Guest Contributor: Removal of Zoning Conditions - A benefit to residents or a benefit to Wegmans?
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Today we have a piece written by another guest contributor. This is a fantastic summary that shows just how many legal protections the Board needs to deliberate on, before voting whether to strip away the rights of nearby citizens. Remember, the proposed Wegmans distribution center site was not zoned M-2. It was zoned M-2(c), where the "c" refers to conditions (aka "Proffers"). These proffers are legally binding zoning conditions that residents relied on when purchasing their properties. If you have content you would like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Wegmans proposes eliminating this proffer completely, and replacing it with a requirement that they simply build in substantial conformity with their own plan. This means that many of the specific protections enumerated in the original proffers will be up for debate at any time that Wegmans or any future owner decides to expand or modify the development.
The original proffers are specific and designed to protect the surrounding community, and to mitigate negative impacts regardless of prospective user. For example, this proposed change removes building material requirements that would allow the development to blend in harmony with the surrounding land uses. The sparse and industrial architectural finishes on the building will likely exacerbate reductions in property value by overshadowing the surrounding residential aesthetic of the area. This increases visual impact, especially because they are also requesting a height exception. This will be exceedingly difficult to screen effectively, and will be built from materials that do not look like those allowed in the original proffers. This benefits Wegmans alone.
Outside Storage and Loading Docks
Wegmans proposes eliminating both of these provisions in its entirety.
While the Board in 1995 did not have a particular use in mind at that time, the Board had the foresight to understand that outside storage and loading docks in the front yard would have the most impact on the surrounding residential community. Allowing these, but only in the side or rear yard, serves to best mitigate the impact of any user. This balances the interests of supporting economic development in harmony with the surrounding residential use. This is particularly important in the suburban development district where impacts have been recognized to be greater. It does not make sense that the 1995 Board would have required proffers regarding location of outside storage and loading docks if they believed that buffers alone would sufficiently minimize impact.
Removing these proffers benefits Wegmans exclusively to the detriment of neighboring communities. Wegmans cannot build per their site plan as currently designed if these are not removed. Even if there is some landscaping in front of it, there will still be a significant visual impact.
It will also not mitigate noise or fumes effectively. I am particularly concerned with the noise from back up beepers, rooftop cooling units, and the very loud refrigeration units on diesel trucks designed to haul cold groceries. Noise impact analysis studies at other distribution centers have shown that these trucks produce noise at 62 dBa when measured at 800 feet away. I cannot fathom how loud that will be where the buffers are only 25 or 50 feet deep. This is particularly concerning because there is no current plan to conduct a similar noise impact analysis study on this property. If these changes are allowed, citizens will be left with round the clock noise in excess of Hanover’s noise ordinance maximums, and with nuisance lawsuits their only recourse.
Wegmans proposes eliminating the entire 1995 proffer regarding traffic, as well as the subparts regarding access and phasing. If Wegmans does not intend to create the amount of traffic described in the original proffer, as they have claimed in their written presentation, and in the public meeting at Oak Knoll Middle School, then there is no reason to eliminate the proffer. There is certainly no community benefit to removing the cap on traffic creation.
While Wegmans proposes restricting truck traffic from I-95 to the distribution center to Sliding Hill Road, they specifically identified the ability to use multiple other roads for truck traffic as a primary reason they chose this site in documents related to wetlands permitting. Citizens would like to know how this provision would be enforced, particularly because it can be changed at the discretion of the planning director at whim.
Furthermore, specific conditions that were important in 1995 and remain just as important today regarding limiting access have been removed and replaced with the conceptual plan. However, if the prospect intends to fully comply with the written provisions of the original proffer, there is no reason to eliminate it. Instead, Wegmans requests maximum flexibility so that they are only bound by a relaxed standard of substantial conformity rather than to the letter of the law as enumerated in the original written proffer.
Removing the conditions regarding phasing hurts the surrounding community. Establishing maximum traffic generation limits in keeping with infrastructure improvements helps ensure that the development’s impact does not outpace road improvements. This proffer is essential to protecting community health and safety.
The VDOT and Kimley Horn reviews of the county’s Traffic Impact Study, identified inconsistencies in the methodology and data presented. For example, the study does not clarify impacts to secondary roads most of the time or during times when I-95 is clogged, as is common on weekends and most of the summer. It does not address the impact of commuters, especially since the “main '' employee entrance is on Ashcake Road and only minimally buffered from neighboring properties. This inconsistent information is the basis for the county moving ahead with the project and needs to be corrected so accurate information on traffic impacts is provided.
Cyclist usage and safety along the US Route 76 Bike Route will be impacted by the project and has not been accommodated. Road and Lane truck restrictions on impacted roadways would improve traffic and safety issues and have not been considered as part of this project. Trucking entering and departing the Wegmans facility do not have sufficient room for safe turning movements. Turn lanes and an acceleration lane should be included in the project to ensure safe turning and merging into Sliding Hill traffic going towards I-95. Traffic delays occur regularly on I-95 and these will impact traffic flows to and from the Wegmans facility, thus hampering its operation and normal traffic flows in the area. These and other issues have not been adequately considered, studied and mitigated by the county and Wegmans. The project should be deferred until such due diligence can be performed.
Given the size and scope of the 1.1 million square foot building and parking and storage areas relative to the proximity of neighboring residential areas, the natural and landscaped buffers along Ashcake Road, Brown Grove (including Egypt Road) and portions of Sliding Hill Road are inadequate to mitigate impact.
A reputable noise impact study prepared for a similar facility shows that noise generated by the facility would be far in excess of the Hanover noise ordinance and likely create a nuisance. The County recently went on the property to conduct a basic noise test. Those tests failed dismally, especially on the Ashcake side where the buffer is less substantial. The noise impact will be much greater when there are multiple trucks onsite and metal buildings that will increase sound. Also, Wegmans currently plans to remove all plants under 5 inches in diameter from the “variable width natural area” behind the proffered buffer. The decreased vegetation will further reduce efficacy of the buffer’s sound attenuation.
Parking Lot Lighting
Wegmans seeks relief from the 1995 proffers to extend light poles from 25 to 45 feet tall. Wegmans suggests that this is better for residents because it will require fewer poles at the taller height. However, this is for Wegmans’ benefit alone. Fewer poles at an increased height is to help with truck maneuverability. Unfortunately, this change will have a profound and far reaching impact on surrounding residential areas. The county recently conducted “balloon tests” at 25 and 45 feet to mimic the light poles. Very little vegetation grows to 45 feet. This means that the night sky for everyone in a significant distance will be illuminated by Wegmans if this change is approved.
Burial Grounds and Cultural Resources
Recently I learned that the foundation of the original Brown Grove Church/School is visible and located on the parcel. The original church is left out of the Dutton historical survey altogether, and historical maps with modern boundaries superimposed incorrectly show its location. A phase 3 historical survey should be done prior to the approval of any changes and the Brown Grove community should be involved as they alone are positioned to understand the historical and cultural significance of the site.
Failure to consult with the Brown Grove community regarding burial and cultural resources is another glaring omission in this process. For years, Brown Grove residents have reported that there are burial grounds on the parcel. Shovel pit tests and metal detecting are not the professional standard of care in detecting this type of burial ground. Decisions regarding their loved ones’ final resting place should not be made without including the Brown Grove community in the discussion and decision making process. Until these sensitive matters can be thoughtfully and thoroughly considered, it should be deferred.