The Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals approved a conditional-use permit for the mulching operation and leaf storage program at 442 Beulah Road N.E., a topic of controversy and debate for months.
The decision, approved by a vote of 5-1 with Donald Chumley dissenting, came after two hours of debate and discussion among the board members.
Before the board began to discuss the permit, resident Sean Curtin requested that the vote be postponed until the next meeting in October.
“On Sept. 8, the Town sent a letter to residents in the area to let them know about the proposal,” Curtin said. “On the basis of that invitation, five citizens of the area prepared presentations to give the board. Unfortunately, three of them are unable to be here tonight due to vacations. I would request their ability to speak before the board.”
Board director Greg Hembree said that this was an example of “no good deed goes unpunished.”
“We held a public hearing that closed after 4 1/2 hours last week,” he said. “I don’t want this to be an obligation to reopen this hearing.”
Board chairman Marshall Potter agreed.
“I’m going to deny that request,” he said. “The parties knew they could have submitted testimony in writing to the board."
Chumley had originally moved to approve the motion, written as a “request for approval of a conditional-use permit for continued temporary leaf storage and associated mulch operations on Town-owned property,” on three conditions.
“First, we need daily liming of the pile; secondly, we need the erection of a sound barrier, level to be determined by professional sound engineers employed by the Town; and thirdly, we need a report on the conditions to be given to this board in one year,” Chumley said in his motion.
“The most significant condition is that if we grant this conditional-use permit, it does not mean we can’t look at it again in the future,” he said. The board could revisit the issue if, at any time within the year, the board hears complaints about conditions at the mulching facility or does not receive a report back on the sound or odor levels produced by the mulching operation.
“This is not a popular idea in the immediate area of the mulcher, but it does have support,” Chumley said.
CHUMLEY ADDED that it was impossible for the Zoning Board to know what levels of sound or odor are emitted by the mulcher until the process is up and running.
“I want to see what it’s like,” he said. “I want to see if the barrier lowers the sound to an acceptable level.”
“On the business of smell, I’d like to go out myself,” he said. “If the smell is too much one night, I give you permission to call me, and I’ll come out and smell it. I don’t feel I can say it’s wrong right now.”
Board member Peter VanderNat said that he was prepared to give a “more restrictive version” of the same motion, which would include nine conditions that the Town Council was said to have agreed to at the public hearing the week before.
“We need information,” VanderNat said. “We need a study on the sound level at the property lines in all directions from the mulcher. We need a study on the odor levels.”
“I’m not opposed to limiting the time duration of this permit,” he said.
After brief discussion, Chumley’s initial motion was withdrawn, and VanderNat submitted his proposed motion.
The list of conditions included regulations on the months the mulcher would be used [Oct. 1, 2004-March 31, 2005]; cleanup of the site [to be completed by April 1]; hours of grinder operations [Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; with the exception of holidays]. The conditions also required that the machine not be run more than a certain number of hours per day, with public access to the mulch limited to Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
VanderNat also included a provision that the town could change the hours and days of operation subject to inclement weather or other situations out of its control. The site must also have a berm built with a rock filter for odor control and a daily liming of the pile to limit odors. Also, plants would have to be brought in to block the view of the mulch pile from abutting residents on Holloway Court, and professional studies of noise and odors at the property lines must be conducted. The final condition was that the costs of a sound barrier and its effectiveness be brought to the board.
THE DEBATE continued about whether a time limit of one year was needed; if the reports needed were not completed in time, the application process would have to start again. One board member described the one-year limit was a “straight jacket” for the Town.
Potter said that it was a “probability if not a certainty that you won’t be able to use the grinder every single day."
“I’d like to see the time per day increased” from VanderNat’s originally proposed 3 1/2 hours per day “to 4 1/2 hours at least,” Potter said. “It’s the same amount of time overall to grind the leaves.”
“The town could eliminate this problem by rezoning the area industrial, could it not?” asked board member Gregory Haight.
“That’s probably true,” Hembree said.
Board member Frank Lillis didn’t see why the studies couldn’t begin as soon as the mulcher started up this year.
“I would like to see the sound barrier up during this leaf mulching season,” he said.
Board member Robert Dowley offered an amendment to VanderNat’s motion.
The amendment would change the wording of one of the conditions to read, “The applicant will investigate a sound barrier and will take immediate action to reduce sound levels” once the machine is up and running.
Lillis also offered some modification to the condition of the noise, sound and odor studies.
“The Town shall undertake noise-reducing levels by or supervised by professionals as soon as possible after the start of mulching operations. The readings will be taken from measurements at property lines that border the site and will be done at least two times per month during operation,” he said.
That amendment was unanimously passed, and the overall motion was approved by a vote of 5-1.
The two other items on the agenda for the meeting, variances for home-improvement projects, were both approved as well.