Council approves grandfathering shipping containers

Published 4:51 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Smithfield’s Town Council voted on Oct. 4 to grandfather 14 shipping containers being used as permanent structures throughout the town.

The council amended its zoning ordinance in March to allow permanent shipping containers by special use permit in light industrial zoning, farmlands zoned as community conservation, and the town’s highway retail commercial district. A 2022 report by town staff had identified 16 businesses and organizations with non-permitted shipping containers, prompting a flurry of applications for after-the-fact approvals once the ordinance changed.

Ted Value Hardware on South Church Street, Dave’s Service Center on West Main Street, Brown’s Automotive on Moore Avenue and Smithfield Body & Frame, also on West Main Street, are now each permitted to keep the containers currently in use.

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Brown’s had sought approval for a single container. True Value and Smithfield Body & Frame each sought approval for five containers. Dave’s sought approval for three. All were listed in the 2022 report.

The town’s Planning Commission is scheduled to consider another after-the-fact shipping container request Oct. 12 from the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire department is seeking a site plan amendment, entrance corridor overlay review and special use permit to relocate up to 12 shipping containers currently at its South Church Street fire station.

Some of the containers have been stacked to create what the department calls its “burn building,” a two-story structure intended to resemble the layout of a house where firefighters can conduct live-fire training. The containers would be moved to town-owned land on Cary Street.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 17 at 1:54 p.m. to correct that the shipping containers would move to town-owned land on Cary Street, not remain at the South Church Street fire station.