ABINGDON, Va. — Abingdon Town Council voted Monday night to uphold the town Planning Commission’s decision to give a green light to Pal’s Sudden Service at The Meadows.
Nearly the entire first hour of Monday’s Town Council meeting was devoted to an appeal by the Friends of Abingdon that states the Planning Commission should not have awarded a certificate of appropriateness to Pal’s because the restaurant’s uniquely shaped, teal-colored building would not conform to codes and standards.
The appeal drew an outcry from many in the community who said they want the popular fast-food chain and the revenue and jobs it would bring.
No representatives of the Friends group showed up to voice the appeal at the meeting, and the announcement of the group’s absence elicited an “aw” from the audience, which numbered about 200. The meeting was moved to the Barter Theatre due to the expected crowd.
Speaking to the Herald Courier in an email after the meeting, Friends of Abingdon member Joe LeVine said his group saw no need to attend because, “It was obvious that tonight’s decision was already a ‘done deal.’”
The town’s attorney, Cameron Bell, advised the council on Monday that he could not find a substantial argument in the Friends’ appeal, which challenged the Planning Commission’s May 20 decision.
Town Councilman Derek Webb made a motion to approve Pal’s by dismissing the appeal.
Another councilman, Al Bradley, abstained from voting because he already voted in favor of the Pal’s plans as a member of the Planning Commission.
“Our role is not to mess with the Planning Commission’s business,” Mayor Wayne Craig said.
About a dozen speakers — including former Mayor Cathy Lowe — addressed the council on the Pal’s issue.
The night’s first speaker, Sherry Taylor, drew applause for saying the “so-called” Friends of Abingdon should “pack their suitcases and go back where they come from.”
Still, Craig called for quiet, advising the crowd not to respond after each speaker.
Even so, the crowd could not contain itself at times, especially when several, like Taylor, said the cash-strapped town needs revenue.
“I don’t even understand why there’s a debate going on,” said Becky Caldwell, executive director of the Virginia Highlands Festival.
“We live in Abingdon, not Snobbington,” Caldwell said. “We need to make a community for all of us.”
Caldwell noted that the $220,000 that the Pal’s could bring to town each year in sales tax revenue could restore funding for various organizations in town, like the festival.
Another speaker, Rolfe Hillman, suggested that the Friends of Abingdon be billed for that amount of lost revenue if the Pal’s was not approved.
“We can’t afford to lose revenue of this size or scope,” said Chris Walters, a 52-year-old financial adviser with an office on Abingdon’s Main Street. “Revenue in this part of the country is difficult to come by.”
Walters said he respects building codes in the town’s historic district but noted a different view of The Meadows development at Exit 17, saying, “What we’re ultimately talking about here is a shopping center next to an interstate.”
Stephen Spangler, representing Marathon Realty, said his organization at The Meadows has worked with Pal’s to ensure that the restaurant structure will be made of brick — at a significant cost higher than the standard Pal’s building.
“Abingdon is a place that we want to be,” Pal’s CEO Thom Crosby said at Monday’s meeting. “We want to do it in a way that produces business success for us.”