The Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of a raft of requests to modify county regulations that would allow a Crozet lumber mill to expand its operations.
R.A. Yancey Lumber Co. requested multiple special exceptions from the county to avoid reduced setbacks, allow expanded hours of operation, raise their permitted sound levels and reduce vibration limits to make changes to its business operations. Residents of the area around the mill have opposed changes to the regulations, citing, among other things, noise levels from the 71-year-old mill.
Out of 19 special exceptions, the commission recommended 13 for approval. The commission recommended denial of requests to reduce the setback requirements and distance from a dwelling for a proposed sorter/stacker machine, that the loading and unloading of the facility’s kiln be permitted 24 hours a day and the requests to increase daytime and nighttime noise limits.
Commissioner Jennie More said she wants to get to a place where property owners can enjoy their property and the mill can continue to operate.
“I think there’s still an opportunity here for the applicants to explore mitigation,” she said. “…I know that some of those alternatives can be expensive, and moving forward I would hope the applicant could bring some of that to the board.”
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. If the special exceptions are approved, they will bring the existing mill into compliance with help from special conditions.
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.
Patrick May, the vice president of the company, said the new piece of equipment will help with the health, safety and efficiency for employees and the company, and, if the exception was approved for the sorter/stacker setback reductions, there would be a decrease in noise once it could be covered.
“In hindsight, I wish I had been running the company earlier, because I would have made sure we did go through appropriate channels, and unfortunately we are in the worst position possible now where we are just hoping we can survive,” he said.
Some neighbors spoke out against the requests, citing the noise and the quality of life in the nearby neighborhoods.
David Swales, who lives on property adjacent to the mill where the sorter/stacker setback reduction request was made, said the increase in noise from the mill has made it “unbearable” to spend time in their yard.
“I think it’s now time for the county to take the stance and deny this special exemption because again, it’s just yet another bully approach that we don’t have to abide by the rules but you do,” he said.
Ron Jenkins, executive director of the Virginia Loggers Association, encouraged the commission to support the requests, citing the many logging companies that make a livelihood due to the mill.
“We support R.A. Yancey Lumber mill and its efforts to modernize this facility and maintain an important presence in Central Virginia, and remain a source for many Virginia businesses for a very long time,” he said.
The requests are scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on July 15.