Brookchase residents looking for answers

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By Jenny Hartley

There are questions about what the dust generated from concrete plants near Brookchase may be doing to children's lungs and how the runoff may be affecting nearby creeks.

Why do the concrete plants at 521 Perimeter Commerce Park run day and night? Why won't Blue Dot Readi-Mix meet with residents or turn down the noise?

But what the residents of Brookchase and Lakeview Landing really want to know is how a residential neighborhood could be approved so close to an industrial park in the first place.

"These plants don't belong near residential homes to begin with," said Tom Forbes, who lives in Lakeview Landing.

"It's poor planning," said his wife, Deborah Forbes. "It's irresponsible planning."

FOIL formed

The Forbeses, along with Lakeview Landing resident Scott Bruntmyer and Brookchase residents Ernest and Shawnee Garvin and Michael Hansen are members of Friends of Indian Land, or FOIL. FOIL was formed last year to assist local residents in matters of community concern, including zoning issues, such as the concrete facilities, or county government activities, said Tom Forbes, the group's vice president.

Lakeview Landing was developed in 1995. Brookchase was approved in 2002 as part of a planned development district, next to 521 Perimeter Commerce Park, an industrial site.

Hansen said he began looking for a home in the Indian Land area in October 2006.

He and his wife decided to buy a home on Cole Creek Drive in Brookchase.

Hansen said he knew an industrial park was next door, but it was zoned light industrial.

Ernest Garvin said when he was buying his home on Cole Creek Drive, he was told the area behind the houses on the street was wetlands and nothing could be built there.

There are now four concrete plants in operation or close to operation at 521 Perimeter Commerce Park - MacLeod Construction, Concrete Supply Co., CEMEX and Blue Dot Readi-Mix.

The concrete plant workers say they're at 521 Perimeter Commerce Park because other counties in the area won't allow them, FOIL members say.

A couple of the newest plants, Concrete Supply and CEMEX, have made efforts to be good neighbors.

Concrete Supply has built a berm, planted shrubbery and removed a light that was shining into residents' homes at night.

"We have enclosed our load-out and plant operations," said Henry Batten, executive vice president of Concrete Supply. "We deem it important to be a good citizen. We're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we're conscientious."

Batten said he recently sat in his car in the Brookchase neighborhood, and could faintly hear the plant's operations. Something will be done to fix that, he said.

"I told our folks it wasn't enough," Batten said. "I don't want to hear our operations in this neighborhood."

CEMEX changed its plant plan to enclose its manufacturing system, so there will be less noise and dust, Deborah Forbes said.

Blue Dot President Paul Cochrane has repeatedly de-clined comment on the noise issues and concerns of residents.

When reached March 13, Cochrane said he has been advised not to talk about the issues.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control found the Blue Dot plant in violation of its construction permit last year, because the plant did not properly contain dust during the manufacturing process, according to DHEC records.

Sound studies

Brookchase and Lakeview Landing residents began addressing County Council with their concerns about the concrete plants last summer.

Group members say they realize there isn't much council members can do about the problems.

"I do believe this council is very concerned," Deborah Forbes said.

Hansen agreed.

"They want to enforce these ordinances and write citations, but they're very restricted," Hansen said.

The county bought a sound meter and county zoning officer Kenneth Cauthen took readings at the plant.

The plant was found in violation, but was not fined by the county.

County Council decided to hire an outside sound engineer to study the noise. Dr. Noral D. Stewart of Stewart Acoustical Consultants in Raleigh, N.C., took sound measurements at the plant Jan. 28-31.

Results of the study came out last week.

"The sound from these industrial operations reaching the residential areas is greater than normally expected or permitted in many locations," Stewart wrote in his report.

The noise coming from the MacLeod and Blue Dot plants appears to be in violation of the county's nuisance noise ordinance and Unified Development Ordinance, according to the report.

Stewart said the county's UDO is "unusually stringent and based on obsolete measurement methods."

"However, the sound would exceed the requirements of typical modern ordinances for sound crossing property lines," Stewart wrote. "It is recommended that the county consider action to reduce the noise impact on residential areas and to prevent similar situations in the future."

County Administrator Steve Willis said it will be difficult for the county to enforce its outdated ordinances as they're written right now. Any violation may end up getting thrown out in court.

Stewart will work with county staff and council members on a new noise ordinance.

Zoning issues

Lancaster County Planning Director Chris Karres said when Brookchase was up for approval, there wasn't a lot of growth in the county, and county officials wanted to see more homes built.

MacLeod was the only concrete plant at Perimeter 521 Commerce Park when the county planning staff and Lancaster County Planning Commission recommended approval of Brookchase.

"I think we brought up the issue of the industrial park next door, but there was supposed to be a 25-foot buffer," Karres said.

"The county was interested in getting someone in to do a development," he said. "At that time, there was no growth in the county. There was a different mindset then. The county was receptive to trying to spur growth."

Because growth in the Panhandle wasn't booming yet, it was hard to imagine that there would eventually be a need for four concrete plants in one industrial park next to the residential development.

"That was a mistake on our part," Karres said. County officials believed a drop-off between Brookchase and the industrial park would serve as a good buffer.

Many of the types of industries allowed in the county's heavy and light industrial zoning districts overlap, Karres said.

The districts were formed when the county began working on its Unified Development Ordinance in 1998.

"In the end, there was not much difference between the two of them," Karres said. "I don't remember why."

The next step?

County Council recently voted to keep concrete plants out of light industrial districts, although that won't help Lakeview Landing or Brookchase residents.

The planning department has proposed 100-foot buffers around industrial developments in the past, but County Council voted it down.

A 65-foot buffer proposal was also rejected.

Like the vote to remove concrete plants from light industrial districts, changes in the buffers won't help residents near the existing plants.

So what's the next step for residents and FOIL? It's been rumored that the group plans to file a lawsuit, but that's not the case right now.

"We have retained an attorney," said Bruntmyer, FOIL's president. "But we're looking to avoid litigation if we can. We're working with DHEC and the county."

The intention isn't to shut the plants down, Deborah Forbes said.

Ernest Garvin has one simple desire - to sleep through the night without being awakened by concrete plants grinding rock or the incessant beep of heavy trucks backing up.

"My life has been turned completely inside out," Garvin said. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep in 18 months. It drives you nuts."

Contact Jenny Hartley

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