JEFFERSON-The Ashe County Board of Adjustments ruled Thursday evening that a wood splitting operation on West Laurel Knob Road in Todd owned by Marlin Krider does not meet the definition of a sawmill and will be allowed to continue to operate without any interruptions from the county or his disgruntled neighbors.
Thursday’s ruling from the quasi-judicial board was the culmination of a family feud over the legality of the mill’s operation.
Marlin’s brother, Kerry Krider, has took issue with the location of the setup, claiming it causes excessive noise pollution in the early hours and is too close to their mother’s property. He said he’s also received similar complaints from second-home owners in the surrounding community.
Kerry also claims Marlin’s operation is operating illegally because it more closely resembles a sawmill instead of a simple firewood business and is too close to protected properties under current zoning regulations.
Marlin begs to differ. In a previous interview with the Jefferson Post, Marlin gave his interpretation of a sawmill and defended his business.
“A sawmill is permanent; mine is just part-time,” said Marlin Krider, who added much of the dispute is the residual effects of a bidding war with his brother over the family farm. “My business was there nine months before they passed the new HILU.”
The county has previously ruled on the issue.
County Planner Adam Stumb has already ruled the Marlin’s operation does not meet the criteria of a sawmill because it does not provide wood finishing services.
“My interpretation of a sawmill definition was it is more of a lumber processing, finishing and planing of lumber products,” said Stumb.
Stumb also told Marlin that his operation could not be regulated under the county’s recently enacted High Impact Land Use ordinance.
Stumb ultimately determined Marlin’s setup does not meet the definition of a sawmill under the HILU because it doesn’t actually finish the lumber it is splitting.
“It’s pretty similar to a mechanized chainsaw that cuts firewood in lengths,” Stumb said of Marlin’s wood splitter in a previous interview.
Ultimately, the controversy reached its boiling point because of a difference of opinion in the definition of a sawmill or a wood-splitting operation under the county’s zoning ordinance.
Sharon Duvall, a cousin of Marlin, appealed Stumb’s earlier decision, which led to Thursday’s hearing by the board of adjustments.
The board of adjustments confirmed Stumb’s opinion that the operation does not meet the definition of a sawmill.
A wealth of testimony was entered in the case prior to the board of adjustment’s ruling.
Duvall was the first person to deliver testimony during the hearing. She said she grew-up in the house near the wood splitting business. She said the house has been in the family since 1964.
Duvall said the sawmill would affect her ability to sell the property because “it’s an eyesore” and could affect property values. She described a mountain of logs approaching 20 feet in height encroaching on her fence line.
“It makes me sick,” Duvall said of Marlin’s business. “The sawmill takes away the peace and dignity of the community. There are so many houses within sight of it.”
Greg Wilcox, of Charlotte, then took to the podium to deliver testimony on the behalf of the Duvall case.
Wilcox said he has deep family ties in Ashe County and a vested interest in the Todd community because he is a one-third owner of properties in the immediate vicinity of Marlin’s operation.
Wilcox has taken issue with the noise generated by the operation. He said it is easily heard from inside the house.
“It’s not a peaceful place that it was,” said Wilcox of the community. “It’s right there in front of me. I wouldn’t call it a peaceful place to come up on the weekend. I wouldn’t call it a peaceful place to retire.”
Wilcox also said he has safety concerns because the mill is in so close vicinity to the road and bicyclists that frequent the area.
Following each witness’s testimony was a cross-examination by Jak Reeves, who represented the county and Stumb.
Along with photographs and a petition presented to the board of commissioners to have the plant closed, the challengers in the case also presented a video during the hearing.
The video footage, taken by a drone, provided still images of the area surrounding the wood splitting operation. It also contained footage of the machinery operating.
Following the introduction of witnesses by the challenger, Reeves brought Stumb to the stand to give the county’s version of events. Stumb ultimately reiterated his earlier opinion that the business does not meet the definition of a sawmill.
During the cross-examination of Stumb, Duvall’s attorney asked specifically of him what is considered a finished wood product and challenged his interpretation of what a finished product is. Stumb stood by his earlier decision that the operation does not meet the definition of a sawmill.
Several other witnesses also entered testimony on the behalf of Marlin Krider.
Chris Allen followed Stumb’s testimony. He was introduced by Reeves. He is a son-in-law of Marlin. Part of his testimony rested on the definition of seasoned wood. Allen said he has no issues with the sounds of the operation and doesn’t consider it a disturbance. He also said the operation was no louder than the Wilcox’s shooting guns.
“This isn’t in downtown West Jefferson,” said Allen of his father-in-law’s business.
During closing arguments, Reeves, who is representing the county, said Stumb made his decision and it was an “educated and thoughtful” decision that went into the language of the ordinance and the definition of what a sawmill is.
He also said the issue before the board of whether Marlin’s operation is a sawmill or not is a “finite issue.”
“What Marlin Krider is doing is clearly not lumber and it’s clearly not mulch,” said Reeves. He said what Marlin produces is not a finished wood product.
“If you all say this operation is a sawmill then you are saying anyone who cuts up wood in this county is operating a sawmill,” said Reeves. “That could have a huge ripple effect throughout this county.”
Attorney John Logsdon, representing Duvall in the case, spoke last during the hearing.
He disagreed with Reeves’ interpretation of the ordinance.
“The ordinance was passed for a reason and we are focusing too much on the end product,” said Logsdon. “The HILU doesn’t really matter what the end product is in terms of the high impact. There are some types of operations that are generally acknowledged to be high impact, but it is the processing that is the high impact; not the product.”
Logsdon also addressed the ordinance as a whole.
“The purpose of the ordinance is to preserve these communities while allowing growth with reasonable restrictions,” he said.
Logsdon then referenced the “noisy trucks” of the operations and the “adverse impacts” the ordinance was designed to limit and control.
Deliberations by the board
Board member Priscilla Cox said in this particular situation that Stumb has “crossed his t’s and dotted his I’s” and didn’t see any reason not to uphold the decision of the county planner.
Board Chair Gene Hafer agreed with other members of the board and that the decision of the county planner was correct in this case.
The board voted 4-0 to uphold Stumb’s decision. All deliberations were made in public.
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.