Saugerties saw mill divides neighbors

Greg Weeks. (photo by David Gordon)

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.

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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.”

There are 8 comments

  1. Justin Coleman

    I sell sawmills people who complain about a buisness man trying to rum a buisnessential on his own property just need to move…. I’m on the side of the Miller because if you know these machines like I do they are like big lawnmowers that in most cases sound identical because they use the same freaking engines the masses need to lighten up I’m sick of this kind of crap!

    1. Old Timer

      You have a really, really bad attitude.
      The reality in every other community, is that a ‘home’ business shouldn’t interfere with the
      property value, rights, and peac of mind of neighbors. Saw mills, lumber harvesting, trucking,
      all of those types of business should not be permitted to operate out of a private residence.
      Period.

      We have commercial and industrial zoned areas – and if you are going to heap the noise,
      smell, trucks, trash, and other refuse and negative viewsheds on residential neighbors the
      responsibility is 100% yours to make sure you don’t over-step.

      Your comment “they should just move” is impossible because they’ll never be able to sell their homes – you know, the private place where you LIVE – because of industrial uses destroy the value.

      YOU SHOULD MOVE – TO A BUSY HIGHWAY SURROUNDED BY OTHER BUSINESSES.
      That would be the legal, ‘right’ thing to do.

  2. Steven L Fornal

    A town with Zoning Code has an absolute responsibility to assure that residents’ homes and property– located in residentially zoned districts –aren’t unilaterally devalued and rendered unusable for the primary use in that district: RESIDENTIAL.

    No one has a problem with the Weeks gentlemen. Felling trees and running a sawmill isn’t easy work. It’s honest work. But, that isn’t the question here.

    Zoning codes are written to assure EVERYONE’S right to use of their property. That’s why zoning provides for districts catering to Residential, Business, Industrial or Agricultural use. Or put another way, Zoning isn’t about having a beautiful restaurant with al fresco (or all’aperto) dining open up only to allow a pig farm to operate next door. You cannot allow one person’s use to revoke the right of all those around an impact-laden use.

    Chainsaws produce a huge amount of noise. Some so loud that within 200′ hearing loss with one half hour exposure is imminent thereby thieving the rights of a residential use in a residentially zoned district as a neighbor couldn’t use their property because of actual physical harm that could occur.

    While that’s possible, the more likely scenario is a sawmill use in a residential zone causing very loud noise that creates a nuisance that ultimately creates a physical reaction. Such a nuisance robs the neighbor of all sense of home as a refuge, a sanctuary.

    In the Weeks’ particular case, they’re doing great business. They should think about relocating and expanding in a zone more conducive to their work. After all, as apparently the record shows, they were granted a Special Use for a far more limited operation than is currently the situation. That’s what a Special Use Permit is designed to do, to allow in or near residential zones sensible compatible uses so as to not have to rigidly reject any sort of development or low impact businesses. But, a sawmill operation is NOT compatible to residential use. Case closed. The Weeks’ should be thankful they received a SUP in the first place.

    As to your analogy, with a sawmill being “like big lawnmowers that in most cases sound identical because they use the same freaking engines”…A sawmill operates for profit, eight or more hours a week, six days a week. A lawnmower operates occasionally.

    And, also seemingly lost on you is the right to do anything you want on your property absolutely carries with it the responsibility to keep the impacts of what you do on your OWN property. How do you feel justified being able to store the foul impacts of what you do like noise, fumes, dust, vibration etc etc on my property?

    If a town has zoning it is obligated to assure the rights of residential use in residentially zoned districts. Now, that attention has been brought to the fore regarding the Weeks’ expanded use with all its negative impacts, it’s incumbent upon the review boards involved to provide the protection that zoning provides.

  3. JP

    I’ve purchased wood from Greg Weeks. Nice guy, small business man, you have to applaud that in today’s times when 42 million Americans are at home collecting welfare. As Mr Fornal points out above, just have Mr Weeks relocate. Well, there’s only one problem with that Mr Fornal, that costs money. Money I’m sure Mr Weeks does not have. And if he does relocate, I’m sure his prices will than be higher than those at the lumber yards. That doesn’t keep him competitive anymore, does it? Furthermore, if you look more closer into this situation, you will find that the main person doing all the complaining and trying to shut him down is a brother who lives next door. He doesn’t speak to the Greg or his father who both own the mill. All this stems from bad blood between brothers and a father, nothing more. Greg and his dad have been busting there tails for years, no one complained, now it’s an issue. Hopefully, things will get resolved, and the sawmill will continue to be in business!

    1. Old Timer

      No one says he’s a bad person.
      What we are saying is the business does not FIT into the existing RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD.
      He should relocate to a business/industrial zoned area.
      Or, I guess I’d ask – are you cool with me coming and opening a lound industrial facility next to your house?
      Saw mill? Land fill? Helicopter landing pad? Junk yard?
      If so, let me know, I’ll set up shop today!

  4. Steven L Fornal

    Well, JP…Actually a half dozen people mentioned about the noise, traffic, untidiness of the site etc. I assume none of them were the Weeks’ brother.

    Also, VERY IMPORTANT, this claim by a Planning Board member: “Goldberg noted that the project was on a different site and was much larger than what was approved in 2002.” And further stated 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.”

    As for your suggestion that to move to another larger parcel more suitable would be too costly? That’s a guess at best. Any good business has to keep an eye on growth and prepare for eventually outgrowing their site. If they’re doing that well, it may be actually better for them to get a better suited parcel (or relocate it on their own where it was supposed to have been located which seems by the description to provide a way to lessen the impacts).

    Everyone takes such reasonable objections as the speakers provided as existential threats and then jump into us versus them. No, it’s all of us. For neighbors to expect to hear pins drop is over the top. To expect them to be bombarded with high, constant levels of nuisance impacts is, likewise, over the top.

    And, by the way, whatever happened to the Golden Rule? You know, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”

  5. JP

    As to the noise, untidiness, and traffic, I can’t quite understand what you are talking about. I live down the street from the Weeks, do you? Do you hear the noise, or see the traffic? I have NEVER, I repeat NEVER seen traffic. As far as the noise, it is about the noise a lawn mower makes, and it is done between the hours of 8 and 5, something that is perfectly within noise limits, so Steve, unless you live in the neighborhood, you really have no frame of reference here. The mill is also closed on Sundays, so as stated above, this all started because of a family argument. Plain and simple!

  6. Steven L Fornal

    JP, I stated that there were half a dozen people that complained of those impacts. And the lawn mower analogy doesn’t hold because customary use of a lawnmower doesn’t last eight hours a day, six days a week.

    And, I fully understand that people complaining often exaggerate the impacts. However, it would seem that those complaining in this instance have been enduring the impacts and, when it came to this application/hearing (a.k.a. an appropriate time) decided to voice those complaints and assert their property rights. They sound like people that are very amenable to having the Weeks’ locate where they originally were supposed to as that might lessen the impacts.

    It’s a tough issue. But, towns that have people on review boards that don’t understand their function and allow such incompatible uses in residential zones should be removed (referring to Olive, here) and replaced with those knowledgeable about zoning. It is the duty of townships to do the necessary planning so that such incompatibility doesn’t happen.

    I think in Saugerties the issue is more a misunderstanding by the Weeks as to what they were permitted to do and where. Hopefully, a fix there solves the issue.

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