Cape Charles Delays Zoning Vote for Potential Concrete Plant Expansion

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Betty George, of Jamesville, and Susan Moore, of Cheriton, picket outside Cape Charles Civic Center, where the town council tabled two rezoning proposals Thursday that would allow expansion of Coastal Precast Systems. Photo by Jim Ritch.

By Stefanie Jackson – The Cape Charles Town Council voted 4-2 at its July 22 meeting to defer action for 30 days on two motions related to zoning that would potentially allow the local concrete plant, Coastal Precast Systems, to expand.

Expecting council members to make a quick decision to expedite a business deal would have been like “putting a gun to the Town Council’s head,” said Kevin Cosgrove, of Norfolk, an attorney who represents several of Cape Charles’ concerned citizens.

Coastal Precast had proposed a set of zoning text amendments that would allow the following by right on property zoned general business/light industrial: assembly and storage of products, and construction of buildings up to 75 feet high with 125-foot setbacks by conditional use permit. Other minor zoning text changes also were proposed.

Southport Investors, a company owned by Eyre Baldwin, had proposed rezoning a parcel adjacent to the concrete plant from harbor to general business/light industrial, so it could be sold to the concrete plant.

Citizens who spoke out on the matter during a July 13 joint public hearing of the Cape Charles Planning Commission and Town Council were concerned that a decision was being rushed without giving elected officials adequate time to study the potential long-term impacts of the zoning changes.

Many of those concerns were repeated during the public comment period of the July 22 meeting, but other speakers offered new perspectives or clarification of their previous statements.

Brandon Mowrey, an employee of Coastal Precast and a representative of Cape Charles Properties, provided more information about the concrete plant’s intended use of the parcel it seeks to purchase, tax map number 90-8-1A1.

Coastal Precast will be involved in the expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel through  leasing land to a contractor who will fabricate 21,000 tunnel liners for the $3.8 billion project.

The requested zoning changes will allow Coastal Precast to provide additional lay-down storage that may be needed for the tunnel liners.

The new zoning also would make Coastal Precast a more attractive potential business partner for renewable energy contractors, particularly those working with any of the 22 offshore wind farms on the East Coast, Mowrey added.

The concrete plant expansion could create 50 to 100 new jobs, he said.

Coastal Precast currently has around 160 employees, and only about 20% of them live across the Chesapeake Bay, Mowrey estimated.

He had previously indicated that Coastal Precast eventually may need to construct a building up to 75 feet tall for wind turbines.

Councilman Steve Bennett reminded everyone later during the July 22 meeting that even if the proposed zoning text amendments were passed, a 75-foot-tall building could not be built on the parcel currently under consideration for rezoning.

However, a building of that height could be constructed on an adjacent parcel zoned light industrial.

Many of the Cape Charles citizens who submitted public comments expressed a desire to see the town’s tourism industry grow, not the concrete plant.

“Who do we want to be … a charming, family-oriented historic town that appeals to people from all over our country, or a growing industrial complex?” a citizen asked.

Others supported the concrete plant but felt that two months was not enough time to gather public input and study the implications of the proposed zoning changes.

(The Town Council passed a resolution May 20 to advance the proposed zoning amendments to the planning commission, and over the next several weeks a public hearing was advertised, and the town’s interim zoning administrator, Katie Nunez, prepared a staff report that agreed with the proposal.)

Earl “Chip” Moore was the only citizen whose public comment appeared to favor the concrete plant over tourism.

He said Cape Charles can’t handle the tourism growth it has recently experienced, with many businesses searching for employees, and restaurants having wait times of an hour or more for service.

“I would rather hear a safety alarm than deal with a rental house full of loud, obnoxious vacationers. I would rather pass a licensed commercial truck driver on the street versus a drunk tourist or a child driving a golf cart,” Moore wrote.

He suggested that most of the dust coming from the area of the harbor was due to vehicles driving too fast through the parking lot for the marina and Shanty restaurant, and some of the noise of heavy equipment could be due to construction at Bay Creek.

Councilman Andy Buchholz made a motion to approve the zoning text amendments, and Councilman Paul Grossman seconded the motion to open a discussion.

Grossman, who is also a planning commissioner, was at odds over the zoning proposal. The concrete plant’s planned activities were no more “dramatic” than any by-right use currently allowed in the zoning ordinance. However, Grossman was not comfortable moving forward without seeing a site plan or other specifications from Coastal Precast.

Buchholz spoke in support of Coastal Precast and noted that when he moved to Cape Charles in 2004, the concrete plant (then Bayshore Concrete) was “100 times” louder than it is now.

He did not understand the public complaints about dust coming from the concrete plant and noted that a wind study, which was conducted for the town’s breakwater project, showed the wind generally does not blow from the south into town (the concrete plant is on the south side of the Cape Charles harbor).

Buchholz said the local economy must be diversified if the town of Cape Charles is to survive. “We’ve got to learn how to live together … all of us,” he said.

Councilwoman Tammy Holloway shared Grossman’s hesitation to make a decision without more information from Coastal Precast, but she agreed that “a balance of our industry is critical.”

Councilwoman Ellen O’Brien observed that many citizens have lost trust in the Town Council. One step in rebuilding that trust would be for Town Council members to listen to their constituents and delay a decision on the proposed zoning changes.

She agreed with Councilman Andrew Follmer’s suggestion to defer voting on the matter for 30 days.

A motion to defer the vote passed 4-2, with Bennett and Buchholz voting “no.”

The Town Council will revisit the zoning proposals at its Aug. 19 meeting.