In mid-late June while driving home one day, I noticed a formal, official notice posted on a small plastic sign at the entrance to a neighbor’s driveway. Here’s the sign, in case you want to see it for yourself.
The driveway+sign shown here is approximately six tenths of a mile down the road; I live at the end of the road, approximately two tenths of a mile farther on down the way. We don’t have especially robust internet at home, which of course means the QR code is almost a practical joke 😆, but I did call the number and I talked with someone in the Montgomery County Planning and GIS Office. Above all, I was curious at that time about how other neighbors would be notified about this proposed special use permit, and I was told that by law the hearing must be posted on the property in question, that all adjacent property owners would receive noticed via USPS mail, and that something would be published for two weeks in a local newspaper. I was also told that the Planning and GIS Office had gone a step farther than was required by law to include mailers to secondarily adjacent landowners. The conversation was helpful and constructive; we watched for the mailer to arrive, and we began talking with neighbors about what, if any, concerns and questions they had.
Later, we learned that comments could be made in writing, in person at the July 12 public hearing, or both. Because in-person comments are limited to only three minutes per person, we went ahead with drafting a document meant to organize questions and concerns. This is a new process for us; comments in response to proposed re-zoning and special use permits are not a genre I have any experience with, though I did serve on a grad committee about public hearings, and so I am familiar with these events being a long-established model for Commonwealth governance. What follows, then, are the written comments we prepared and submitted on July 5.
Comments in response to Application for Special Use Permit (SUP – 2023 – 00690)
Montgomery County, Virginia; June 2023
Respectfully submitted by Derek Mueller (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Amelia Salisbury [￭￭￭￭￭￭￭￭￭￭], 2537 Rosemary Road, Christiansburg, VA 24073
We understand the established legal limit for “clean earth fill” disposal on privately owned property is 15,000 CY. We also understand that SUP – 2023 – 00690 seeks approval for depositing 115,000 CY of fill/debris, 7.67 times the established limit, on a privately owned parcel of land that can only be accessed via Franklin/Pilot Road, Craigs Mountain Road, and Rosemary Road. The timeframe for hauling and depositing this volume is 3-10 years. Moving a volume of 115,000 CY will require between approximately 8,000 (if one load equals 14 CY on average) and 11,500 (if one load equals 10 CY on average) dump truck loads over the proposed timeframe. The application for the special use permit identifies EC Pace (https://ecpace.com/), an excavation and road development contractor based in Roanoke, Virginia, as the party responsible for transporting all of the debris/fill. The SUP also specifies that on any given day, during daylight hours only, ~40 dump truck loads may be delivered to Parcel 110882.
We are residents of this community who have lived at 2537 Rosemary Road since 2021. In consideration of the Planning and Use Section 1.3.1, we contend that the standard of “pos[ing] no threat to public health, safety, and welfare” has not been met with regard to the required route along which the fill/debris would be transported. We believe that the project is incompatible with the established roadway, and we are seriously concerned about the inevitable hazards the proposed truck traffic will introduce to this community for up to a decade.
We do, nevertheless, respect the rights of every landowner to make common and legally allowable changes to their property.
Our concerns, however, on behalf of ourselves and all others who rely upon Craigs Mountain Road and Rosemary Road as the only means of accessing their homes, are that the proposed volume of truck traffic will introduce considerable threats to public health, safety, and welfare. We are also concerned that due diligence has not been given to anticipate the possible harms relating to water, air, and noise, nor to address how problems will be addressed and resolved should they arise. The most glaring sticking point is that Rosemary Road is not wide enough for dump trucks and residential vehicles to share the road safely.
- Road Maintenance. With regard to Rosemary Road, which extends .8 miles from Oak Grove south to its dead end, the gravel surface is already infrequently grated. Potholes and “chatter bumps” appear regularly and can worsen over many weeks (sometimes months) before routine maintenance repairs irregularities. For several years, Rosemary Road’s basic upkeep has required the efforts of neighborhood volunteers (Morris, Tannahill, and Smith, among them). This SUP would add heavy traffic to Rosemary Road, which would undoubtedly exacerbate these issues, compounding safety hazards.
- Insufficient Road Width, and Speed and Maneuverability of Large Load-bearing Trucks. In many locations along Rosemary Road, it is already difficult for residential vehicles to pass oncoming traffic safely. Montgomery County Public School buses do not travel on the road for this reason; school-aged children living on Rosemary Road and Peachtree Hill must be brought to the Oak Grove Church for pickup and dropoff. Along the road itself, frequently one of the two passing vehicles must pull to the side where possible, pull into driveway inlets, or back up to create sufficient space. This is treacherous under even the best of circumstances (broad daylight, good weather, a smooth surface), but it is especially precarious when the road is in bad shape (e.g., disrupted by potholes and run-off trenches), as it often is, or when backing up is necessary near a dead angle/curve with low visibility. The addition of significant dump truck traffic on this road poses a serious and unavoidable safety threat we believe to be incompatible with this community’s well-being. It has not yet been demonstrated that large, heavy-load vehicles can safely maneuver or back up to ensure sufficient space for residential traffic to pass unimpeded. Truck traffic is likely to introduce unpredictable delays that also interfere with residents traveling punctually to and from work, church, school, and scheduled appointments.
