Suffolk City Council greenlights warehouse regulations amendment

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Suffolk City Council approved an ordinance for a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) amendment regarding warehousing regulations in an 8-0 vote during its city council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Council members held a public hearing to receive feedback on the amendment of Chapter 31 of the Code of the City of Suffolk for Warehouses and Warehousing. This follows the Sept. 20 city council meeting, where the council voted to table the item. 

Director of Planning and Community Development Kevin Wyne provided details of the amendment, noting that discussions with the Planning Commission on creating warehouse supplemental use regulations dated back in July.

“This is in response to there being no specific supplemental use standards for warehouse and uses currently in the UDO. These uses are permitted as a matter of right in the M-1 and M-2 zoning districts, so we looked closely at identifying what could be some reasonable regulations to ensure that throughout the city where there are zoning districts that, properties zoned M-1 and M-2 where they may be adjacent to less compatible zoning districts and how we could ensure their compatibility through some reasonable regulations,” Wyne said.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

Wyne detailed possible negative impacts brought by warehouse and warehouse uses, with key points being noise, traffic and truck parking.

“The primary issues as it relates to warehouse and warehouse uses, we noted that there may be potential impacts, negative impacts as it relates to adjacency with incompatible surrounding property, particularly developed properties. And the things that we kind of honed in on attempting to regulate in a reasonable fashion is noise, traffic and truck parking and routing,” Wyne said.

Wyne detailed the modified language for the amendment, which includes:

  • Revised truck routing plan language to clarify that the truck routing plan needs to identify roads being used by trucks only until the trucks reach an arterial road.
  • Clarified that the developer will be responsible for costs associated with signage on-site.
  • Removed adjacent agricultural and conservation uses from landscaping buffer requirement
  • Points of clarification related to when a barrier is required vs. a berm
  • Clarified options related to noise mitigation (sound barrier vs. enhanced 60’ setback)
  • Removed time frames with specified maximum permitted decibel levels. This already exists in the UDO currently.

Proposed regulations were also listed which included enhanced site improvement setbacks, truck/truck cab parking, truck site access and waiver of setback requirements. During the public hearing, Citizen’s Voice Secretary-Treasurer Denise Murden recommended the council table the ordinance for the “amount of time sufficient to publicly consider all viewpoints.”

“When you voted to table this ordinance for 60 days, you recognized the need to give all stakeholders an opportunity to be involved in its review and revision. The reality is that despite our efforts which were hampered by an ineffective public input process, none of Citizen’s Voice’s recommendations were incorporated into the revision and the ordinance was weakened, apparently at the behest of warehouse developers,” Murden said. “The concerns you expressed with the ordinance at the City Council meeting on Sept. 20 and its revision at the Oct.18 work session have not been addressed.” 

Murden continued noting the concerns that council members expressed towards the ordinance, noting their concerns with truck routing, striking a balance of welcoming developers while protecting citizens and providing adequate resident protection.

Suffolk Resident Elizabeth Bowell said the amendment was brought to her attention due to living with the warehouse issues “every day.”

“When I initially saw this amendment, I thought, ‘Well, this is a great thing, but it doesn’t do anything to help us now and then when I started reading it a little further, I realized that it really doesn’t go far enough because we experience the impact of the UPS customer center everyday, all day, sometimes beginning at 4:00 a.m. in the morning,” Bowell said. “If you are considering this amendment, please take into consideration how this impacts residential communities, and I don’t think this one currently goes far enough.”

Following the hearing, Vice Mayor Lue Ward asked Wyne which organizations he met with regarding the issue. Wyne noted Citizens Voice as both the “primary stakeholder” and members of the development community. Following Ward asking the reason for no changes, Wyne explained wanting to offer protections within the department’s “realm of authority.”

“From a zoning perspective, and I keep referring to these reasonable regulations, we want to do everything in our power to offer protections to mitigate potential negative impacts within our realm of authority so it does not encroach into a world where it could be considered irregularity taking,” Wyne said. “In that regard, particularly as it revolves around by-right development, we wanted to do everything we could without getting into that grey area that does set us up for potential legal challenges.”

While expressing his own experience and concerns with truck routing, Council Member Roger Fawcett asked Wyne how enforcement will be done going forward. Wyne explained the process.

“With an approved document like a site plan, at that point we have it on file from a regulatory perspective that the developer is then responsible for where these trucks go, as approved by the city. Should they not be complying with that, it’s on them, and it allows us to then issue zoning violations to the developer,” Wyne said. “Right now how it works, it would be individual citations from the police department on the trucks that are violating the truck zone.”

Fawcett replied asking what the violation looked like with Wyne replying that the violation would give them a “specified amount of time to correct the action” with fines and court action coming “should they not.” Council Member John Rector noted his own experiences with train noise issues and expressed that he is “not unsympathetic” to any industrial activity noise problem while showing support for the ordinance.

“I don’t think anybody will come out and tell you that this is a perfect document. What we got presented back in September was a good first step from the Planning Department, I think they did their homework [and] did the best they could, but when you throw it out in front of the public and throw it out in front of this body, obviously a lot of issues get brought up that perhaps were not considered at the first go round…” Rector said. “Obviously, not all recommendations from both sides have been incorporated into this document, but I think it’s important with what we potentially have coming down the road to get something in place, because this is much better than nothing. Nothing is what resulted in what we have now.”