Ferrisburgh truck depot plan draws fire; fourth hearing scheduled
FERRISBURGH — After three Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings — one in December, one on June 7 and one on July 5 — the DeVos family application to move its trucking business from its Greenbush Road farm to Tuppers Crossing remains in limbo — and continues to spark opposition among local homeowners.
After an hour and 35 minutes of testimony last week from applicants, attorneys, experts and neighbors about the plan that includes a 8,000-square-foot truck depot building, parking lot, truck-washing area, and above-ground 5,000-gallon fuel tank, the board recessed the hearing until 7 p.m. on Aug. 2.
Board members will at 5:30 p.m. that evening meet at the site just west of Route 7, and, according to draft meeting minutes, look at “the location of the main building, and exactly where the driveway” will be on the 9-acre lot the DeVos family bought on Tuppers Crossing’s north side.
That lot lies at the north end of Ferrisburgh’s southern Industrial District, at the tip of a spike that runs northward and narrows between Route 7 to the east and railroad tracks just to the west.
A “freight and trucking terminal” is a permitted conditional use in the district. That means, according to Ferrisburgh zoning, the DeVos trucking business “may be permitted only by approval of the Zoning Board after public notice and public hearing to determine whether the proposed use will conform to general and specific standards.”
Generally, zoning boards determine whether conditional uses have an undue adverse impact on an area, and boards attach conditions to ease the impact of a proposal on a neighborhood.
Opponents are concerned about traffic, noise, fire safety, property values, air and water pollution, hours of depot operation, the danger posed by trucks entering Route 7 from Tuppers Crossing, and the adequacy of landscape screening.
But some back the proposal, including a project neighbor, a neighbor of the existing business on Greenbush Road, and a Route 7 business owner.
John DeVos, in an earlier interview with the Independent and at the public hearings, said plans call for empty trucks to leave once daily in the morning and return in the evening. They will often haul petroleum products, but the fuel tank on the site would be for the trucks’ use.
The project does not require an Act 250 permit, and it has a state stormwater permit. According to June 7 minutes, DeVos representatives said “extensive landscaping” will “manage any runoff and screen the facility from the view of neighboring property owners.”
According to July 6 minutes, those plans expanded to include “a higher berm on the east side of the building” and more pine trees to the east and west. A Trudel Engineering representative speaking for the DeVos family said, “the higher berm and more trees would shield the trucks from the view looking west from Route 7, though the top of the building would still be visible, until the trees grew taller.”
The building will be 34 feet tall and is designed to look like “the barn-like buildings” recently built on Route 7 by Dock Doctors. The driveway is planned for the west side of the building on Tuppers Crossing.
One bone of contention is a noise study. Ferrisburgh zoning limits noise to 70 decibels at a property line.
According to minutes, a Trudel study concluded the project “would only exceed that 70-decibel level at the southern end of the property, on Tuppers Crossing, when multiple trucks were operating, which would be only for a short time on any given day.”
In July 5 minutes, Aubrey Choquette, who with Ken Villeneuve owns a home at the corner of Tuppers Crossing and Route 7 (east of the site), took issue with the study, “pointing out that even the applicant’s own expert conceded the operation would not meet the town’s 70-decibel limit.”
In an email to the Independent, Villeneuve wrote, “DeVos has submitted a noise study that admits it is too loud … It seems to not concern him.”
According to minutes, Janet Melrose, who lives to the west of the site, as well as being concerned about lighting and screening adequacy, is “worried about noise levels, particularly during the early morning hours when trucks would be leaving.”
Also among neighbors cited as concerned with noise was nearby Route 7 resident Clara Charlebois Melendy, who “said she didn’t believe the noise study considered the noise levels that would be involved when trucks are starting up and leaving and entering the facility.”
But all see noise as an issue. According to minutes, Stephen Warner, who lives on Tuppers Crossing, “said he would not be bothered by the noise, and that more noise probably comes from Route 7.” Warner also cited the DeVos family’s “property rights.”
