Night lights: Munitions company shines in Rockfish Valley

More lights are going up at Zenith Quest’s facility on Route 151 in Nelson County.

Anna Kariel/SkycladAP More lights are going up at Zenith Quest’s facility on Route 151 in Nelson County. Anna Kariel/SkycladAP

David Connolly used to gaze out the windows of his Afton Mountain home and see twinkling lights and the occasional headlight in the valley below. That was before Zenith Quest International “fired up the lights,” he says, of its already controversial, 84,000-square-foot firearms and ammunition distribution warehouse smack in the middle of Nelson County’s scenic wine and beer byway.

“Although we’re 800′ above them, they shine right in our windows,” says Connolly, who has lived on Stagecoach Road—a couple of miles away from the warehouse—for 13 years. “To me, it’s lit up like a landing strip. You can’t escape.”

The warehouse already stands out in the viewshed as the largest structure visible on Route 151, says Connolly. On September 24, only two of the lights were on, which was “much better,” he says. “Come Monday, they were on full blast.”

And there are more lights to come, according to Zenith Quest project manager Ray Miles. The six lights currently on are to light up the turnaround area for big trucks, he says. Ten more lights are going to be installed in the employee parking lot, and there will be security lights around the perimeter.

“We’re using what was approved in the site plan by the county,” says Miles, a plan that includes “two pages of metrics” on the lighting to be used. “If someone told us they were no longer approved, we’d study it.”

He’s already heard from a local supervisor. “The folks complaining, it’s brand new lighting,” says Miles. “They’re not used to it.”

Tim Padalino is Nelson’s director of planning and zoning, and he says the county’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan have requirements that are analogous to dark-sky certifications. Exterior lighting can’t shine onto adjoining properties or the public right of way and it must have full cut-off fixtures.

“Both are designed to prevent light pollution (i.e. light traveling up into the night sky instead of down onto parking areas, sidewalks, patios, etc.), and to preserve dark skies at night,” he writes in an e-mail.

Padalino says he was contacted by Supervisor Tommy Harvey, “who relayed significant concern from Afton residents who are very upset about the lighting at Zenith Quest.” Padalino planned a nighttime visit October 3 to make sure the lights were in compliance with the site plan.

Harvey and Supervisor Allen Hale had not returned calls from C-VILLE at press time, but in an e-mail to Connolly, Hale wrote, “I share your unhappiness over light pollution of the night sky.”

He also says there’s little that can be done about the warehouse, which was a by-right use of the industrial-zoned parcel and did not require Board of Supervisors’ approval.

Connolly, a building professional, acknowledges the building is a done deal. “They have the right to do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “They’re not being a good neighbor to Rockfish Valley and Nelson County.”

The warehouse is two-thirds complete—they’re still working on the firing range—and Zenith Quest is waiting for its temporary occupancy permit, says Miles. “We’re getting ready to add landscaping. Trees will cover 80 percent of the front of the building.” That exceeds the 50 percent required on a scenic byway, he says. “When people drive by, they probably won’t see our facility.”