County to consider propane limit

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County could use fire safety rules to regulate liquid propane storage.

The Board of Supervisors heard a proposal Tuesday to put a 2,000-gallon cap on the amount of propane a person can store at home. The board will consider the new rule at a future meeting.

No zoning, building or fire codes adopted by Shenandoah County or mandated by Virginia specifically limit the amount or volume of liquid propane gas stored and used for residential purposes. The code allows the county to designate the volume of liquid propane through specific building-use classifications.

Fire Marshal David Ferguson explained that the code allows the county to make the rules more restrictive but also provides “wiggle room” for certain situations in which a person can store more than the limit. The committee of officials that reviewed the matter focused on homes in residential areas, not agricultural or industrial properties that often use high quantities of propane, Ferguson said.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass explained that the proposed regulation, if approved, would pertain only to single- or two-family homes. Whether or not a property owner could operate a facility to transfer gas from the storage container to others still falls under zoning regulations, Vass said.

The county could designate single- or two-family dwellings as R-5 buildings. By identifying the R-5 group as heavily populated or congested areas, the board could limit the total gas storage to not exceed 2,000 gallons, regardless of the number of tanks used. The fire marshal would enforce the provision if enacted. The official could grant exceptions after considering topography, nature of the building occupancy, proximity to other structures, the capacity of the containers if greater than 2,000 gallons, the degree of fire protection provided and capabilities of the local fire department.

The regulations would not cover buildings associated with agriculture. Existing tanks in the R-5 group in excess of 2,000 gallons would not be grandfathered. County officials would be made aware of storage tanks greater than 2,000 gallons in an R-5 application through new construction or renovation during the building process. Officials would learn of existing tanks through complaints.

Property owners must go through the permitting process in order to install a propane tank at their home, Ferguson said.

“Just with anything else within the county, people will bypass the requirement of getting a permit and go out and install these tanks,” Ferguson said. “But there’s a lot of propane tanks out there being installed without a permit, I would say. An ordinance is not going to change that.”

Ferguson said he and other officials could advise area propane dealers about the need to go through the permitting process.

Supervisor Steven Baker voiced concern that a 2,000-gallon limit could hurt a homeowner in the winter if he uses a lot of propane and runs out.

The county could set up a fee structure for the fire marshal’s office to help cover the cost of conducting investigations.

County officials pursued the idea of creating local regulations after a Toms Brook area businessman sought a permit to store large amounts of propane behind his home. Neighbors were concerned about the amount of fuel he planned to store. William Crowley withdrew his application for the permit after the Planning Commission recommended the Board of Supervisors deny the request. It was discovered at the public hearing that Crowley had several tanks that hold more than 5,000 gallons of propane.

Supervisor Marsha Shruntz pointed out that the proposal would not regulate the entire county.

“It’s not about the agricultural community at all,” Shruntz said. “It’s about retail and wholesale related to a subdivision.”

Crowley also applied for a permit to run a business at his home near Toms Brook. While the Planning Commission endorsed the request, supervisors tabled the matter for a future meeting while county officials look into regulatory options.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or