The Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended denial of a special use permit that would clear the way for a gas station and market near the Interstate 64 interchange with Black Cat Road.
Tiger Fuel is proposing an up to 4,000 square-foot market with up to five gas pumps at the site. The market also would serve food and sell snacks and beverages.
Commissioners said the rural nature of the area and neighbors’ concerns were behind their unanimous recommendation to deny the special use permit.
“Is a country store acceptable in the rural area? Perhaps it would be, but the fact of the matter is that lipstick on its lips does not mean a pig stops being a pig, and a gas station that serves food is still a gas station, and is not automatically a country store because it is in the rural area,” Commissioner Rick Randolph said.
The undeveloped property proposed for the gas station is about 12.5 acres total, but only about 3.3 acres near the road is zoned C-1 Commercial and has been since 1980.
County staff said that since the property is in the Comprehensive Plan’s Rural Area, but is zoned commercially, they used the regulations of country stores in the zoning ordinance as a guide to evaluate the scale and impact of the proposal.
“The appropriateness of the C-1 Commercial zoning designation on the property is not under consideration,” said county planner Tori Kanellopoulos. “The property was comprehensively rezoned by the county in 1980, and no action has been taken to amend or modify the zoning of the property.”
In 2019, the Board of Supervisors approved a change to zoning regulations for certain types of commercially zoned properties in the rural area. Now, property owners who want to have restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores on those properties need a special-use permit if the property is not served by public water or a central water system.
The ordinance was enacted because county staff had found it difficult to prove how much water a proposal would consume.
County staff recommended approval of the gas station and market with conditions including that all light fixtures must be full cutoff, all outdoor lighting be turned off when the station was closed, hours of operation must be between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. and a tamper-proof, flow restriction device must be installed to limit water flow to not more than 700 gallons per day.
Tiger Fuel wanted to keep the fuel pumps in operation overnight.
“We’ve put together a model that we’ve proven can work in other locations, and we have deviated immensely from that model to be a cooperative, collaborative partner in this effort,” said Gordon Sutton, the president of Tiger Fuel. “My fear is that if we’re not able to generate revenue by selling fuel under the canopy at night, with those full cutoff fixtures that will have absolutely no light pollution, that it’ll be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
During public comment, more than 10 people opposed the project and expressed concerns about water usage, traffic and noise and wanting to protect the dark skies.
Hays Blaine Lantz, Jr., who lives nearby, said he was concerned about the groundwater.
“The staff is reporting to you that there’s sufficient supply of groundwater in the area to support this project,” he said. “Frankly, I’m baffled by this finding. I’ve done two years of research on this topic. We have research findings that go back 40 to 50 years that clearly demonstrate that this is an area of low well yields.”
Pat Young, who lives on Mechunk Road, said she was concerned about trucks parking at the gas station and safety.
“We’ve never had any problems down there,” she said. “I think this is going to bring problems that we’re not anticipating.”
Nick Evans, the hydrogeologist who did the groundwater study, said it was unlikely that the gas station and market would have any measurable impact on existing wells that are in the neighborhood.
“There does not appear to be a great deal of connectivity between wells in this type of geology on that type of scale such that the water being pumped for this proposed site would have any impact on a well that is even a few hundred feet away, necessarily,” he said.
In 2018, the county started discussing changes to the zoning ordinance, and the board was originally considering making changes related to water use for all industrial and commercial zoned properties in the rural part of the county.
At the time, the county’s zoning administrator said that at least two applications had been appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals over water consumption issues. It was later confirmed that those appeals were for the Restore ‘N Station, a gas station in Crozet, and Tiger Fuel’s application for the proposed Boyd Tavern Market on Black Cat Road.
The Restore ‘N Station ultimately received a special use permit, and a request for two additional fuel pump stations was approved in 2018. In August, a circuit court judge in Albemarle ordered that the fuel pumps can remain operational overnight, stating that the Board of Supervisors’ decision to deny that amendment was “unreasonable and not fairly debatable under the circumstances of this action based on the evidence presented to the court.”
According to county records, the Restore ‘N Station gas station was sold for $3.65 million in January.
The Market at Boyd Tavern proposal is tentatively scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on April 1.