The Bulloch County Planning and Zoning Commission met Thursday night on the proposed rezoning of 4,682 acres in south Bulloch County on Highway 67.
The request, put forth by GA 16 Bulloch, LLC, was presented by Wes Taulbee of Taulbee, Rushing, Snipes, Marsh & Hodgin, LLC in Statesboro. GA 16 Bulloch, LLC is a limited liability corporation owned by Dan Bradley Jr. of Chatham County and seeks to have the currently zoned agriculture land rezoned as ‘light industrial.’
Ultimately, the Board decided unanimously to DENY the rezone request, but not without compelling cases from each side. Thirteen people signed to speak, allotted 4 minutes each, allowing the attorneys 10 minutes.
During his presentation on behalf of his client and in favor of the rezoning, Taulbee said Mr. Bradley had been subject of social media attacks and did not attend.
Good clean industry. Zoning and conditions will run with the land. “Regardless of who owns the property, the county will maintain the position of control,” saying it’s time to remove the passion and focus on the facts.
Taulbee, showing a picture of himself from his own high school days to emphasize changes over the years, Bulloch comprehensive plan of 1993 projected 56,000 by 2015, but now has 73,000 people plus Georgia Southern students. He also emphasized how much has changed in three decades, as in 1993, only 6 companies employed more than 100 employees.
Emphasizing smart conditions and good buffers are the key in the property rezoning, especially since Gateway is almost at capacity. He said any industry needing comparable acres cannot come to Bulloch. He mooted Liberty, Effingham, Chatham, Bryan, and Jasper all are competitors with larger land options.
Taulbee argued the land is perfect for industrial growth plans the county has proposed because the land is a single landowner, doesn’t require eminent domain, doesn’t require the investment of tax dollars, and is far from homes of landowners. He also said the property has close proximity to rail and of course, the Savannah port.
He said Bulloch county was already overlooked by Caterpillar because more than 200 acres was needed, despite a desire to be near the port and a university. He said the company chose Athens.
Taulbee said his client is willing to comply with considerable conditions from the Commissioners to appease adjoining landowners.
With regard to runoff water, Taulbee said the runoff and storm water will not go into the Bulloch Bay, a point opposition vocally contested. He also said there would never be enough water drawn out to harm surrounding landowners, another point vocally opposed. Taulbee said a fund could be set up to fund dry wells that could result, though.
The opposition, however, was not as limited.
The first speaker, Matt Hube , said the information Proposed by the other side has not been truthful and is troubling at a minimum. Citing the departmental review report, it was noted that so many factors with regard to impact remain “undetermined.” “There is an utter lack of information,” he said, “How can you make a recommendation for something you know nothing about.” Hube said most troubling is that the project is half the size of the city of Statesboro that will cost school issues for SEB middle and high school, the Sheriffs Office, and infrastructure needs in addition to the traffic disruptions and environmental concerns. Disputing the rain water runoff issue, Hube said the project could bring nearly 3,000 acres of pavement to the area that is now agriculture.
Closing, Hube said “Why would the landowner cut 5,000 acres of pine trees. That’s not good stewardship. Bulloch County is here to tell you they don’t want this.”
Allan Hackle, a resident 2,000 feet from the proposed park, spoke to the commission saying he did not believe Mr. Bradley seems disingenuous when he won’t agree to conditions unless he’s forced to comply.
Another adjacent landowner said he fears it will harm property values when the project is actually built out.
Theresa Hackle spoke out against the rezoning as a landowner 2,000 feet from the property. She alleged a landfill company is behind the push for the rezoning and said the politics of it all is concerning.
Bryan Bacon, retired army veteran, said he and his family chose southeast Bulloch because of the peace and tranquility the area offers. Noting that his family is five generations deep in the area, and he could have gone anywhere in the world, but chose Bulloch. He said he and his family will move if the industrial park is located there.
Seventh generation farmer and resident Charlie Martin said Bulloch County is a beacon and stands out already, because of moderation. “A 4,700 acre industrial park is not moderation.” Martin, citing the Developmental Review, asked County Manager Tom Couch where the information for the review came from to provide to the state and the county, to which Couch replied, “the landowner.” Martin emphasized the information is biased and dishonest, so it can be submitted in the best interest of the owner, not the land or community.
A letter read on behalf of Ruth Green, who was unable to attend, said she was disappointed that political favors were being called in against the wishes of the citizens, citing letters from Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Representative Ron Stephens who does not represent the district, and State Senator Jack Hill.
Taulbee was given an opportunity to refute many of the points brought forth by the citizens and focused on the numbers off the Coastal Regional Commission and the Department Review. He made the case that agriculture use could have more of an impact on natural resources, like water, than light industrial.
Before a vote was called, Commission member Dr. Gary Edwards asked Taulbee to present facts on the businesses that overlooked Bulloch County and Taulbee said there could have been other reasons why they chose other places. Edwards responded that sometimes what is promised and what is delivered are often very different.
Chairman Marsh stated for the record, showing a letter, that the Ogeechee Riverkeeper was opposed to the project.
The denial of the rezone request was met with a thunderous applause.
Ultimately, regardless of the decision by the Planning & Zoning Commission, the decision will go before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, October 4th as this decision by P&Z was merely advisory. That meeting will be at 5:30pm at the Annex.