Dividing line: Station brings Crozet's rural ideal into focus

news-brown-kirtleyRichard Brown and Bruce Kirtley object to plans for another gas station across the street on U.S. 250 in Crozet. PHOTO BY LISA PROVENCE

For decades, "Protect the rural areas" has been the veritable mantra of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. That spirit has helped anyone driving on U.S. 250 west of Charlottesville view grazing cows instead of the clustered subdivisions that been popping up around Crozet, a designated growth area. But sometimes the ideals of the Comprehensive Plan collide with reality.

Take, for instance, the strip of U.S. 250 between Western Albemarle High and Interstate 64. Long dotted with commerce, it includes gas stations, an auto body shop, a chain-fenced equipment storage yard, the Moose Lodge, and a lumber mill. And yet it's zoned rural.

That's why when Will Yancey tried to a build a light industrial park behind the heavy industrial R.A. Yancey Lumber site two years ago, he couldn't get the nod for his 184-acre dream–- even though the site borders I-64 and even as county staff acknowledges a shortage of light industrial zoning.

That same rural designation has shaped the more recent debate over Jeff and Michelle Sprouse's plan to put in a Sheetz-sized service station along the same strip. The Sprouses own a four-acre parcel that formerly housed the dilapidated-but-rustic Ward's Small Engine Repair. For the past two years, neighbors have been crying foul, fearing the proposed 16-nozzle station, dubbed Re-Store 'N Station, would deplete the water table.

"It's going to possibly drain my well," says Richard Brown, whose property lies in nearby Freetown, a historic cluster of properties originally settled by freed slaves. Brown says his 70-foot well went dry in September, and he had to dig a 240-footer.

Here's an irony: a major water supply pipe runs right by the proposed station property–- and Freetown–- but neither the Freetowners nor the Sprouses can tap into it because of the rural zoning.

Another irony: Despite the rural designation, most of the surrounding–- and objecting–- neighbors are tapped in to the public water system. One more irony, which must really sting the Sprouses: Their little Ward's Small Engine Repair house was connected to public water, but when they tore it down, they lost the right to hook back up.

Opponents to their heavily punctuated project (they say a consultant friend helped devise the name Re-Store 'N Station) gathered for a mid-October press conference in front of the house of Bruce Kirtley, who owns the Exxon station next door.

"We've got one 29 North; we've got Pantops," says Kirtley over the steady rumble of traffic. "We don't want to turn Crozet into another one."

In a county without a Sheetz, opponents frequently compare the planned Re-Store 'N Station to the next biggest thing: the Liberty on Pantops. They also point out that the heavily traveled road with its Exxon and Shell station lies within an Albemarle entrance corridor.

"No traffic study has been done," says Mary Rice, who lives in White Hall and serves on the County's Crozet Community Advisory Committee. And fellow Western Albemarler Mary Gallo worries about the safety of children attending Brownsville Elementary, Henley Middle School, and Western Albemarle High.

news-restore-n-stationAlthough in Albemarle's rural area, parcels off I-64 in Crozet are zoned highway commercial and heavy industry. PHOTO BY LISA PROVENCE

On October 13, the day of the press conference, the Board of Supervisors rebuffed a special use permit for the Re-Store 'N Station–- unless it gets pared down. The Sprouses were told to come back with a a 3,000-square-foot station that operates 16 hours a day and to slice the number of nozzles form 16 to 10.

"We were cut down to about half of what we were asking," says Jo Higgins, who represents the Sprouses. She had hoped that the promise of an underground storage tank to hold landscaping water as well as a restrictor valve to staunch the flow from the station's well to one-gallon-per-minute would ease the neighbors' groundwater fears.

Having formerly served as a Planning Commissioner, Higgins is no stranger to Albemarle development issues, but she says she's never been exposed to such "vicious" opposition that included booing at meetings and a threatening letter from the attorney of Brownsville Market owner Chris Suh, who bought the market from the Sprouses in 2008. The Sprouses have a four-year noncompete agreement with Suh.

Higgins believes some of the opposition coalesced several years ago with the proposed Yancey Business Park.

"From Western Albemarle to I-64, anyone would agree that is not rural," says Higgins. "It's just a line."

Supervisor Dennis Rooker, though he recently okayed a rural-area sewer extension for the Whittington subdivision in another part of the county, defends sticking with the rural designation around the Sprouses' project. "There's a domino effect," says Rooker. "Where do you stop?"

As for the owners, Michelle Sprouse says she and her husband envision the Re-Store 'N Station as an environmentally friendly place–- complete with healthy foods–- and whose the motto will be "refuel, replenish, refresh."

