Embattled towing operator George McRae gave his quest for a special salvage permit another go at the Development Review Board last Thursday night and ultimately failed.
The DRB voted 3-2 against approving conditional use for accessory salvage, a term that doesn’t exist anywhere in current zoning. McRae knew his quest was likely futile.
“What it comes down to is I don’t fit. I’m a square peg in a round hole,” he told the DRB at the meeting’s start.
McRae’s application came two months after the state Agency of Natural Resources determined his lot at 28 Middle Rd. no longer constitutes a junkyard under state law. The agency cited him in March 2013 for possessing too many junk cars and scrap than is allowed; the town followed suit last February. McRae appealed that decision and then dropped the case to come into compliance.
He sought permission last Thursday for what DRB Chairman Allen Lasell called a catch-22.
“You don’t fit any of [the regulations], but yet you have to pick one that applies to you,” he said. “That’s a recycling yard, which doesn’t necessarily match your business.”
Town Planner Jake Hemmerick, who staffs the DRB, strongly recommended the DRB not approve McRae’s application for several reasons, which McRae rebutted at the hearing.
First, Hemmerick’s 10-page staff report argues, salvage operations are only conditionally allowed in the industrial district, not in Downtown Business 1 where McRae’s is located, and only if they existed before the 1994 moratorium.
McRae has made his displeasure with this zoning change known since it was enacted in August, and repeated it to the DRB last Thursday night. After learning his permit was denied, he vowed to ask the selectboard to reverse its decision on the matter.
This Monday, the selectboard approved a non-committal motion to “revisit” recycling yards as accessory uses townwide.
Hemmerick’s report said salvage – defined as outdoor storage for processed junk or scrap metal – is a principal, not accessory, use. Milton zoning defines the latter as “clearly incidental and subordinate,” such as selling sodas at a service station or installing a newsstand in a hotel lobby.
Further, Hemmerick said, salvage uses should be weighed heavier because of their associated environmental concerns and because there’s an entire section of bylaws just for that use.
McRae balked at these points.
“My name is George, but I can be perfectly frank,” he punned. “I can’t use those examples to compare to mine.”
He discredited the newsstand example, saying those are typically leased to private entities. And, McRae said, ANR has scrutinized his yard for environmental violations, only asking him to label drums of used oil. He said salvage is a continuation of his tow service, not a separate one.
McRae also refused to submit information like daily vehicle trips, a land survey and locations of fencing, driveways, water and wastewater facilities and waste disposal sites for the DRB’s consideration. He told the DRB a 1999 survey is still relevant and that Milton police and fire frequent his lot for VIN verifications and repairs and can attest to traffic counts.
McRae did agree that if granted approval, he would seek both a town-level certificate of approved location for a junkyard and the state salvage yard permit.
Hemmerick’s report pointed out, however, that per Vermont law selectboards can only issue COALs if the proposed yard isn’t contrary to zoning bylaws; it currently is.
McRae acknowledged Hemmerick’s “homework” but said his situation isn’t black and white.
“Everything I do is gray,” he said. “In business, you gotta be looking at how to get things done.”
McRae argued his lot is a pre-existing, non-conforming use and showed several large, framed photos of his lot over the years. He said he’s operated the same way for nearly 40 years and suggested this ordeal could have been avoided if then-Zoning Administrator David Joachim advised him to get a junkyard permit before the moratorium.
Chairman Lasell said the DRB has to consider current, not past, regulations. If Milton zoning defined towing operations, it would make the DRB’s job easier, he said.
Upon learning of the DRB’s vote, McRae said last Friday morning he was disappointed in the entire process and will consider appealing the decision.
Town staff has suggested other ways for McRae to comply, like building indoor storage to contain his salvage activities, but McRae has resisted.
“I would need a building as big as a tractor trailer,” he said.
Gil Rhoades, McRae’s neighbor and former junkyard owner, was pleased with the DRB’s decision. Although he wasn’t present last Thursday night, Rhoades has attended past hearings to advocate for fairly applying zoning rules.
“The regulations are for everyone,” he said. “No one is supposed to be given an extended privilege. All people are supposed to be created equal and treated equal under these regulations.”
The DRB has 45 days to issue its written decision to McRae. It will next consider an updated site plan of his lot at a meeting on November 20.