The BP station on the western edge of Ashland provided fuel for many a motorist making their way west on Route 54 while it was open.
The now-dilapidated building is currently fueling a debate over whether commercial activity belongs in the predominately residential neighborhood.
Sumpter Priddy Jr. has applied to rezone the currently residential property to B1, a commercial designation that would be the first of its kind in this section of the Thompson Street corridor.
Town Council on July 16 deferred Priddy’s request to Aug. 6 amid concerns of spot zoning and uncertainty over what type of business might locate there. Council also heard from multiple citizens who oppose the project.
Their minds haven’t changed.
A group of concerned citizens has rallied in opposition to the rezoning, submitting to town officials a petition containing more than 150 signatures. Many spoke during the July 16 public hearing against the project; about a dozen recently aired their grievances to the Herald-Progress.
“It’s the gateway into Ashland from the west, and we’d like to keep it residential and green,” said Tayloe Moore.
Citizens have also called for commercial entities to take over existing vacant space downtown, where revitalization efforts are already in the works, or on the heavily commercial Route 1 or eastern Route 54 corridors. None of those gathered could think of a commercial use at the site they could get behind, calling instead for it to remain under its current zoning. If the property changes uses, residents favor it becoming something that serves a public purpose, akin to a visitor’s center, park, or historic attraction.
“It doesn’t create a net benefit for our community; it really only creates a net benefit for the owner of the property,” said Charlie Selden. “[There’s no public interest served] by the rezoning.”
“Even if he was coming in with the most prurient motives, the precedent that it could create to just do spot zoning…is a little bit scary,” Selden added.
According to Nora Amos, director of planning and community development, town staff had recommended Priddy pursue B1 zoning because of the location of the existing building and setback requirements. However, Priddy has been steered toward uses that fall more in line with the town’s B4 “Neighborhood Commercial District” zoning, a classification intended to cater to nearby residents.
“People from Richmond wouldn’t come [to Ashland] to go to these businesses but people in the immediate neighborhood would,” Amos said.
However, Priddy has not proposed a specific use, making the approval process difficult.
“If he did, that would make it a lot easier,” Amos said.
Amos said Priddy has agreed to limit the types of commercial uses on the property. If the rezoning goes forward with the current proposed proffers (as of presstime), Priddy will be allowed the following personal service commercial uses: barbershop, beauty parlor, photography or artist studio, taxicab stand, self-service laundromat or dry-cleaning establishment, dressmaking, tailoring, decorating, shoe repair, repair of small appliances or bicycles, onsite retail bakery, or an undertaking establishment.
The restrictions also allow Priddy to develop the property into a retail store, as long as it doesn’t have gas pumps. In addition, restaurants, banks and financial institutions would be allowed as long as they do not have drive-thru service.
With an additional conditional use permit from the town, the property could house uses such as a park or playground, day care center or day nursery, farmer’s market, or museum and art gallery.
Priddy is limited to one commercial structure on the property, which can’t exceed 2,500 square feet, eliminating the possibility the property will become a strip mall.
Priddy has not agreed formally to any set hours of operation, according to Amos.
If the rezoning is denied, Priddy’s options for developing the property would be limited to those currently allowed byright in R2 zones. Churches, single-family dwellings and home occupations are permitted uses in this zone. Several others become possible with a conditional use permit, including community centers, bed and breakfast establishments, parks and playgrounds, and day care centers when they are an accessory use to a church.
Town Council is expected to act on the rezoning when they meet Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Mayor Faye Prichard said she expects the plan to have changed by the time Council takes it up Tuesday, adding that she thought Town Council made it clear that they had concerns with the project at the last meeting.
While the Priddy rezoning will not be an official public hearing, Prichard said she will allow members of the public to voice any new concerns they might have.