Neighbors have challenged a recent variance that gave Cytec Engineered Materials permission to store flammable liquids near a residential zone. At Monday’s Winona City Council meeting, neighbors will appeal the Winona Board of Adjustment (BOA) decision to grant the variance, which allows Cytec to store flammable liquids within 150 feet of a residential district and to allow above ground storage. City code normally permits underground storage more than 200 feet away from residential zones.
Cytec plans to erect the new flammable liquid storage facility and other new additions in what is now a parking lot, near the corner of West Third and McBride streets. The new space would have two-hour fire walls and other safety features required by state and federal regulations, according to Cytec engineer Steve Flo. The new space is part of the company’s $12.4 million expansion that will bring a new product line — overhead bins and other interior items for commercial and military aircraft — and 60 to 70 jobs to the Winona facility. The project is funded in part by a $75,000 loan from the city Port Authority. Contractors began renovations of the existing plant and the installation of new equipment this spring.
The neighbors appealing the decision are not technically affected by the 200-foot rule. A line of 12 houses — including several of the appellants’ homes — share a block with Cytec. The flammable liquid storage area and other new additions will be located in a parking lot across an alley from the 12 backyards. Many of the homes will be within 200 feet of the flammable liquid storage space, but, while they are used as residences, they are zoned manufacturing, not residential. According to Flo, the new storage facility will only be within the 200-foot limit of one residentially zoned property: a house across McBride Street from the plant. It is this property, not the appellants’ that necessitated a variance.
That “totally ignores the human factor,” said appellant Pat Capek, whose home is one of the abutting properties. By that logic, “If you’re in a manufacturing district, we don’t have to regard you at all,” she stated. Besides, the variance will “definitely change the neighborhood,” Capek said, disagreeing with the BOA’s finding that the variance would not substantially alter the character of the neighborhood.
“I don’t have any issues with [their] appealing it; that’s their right,” Cytec plant manager Jim Wright said of the appeal. “I feel pretty comfortable with all of the safeguards we [will] have in place” at the facility, he added.
When asked if the room could be constructed underground, as apparently required by city code, Wright said, “I don’t think I want to get into all the ‘what ifs’ with that. There are obviously a lot of thoughts about what could be done; what we’re proposing is pretty standard. Actually, if you look at federal and state standard it’s not uncommon for these types of storage facilities [to be above ground].” The new storage site will meet all of those regulations, he said. “I can’t tell you the rationale as far as why the [city] code was set up the way it was,” but having an aboveground site may make the facility more accessible to firefighters, if there was a fire, he added.
“The fact is that it’s part of our business — handling flammables — and it has been for years. This really isn’t something new.” Wright continued. “Suffice it to say I think our proposal is a good one, not only for us, but also to protect our employees and our neighbors from any potential issues,” he concluded.
Instead of getting an exception to city zoning rules, Cytec “should just plain buy us out and get rid of the problem,” Capek argued. Several of her neighbors also urged the company to buy them out during the BOA hearing. Together, the assessed value of the twelve houses is $793,100.
Buying out neighboring homes “wasn’t part of our plan,” said Wright. “To be honest, I don’t know if the company would be interested in that or not. We haven’t had those types of discussions.”
On Monday at 6:30 p.m. at city hall, the City Council will hold a public hearing before deciding whether to uphold the BOA’s decision.