ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans Cooperative Creamery can now build slightly larger silos, after the city council approved the final reading of a building height amendment Monday night.
The city has regulated buildings in the service-industrial district to ensure a maximum height of 85 feet.
But then the Dairy Farmers of America, which now owns the co-op, proposed taller silos, just one to start, with the possibility of more in the future.
The co-op’s current silos stand around 80 feet tall, including catwalks and concrete paths. DFA’s proposed new silos will stand closer to 105 feet.
Certain council members were initially hesitant to amend the city’s building height regulations in that district when the issue came before the city council in October.
Councilor Tim Hawkins, for example, said he remembered the public controversy when the city council allowed the Bourdeau Brothers to construct a significantly taller grain elevator.
“A silo’s a big thing,” Hawkins said, when Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development, first brought the possibility of a height amendment to the council. “... They can interfere with a good portion of the view from the upper side of St. Albans.
“I just don’t want ... us to haphazardly go into, ‘Yeah, let’s do it because it’s the co-op,’” although Hawkins immediately clarified he considers the co-op “good neighbors.”
“As long as everyone takes a good look at it and gets a fair shot to take a look at it, rather than just try to run it through the process,” Hawkins concluded.
So the council passed the issue to the planning commission to draft the amendment, which returned to the council’s agenda in December for the first of two public hearings and readings.
And despite Hawkins’ concern over potential controversy, no one showed up.
Only the council’s second and final reading Monday drew the public, but even then, just one resident: Kathy Strahm, a resident of High Street. Strahm said the height change would negatively effect her view from High Street.
“Up on the hill, we can see the skyline,” Strahm told the council, meaning the proposed silo, which she said is “the ugliest industrial-type structure,” could factor into her view.
“Is this a failure of creativity?” Strahm asked. “Why do they have to go and make [a silo] that sticks out above the rest of St. Albans?”
Council members mainly responded by asserting the height difference between the existing and proposed silos is relatively minor, even noting the co-op put out streamers and balloons above its existing silos to clarify the height difference for the public. Strahm said she hadn’t noticed that.
That objection alone didn’t stop the council from approving the new height regulation.
The new regulation allows for structures up to 105 feet tall in the service-industrial district — with two important caveats.
First, structures over 85 feet high are only allowed if their intended use is storage and processing, and second, such a structure has to be set back a certain distance from the service-industrial district’s boundary. The structure’s proposed height determines the setback distance.
Kiersten Bourgeois, the co-op’s business development and communications manager, told the council at its December meeting that the DFA expects permitting for the new silo to wrap up this March, and construction to begin soon thereafter.
The new silo represents a significant increase in capacity, from 50,000 to 70,000 gallons. But the new silos are also crucial for the co-op to adhere to DFA’s Good Manufacturing Practices by saving the co-op from mixing different milk types in any one silo.
Peter Cross, of St. Albans’ Cross Consulting Engineers, told the council in October the co-op currently holds multiple types of milk in any one silo and washes the silo before switching types. The DFA’s GMPs require separate silos for each milk type: whole milk, skim milk and so forth.
Cross said then the plan was for any new silos to stand in front of, or near, the three existing silos.
He said the DFA plans to start by constructing one silo, with the possibility of more in the future.