Yancey Lumber’s vice president and third-generation family member Patrick May took center stage to plead the company’s case to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors as they met on July 15 to hear Yancey’s request for special exceptions to zoning rules.
“My grandfather started this business 71 years ago,” said May. “If [the company] survived long enough we were destined to come before you. We should have come sooner.” Though the board deferred a final decision until August, it seemed poised to grant Yancey most of the exceptions, albeit some with specific conditions.
Over the course of a three-hour discussion, the board probed Yancey’s request to be exempted from zoning ordinances that require new equipment and structures to be placed away from nearby dwellings and property lines, and mill noise to be kept below certain levels. Debate focused on what to do about the enormous, $5 million “sorter/stacker” equipment that has been partially constructed on the property in violation of the setback rules. May asserted that “no one ever imagined that the zoning regulations applied to us,” and asked the board to allow the company to remedy its mistakes.
“Our lack of awareness has put the company in danger and cost us millions of dollars,” said May. “If the setback exception is not approved, we are, in essence, frozen in time.” Yancey has offered to enclose the sorter/stacker in a building lined with sound attenuation material to muffle the noise, but cannot construct that building without first receiving the exceptions from the board. The Planning Commission recommended denial of Yancey’s exceptions requests, citing a history of mill expansions since 1980 that were never reviewed for compliance. (See Gazette stories in April and July for more details.)
Bill Fritz, the county senior planner who outlined the Planning Commission’s position on the exceptions to the board, suggested to the board that the setback distance requirement might be satisfied in alternative ways. “The 600-foot setback [from mill equipment to nearby dwellings], if not complied with, then has to be achieved as if it were 600 feet back by some other means,” said Fritz. He explained that, for instance, if the equipment’s primary impact on neighbors is elevated noise levels, then some modification to the equipment that reduces noise levels may be sufficient to satisfy the intent of the zoning rule.
“This is a show-me moment,” said May. “I want to build a [noise-reducing building] over the [currently operating] stacker to prove to the county that we can mitigate the noise before going on to the sorter. I want to prove that we can run it at a noise-compliant level, and that will prove that the same concept will work on the sorter, and I’ll do it within 45 days.” May acknowledged that if Yancey doesn’t succeed in this effort, “then it’s over and the company will die.”
The supervisors ultimately decided to give Yancey the opportunity to come into compliance with the noise ordinance as a condition for allowing the sorter/stacker to remain in its current location. Details on specific requirements such as the height, length, and solidity of the enclosures and sound barriers as well as timetables for construction will be formalized and presented for the board’s approval at its next meeting.
Supervisor Ann Mallek, who represents the White Hall district, stressed that the board is requiring compliance with existing noise ordinances, not reductions in noise from its current (higher) levels. “You will keep working until you meet the ordinances and let that stand on its own,” she said, “and you will be held accountable to the commitments you are making here today.” The board also plans to approve requests that the mill be allowed to warm up its equipment beginning at 6 a.m. (rather than 7 a.m.), and that its kiln (which is not a noise generator) be allowed to run 24 hours a day. In addition, Yancey committed to provide fencing and buffered vegetation along Yancey Mill Lane at the mill’s southern boundary.
May said he fully understood the challenge facing the company he loves. “It was our mistake, but I will fix it,” he said. “We are focused on the future. We understand that our very survival depends on it. We want to continue our business, set things right, and demonstrate how we plan to continue to mitigate impacts.”