By Katy Stewart
A Virginia Department of Transportation traffic study is the latest roadblock in Sheetz’s plan to build a new gas station and convenience store at the intersection of East Nelson Street and Route 11 Bypass.
Sheetz location selector Allen Stevens proposed a new gas station to city officials in August. Since then, Lexington’s Architectural Review Board has approved a design for the building, but Lexington’s Planning Commission has been unable to approve the landscape design and issue building permits because of concerns about added traffic at the already hectic intersection.
Both Rockbridge County and the city of Lexington have requested a VDOT-funded study to examine the impact of new traffic along East Nelson Street, said Sam Crickenberger, the county development director. The proposed Sheetz property lies right at the city limit, so both county and city officials have been involved.
“We’ve all been concerned about the intersection for years,” he said. “We’re obviously concerned that with Sheetz there it will make the problem a lot worse.”
It’s difficult to make the left turn into the proposed Sheetz lot, Crickenberger explained, and traffic could back up if large numbers of cars need to turn. There might not be room for a stoplight, he added.
Tractor-trailers carrying food and gasoline could find it difficult to get onto the property, said Sheetz’s Stevens, but he doesn’t think customers will cause traffic problems.
Despite the issues, the study is “nothing that will be an impediment to Sheetz coming in,” Crickenberger said.
But delays with the study have halted the approval process. VDOT was unable to complete the study by the Jan. 26 meeting of the planning commission.
Without the traffic report, the commission was unable to approve Sheetz’s plans for the parking lot and landscaping layout, said Bill Blatter, director of Lexington’s planning and development.
After the meeting, Sheetz withdrew its documents from the planning commission to make minor changes before submitting them again for the next meeting, Stevens said.
The design of the right turn into the parking lot could be improved, Stevens explained. Sheetz would be willing to help pay for traffic signal work at the stoplights at the intersection if necessary, he added.
“We want to help improve what’s there and help traffic get out a lot easier,” Stevens said. “We think that by improving the right turn, people can come into our lot rather than waiting at the light.”
If the planning commission approves the site plan, Sheetz can then apply for building permits.
With feedback from the Lexington architectural board, designers created a station that replaces Sheetz’s characteristic sharp yellows and reds with more Lexington-appropriate bricks and beige columns.
To make room for the new station, the 10-year-old Pizza Hut and the vacant building next door are to be torn down. Pizza Hut has plans to relocate to the former Long John Silver’s location at 32 E. Midland Trail.
The new Sheetz station will likely bring lower gas prices to Lexington, said Bob Ballenger, an associate business professor at Washington and Lee University.
“Their business model is to use low gas prices to get people into their stores,” he explained. And Sheetz’s low gas prices often force competitors to lower prices as well, he said.
“Sheetz’s real profit items are in the store.”