Group opposes variance
Lowe Products Inc. will go before the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals next week seeking variances regarding the 200-foot setback in accordance to the county’s zoning ordinance.
But a growing number of residents around the company’s mulch operations plan to be present at the May 19 meeting to keep the from BZA granting the variance.
According to the application’s brief description of the request, Lowe Products is requesting “several variances to keep their inventory of mulch in its current location.”
“The application is basically a reconfirmation of what already exists,” said John D. Lowe III, president of Lowe Products.
Lowe said he will make further comments at the BZA hearing.
According to the request’s description, Lowe Products is requesting the following:
A variance for Article 4, Section 6(a), requiring a 200-foot distance between the development and neighboring residential uses. “(T)he applicant is requesting that the distance be reduced to 50 feet. This would be consistent with what has been occurring on this site for many years.”
A variance for Article 4, Section 11(b), requiring a buffer yard of 200 feet between the operation and neighboring residential uses. The applicant also seeks a variance of 50 feet.
Because the applicant may want to construct a 12-foot security fence, Article 9, Section 5(b) requires fences taller than six feet meet the appropriate setback, which is 200 feet, according to Steve Barney, county zoning administrator.
Patrick Koski is a Mecklenburg Heights resident whose property is adjacent to Lowe Products’ mulch operations. The back of Koski’s shed is where his property line ends, and he estimates the mulch piles that sit near his property are approximately 15 feet away.
“I would say this is ground zero,” he said. “That’s what I call it.”
In 1988 a zoning ordinance was enacted across the county. Small businesses already operating were grandfathered into the ordinance, but Zoning Administrator Barney said the county has tried its best over time, despite lack of resources, to enforce.
“Following the adoption of the ordinance any expansion of an existing nonconforming use (property) requires the county approval of a site plan,” he said.
He said since 1988, Lowe Products has submitted site plans regularly which have been approved, despite not having the 200-foot setback.
Barney said previous site plans did not have the level of specification showing where some of the mulch storage was on the 50-acre lot, noting there may have been a misunderstanding on the applicant’s end.
But it’s not just the closeness of the company’s operations that have neighboring residents banning together to do something.
Judy Moore, a Ledge Lowe resident, and others got together in November 2010 and decided they would go to the county.
“The first thing we did was call the planning and zoning and ask them if there was anything we could do because of the noise and the pollution and the odors and so forth,” Moore said.
Moore and others showed officials photos of the mulch operation’s proximity to residences and the county came to inspect.
“They were supposed to be set back 200 feet,” she said. “Well we didn’t know that So that was the first inkling we had that there was anything at all that we might be able to do because the noise ordinance doesn’t apply since it’s only applicable to residential neighborhoods, and this is a commercial, industrial enterprise located within a residential growth zone.”
Linda O’Brien, another Ledge Lowe resident, said though the noise ordinance does not apply, operations at the mulch plant “exceed” the 65 decibel cap. Nannette Jenkins, a Mecklenburg Heights resident, said her master bedroom walls often shake when mulch is ground just yards away. Leslie Williams, who has lived in Ledge Lowe for 12 years, said the noise has always been a problem for her. She routinely sleeps with ear plugs.
While these residents know the BZA hearing won’t address all of their concerns, they believe if the board opposes the request for the variance, it is a step in the right direction. Williams sees the impacts of noise, odor and fire hazard being eased if the required setback is enforced.
“We’re not trying to put them out of business,” O’Brien said.
“We just want them to be good neighbors,” Jenkins added.
The BZA hearing will take place at 3 p.m. at the Charles Town Library on Thursday, May 19. For more information about the residents’ stance, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mulchplant. For more information on Lowe Products, visit www.lowe-products.com/default/htm.