by CHRIS ROGERS
The Winona plant formerly known as Cytec received an exception to city zoning rules without controversy last week. A heavy manufacturing plant that employs scores of Winonans and sits immediately next to residential homes with limited space to expand, the factory’s situation is not a unique one in Winona.
At the corner of Olmstead and Third street, the plant was originally built by Winona-based Fiberite before it was bought by the New Jersey company Cytec. This year Cytec was absorbed by the Belgian firm Solvay. “That’s been a really good thing for us here at the Winona site,” Solvay Engineering Manager John Dudkiewicz said.
Past expansions have concerned neighbors who live cheek-and-jowl with the plant, but last week the Winona Board of Adjustment (BOA) unanimously approved a proposal to install new air-pollution-reduction equipment closer to neighbors’ property lines than city code would normally allow. City code would have normally required the equipment to be setback 40-feet from the factory’s property line. The exception — called a variance — allows the equipment to be installed within 20 feet of the fence line.
The new equipment may actually ease concerns neighbors have previously expressed about air emissions. The equipment is a thermal oxidizer that uses high temperatures to break down hazardous fumes into non-hazardous gases before releasing them into the air. The new oxidizer will replace an existing one, and will be more efficient and environmentally friendly, company officials said. Normally, oxidizers sit outside, but because this one will be across the alley from several homes, plant leaders decide to enclose the new oxidizer in a structure that will cut down on noise.
Back in May 2014, the Board of Adjustment voted 4-2 to grant Cytec a variance to construct an above-ground flammable material storage facility within 150 feet of neighboring homes. City code normally requires a 200-foot setback and only permits below-ground storage of flammable materials. Several neighbors opposed it, raising concerns about fire hazards and the factory’s continued expansion toward their property lines. One neighbor even paid to appeal the BOA’s decision to the City Council. The council upheld the BOA decision in a 5-2 vote. Many council members, business leaders, and citizens stressed Cytec’s importance as a large employer and noted that there are few sites for such a big factory to relocate in Winona.
Some neighbors said Cytec should buy their properties if it wants to expand, and council member Gerry Krage encouraged Cytec to make plans to buy out its closest neighbors at some point in the future. The single-family homes immediately next to the factory are zoned “heavy manufacturing,” and at the time, some neighbors’ discussed trying to change the zoning of their own properties to residential, a change that would cause additional setbacks and restrictions on factory expansions to kick in. “If the neighborhood is going to be looking at changing the zoning [to residential], any future variances are going to be even more complicated,” Krage told company officials.
A formal proposal to rezone the homes never came forward.
Cytec’s 2014 variance to build the flammable storage facility is still valid, but the company opted to store the flammable materials off-site with a third party company rather than construct the storage space, Dudkiewicz explained last week.
Variances never expire in Winona. In 2014, the City Council enacted a 12-month time limit for two other kinds of zoning approvals: conditional use permits (CUPs) and site plans. Developers have to start construction within a year or else those approvals expire. That new rule for CUPs and site plans was created, in part, in response to projects that were permitted and then never built — such as a frac sand processing facility near Innovation Drive — leaving neighbors and the city to wonder whether the projects would ever be built. There is no such time limit for variances.