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Thursday, 26 January 2012 01:08

Giant trucks on tiny street pose headaches for Waynesville neighborhood

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Earl Bradley watches from the parking lot of his auto repair shop as a tractor trailer struggles for 15 minutes to align itself with Premier Chemicals’ loading dock across the street in Waynesville.

Bradley has videotaped the trucks for months, with multiple cameras constantly recording the saga playing out on Smathers Street. Despite assertions to the contrary by Premier’s management, Bradley’s videos are evidence of the daily plight faced in the neighborhood.

The delivery trucks park in the middle of the road, block their driveways, tear up their yards, scatter gravel and mud, run over the curbs and generally disturb the neighborhood as they pickup and drop off loads at the warehouse.

“I shouldn’t have to put up with this,” Bradley said. “They’re not a great neighbor.”

Residents and business owners near the small factory have grown so tired of the trucks they have appealed to Waynesville town leaders to crack down on the problem.

Most of the trucks are independent and are not owned by Premier (formerly Giles Chemical), but residents say the company could do more to compel better behavior from the trucks coming and going.

Premier Chemicals employs around 70 people and is the leading producer of Epsom salt in the nation. It has a manufacturing facility in the Frog Level district of downtown Waynesville, as well as a warehouse farther down Smathers Street.

Because Smathers Street is a small, two-lane road, tractor trailers going to and from Premier Chemicals have a difficult time maneuvering. There’s only a small space to make a three-point turn, one that even the most adept truck drivers can’t nail consistently without some luck.

Truck drivers are also forced into Bradley’s private parking lot. The trucks block the flow of traffic and have caused undue wear and tear to his lot, he said.

One day, Bradley went as far as posting a listing of the municipal codes that Premier Chemical was breaking. But, he said they didn’t care.

“They’ve got municipal codes that they break everyday,” Bradley said.

It is not just Bradley who has had problems with trucks on his property.

James Haney, who lives on Smathers Street, said that the trucks have used his driveway to maneuver as well and also ran over his flowers. And, although the company promised that changes to its loading dock would help remedy neighbors’ concerns about truck traffic on Smathers Street, Haney said Premier did not keep its word.

“Everything they said they were going to do, they didn’t do,” Haney said.

Premier Chemical takes in and ships out close to 10 loads each day, according to Matt Haynes, the company’s director of manufacturing.

Bradley said that he did not know off the top of his head how many trucks stopped at Premier each day, but that it is more than 10.

Mayor Gavin Brown said Premier Chemicals is an important industry to the town, providing much needed jobs. Unfortunately, it is not easy for factories and neighborhoods to coexist in close proximity, he said.

“That is a historical problem. We have heavy industrial right against residential, and there is going to be friction. There always is,” he said.

Brown said there are things Premier Chemical could do to be better neighbors, however — mainly telling its truck drivers to alter their habits.

If Premier schedules its trucks better, the traffic would be staggered and wouldn’t have to park in the street, sidewalks and people’s yards, Brown said.

Brown said the town could also help out by passing some specific parking and traffic laws for Smathers Street. After a few weeks of the town’s police officers enforcing the new traffic laws, it should send a message to the truckers and to Premier to figure out a better way.

 

Sign oversight

Neighbors will ask the town board at its meeting this week to post “no parking” signs on Smathers Street and penalize the company when it breaks municipal codes, such as driving over sidewalks and tearing up neighboring yards.

In fact, residents were promised nearly a year ago that the town would install “no parking” signs, but they have yet to appear.

Waynesville’s planning board voted at a meeting last March meeting to post no parking signs along the street, setting the stage for police officers to ticket offending trucks.

“I think that would take away about half the complaints we get about Giles,” said Town Planner Paul Benson.

However, because of an oversight, the issue did not reach Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen until this month. The planning board had said yes, but the request for the sign was never kicked up the ladder.

“It just got lost,” Brown said.

The no parking sign idea resurfaced as Premier Chemical seeks zoning approval from the town that would allow the company to expand in the future. Heavy industrial technically isn’t allowed in the downtown central business district. Premier’s operations were grandfathered in, but can’t expand beyond their current footprint without town approval.

For now Premier wants to add a 3,000-square-foot storage shed on the backside of its main building. But the zoning change the company is seeking could open the door for additional future expansion as well.

However, residents are concerned that Premier will expand on top of them.

“We need manufacturing. We need the jobs, but we want people to not suffer,” Benson said. “It’s a balancing act.”

The Waynesville Board of Aldermen will have a public hearing on whether to put in the “no parking” signs on Smathers Street and the change in zoning.

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