The Nelson County Planning Commission voted 4-2 at its September 26 meeting to approve a rezoning request with a special use permit to construct a multi-family dwelling on residential property locally known as Anderson’s Store. The parcel, located in Afton at 1889 Avon Road on the corner of Route 151, was a country grocery that served the community for over 50 years, but it has not been in operation for the past several years.
A public hearing on the proposal was previously held on August 22. The parcel is zoned residential and the store was operated as a “grandfathered” exception in the zoning requirements. Since it has been closed for more than two years, it cannot reopen without a change in zoning.
The applicant, Justin Shimp, is an Afton resident and engineer as well as the developer of Hogwaller Farm, an urban farm and apartment development planned for Franklin Street in southeast Charlottesville.
Shimp described the Anderson’s Grocery Country Store project, and the public then weighed in with eleven people speaking at the August hearing.
Shimp said his intention is to keep the store operational for the sale of local goods and to preserve its historic character. The multi-use dwelling planned is a reconstruction of the current house behind the store to enlarge the single-story structure to create five residences, including four one-bedroom apartments intended as affordable housing.
Recent VDOT road improvements at the Route 6 and Rockfish Valley Highway (Route 151) intersection reduced the size of the original property including right-of-way to an area now less than one acre in total. The road changes also limit access to the store only from Avon Road (Route 638).
Most public comments expressed the concerns of residents in the Avon Road neighborhood. While some public comments, including those from Jeri Lloyd and Brenda Saunders, expressed support of the store alone, more were not in favor of the plan. The multi-use dwelling raised the most concern from the neighborhood. Alvin Lenahan lives on Poppy Lane directly behind the proposed project. Lenahan is concerned about the septic and well for the dwellings that he believes will affect his own well. Theresa Boing, Donna Small and Henrietta Lockett spoke against the project as impinging on residential privacy.
Those speaking in favor of the project included Daniel Rutherford, Nelson County’s Commonwealth Attorney and an Afton resident. Rutherford disclosed that he has known Justin Shimp for his entire life and trusts his judgement as an engineering professional. Rutherford spoke of the benefits of having the apartments, increased tax revenue and a restored historic building.
Todd Rath, a Nellysford resident and Afton business developer, spoke about his methods for solving technical problems and for serving the needs of people in the county.
Commission members discussed and questioned the applicant further at their September meeting, and a motion was made to approve the rezoning to B-1 (business use) with the existing proffer/conditions. Immediately prior to the vote an objection to the qualification of Thomas Bruguiere’s vote was voiced from Mary Lenahan seated with the public. Others in public attendance voiced assent to this objection. Bruguiere is the brother of the property owner, Curtis Bruguiere, who is selling the property to the applicant contingent on approval of the zoning change. Bruguiere told the crowd that he had qualified his vote with the County Attorney and he had a legal right to vote on the application. Bruguiere, Chuck Amante, Mary Kathryn Allen, and Michael Harman voted in favor of the application with Phillipa Proulx and Mark Stapleton voting against it. The approved application will be considered by the Board of Supervisors at their November meeting.
Oliwia Shimp said she has always wanted to have a café and bakery. She plans to operate the store, which she describes “as a dream of mine since I was 19 years old.” The Shimp family, committed to homeschooling, imagines their children in the store with hands-on learning through interactions with their home community. “We are not going to be open at night. We plan to serve locally roasted coffee, kombucha, and healthy sandwiches on locally baked bread and fresh market vegetables,” Shimp said.
The original store is believed to have been built in 1919 and later relocated from Afton Mountain. A centennial re-opening is a possibility.