Retif Oil & Fuel has asked the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance to convert a former paper storage facility into a bulk oil distribution center in a light industrial district at 6955 Cary Hamilton Road. The request stems from the city’s zoning ordinance, which classifies the term “petroleum, or petroleum products” too broadly, the applicant wrote.

“The word ‘petroleum or petroleum products’ includes everything from high-octane jet fuel to a jar of Vaseline that you buy at [Wal-Mart],” the application states. “This wide range of products should not be grouped into one all-encompassing category. That being said, our justification in requesting a variance is that the zoning ordinance is flawed per the reasons stated above.”

The staff report states the same definition for petroleum has been in place for decades.

“The applicant … states that the justification for requesting a variance is because the Zoning Ordinance is ‘flawed’ and it categorizes petroleum and petroleum products all under the same classification,” the report reads. “However, it should be pointed out, the process for classifying facilities that store or manufacture petroleum and petroleum products, and the [regulations governing it], has essentially been the same since 1967 with some updates to our current Zoning Ordinance. Therefore, a precedent has been set and the understanding that all petroleum and petroleum products, whether the facility is distribution, storage or manufacturing, all require planning approval in a heavy industry district.”

The company is also asking for a variance to allow a gravel parking lot at the facility.

Retif could ask for a change to heavy industry zoning, but in the application they wrote that they didn’t want to do that because it would allow the property “to be utilized for almost any use imaginable” and would have a “negative impact.”

The zoning ordinance states that a variance can’t be granted on the basis of economics and a true hardship must be present, according to the staff report.

“The applicant must clearly show the board that the request is due to very unusual characteristics of the property and that it satisfies the variance standards,” the staff report reads. “What constitutes unnecessary hardship and substantial justice is a matter to be determined from the facts and circumstances of each application.”

If approved, Retif will use the building to store 30, 4,000-gallon petroleum storage tanks and 20, 8,000-gallon tanks. Both groups would be under the 10,000-gallon minimum suggested for increased scrutiny in an amended ordinance proposal, the application states. In addition there will be rack storage of various petroleum products, like brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and others.

“In all, there are approximately 200 different types of materials that will be stored and distributed from this warehouse,” the application states. “All of the materials are classified as Class III-B liquids. Class III-B liquids are products that have a flashpoint of 200 degrees or greater and are not classified as hazardous.”  

Because the storage containers will be inside the building, Retif wrote there should be no concern over noise, odors or air pollution. Roughly 15 trucks will run through the facility per day.

“The facility will have approximately 26 employees on site, which includes office and warehouse personnel, sales people and drivers. The warehouse hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Planning staff has recommended the application for denial based on a number of factors. First, staff wrote the distribution center, which is a few hundred feet from Burroughs Elementary School, would not be in the best interest of the neighborhood. There is also no evidence of a hardship.
The hearing is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. at the auditorium in Government Plaza.