The Forsyth County Zoning Board of Appeals has denied a sound variance request for a quarry that members felt was unlikely to be monitored or enforced.
The board voted 4-0, with Debra Bradley absent, on Tuesday to reject the proposal from Bluegrass Materials Company.
Bluegrass’ attorney Jonathan Kendall said the request was triggered by a recent residential rezoning adjacent to the quarry off Ronald Reagan Boulevard, which is zoned mining operations district.
Forsyth County’s unified development code limits the average sound level over a 12-hour period to 60 decibels at the property line of any site bordering residential.
Bluegrass requested a variance to increase that maximum level to 75DbA LEQ, or 75 decibels over 12 hours, which is the maximum allowed by the code for a property adjacent to another industrial site.
Chairman Jack Shoemake said no variance would be “feasible” for the county to impose, after Kendall requested a postponement to have more time to review the issue.
Member Bettina Hammond agreed, stating that the code has been in place since 1987 without an issue at the quarry, which borders 29 parcels.
“I’m not sure how it would work, and I don’t know that this board is ever going to understand all this,” Hammond said. “I just feel like this needs to go onto the board of commissioners and have them work the codes.
“If you’re not in compliance, which is what you’re saying, [you’re] going to be shut down. I haven’t heard anybody say you would be shut down if the county went out there.”
Bluegrass, which bought the quarry from Lafarge in March, reviewed the county codes when a neighboring property requested a residential rezoning and discovered that it triggered a sound requirement, Kendall said.
Commissioners approved a rezoning in August from agricultural to Res-4 for nearly 84 acres on property owned by 88 Daves Creek LLC.
“As the county has grown, a different zoning has come to us,” Kendall said. “All we want to do now is operate tomorrow the way we operate today.”
Matt Pilz, an acoustic vibrations consultant, said the current “ambient noise” from traffic on Ronald Reagan Boulevard brings the quarry above the 60DbA LEQ limit of the county’s code.
Pilz, of the firm Vibra-Tech, added that the noise likely will only increase over time as activity and development continue in the area.
Several nearby residents expressed concerns about the quarry’s variance request, as did Josh Scoggins, an attorney representing the recently rezoned 88 Daves Creek.
The variance would allow the quarry to operate at more than double the allowable noise level for industrial use abutting residential, Scoggins said, which could damage nearby property values.
Decibels are logarithmic units of measurement, which means an increase of 10 decibels is twice as loud.
Scoggins said the quarry’s true intent in filing the variance isn’t simply to come into conformance with county codes, noting that existing residential properties border the site.
“The real reason this was filed is to create a bar for people in the future coming in and suing the quarry and complaining against the quarry for increased noise,” he said.
According to neighbor Gabrielle Pollmeier, the ambient sound from the road that Bluegrass contends currently exceeds the threshold isn’t disturbing.
The varying noise levels from the quarry are, she said, adding that Bluegrass didn’t ask for variances for certain time periods on set days.
“What Bluegrass wants is a blanket variance granting by you,” Pollmeier said. “We want to do this seven days a week, 24 hours a day if we need to.”
Windermere resident Lou Melancon said the trees that will come down at the neighboring 88 Daves Creek site will remove much of the barrier to the quarry noise and that owner should share some responsibility.
“I don’t think they should be solely responsible for mitigating the sound. They’ve operated like this for 60 years. They’re not changing anything,” Melancon said.
Resident Kathleen Rastetter said the excessive noise has been there for years.
She has called the county at 3 a.m. before, getting no help from code enforcement or the sheriff’s office because the quarry is allowed to operate 24 hours a day.
Rastetter said if the variance was approved, she didn’t expect it could be enforced.