Carroll rejects Log Cabin Homes' site plan

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — The Carroll Industrial Development Authority rejected Log Cabin Homes owner Tom Vesce's submitted site plan last Thursday, but county officials said they would work with the company on a second attempt.

Vesce had raised objections in local newspapers to his treatment at the hands of county officials after they declined to attend a ribbon cutting at a site in the industrial park his company obtained last year.

For their part, county officials cited problems with Log Cabin Homes complying with the covenants and restrictions for development in the industrial park. He hadn't submitted a site plan for approval to the IDA at that point.

Vesce showed up at the authority's June 4 meeting to present information about Log Cabin Homes and his intentions for the site.

The forest products company manufactures log structures, including cabin and home kits, he explained to the authority members. It has operations in Connecticut, New York, North Carolina and Florida, with an affiliate in Pennsylvania. His company gets timber from sawmills like Mike Turman's, located nearby in the industrial park.

That timber would then be sorted and dried, shaped, precut and notched before the company sends it out in kits, Vesce explained.

With a sales office working out of the Crossroads Institute in Galax, Vesce said he is ready to start using the land he bid on and won in the Carroll industrial park.

Eastern white pine is one of the main types of wood that Log Cabin Homes uses in the kits. "The Carroll County area has an abundance of timber land that contains large tracts of eastern white pine trees," Vesce said.

The company's yarding, or drying, operation currently takes place in North Carolina, where white pine is shipped to air dry before final processing, he said.

"Eastern North Carolina's sea level elevation and near constant high humidity slows the natural drying of the timbers as compared to Carroll County's high elevation and much lower humidity," Vesce told the IDA, reading from his submitted document. "Our facility in Carroll County will allow us to procure locally grown and sawn eastern white pine timber and, by yarding it on the mountaintop that receives almost constant wind, we achieve a near 50 percent reduction in natural air-drying time over eastern North Carolina in the yarding process."

In other words, a million dollars worth of wood takes a year to dry in North Carolina, but two batches can dry in Carroll County over the same period, he added. "That's a big incentive."

Only about three level acres at the industrial park property will be used for drying timber, and that area already has a driveway and a graveled area, Vesce said. Natural features will shield views of the timber from the road.

The site is ready for storing and drying timber.

The stipulation Vesce sees in the industrial park covenants is that he has to put some kind of building there. "The only so-called improvement to the site will be a 12-foot by 12-foot, one-story wood frame building adjacent to the yarded timber that is not visible from the roadway..."

County Attorney Jim Cornwell reviewed the proposed site plan after he received it at the IDA meeting and decided that it was not sufficient. "It appears that more is needed than just this site plan," he said.

Though his impression is that the IDA members are happy the land is going to be used by Vesce's company, Cornwell said the site plan does not have information specified by the deed restrictions, which include getting approval from the IDA for site improvement, building, landscaping and other items.

The restrictions say that no structures should go up within 50 feet of a street, that all building exteriors had to use approved materials, which does not include a wooden building, and more.

Vesce interrupted and said he thought the "hostile relationship" between himself and Cornwell was getting in the way.

"Maybe we need to take this to a higher authority," Vesce said loudly. "Maybe the state of Virginia economic development people will be happy to do that."

Vesce accused litigation attorney Cornwell of having a conflict of interest advising the IDA on matters like this.

"This has cost us taxpayers' money," Vesce said. "I think it's a conflict of interest for this board that the litigation attorney providing advice benefits by the advice he gives the board."

IDA Chairman Richard Slate Sr. asked for order and told Cornwell to continue.

The site plan doesn't show a parking area, whether there are utilities planned, whether trucks unloading can get off the road completely or whether the lot will be grassed and maintained, Cornwell said.

"Although I think he terms this a site plan, it really doesn't, in my opinion, meet the requirements of the restrictive covenants," the county attorney concluded.

Addressing Cornwell's points, Vesce noted that AmerLink put up a wooden office building nearby, and that's not a material approved in the covenants. "It's discriminatory that I've got to be held to a higher standard than AmerLink."

The IDA was not consulted in Carroll County's efforts to bring AmerLink here, Slate pointed out.

Vesce further explained that his property is a "drop and pull facility" with no employees. Vendors like Turman will pull up, unload timber and leave. No power is needed because there's no sawing necessary in the lumber yard.

Vesce can change his building to metal, but it's already planned for a place where it won't be seen. He explained he intended to put a security camera in there to protect his investment in timbers.

He received no guidance to produce the site plan, Vesce said. He'd be happy to answer any questions about his planned use of the property.

Log Cabin Homes coming to the industrial park is a good thing for Carroll, and it was all done without incentives, he said. Vesce decided to locate here without incentives after a visit from County Administrator Gary Larrowe.

"I came to Carroll County to patronize local businesses, not to compete with them," Vesce said. "I'm a forest products company — when we spend here most of that money, practically all of it, stays here locally."

Landowners and sawmills will benefit from that, he said.

"Mr. Vesce, we don't want to argue this in the paper," Slate said. "This is a matter between you and us and our attorneys, and I think if we can sit down... I think we can work this out.

"But this group of men doesn't want to be lambasted by somebody."

With that, the IDA went into closed session under legal matters to discuss the situation.

After they returned, authority member Barry Hicks made a motion to reject this site plan, because it didn't not meet the covenant restrictions.

The motion was approved unanimously.

"And, Mr. Vesce, I'd like to add that if Log Cabin Homes will submit an appropriate site plan, we'll certainly be happy to consider it — and that's in the time frame of the covenant," Hicks said.

The county administrators or other staff members would be happy to help with what's needed for the site plan, Hicks added.

The next IDA meeting is July 6. Vesce said he wanted to submit a plan for preliminary review in two weeks, so he could make sure that he's included everything that's needed in the plan.