Requests to modify Albemarle County regulations that would allow a Crozet lumber mill to move forward with new equipment have been approved.
R.A. Yancey Lumber Co. requested multiple special exceptions from the county to reduce setbacks, allow buildings closer to dwelling units and allow expanded hours of operations.
On Wednesday night, the Board of Supervisors approved 14 special exceptions. Three requests to reduce the setback requirements and distance from a dwelling for a proposed sorter/stacker machine will be voted on on Aug. 5, pending the addition of mitigation conditions such as fencing and a sound barrier wall. Noise special exceptions were not approved because they had been withdrawn by the mill.
“The real problem is we have tremendous support from the community for the operation, but also tremendous support for making sure that we have our rules followed and everybody’s quality of life is protected,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “So, we’re all working toward achieving that.”
Neighbors of the mill have opposed changes to the regulations, citing, among other things, noise levels from the 71-year-old facility.
Patrick May, vice president of the company, said the family-owned business did not realize until recently that the county’s zoning ordinance, which initially was adopted in 1980, applied to the mill.
“We should have come sooner — our lack of awareness has now put the company in danger and cost us millions of dollars,” he said. “We should have paid more attention.”
The company has been operating on U.S. 250 near the Interstate 64 interchange since 1949 — before the county’s first zoning ordinance was in place — and it does not meet all current zoning regulations.
While in the process of building a new machine that sorts and stacks lumber by size, the company realized it was not going to meet the county’s setback requirements for the heavy industrial zoning of the property — which is currently that structures have to be 100 feet from any property zoned residential or rural area and 600 feet from any dwelling — and stopped the project.
In June, the county Planning Commission recommended 13 of the special exceptions requests for approval. It recommended denial of requests to reduce the setback requirements and distance from a dwelling for the sorter/stacker machine and for the loading and unloading of the facility’s kiln to be permitted 24 hours a day.
Neighbors spoke out at Wednesday’s meeting against the requests, citing the noise and the quality of life in the area.
Lisa Swales, who lives on property adjacent to where the sorter/stacker setback reduction would occur, said the mill should be responsible for its actions and residents shouldn’t have to bear the consequences of bad business decisions.
“We shouldn’t have our rights as property owners, our property values or quality of life, health or our safety compromised,” she said. “Zoning codes were designed to prevent situations like this from occurring in the first place. Seeking special exemptions instead of planning and operating according to county zoning codes is not the sign of a good-faith community partner.”
Ashley and Terry Maynard, neighboring property owners, said they currently have no vegetation or fence to buffer the noise and lights of trucks dropping off logs.
“Please do not establish a precedent that allows a company or developers to move forward with a project without first understanding the regulations that surround them,” Terry Maynard said.
The mill, as part of the sorter/stacker setback approvals, has said it will enclose both pieces of equipment in buildings, build the sound barrier wall that stands over the gap between the sorter/stacker and build a 10-foot-tall fence along the adjacent property line. May also said they would add fencing to block off the Maynard’s property.
County Attorney Greg Kamptner said the conditions that have been proposed by the mill and discussed by the board and staff should be “nailed down” in writing before a vote. The board agreed to move the three requests related to the sorter/stacker to its Aug. 5 meeting.
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