DeVos farm and trucking business neighbor Ray Vincent “said the DeVos family had been wonderful neighbors, and that they keep up their trucks well so that they operate quietly and cleanly. He said the trucks go past his house early in the morning and he had “never lost a minute’s sleep because of them.”
FIRE, TRAFFIC SAFETY
Choquette and Villeneuve also cite the fire hazard posed by parking trucks that haul petroleum within 500 feet of homes.
In minutes, Choquette “pointed to international and U.S. fire codes that consider the trucks to be hazards, requiring a much larger setback than that called for” by the project.
In an email to the Independent, Villeneuve wrote, “The IFC (international fire code), which is the law in 42 states … states ‘tank vehicles shall not be left unattended at any time on residential streets, or within 500 feet of a residential area.’” Both men note homes in the area are well within that radius.
Attorney Liam Murphy, representing neighbors David Pierson and Jane Melrose, also on July 5 “wondered if stricter setback requirements would be called for because of the fuel tankers parked on the lot.”
In a phone interview this week Ferrisburgh Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Wager addressed fire safety.
Wager said an empty fuel tanker does pose some risk.
“If it’s purged, then it would be safe. But if there’s still residue in it, yes, then it is just as much of a risk as a full truck,” Wager said.
However, he said, the proposed site is safer than the current Greenbush Road situation, where the trucks are parked in a farmyard closer to more homes. Wager added the Tuppers Crossing site is halfway between the Ferrisburgh and Vergennes fire stations, about 2.1 miles and less than five minutes from each, and there is a fire hydrant on Tuppers Crossing.
Those factors would allow fire personnel to mount a quicker and “more sustained” attack in case of emergency on Tuppers Crossing than they could on Greenbush Road, where there is no hydrant and “resources are minimal,” he said.
“Their proposal is actually a better proposal for locating the trucks … off of Tuppers Crossing,” he said. “To me it’s a better solution because it’s closer to both firehouses, and we have a pressurized system to help mitigate.”
Resident Janice Perry was one of several quoted in minutes about the proposal’s traffic dangers: “Turning onto Tuppers Crossing from the northbound lane of Route 7 and turning south onto Route 7 from Tuppers Crossing are both difficult because of the speed of the traffic, and the limited visibility due to a rise that tops out just north of the intersection.”
Wager said the Greenbush Road intersection with Route 7 is more problematic than the Tuppers Crossing intersection, which he said is bracketed by traffic lights. Meanwhile, he said, Route 7 is wider at Greenbush Road, with less traffic-calming development along it, and the visibility is no better.
“The Greenbush intersection that they currently use for coming on and off of Route 7 is probably one of the most dangerous intersections on Route 7,” Wager said. “Again, I don’t know there’s ever a perfect solution. But at least it gets them off from Greenbush Road.”
A Trudel Engineering representative said the proposal would mean an additional 40 vehicles a day on a road that now averages daily about 415 vehicles.
LIGHT VS. HEAVY?
Another issue that several opponents raised was whether the plan was “heavy industry,” rather than the “light industry” called for the Industrial District in the town plan.
According to minutes, Choquette and Villeneuve, “conclude that the trucking facility represents heavy industry, rather than the light industry envisioned for this zoning district.”
Pierson and Melrose made the same point, as did Murphy on their behalf. In July Murphy said, “the board should focus on whether this use was permitted, something he felt was not as clear-cut as others made it sound, since the project might not qualify as light industry.”
DeVos attorney Anthony Duprey disagreed. Per July minutes Duprey said, “he felt Murphy had glossed over the sections of the zoning bylaws that specifically permit a freight terminal and truck service and repair facility.”
Murphy also in July, “asked the board to impose enforceable conditions governing noise, lighting and hours of operation, with remedies to ensure all conditions are met.”
Duprey countered that, “he felt the applicants had bent over backward to allay the concerns of their neighbors and the town.”
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