Cape Charles Passes Concrete Plant Zoning Changes

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An occupied slip at Cape Charles Harbor is seen with the concrete plant in the background. Photo by Jim Ritch.

By Stefanie Jackson – The Cape Charles Town Council on Aug. 19 passed zoning changes that would allow the continuation or expansion of local concrete plant operations, but it also sent additional proposed zoning text amendments to the town planning commission for review, which would give the Town Council more power to control new developments.

Coastal Precast Systems is under contract with South Port Investors, owned by Eyre Baldwin, to purchase a parcel adjacent to the existing concrete plant. The sale is contingent upon the rezoning of the parcel, tax map number 90-8-1A1, from harbor to general business/light industrial.

The Town Council approved the rezoning 4-2, with council members Steve Bennett, Andy Buchholz, Andrew Follmer, and Paul Grossman voting “yes” and council members Tammy Holloway and Ellen O’Brien voting “no.”

Coastal Precast Systems had proposed zoning text amendments that would allow, for example, assembly and storage of products in the light industrial zoning district by right – that is, without a conditional use permit.

The Town Council approved the zoning text amendments 4-3. Bennett, Buchholz, and Follmer voted “yes”; Grossman, Holloway, and O’Brien voted “no”; and Mayor Smitty Dize broke the tie with a “yes” vote.

Coastal Precast Systems plans to use the newly rezoned parcel as an additional laydown storage area to serve the concrete plant’s current operations, with minimal impact to the wetlands, including mature trees.

The zoning ordinance now also allows construction of a building up to 75 feet high in the light industrial zoning district with a conditional use permit.

Parcel 90-8-1A1 would be too small to accommodate a 75-foot-tall building and the required 125-foot setback. The adjacent parcel, 90-A-1A, would be suitable if the building was constructed in the middle of the property.

Coastal Precast’s owner, Paul Ogorchock, has stated there are no immediate plans to purchase parcel 90-A-1A but is “speculating” about a future which could include Cape Charles playing a role in the East Coast’s wind energy boom.

There are 22 entities seeking to build more than 1,000 wind turbines that will line the coast, and participating in the effort could mean more jobs and sales tax revenue for Cape Charles and the area, he said.

Brandon Mowrey, Coastal Precast’s director of business development and marketing, noted that Cape Charles has a competitive advantage because it has a deepwater harbor that is easily accessible, with no bridges or other obstructions nearby.

Ogorchock said Coastal Precast is developing its own design for wind turbines. Normally, the blades are mounted on steel pilings that are driven into the ground. The Coastal Precast wind turbines would weigh about 7,000 tons each and be sunk into the ocean bed, which would be easier to install and more environmentally friendly, he said.

Ogorchock added that companies are also interested in coming to Cape Charles to manufacture the 3,000 to 4,000 carbon-fiber blades that will be needed for the wind turbines.

He noted that the blades each will be about 20 feet wide and 300 feet long, and it would not be possible to both build and store them indoors; outdoor storage would be needed.

Before the Town Council voted on the zoning changes, the mayor spoke in support of the concrete plant.

Dize, the former harbor master, pointed out that Cape Charles was founded as an industrial town, with an economy based on its railroad and harbor, which is “not a marina.”

He noted up to 100 Cape Charles residents had signed a petition against the zoning changes, but the town has a population of 1,000 to 1,100 that could include a “silent majority” favoring the changes, and the opinions of everyone must be considered.

To address citizen concerns about the concrete plant’s future operations, Town Manager John Hozey had drafted additional changes to the zoning text, which would give the Town Council more control over future activities in the light industrial zoning district. Examples of the proposed zoning text amendments for that zoning district are:

  • Outdoor manufacturing and storage of products will be allowed not by right but conditional use permit.
  • The term “sirens,” which the Town Council voted Aug. 19 to remove from the list of noisemaking devices prohibited outdoors, will be re-added.
  • A sound study must be submitted with any conditional use permit application, and additional noise mitigation may be required.
  • Delivery of materials or products to or from a light industrial-zoned property will not be permitted before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday or anytime Sunday.
  • The zoning administrator may allow exceptions in certain circumstances. Exceptions must be reasonable, necessary, and minimal; must not compromise the intent of the zoning ordinance; must be compatible with surrounding developed sites; must not adversely affect the use of adjacent property; and must not impair the health, safety, or welfare of town residents.

The Town Council could not vote on Hozey’s proposed zoning text amendments Aug. 19 because the changes must go through the proper process, including public advertisement and review by the town planning commission.

Town Council members who voted against the zoning text amendments proposed by Coastal Precast were concerned that newly permitted uses with potentially adverse effects could occur before Hozey’s amendments could be passed.

Councilwoman Holloway also was concerned about the long-term implications of the zoning changes, because future companies operating in the general business/light industrial district may not be “good neighbors.”

The advertised rezoning and zoning text amendments passed by a slim margin, but the motion to send the additional proposed zoning text amendments to the planning commission passed unanimously.

                                 

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