As further evidence documenting this foreseeable hazard, we selected eight locations along Rosemary Road and measured from the outermost soft should on each edge of the road. The eight sampled widths, taken at approximately .1 mile intervals along the roadway were 17-1, 16-1, 15-0, 18-6 (widest), 16-2, 15-0, 16-10, and 13-9 (narrowest; near the end of the road and not in the proposed haul route, but nevertheless within the scope of Commonwealth maintenance). The average width among the sampled locations is 15-11; the range is 16-1. At more than half of the sampled points, a standard dump truck (8-6 wide) and a medium-sized SUV (6-3 wide), allowing a two-foot buffer (six inches on each shoulder and one foot in the center between the vehicles) could not safely pass each other without one of the two vehicles moving out of the way. School buses that are 8-9 wide do not travel on the road. We have included a map, photographs with measurements, and a detailed vehicle width analysis as further evidence of the many bottleneck hazards along the roadway. The detailed analysis accompanying the photos acknowledges, as well, the hazards this introduces for USPS postal carriers, as well as FedEx, UPS, and Amazon delivery drivers whose trucks will not be able to safely navigate a narrow gravel road shared by regular dump truck traffic. We welcome other stakeholders to double-check this study and to measure for themselves the road’s width in consideration of varying vehicle widths. Setting aside all other questions, cautions, and worries, Rosemary Road simply is not wide enough.
- EC Pace Safety Record and Responsiveness to Problems. We are aware that EC Pace is a long-established Roanoke-based company whose website says they have been in business since 1927 and who promotes safety and ethics as leading priorities. Among public-facing reviews posted on Google Reviews, however, four (or five, though one appears to be duplicated) express critical concerns about problems alleged to have been caused by EC Pace drivers. Three of the other seven comments were posted by self-identifying employees of the contractor (all three are positive); two comments are positive but do not provide any information about what the review is based upon. While this is not a comprehensive inquiry into the quality of EC Pace and its drivers, it does raise questions about whether there will be any special consideration given to driving on a dangerously narrow road, as well as who will be responsible if and when problems arise, as they have for some in our region (who also include photographic evidence, in three of the four critical reviews).
- Dust and Diesel Exhaust. Due to the terrain, as is common throughout rural Appalachia, many of the homes along Rosemary Road are located nearby the road. Increased traffic from large, heavy-load vehicles on Rosemary Road will introduce increased airborne particulate matter, such as dust and diesel fuel exhaust fumes, which are known to impact public health and pose health risks for residents, particularly the immunocompromised and chronically ill. Will the Montgomery County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors require airborne particle sampling to ensure no negative changes to air quality resulting from this project? We consider increased airborne particulate matter to be an unreasonable risk and one no resident should have to assume for the next 3-10 years. [see Aneja, Isherwood, & Morgan in “Characterization of particulate matter (PM10)” from Atmospheric Environment (July 2012)].
- Disruption to Pedestrians. The “Traffic” item under “Additional SUP Requirements” states, “Additionally, this area has no pedestrian traffic.” This statement is factually inaccurate. Residents walk and bike along Rosemary Road, often walking with pets on leashes. Children also ride bikes on the road. The prospective dump truck traffic will render Rosemary Road unsafe for walking and bicycling by local residents.
- Noise. Although the “Comprehensive Plan Justification” states that “[n]oise impacts will be minimum due to the site only operating daylight hours and due to the remoteness of the site,” this stance does not reflect a careful examination of current noise levels, the fact that some residents work irregular shifts or from home, or any evidence-based recognition of the pathways sound travels over irregular terrain in the vicinity of the proposed landfill site. Many residents hear noise (whether from livestock or large vehicles). We do not concur with the premise that “noise impacts will be minimum” (i.e., further evidence to support this assertion is due).
- Watershed, Erosion, and Cave Life: Many properties on Rosemary Road share a common watershed, as well as an unnamed creek that runs the length of the road, and beyond to Elliott Creek. It is unlikely that between 8,000 to 11,500 dump truck loads, a deposit of 115,000 CY fill/debris (from various unnamed origins), and the named “holding pond,” will not have any effect on the water features present on our properties, and the health of the water on our land and in our wells. How will the watershed be monitored? By whom? And in what ways will the reports be shared with property owners who rely upon this common watershed? We have also learned from neighbors that the landfill site may encompass one or more of the following, “cavern, sinkhole, natural pit, grotto, and rock shelter,” which are afforded protections under the Virginia Cave Protection Act (https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/vcbprotact). Long-time residents of this community have said caves and caverns may be a part of the parcel proposed for special use, and we would appreciate having this issue addressed.
- Contribution to Local Economy. The “Overview” section of the “Comprehensive Plan Justification” states that “the site area should help contribute to the local economy….” Residents like us have an interest in knowing what, precisely, are the contributions to the local economy in dollars and cents. Put another way, if there are tangible cost savings to Montgomery County or to EC Pace, we wish to have monetary values assigned to the statements about how this is good for the local economy. The fiscal benefits ought to be plainly visible to all parties involved in and affected by the proposal.
