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Iron Mountain Park status uncertain

After five hours, citizens of Lumpkin and Dawson counties walked out of the Lumpkin County Administration Building with little clarity on the status of the Iron Mountain Park project.

The meeting, a public hearing on the Special Land Use Application (SLUA) for the 4,300-acre ATV park and music venue located in Lumpkin and Dawson counties, closed May 7 with the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners voting to table the application until their next regular session so that the commissioners could gather more information and address the lack of specificity in the proposal.

‘Lack of specificity’ was a common phrase during the course of the night.

At the beginning of the public hearing portion of the meeting, Craig Stansberry, the owner of the land and CEO of Iron Mountain Park, gave his presentation to the board and the public. Drawing comparisons to Disney World and the outlet mall in Dawson County, he outlined his plans for a family-friendly destination complete with RV campgrounds, a microbrewery, restaurants, equestrian trails, rental cabins and a water park with “a pool, lazy river, dancing fountains and a water slide with fire shooting through it,” in addition to the racing trails and outdoor concert amphitheater.

 “A lot of you people didn’t want the mall down there either in Dawsonville,” said Jimmy Hester, one of the citizens speaking in favor of the development. “But I tell you everybody here goes down there. And you’ll go to this park too, once it gets started and you see that there’s fun to have.”

Zachary White also stood up in defense of the development. “You know, it’s not really a choice between this and pristine wilderness. It’s this or subdivisions.”

After about 40 minutes, those speaking in favor of the development rested their case and the opposition took the podium.

The first speaker to address the Board in opposition was Kasey Sturm of Weissman Attorneys at Law. Sturm spoke on behalf of several concerned citizens who own property near the proposed site of Iron Mountain Park.

“As presented, the proposed project lacks sufficient detail and information for consideration and approval at this time,” Sturm argued in a letter provided to the Board. 

The brunt of her argument was a procedural one. First, she asserted that “the proposed project is required to be considered as a Character Map Amendment and not a Special Land Use Approval.”

Lumpkin County does not have zoning, per se. The Board of Commissioners voted to implement a system of “character areas” that loosely designate portions of the county as being residential, agricultural, industrial, commerce corridor, etc.

The portion of land where Iron Mountain Park is proposed is labeled as “Agricultural Preservation.” Per the Lumpkin County 2017 Comprehensive Plan Update, “the intent of the Agricultural Preservation Character Area is to preserve and reduce development pressure on existing conservation and agricultural uses.” The plan goes on to say that “it is expected that a lower level of public services and facilities be provided to lessen development pressure in the area.”

According to those opposed to the development, this project doesn’t meet those qualifications. They argued that with the amount of cabin rentals, restaurants and brewery spaces, retail stores and water attractions, a great deal of public services and facilities would need to be provided to the area that aren’t currently there.

Sturm also outlined several steps in the application process that had seemingly been skipped, including traffic and hydrology reports and a comprehensive concept plan.

“Based on an open records request for information regarding the proposed project and SLUA application, it does not appear that the proper application requirements have been met for the proposed project,” wrote Sturm.

Dozens of other citizens stood up after Sturm to express their concerns over a wide array of topics, from a lack of infrastructure to soil and chemical runoff into local lakes and streams, and from noise to human trafficking.

After nearly three hours of concerns, Stansberry was allowed a rebuttal. After addressing some of the topics that had been raised about his proposal, Stansberry threw out a secondary plan for the site — thousands of chicken houses.

The meeting ended after the commissioners voted to table the SLUA proposal until their next regular session, giving themselves enough time to research the issues raised in the meeting, especially whether or not they could approve a SLUA based on a portion of a project, in this case the ATV trails, RV campground and music amphitheater, when there was much more to the proposal.

With the status of the project up in the air, Stansberry himself seemed torn on what to do next. 

“We’ve got to decide what we want,” he said after the meeting. “A park or chickens.”