Propane storage request sparks residents’ worries

WOODSTOCK – Stray chickens and a watchful, worried neighbor spurred Shenandoah County officials to investigate a business near Toms Brook.

Now the owner might have to stop storing large amounts of propane that he uses as part of his home business.

The Shenandoah County Planning Commission recommended Thursday that the Board of Supervisors deny a request by William and Kamelia Crowley for a special-use permit to store propane in bulk at B&S Mechanical Service Inc., 180 Roberts Road, just outside Toms Brook. Crowley applied for the permit after county Zoning Administrator Joyce Fadeley found him in violation of local regulations for storing propane on his property.

At the same time, the county building official and fire marshal continue to investigate the situation and Crowley’s non-compliance with safety regulations.

Zoning Administrator Joyce Fadeley explained Friday that approval of a permit, at least in this case, doesn’t guarantee that the applicant can do what he requested if he fails to comply with other regulations. State regulations supersede the county’s rules.

During the public hearing held on the request, the commission heard from a few residents who said they felt concerned about the business storing propane on the property. Crowley said he had been operating the business since 1986 without any problems until someone alerted the county when he put more propane tanks on his property. Crowley takes propane from his storage tanks and supplies area customers with the fuel, he explained.

“I set [up] more propane storage at my house and, consequently, somebody … didn’t think it was safe,” Crowley said at the meeting.

Several of Crowley’s neighbors spoke at the hearing, voicing the concerns they had with the amount of propane stored on the property. While some of the speakers said they thought Crowley had been a good neighbor, they still worried about the propane.

The discussion between Crowley and the commission became heated and at one point the owner said he would just withdraw his request if it looked like the panel wouldn’t endorse it. Member Mike Davis pushed Crowley on the issue and asked if he wanted to withdraw the request. Crowley instead asked the panel to vote.

Crowley’s multiple tanks have enough capacity to store about 5,800 gallons of propane, according to information presented at the meeting.

At the meeting, commission Chairman Gary Lantz said fire safety literature indicates the evacuation radius for tanks of that size, in the event of an emergency, is a quarter of a mile. In response to Lantz’ questions, Crowley said he uses the necessary safety equipment for transferring propane from the large tanks to other containers. However, Crowley didn’t say whether or not he has remote shut-off devices for the tanks.

Fadeley said Friday that she became aware of the apparent violation when a neighbor of Crowley’s called and complained of chickens crossing from his yard into hers. The neighbor mentioned the large tanks, Fadeley recalled. The fire marshal investigated and, through his work, Fadeley determined Crowley was in violation. Crowley acted quickly to address the zoning violation by attaching the tanks to the house.

Crowley attached the new tanks to his home heating system to come into compliance with zoning regulations, Fadeley said. It remains unclear if Crowley could keep and use the additional tanks without the special-use permit. Fadeley said the building official and the fire marshal needs to finish their inspection of the tanks’ connection to the home to determine if Crowley can use the storage containers.

Some commission members and residents said they worried about the amount of propane the tanks can hold. The county cannot, through any local regulations, dictate how much fuel Crowley can store on his property, Fadeley said.

The tanks have been “red-tagged,” meaning that Crowley can’t fill the containers until the fire marshal has approved their use, Fadeley said.

The commission did endorse Crowley’s request for a special-use permit to operate a home business, using a private garage to work on mechanical equipment and to service heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, as well as to perform work as a gas contractor. The board will take up both permit requests at a future meeting.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com