An Albemarle sawmill and lumber yard is asking the county to make modifications to its regulations so it can finish building new equipment.
R.A. Yancey Lumber Co. is requesting multiple special exceptions from the county for certain setback requirements and its noise ordinance to bring in new equipment that is planned for the business.
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 is considered a non-conforming use, meaning it was built under the applicable zoning and building laws of the time, but it does not meet current zoning and building regulations.
While in the process of building a 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.
Ultimately, a building will be built over the sorter-stacker.
“They have stopped construction, it’s been stopped for over a year, actually, while we’ve worked through some of these issues,” Valerie Long with Williams-Mullen, who is representing Yancey Lumber, told the Crozet Community Advisory Committee at the group’s meeting Wednesday.
Long said the zoning administrator at the time suggested that while the company was asking for setback modifications for the new equipment, it should also ask for modifications to any other regulations it does not meet in order to address them all in a comprehensive fashion.
The company also is asking for modifications to the noise ordinance. One issue is that some of the activities predate the noise ordinance and could be considered non-conforming, said the county’s chief of special projects, Bill Fritz.
A year ago, Yancey Lumber had issues with a tonal noise, dubbed the “Crozet hum,” which turned out to be a boiler fan that heats the company’s kilns. Once the company realized the noise was coming from the fan, it reduced the power level on the boiler down to pilot light mode during the night and on weekends and holidays.
Finally, after multiple attempts to fix the problem, in June the company found an engineering firm in Europe that specializes in designing fan modifications to reduce tonal fan noise. The firm designed a solution for the fan that was implemented and worked.
“We wanted to fix that problem first, before we came back to the community and to the Board of Supervisors and ask for any relief from any of the setback regulations,” Long said.
The county’s current noise ordinance says that, in the rural areas and residential zoned areas, daytime decibel level cannot exceed 60 decibels and nighttime levels cannot exceed 55 decibels.
Because of the non-conforming uses, the sawmill is over the decibel level limits already.
Along U.S. 250, Yancey Lumber is asking to increase the decibel level limits to 80 during the day and 65 at night, and to increase the decibel level limits everywhere else on the property border to 74 during the day and 59 at night.
Long said the company also is asking for multiple other setback requirement modifications, a modification to vibration requirements and a change in the operating time.
Many neighbors at the meeting were concerned about the current conditions and the proposed changes, especially regarding the noise ordinance.
Dennis Hogberg, who said he lives across the street on Hillsboro Lane, said he is a retired nurse and is concerned about health, the noises coming from Yancey Lumber and dust and smoke from the site.
“I see a pattern with this sort of non-compliance, of not being real aware of what kind of stuff they’re putting in there and not enough research going on, that can affect people who live across the street who were living there before the sawmills,” he said.
David Swales, who lives next to Yancey Lumber, said it was very disheartening to see that the sawmill is asking for as many exceptions as it is.
“I think any increase in noise in my eyes would be totally objectionable,” he said. “… A lot of these laws and regulations aren’t new. So I have a question, why would something be built when it’s not in compliance, in advance of getting an exception or a change in the law?”
Lillian Mezey said she lives in Old Trail and was affected by the hum. She said the noise and vibration ordinances exist for a reason.
“I feel like a lot of us felt really frantic and kind of powerless, when that was all happening, and it was because of things like ordinances that helped make sure that the problem was resolved,” she said. “So, I’m very, very worried about an increase in the threshold for noise and vibration.”
Only one person, a farmer, spoke in favor of the changes. He said he utilizes the sawmill for the pine trees on his property.
“These requests they’re asking for I think are the very minimal and I’d like to see them approved,” he said.
The special exemption requests ultimately would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors to go into effect.