Town Council approves moving VFD ‘burn building’ to Cary Street

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Smithfield’s Town Council has approved its fire department’s proposal to relocate up to a dozen shipping containers, including a two-story metal “burn building” used for live-fire training, to town-owned land on Cary Street.

The Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department had requested a special use permit and site plan amendment, both of which passed in a 5-1 vote over the objection of Councilman Mike Smith and a Cary Street resident who raised environmental concerns.

The move is intended to bring the South Church Street fire station, where the shipping containers forming the burn building are currently housed, into compliance with changes to Smithfield’s zoning ordinance enacted in March. The ordinance now allows 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 after-the-fact approval requests.

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The parcels to which the burn building and other shipping containers will move are zoned light industrial and environmental conservation, according to a report by town staff.

Timothy Wenk, whose home is located across the street from the proposed relocation site, and his father, South Church Street resident Brian Lally, said during a public hearing on the proposed relocation that they’re concerned about smoke from the live-fire training, particularly if wood pallets treated with pesticides are burned.

“It’s out of the view for most people in town, but it’s not out of view for me,” Wenk said.

Assistant Fire Chief Jason Stallings told the council his department uses only “pallets, clean wood and straw” for its live burns in accordance with state regulations.

”There are no flammable liquids used,” Stallings said.

Mayor Steve Bowman noted the site was once home to the town’s sewage treatment plant and is ideal for repurposing.

“At times it has to be a decision that’s made for the collective and common good,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s another place in the town of Smithfield that’s available to (the fire department) that would serve their purpose better than this location.

Councilwoman Renee Rountree made the motion to approve the fire department’s request, which Councilman Randy Pack seconded. Smith cast the dissenting vote.

“I think we need to study this a little further to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” he said.