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Waynesville grants Giles’ Chemical zoning flexibility in the name of economic expansion

fr gilesWaynesville leaders have granted a free pass on many of its aesthetic development standards to pave the way for a large warehouse facility being built by Giles Chemical, the Waynesville-based company that is the largest North American manufacturer of Epsom salts.

The warehouse complex will be located in Hazelwood, a stone’s throw from the revitalized commercial shopping district. Town leaders granted Giles a dozen exemptions to the town’s development codes this month, citing the importance of jobs.

“It is not unusual for a town to try to work with a particular economic entity in order to facilitate economic growth. I felt like this was an effort by the town to reuse this site and expand manufacturing in the town,” said Elizabeth Teague, the town development services director.

Some of the standards simply seemed moot to impose on an industrial site, such as sidewalks for pedestrian access or the screening of dumpsters, which are located out of sight anyway behind the warehouse.

Other exemptions gave Giles a pass on architectural standards and tree screening, requirements that are intended to ensure new development is in keeping with the community’s small-town character.

The rationale behind the exemptions was two-fold: it’s simply hard to disguise a 37,000-square-foot warehouse no matter what and the site is largely screened from public view anyway, sitting a block off Hazelwood Avenue behind another row of businesses and an existing natural tree buffer.

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Matt Haynes, director of operations at Giles Chemical, said that it didn’t make sense to impose architectural guidelines on the new warehouse when the building wouldn’t be all that visible from public view anyway.

 “With any town, the ordinances, they don’t always make sense for every site and every application,” Haynes said. “We didn’t try to evade costs specifically, that was not our overriding mission. What we looked at were the things that would never provide their intended benefit or function. No community wants to beladen a business with costs where there will be no benefit.”

Haynes said there will obviously be some spots along Hazelwood Avenue where you’ll be able to see the warehouse, but it won’t be significant.

One of the main exemptions granted to Giles related to aesthetic architectural standards. Long, blank, sheet-metal walls are a no-no under the town’s building design guidelines. But Patrick Bradshaw, Giles’ contracted site engineer with Civil Design Concepts, said it would cost Giles $85,000 to dress up the front side of its metal warehouse to meet the town’s standards. 

And that seemed like a waste when it couldn’t really be seen anyway, Bradshaw said. 

 “Basically the face of this building can’t be seen from the public purview. So we couldn’t find the practicality of that,” Bradshaw said.

The standards are intended to create an attractive town with a sense of place and pleasant character, but town leaders seemed to draw a distinction when it came to industrial use on a parcel that was historically industrial property.

“That historically has been an industrial use there. We all grew up with that,” Mayor Gavin Brown said.

Other exemptions ranged from a waiver on required tree plantings in the parking lot, a waiver on tree screening along the front and sides of the property, and a waiver on the type of buffer separating the site from a residential street abutting the back side of the property. 

Giles also requested an exemption on the amount of open space, lowering the impervious surface threshold from only 80 percent of the site to 95 percent.

“We didn’t want that to be a component that tied our hands, if you will,” said Bradshaw.

Nearly every new business that comes into the town would obviously prefer for their hands not to be tied by regulations and building design standards. But town leaders have rarely granted so many exemptions.

Teague said she didn’t know whether the exemptions would have been a deal killer if they weren’t granted carte blanche, or if Waynesville town leaders could have attempted to negotiate a compromise on some of the requested exemptions.

All five seats on the town board are up for election in November. Some challengers have claimed the town should be more accommodating to businesses — particularly when it comes to its development design standards. But the board’s willingness to grant exemptions for Giles countered that criticism.

 

A growing industry

Giles has grown exponentially over the past decade, from just 20 employees in 2004 to 170 now.

Haynes told the town board that the economic benefit of an industry like Giles goes beyond the raw number of jobs, however.

“Contributions to the community are the primary point I wanted to make here,” Haynes said, calling Giles’ impact “far-reaching.”

Alderwoman Julia Freeman thanked Giles for bringing commerce and industry to Waynesville, and added the historical importance of industry to the Hazelwood area. The vacant site where Giles’ business office and warehouse complex will be built was once home to one of Hazelwood’s many long-gone factories.

“Hazelwood was founded on industry and most of us would like to see it come back,” said Mary Ann Enloe, a lifelong Hazelwood resident and its former mayor.

Giles’ production factory and packaging facility is located about a mile away in the Frog Level area of Waynesville. It is the largest manufacturer of Epsom salts on the continent. Business is booming thanks to exponential growth in the demand for Epsom salt in sundry applications, from industrial applications to natural health remedies.

Plans for the Hazelwood site not only call for a new warehouse, but also a corporate business office.

Giles’s parent company, Premier Magnesia, is relocating its corporate headquarters from a suburb of Philadelphia to Waynesville, creating new white-collar jobs complimenting the growth in its factory workforce. 

“The reason they are consolidating things down here is we have found the people in this area share a very good work ethic,” said Jim Hill, president of Giles Chemical. “They see it as a good place to set up camp in the future.”

Giles has an existing business office at the Hazelwood site that’s currently home to 15 employees. Ten new office jobs will be added as a result of the headquarter move, with a total of 25 employees working out of the new Hazelwood office building.

As for the new warehouse, it will be staffed only by a single employee, but it creates value for the operation as a whole. The warehouse facility will provide critical storage capacity for incoming raw materials and finished product waiting to be shipped out all over the world. 

“In and of itself that warehouse will be manned by one person,” Haynes said. But, “You can’t expand production if you don’t have sufficient warehousing, thereby it does contribute to the opportunity to continue to grow and add jobs.” 

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