Was it enough?
The proposed expansion at Clarksville’s 84 Lumber — chock full of improvements — came before Sussex County Council on April 12.
The council meeting wore on late into the evening, with attorney Jim Fuqua, 84 Lumber representatives and supporters expounding the virtues of the new plan, and the company in general.
For two hours, they talked about all the ways this revamped 84 Lumber application for conditional use addressed the neighbors’ concerns.
Then, for another hour, attorney Norman Barnett and locals in opposition took the floor to give the company a resounding vote of no confidence.
To make their final decision just a little more difficult, Council Member Dale Dukes recused himself from participation (his own company, Dukes Lumber, operates in direct competition).
That means the fate of the 84 Lumber expansion hangs on a 3-1 vote (a 2-2 tie would be the same as a denial).
It remains to be seen which side proved more convincing. As the hour grew exceeding late, and with various legal fine points still unresolved, the four remaining council members voted unanimously to defer action.
Here are some of the points they will need to consider.
• 84 Lumber acquired 79 acres of agricultural land surrounding the existing business in 2003 — the proposed expansion would involve 5.8 acres immediately to the west. Some time since the County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission turned them down (3-2 against, March 10), the company decided to offer the rest of that land (73-odd acres) for conservation.
• The company estimated the value of the offered lands at $1.3 million.
• Residents in opposition say those lands are landlocked, inaccessible. They say that area isn’t feasible for development anyway (wetlands, poor or nonexistent percability for sewer and stormwater management).
• Opponents characterized 84 Lumber’s land offer as a ploy to sway opinion in the wake of the P&Z decision, an opportunity to take a tax write-off and a way to reduce the company’s annual property taxes.
• On one hand, 84 Lumber showed a track record of charitable giving. The Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce officially supported the application, and Habitat for Humanity’s Doug Stevens (unofficially) gave the company a character reference, noting a “great partnership.”
• In addition, company representatives noted the Clarksville location’s $132,000 revenue stream to the county and state (mainly gross receipts taxes) and 20 jobs (the four Sussex locations combined generate $416,000 in taxes and 65 jobs, they said).
• On the other hand, opponents said 84 Lumber also had a track record of failing to consider the neighbors. They said the company should have long since addressed complaints regarding dangerous traffic backups on Route 26, late hours of operation, noise, lights and exhaust from the tractor trailers, traffic blocking the neighbor’s parking lot, occasional alarm bells ringing unanswered all night long, trash, a lack of landscaping and a poor aesthetic appearance overall.
• The company claimed to have answered all of these concerns in the new plan, with truck traffic on Route 26 at the top of the list. The proposal includes a 200-foot turn-out lane, and a 500-foot driveway back to the parking area. While the 84 Lumber expansion would double the size of the operation, representatives said traffic would decrease or stay the same. Increased storage for inventory would let truck drivers drop off larger loads, less frequently.
• Residents in opposition anticipated more business, more trucks and more traffic. Some alleged 84 Lumber had recently scheduled truck arrivals in such a way as to create an artificial traffic jam, specifically for a photo shoot to support the expansion.
On the other issues, 84 Lumber representatives offered (1) a sheltered tractor trailer parking area, complete with acoustical dampening materials, (2) restricted hours of operation, not only for the new conditional use expansion, but also for the commercially-zoned side of the business, (3) a mosquito-free, childproofed stormwater management pond, (4) improved aesthetics — cedar colored paint and split block wainscoting on the buildings and landscaping and (4) a buffer comprising two rows of Leyland cypress trees along the western property line.
They also assured neighbors they would continue to dispatch workers to pick up trash.
However, many of the locals in opposition questioned the county’s ability to monitor, much less enforce, the company’s compliance with its self-imposed conditions.
County Attorney Jim Griffin said there were legal remedies available in the courts, but as one opponent stated, “I don’t have the money to fight 84 Lumber.”
As company Vice-President Jeff Nobers said, “I don’t know of much more we can do to resolve these issues.”
Several locals had said a business like 84 Lumber just didn’t fit at the Clarksville location — it would be more appropriate in a light-industrial zoning district.
“The fact is, it’s mixed use,” Nobers said, noting the other businesses scattered along that stretch of Route 26.
However, the opposition’s attorney (Barnett) said the neighbors “got snookered” back in 1993, when the land (where 84 Lumber has resided since 1995) attained commercial status.
Barnett said they had been expecting a much quieter commercial use, and there’d been no opposition to the change of zone at that time.