and skepticism—that erupted when, about a year ago, owners Bill McKechnie and Melton McGuire demolished the old building and announced plans to install a new 3,922-square-foot, 100-seat eatery with 51 parking places. With McKechnie’s background as a founder of the Five Guys fast-food franchise, citizens expressed concerns about the type of establishment that would be installed. While McKechnie told the Crozet Community Advisory Committee last May that the restaurant would definitively not be a franchise, in the face of a seemingly delayed construction schedule, apprehension has remained.
“There’s so much folklore and history surrounding that site,” said McGuire. “When we tore the old building down, people stopped and took photos. One guy actually came by and, because he’d proposed to his wife in one of the building’s prior incarnations, set up his easel and did an oil painting… I suspect everyone that’s lived here since before 1990 has a story about that place. And one of our main concerns in going forward is to tap into that historical lineage, bring it alive, and do it justice.”
Be that as it may, with the project appearing to be at a stand-still—the Bobcat’s looming but as-of-yet inactive presence was mentioned at November’s Crozet Community Advisory Committee meeting—the question on everyone’s mind remains: What’s going on?
“I’m happy to announce that, after an extremely arduous and unbelievably time-consuming process, we’ve been granted a building permit and have received all the necessary permissions to begin construction by the end of December,” said McGuire.
Described by McGuire and McKechnie as the “last big hurdle,” sifting through the permit process was by no means a walk in the park. The process’s major impediment proved to be concerns over the septic system.
“With so many waterways passing nearby and as closely as they do, the site could well be the toughest in all of Albemarle County,” said McGuire. “We bought the property back in 2005 and you just wouldn’t believe how long it’s taken to obtain all the proper approvals… There are so many organizations you have to go through, and each department and organization has different needs, many of which are contradictory… It was a long and lengthy negotiation, but we’re through with all that and firmly believe it’s going to be worth it.”
McGuire and McKechnie cite three factors:
First, the history. With such a rich, local relationship with the property, the two feel that installing what they describe as a “a comfort food, neighborhood type of place that caters to families and offers a wide range of options for lunch and dinner, as well as great to-go capabilities” will, for long-term residents, tap into that sense of nostalgia while providing newcomers—and everyone else—with a quality, locally oriented, non-franchise alternative for eating. This, they hope, will allow them to fill a longstanding gap in the community.
Second, the septic system. “This is the only property between Crozet and Charlottesville that has access to the sewer line,” said McGuire. “You have to keep in mind the fact that all restaurants are limited by what they can do by their septic systems. As you can imagine, it’s a very water-intensive business, so a sewer tap is really valuable. Without that, you could end up having limited hours based on artificial limitations as opposed to how much business you can actually do.”
Third, location. While on the one hand the intersection is one of the most problematic in the area, on the other, it affords commuters returning from Charlottesville post work the perfect opportunity to stop in for dinner.
“To begin with, most of the traffic we’ll generate will be off-hours traffic, so that’s important to keep in mind,” said McGuire. “Second, the layout you see today is going to be different. The site plan includes a deceleration lane and the entrance to the lot and facility will be placed on the Crozet tip of the property off 240.”
In the long-term, McGuire expects the Virginia Department of Transportation will install a traffic light at the intersection.
“We know that VDOT has plans for that intersection”—in fact, speaking at November’s Board of Trade meeting, VDOT engineer Joel Denunzio talked about plans for eventually installing a roundabout—“and that they make priority decisions based on what the uses are,” said McGuire. “So once we’re up and running, that will incentivize the process and get the ball rolling.”
Estimating a swift construction process, McGuire says the restaurant will open its doors to the public in the spring. McGuire explained that he wants to assure Crozet residents this will be a good thing.
“I moved here years ago from Alexandria to raise my family in the area because I love this place,” he said. “I want to see it thrive and grow in ways that celebrate the uniqueness of the community. And I think our restaurant is going to do that.”