The owner of a 2.72-acre parcel in Celebrate Virginia South has filed a petition in Fredericksburg’s Circuit Court that it hopes will pave the way for an access road off Fall Hill Avenue.
CVAS Properties LLC wants to build the road, which would connect to Hospitality Lane, for a 7–Eleven and a Valvoline Instant Oil Change that those companies want to build on part of the vacant lot between Wegmans, Fall Hill Avenue and Hospitality Lane.
It’s applied for two special use permits for these, but the sticking point in getting approval is the access road. It would cut through the 50-foot-wide landscaped buffer along Fall Hill Avenue between Gordon W. Shelton Boulevard and Hospitality Lane, and cross a 10-foot-wide path built on the north side of Fall Hill Avenue last year.
The petition states that city staff invoked a 2005 side agreement made to the 1998 rezoning for Celebrate Virginia South to deny the access road. The agreement states that Celebrate Virginia South would build a 50-foot-wide buffer along the Fall Hill Avenue frontage from Interstate 95 to Carl D. Silver Parkway.
CVAS Properties seeks a declaratory judgement that the side agreement doesn’t prevent access to its property, and that the agreement is void and unenforceable. It also asks that the application process for the two special use permits be stayed until the court “resolves this matter, and for such other and further relief as to the Court may deem appropriate.”
A declaratory judgement seeks an official declaration of the status of a controversial matter without ordering that anything be done or awarding damages.
City staff had recommended that the Planning Commission approve the special use permits without access to Fall Hill Avenue, along with several other conditions. Following a public hearing at its July 11 meeting, commission members concluded that no access to Fall Hill Avenue should be permitted and voted 5-1 (with one member abstaining) to recommend denial of the project.
They cited CVAS Properties’ assertion that the traffic pattern could be unsafe without a connection to Fall Hill Avenue as well as the viability of future trail network connections.
CVAS Properties amended its proposal before the special use permits came up for a public hearing at City Council’s Aug. 14 meeting. It offered to build a 10-foot-wide asphalt trail along Hospitality Lane and Carl D. Silver Parkway to the site of the proposed baseball stadium.
Mike Craig, the city’s senior planner, told council members that the side agreement requires the 50 foot-wide landscape buffer between the property and Fall Hill Avenue, and the applicant would need to modify it with City Council before the access road could be approved.
He added that another side agreement made when Celebrate Virginia South was rezoned included standards that that pedestrians not be required to cross any street of more than 3 lanes in width without a median strip to provide a safe haven. The standards also state that crosswalks shall consist of brick, stamped concrete or better, subject to city approval.
As currently proposed, the access point across the trail is 40 feet wide and the markings are not clearly labeled. Craig said that CVAS Properties proposed building a concrete refuge area in an island at the center of the entrance. He said that more detail needed to be provided before the entrance could be approved.
“The entrance concept is not in character for the vision keeping with plans for Celebrate Virginia South established by the side agreement,” he said. “The city closed down the entrance to the old 7-Eleven at Wicklow Drive and Fall Hill Avenue when Fall Hill was widened. No breaks were permitted for the banks at the corner of Fall Hill Avenue and Gordon Shelton Boulevard, or for Wegmans.”
Jervis Hairston, Silver Cos. vice president of planning, said that there’s nothing in the side agreement that prohibits access or cuts to the berm in the landscaped buffer along Fall Hill Avenue, and it was created mainly to shield residents on the south side of the road. He pointed out that several changes to the berm have been made, including lowering its height when Hampton Inn was built, without amending the side agreement.
He added that the roughly half-mile trail the owner proposes building would give pedestrians and bikers a way to get to destinations such as the Fredericksburg Expo & Convention Center and the proposed stadium.
“We believe that’s an improvement,” Hairston said. “It also gets you closer to the river and the old quarry trail.”
Former City Council member Joe Wilson, who is involved in developing the Valvoline site, reminded the council that it hadn’t been that long ago when the city was having trouble paying its bills. He said the city would lose out on revenue if the special use permits aren’t approved.
Rob Murphy of Cushman and Wakefield, who was representing Valvoline, said that the company likes the site because it’s near a busy highway and a grocery store, but it wouldn’t work without access to both Fall Hill Avenue and Hospitality Lane. The access road provides “an escape lane” for customers who see a line at the business and don’t want to wait for an oil change, as well as company trucks dropping off supplies and removing used oil.
“The business would fail,” he said. “Valvoline has been doing this long enough to know.”
Council member Billy Withers asked if the company had any idea that the city normally wouldn’t allow an access road in that location or if it just assumed that it would be approved.
Murphy said that it was never brought up in discussions.
City Council member Jason Graham asked if Valvoline had considered creating two entrances off Hospitality Lane. Murphy said that several different options were considered, but didn’t think that one was a workable solution.
City Council will meet in closed session following its work session Tuesday to discuss the court case with City Attorney Kathleen Dooley.