- Ethical Standard versus Minimum Legal Standard and Community Concerns. We believe that as word has spread about the application for a special use permit, there has been growing concern among residents who live along S Franklin/Pilot Road, Craigs Mountain Road, and Rosemary Road, though not all of these residents have benefitted from timely or direct notification about the public hearing. We respect that the minimum legal standard for posting applies to the fill site itself, not to the route along which the rubble landfill will be hauled. Yet, if we are serious about prioritizing the safety and well-being of the community’s residents, we would ask for a reasonable ethical standard to guide this decision—a standard that takes into consideration route-related impacts, improved communication with the public, and an extended timeframe for analyses and fact gathering, including an environmental impact analysis and a traffic analysis.
We offer these comments constructively, with due respect to the planning commission, the board of supervisors, the planning and GIS staff, and to the public hearing process, and we would also invite all who are responsible for reviewing this matter to visit Rosemary Road, to see for themselves that the assessment of residents is fair, accurate, and dedicated to the health and well-being of ourselves and our neighbors. Simply, the project proposed within this special use permit is incompatible with this community. We maintain that the standard of “pos[ing] no threat to public health, safety, and welfare” has not been met with regard to the required route along which the fill/debris would be transported, and, therefore, we request for this application to be declined until each of these items is satisfactorily addressed.
Included for Review
- Map and eight photographs at assorted locations along Rosemary Road annotated with road width measurements (evidence to support our conclusion that the road is not wide enough for safely bearing the proposed dump truck traffic).
- Vehicle width analysis relative to sampled Rosemary Road width measurements.
1. Rosemary Road Width Measurements (Map and Eight Photographs of Rosemary Road)
To view these locations with photographs on an interactive Google Map (best viewed in a Chrome web browser), please visit https://tinyurl.com/rosemaryroad or scan the QR code below with a mobile device1The QR code wasn’t necessary for this blog-posted version of the comments. . Tap or click on a marker to see the corresponding photo (photos are also provided on the following pages of this document). The interactive map includes latitude and longitude specifications for each marker/photo. Orange markers indicate locations where Rosemary Road is narrower than 16’9”.
2. Vehicle Width Analysis Relative to Rosemary Road Sampled Width Measurements
Our analysis of the road widths is based on the following measurements.2We later learned the Virginia Department of Transportation has a schedule for minimum road widths. For two-lane roads, the minimum width is 18′ to include a shoulder of 2 to 6′. When this condition is not met, a specified line of sight is required (i.e., no dead angles), and these conditions, together, confirm that Rosemary Road in its current condition is not wide enough to support dump truck traffic safely. We understand that vehicle and lane widths vary, and that traffic safety corresponds to an allowance of sufficient space for two vehicles to pass one another. We have determined that the minimum width for safe passage is 16’9”.
Standard US Interstate lane width: 12’
Width of a local rural road: varies between 9’ and 12’
Width of a dump truck: 8’6” to 9’
Width of a school bus: 8’9” – Notably school busses do not drive on Rosemary Road.
Width of a common USPS Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV) used for mail delivery: 6’3”
Width of a Dodge Ram 1500: 6’10.1”
Width of a BMW Mini Cooper: 5’9”
With these measurements serving as a baseline, we added the width of a dump truck, a Grumman LLV postal delivery vehicle, which will be using the road nearly every day, and a 2’ allowance for 6” on each shoulder and 1’ of space between the vehicles. Together, a dump truck and a postal delivery vehicle would need 16’9” to pass one other with a minimum safety factor. Anything narrower than 16’9” introduces a significant risk. We nevertheless consider this to be a precariously tight fit when we factor in the condition of the road (e.g., soft shoulders, divots and potholes, washouts, and chatter bumps), weather (e.g., precipitation), braking distance (e.g., dependent upon dead angles/visibility, and rates of speed), and driver experience (e.g., inexperienced drivers may have a difficult time safely bringing a vehicle to within 6” of the road’s edge while it has a forward velocity of 20 MPH).
Given this, we foresee that the increased dump truck along Rosemary Road will inevitably compromise the safety of local residents, possibly resulting in an increased rate of accidents, which at its most serious can introduce risks of injury or death, and understood in financial terms can lead to increased insurance rates and impacts on property values.
For now, I simply wanted to get these comments into circulation, and I may add-on later with questions arising, with new information as we receive it, and with a recap of the public hearing on July 12. I’ve learned a lot about the process, about the role of the county’s Planning and GIS office, the oversight roles of the Board of Supervisors and state-level agencies, and I hope to follow-up with more detail, as I think this sort of thing may be of value for others, certainly in this specific situation, but also if and when other similar proposals surface, as they are sure to do in rapidly developing rural communities.
- 1The QR code wasn’t necessary for this blog-posted version of the comments.
- 2We later learned the Virginia Department of Transportation has a schedule for minimum road widths. For two-lane roads, the minimum width is 18′ to include a shoulder of 2 to 6′. When this condition is not met, a specified line of sight is required (i.e., no dead angles), and these conditions, together, confirm that Rosemary Road in its current condition is not wide enough to support dump truck traffic safely.