"We are a local family," says Sprouse. "The station would locally owned and locally run."

She also wants to shoot down the rumor that she and her husband wanted to build a truck stop at the just-off-I-64 location. "That's not in our interest," says Sprouse. "Trucks would take up all of our parking."


Of course it's about the money! That's what Capitalism is. But both of these projects will create jobs, tax revenue and in the case of Yancey, much needed industrial land. I don't see why anyone who really looked at this would object.

master plan and sustained growth = master disaster and sustained letdown.

absurd, Crozet has long been destroyed starting with the Highlands and more recently Old Trail. The influx of yuppies was more then happily goaded along by the county. There is a Harris Teeter, Dominos, even Thai and a ABC store. Naturally the local gas stations don't want any competition, and now the county is showing interest in the local scenery? Should have done that years ago, you opened the doors so accept what you've done and give Crozet the Sheets styled place it deserves, no sense in trying to pander to the old time feel at this point, especially considering the backwards and illogical way the zoning has been established. To say that the area cannot handle the station or that it would be a detriment is absolutely laughable and completely translucent. This has been run by dimwits and developers from day one.

Even a Thai restaurant??!! Oh my gawd, what is the world coming to!!

yes, the ABC store is what got me sold on the area.

We can boo and hiss planed communities all we like, but then we complain when we don't have sidewalks or your neighbor is turning their yard into a their own salvage yard. Can't have it both ways.

"master plan + sustained growth = thai and ABC stores"

It is a shame (or perhaps a sham) that the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the "Comprehensive Plan"
have truly nothing at all to do with the wishes of the residents of Albemarle County.

For decades, they have done a great job of stifling, crippling, destroying any potential progress the area may otherwise have enjoyed.

The line dividing the tiny Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the 94,075 residents is a complete disgrace.

ââ?¬Å?We are a local family,” says Sprouse. ââ?¬Å?The station would locally owned and locally run.” Give me a break. Either they need to stop letting their attorney speak for them or this is just lip service for the press! In the recent BOS meeting, the attorney made it clear that the Sprouses wanted to sell this station to a national chain and the sooner they got it approved...the sooner they could move forward with that plan.

If I am willing to drive 1/2 mile from my home, I have a choice of 3 gas stations, add a mile and I can get to 5! It isn't about no growth...it is about SMART growth!

I think that route 250 is generally a very pleasing scenic highway in the Crozet and western Albemarle area. The stretch of 250 in question has certainly become more congested with Crozet's recent growth in population as evidenced by new traffic lights and new light industries. It is the least attractive stretch of rt. 250 in western Albemarle and we should only undertake new construction which adds to the beauty of our scenic highway, our county and to our quality of life. In particular, businesses that create undesireable traffic congestion by seeking to draw patrons from I-64 should be avoided.

The lumberyard that exists on 250 west near Crozet already has a serious problem allowing loaded log trucks to get in and out of the yard safely, especially during the early dawn and dusk hours.

That is a serious traffic hazard that has, apparently, has been taken very lightly.

And the owner wants to add even more truck traffic.

It's about the moola, not the community.

Hello!!! the schools want money, more money for quality education, we are upset because some old jobs and some new jobs at all the government levels are being frozen, citizens want excellent roads, all the conveninences to stay the same or get better for themselves, their kids and the whole family. For example, if we have an elderly loved one at home who is seriously ill, you will want 911 to come ASAP. We want all the libraries and other local and state institutions to function normally, if not better and improved. We expect the best teachers for your kids at school. ALL THIS COSTS $$$$$. My friends, the county, the state, the whole country is in a severe financial crunch. We cannot have the whole pie and eat it all too. Compromise and commonsense is the answer. Trees, greenery and forests have their place, and so does growth and development. Infact, many citizens of this county should be happy that there are people in this community that are willing to actively financially contribute to our county by opening up new businesses, create new jobs and thus do their part to help the county financially. THOUGHT FOR TODAY: Is the grass, the tree, the cow grazing along route 250 more important than your health, your children's health, your parent's health, your education, the 911 ambulance service that is available to you, your job - that put's the food on your table...etc.??? My friends, we are in a severe financial crunch all over this country. Let us keep our priorities straight.

By scaling back the hours they eliminated at least 4 jobs from the cancelled shift.

The water issue was BS from the begginning. They could truck in water if they ran out or shut down untill they had enough. A 70 foot well is not deep enough anywhere and that is why it ran out.

No wonder Albemarle has reputation for being unfriendly to businesses.