Loren Sinner can locate that 1×4 tongue-and-groove a customer wants in a matter of minutes, but he might have to move stacks of wood to extract it from the piles of cedar in his small, bustling lumberyard.
His lack of space — and the stacking and re-stacking it triggers — has made a demanding business that much harder. He works long hours and a lot of weekends, he said, in part because of the time it takes to manage his inventory.
“It’s killing me,” he said matter of factly.
Now, Sinner, the slim, silver-haired owner of LS Cedar, is about to begin the first redevelopment of his five-acre site at the corner of Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road since he moved to the location 30 years ago.
He plans to build two new warehouses, an office twice the size of his current one and a lumber shed — all told, a $1 million project and an 800 percent increase in his building footprint. Demolition and site work began last week.
He currently has one 2,400-square-foot warehouse and a small office. When his project is complete, he’ll have a total of 22,000 square feet of covered space — including an 8,000-square-foot warehouse on the back edge of his lot, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in the middle and an open-sided lumber shed along Cemetery Road that will measure 2,500 square feet.
It’s a bold move for a businessman who’s never carried much debt, he said. Indeed, he said, “The minute I sign on the loan, I’ve got a huge monthly payment.”
But Sinner, 56, said he’s done the calculations and won’t need additional revenue to make the loan pencil out. “We can do it with the amount of sales we have right now,” he said.
Sinner has been selling custom-milled cedar and other lumber products for 38 years, the bulk of it to off-Island contractors doing high-end restoration work. He moved to the corner at Center 30 years ago, slowly building up a business that today employs 10 people, including all three of his sons.
For years, he’s wanted to expand, he said. He loses some of his lumber to weather, scrambles to find space for his large inventory and spends an inordinate amount of time moving lumber from one spot to another, he said.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s why I work so many hours.”
Three years ago, he began the process of attempting to secure a building permit — an expensive and time-consuming effort, he said. All told, he said, he’s spent $200,000 on the permitting process, including money spent on legal fees to challenge some of the county’s requirements. According to King County, the actual permit cost around $40,000, though Sinner said it cost even more than that and that he saved thousands of dollars by hiring a lawyer who helped him through the process.
“We’ve just been bleeding money for the last two years,” he said.
Particularly frustrating, Sinner said, was King County’s requirement that he build a large retention pond to collect runoff from the parking lot he has to install. Under rules mandated by the county’s new surface water design manual, Sinner will have to excavate 6,000 yards of dirt and debris to build the pond; the size, he said, is 10 times what some say is needed.
“It’s insanity,” he said.
Jim Chan, assistant director of permitting in the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), said the county’s standards for surface water management are high on Vashon because it’s considered a “critical aquifer recharge area” — meaning, in Vashon’s case, that all of the drinking water comes from the Island’s aquifer.
“Because Vashon is so sensitive, because all of its water comes from the aquifer, we have to be a little more sensitive” to surface water management, Chan said.
Sinner remains frustrated with the 14-month process it took for him to secure a building permit from DDES. “In 1990, a fire burned my place to the ground. This experience with DDES has been worse than that fire,” he said.
At the same time, he’s excited about the project he’s finally launched. His new office will be similar to the Mitchell building across the street, fitting in, he said, with the look and feel of the historic intersection.
“I don’t want to build something that stands out and doesn’t look right,” he said.
He said he could have relocated his operation to Tacoma for the amount of money it’s cost him to go through the building permit process, but he didn’t want to leave Vashon, where he’s lived since 1959. Sinner is a well-known Island musician and a member of the Spotlights; he plays guitar, piano and bass and sings.
“I really want to stay on the Island. I like the lifestyle,” he said.
He doesn’t plan to close while construction is under way. And if all goes according to plan, he’ll have a new set of buildings within 13 months.
“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “It’s been a lifelong dream to have these efficient, safe, well-organized warehouses.”