By Matt de Simone
The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors approved five land use changes requested by Higginbotham Farms LLC, and Four H Investment LLC (Sheetz, Inc., contractual purchaser) for a proposed Sheetz gas station/convenience store in Blue Ridge at the corner of Laymantown Road and U.S. Route 460. Five items were on the table during the public hearing held at the June 27 meeting which included Comprehensive Plan amendments to water and sewer and future land use, a rezoning request to Business (B-2), a special exemptions permit (SEP) for a convenience store (with conditions), and to upholding or overturning the Commission Permit.
In a vote of 4-1, all five items were approved/upheld by the board. Blue Ridge Supervisor Billy Martin later stated that when speaking to his Blue Ridge constituents, his vote was determined on the residents’ response to the purposed project when asked. Martin was the only board member to vote “No” on all five items.
The board authorized consideration of a property owner-initiated petition for text amendments to create a sewer and water service area within the right of way of Blue Ridge Boulevard between Coyner Springs Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which would connect three existing service areas together and to amend the future land use designation of several properties in the vicinity of the intersection of Blue Ridge Boulevard (U.S. 460 & 221) and Laymantown Road from medium density residential to commercial.
Sheetz is proposing to construct and operate a 6,139-square-foot convenience store with fuel sales and a drive-through restaurant on the 3.434-acre site. Maryellen Goodlatte, legal representative for the company, gave a brief presentation highlighting renderings of the site, a traffic summary/study, and lighting exhibit.
County Zoning Administrator Drew Pearson noted that there is an ongoing project to better the traffic at that specific intersection in Blue Ridge. There will be a taper off of Laymantown to access the proposed facility. No eastbound traffic will be able to access the site directly from 460 and will use the traffic light turning onto Laymantown. Westbound traffic will be able to access the store “right in-right out” from the highway.
Citizens spoke in opposition of the proposed project. Comments noted that there are five gas stations between the Sheetz on King Street in Roanoke and the proposed site in Blue Ridge, asking for a nice restaurant to be placed there instead, and referred to comments the Planning Commission received at the June 12 meeting.
One Blue Ridge resident said the project “makes no sense.” The citizen noted that he went door-to-door in the Brookfield subdivision and said he received over 150 signatures of residents that didn’t want the Sheetz. He thought the safety concerns “are not enough.”
Another Blue Ridge resident noted “manipulations” in the company’s presentation to the board. The man claimed the company is “appealing to emotion” in terms of the Sheetz representative sharing that it’s a “family-owned” company, and the proposal is “losing (the county) in the weeds” regarding details he said were “omitted” from the presentation.
Goodlatte stated that “it’s not just a matter of trust” about the project. She noted that, in this instance, the new store is being modeled after the King Street and Daleville locations and due diligence will be applied before any construction begins.
Buchanan Supervisor Amy White asked Carl Hultgren, a traffic operation engineer with Gorove Slade working with Sheetz on the proposal, if his seal of approval on any project assures the study is objective. Hultgren noted VDOT’s specific procedures and requirements on traffic studies. In the study, he said that most of the customers at the proposed Sheetz were “pass by” customers who aren’t making a “special trip,” but are already on their way to another destination. White also asked about the streambed near the site concerning protecting the surrounding environment. Another engineer on the project said that the state requires specific regulations on a filtering process to prevent any issues.
Amsterdam Supervisor Steve Clinton was curious about tractor-trailer traffic. An engineer stated that fuel tankers would have access the site, but the design is solely for passenger driver traffic. Goodlatte added that the fuel would be for automobiles, not tractor-trailers.
Additionally, the board unanimously approved a Special Exceptions Permit (SEP) for a proposed behavioral health hospital located at the end of Avery Row in Blue Ridge. A representative from LewisGale made a presentation about the proposed project. She noted training opportunities for clinical staff and physicians and that the facility will create new jobs. She spoke about the landscape of mental health services in Virginia “lagging” behind other states in the country and that “more resources are needed.”
The Botetourt Planning Commission unanimously voted to move the permit to the supervisors with the conditions that the proposed hospital: is constructed in substantial conformance with the concept site plan and building elevations included with the application, houses no more than 130 beds, the SEP approval doesn’t exempt the use from meeting the requirements of the Botetourt County Noise Ordinance, and that all other specifications and general provisions shall be met as required by the Botetourt County Zoning Ordinance and in no instance shall the zoning conditions exempt a project from any local, state, or federal development requirements, except where allowed by the Zoning Ordinance.
The public hearing regarding the SEP saw comments about the county being “deceitful” when giving the general description of the project in its paid advertisement. County Director of Community Development Nicole Pendleton explained the advertisements listed in the June 14 and June 21 editions of The Fincastle Herald listed a link to where a person could read the entire packet.
Another Blue Ridge citizen who works in behavioral health had concerns about staff shortages in other localities and how this new facility can assure a full staff. The same gentleman had concerns about homeless patients who check themselves out hospitals with nowhere to go and the lack of a bus line running up to the proposed facility.