Douglas and Greg Weeks have been operating a sawmill on a lot not covered by their special-use permit. They are seeking approval from the town planning board for the operation.
While many neighbors have complained about the sawmill, others describe the Weeks family as good neighbors. They said they had benefitted by having the mill nearby.
Engineer Bruce Utter summarized the project located on a 4.3-acre parcel at the intersection of Glasco Turnpike and Patch Road. “As you can see, there are some existing sheds, a sawmill, an existing house, a sign at the intersection of Glasco Turnpike and Patch Road, and there’s also a small sign by the driveway.” Two small sheds near the road are “an honor system” for picking up shavings or kindling wood.
The hours of operation specified in the existing permit are Monday through Saturday. There is some occasional, personal use on Sunday, Utter said, but as far as the commercial operation is concerned the Weeks abide by the conditions in the permit.
“We understand there were some people not happy with the noise of the chipper, and they [the Weekses] have said they will only run the chipper on Thursday and Friday, and not on the weekends any more.”
Board member Ken Goldberg said the board’s decision was complicated by the fact that the parcel incorrectly named in the original permit was both larger and more isolated from nearby roads than the one on which the mill is actually located.
A variety of grievances
Holli Gertman, a real-estate broker. said that when she sold a property to a neighbor of the sawmill it had been beautiful. “It had a beautiful back yard and now when they go out to their back yard where they’ve done extensive gardening, you look at this eyesore of wood that’s stacked twelve feet high,” said Gertman. “It’s just expanded. The gentleman said he was going to put up some sort of fencing, so she wouldn’t see it when she was out, but they didn’t put it up. The value of their property is greatly depreciated.”
Michael Coughlin said that “there was a very small mill” when he had moved into his house. “Now it is twice, three times the size; it has expanded quite a bit.” Coughlin’s trees used to screen the view from the mill, but they are low and the mill has expanded, he said.
Ron Sauer said he operates a similar business in an industrial zone in Kingston. “People live in residential areas, and people who conduct businesses do so in industrial areas,” he said. “I understand many people can conduct a business from their homes, such as a lawyer may do. However, office activities are unlikely to have a negative impact outside the house. This is not the case with Weeks’s sawmill.”
Sauer continued with a list of grievances. Large logging trucks were not included in the description at the time the permit was granted. The promised environmental study was not done. Logs were being delivered on weekends,. He went through the terms of the original permit, which included cutting wood from the Weeks’s own property, and the processing of only small amounts of other wood. He asked the board members how they could consider allowing the business to operate despite many violations of the special-use permit.
In an email, Shawna Weeks, who lives on Patch Road, states that tractor-trailers and log trucks wee hazardous to local traffic. Wood waste was enormous, and the debris was not covered or removed. Fire was a concern. Hours exceed the permitted 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The conditions of the previous permit had been violated. “What makes you think they would follow them now?” she asked.
Another seven or so neighbors of the sawmill offered similar complaints.
Getting along with the neighbors
Not all the comments were entirely negative. Cheryl Qamar wrote a letter to the board stating that “Greg and Doug Weeks are excellent neighbors, and I have purchased products from their sawmill that have been of excellent quality. When I bought the property in 1973 I did not do so with the intention of living in a commercial district. I do have some concerns that the value of our property will be reduced as a result the sawmill being in such proximity. If a permit is granted I would like the hours of operation to be considered to something that is amenable to Greg and our neighbors.”
Cristeen Gamet expressed similar views. “I know there are a lot of tempers that are flaring in this room about Greg and Doug, They have been very good neighbors to me, as all my neighbors have,” said Gamet. “I know they make a lot of noise, and I know that I make a lot of noise. I cut my own wood, I split my own wood, and I know that other people in the neighborhood have made a lot of noise. I just don’t want to see this be everybody against everybody because people have had disagreements. These guys want to make a living just like everybody else. I would like less noise; I would like less log trucks, and perhaps there’s a way that everybody’s needs can be met.”
Doug Weeks said only two tractor-trailers deliver there in the past 15 years. He acknowledged that logging trucks do come through, but “if you’re going to sell stuff you’ve got to get logs. We were small, but we kind of did a flip-flop. Now we’ve gotten to a fairly good size.” The mill usually closes down at about four o’clock, and repeated it does not do work on Sunday. “You couldn’t buy a board from us on Sunday,” he maintained.
The board’s planning consultant, Dan Shuster, suggested that the board not approve the application at the current meeting, but consider what limitations and conditions to be included in any special-use permit.
Goldberg noted that the project was on a different site and was much larger than what was approved in 2002. If it is sufficiently different from what was approved, the board would have to take that into account when considering approval.
Alternate board member Dan Ellsworth said that growing a small business into a bigger business constituted a success, and “you don’t want to punish success.”
At the same time, Ellsworth said the operation was “in a very grey area of the law,” as had been heard that evening. Ellsworth then asked the Weekses to “clean up your operation and make it less obnoxious to your neighbors.”