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Planning Commission recommends approval of Townley sawmill
Clint Hulsey’s land borders the parcel on which Townley placed the portable sawmill. DCN had permission to be on Hulsey’s property. - photo by Julia Hansen

Much to his neighbors’ dismay, the Dawson County Planning Commission recommended that local businessman Jackie Townley be granted a one-year temporary special-use permit to operate his hobby saw mill during its Sept. 21 meeting. Since the planning commission is only a recommending board, the Board of Commissioners can approve or deny the permit or change other stipulations at their meeting on Oct. 21. 

The commission recommended approval of the permit from June 2021-June 2022, with the conditions that the saw mill is hobby only and that no logging trucks enter the property. 

Townley has the machine on a parcel adjacent to he and his family’s construction, plumbing and port-a-john businesses located at 24 Laina Bennett Road. His construction business is one of the most well-known in Dawson and surrounding counties. 

According to his application, he was initially seeking a five-year permit to have the temporary saw mill on the parcel for “strictly personal use.” 

Part of the reason he came before the commission was because at least one person had complained to the county. 

“I didn’t know I had to have a permit to have a temporary, hobby saw mill,” Townley said during the meeting. 

Planning Commission Chair Jason Hamby explained a saw mill is one of the prohibited uses in residential-agriculturally-zoned parcels like Townley’s. Previously, the commission had the discretion to decide what a saw mill was. Even though the aforementioned machine is portable, they still consider it to be a saw mill. 

Townley estimated that he had begun using the machine, similar to a Woodmiser LT40, a month-and-a-half before the meeting.

Jackie Townley said he’s been using the portable sawmill for about six weeks as of Sept. 21. James Brewer shared that Hulsey has seen and heard the machine since June. Photo courtesy of the Dawson County Planning Department.

Saw mill opposition

However, James Brewer, a resident who spoke on behalf of the Indian Cove neighbors, disagreed. His friend, Clint Hulsey, had made the complaint. 

Hulsey’s property is the closest to the portable saw mill, which sits about 25-30 feet from the property line between his and Townley’s land. Brewer said that Hulsey had been hearing the saw mill’s 9 decibels of noise, “equivalent to a jackhammer,” since June. 

“We beg to differ,” Brewer added regarding property values. “The view from Mr. Hulsey’s living room window is [that of] a saw mill, a bunch of logs and a bunch of ripped up boards. This clearly devalues his property.”

Downhill from Townley’s land is Indian Cove, the subdivision where Brewer and others live bordering Lake Lanier. About two dozen of the neighborhood’s residents joined Brewer at the meeting and stood from the audience to show their solidarity. About 90 people also signed a petition in opposition to the saw mill. 

“I live so close to the subject property that I can hear the saw mill every time it starts,” Brewer said.

He disagreed that the temporary saw mill’s use would fit with the general character of an R-A-zoned already accustomed to trucks and work equipment. 

“The only truck and work equipment is that of Townley Construction, which also operates on R-A property and was never zoned commercial,” he said. 

Another speaker, Vera Baser, explained that she and her husband spent a lot of money to live at a calm lakeside. 

“The first time I heard it, I thought it was construction for a house; and now I find out that is the kind of noise that will be coming at us over and over again,” she said, holding back tears. “It's really frightening...we really were expecting something else when we moved here.”

Cindy Rich, who lives in Harbor Ridge on the south side of War Hill Park Road, shared her thoughts as the wife of a hobbyist woodworker.

“That’s quite a big piece of equipment,” she said of the saw mill, “and unless you are doing furniture or some kind of a business, you’ve got no reason to be operating that size of equipment.” 

She also expressed concern that Townley could inadvertently be injured while operating a machine with copious amounts of grass and mud around it, as shown on a slideshow during the meeting. 

In Townley’s application, the county’s Engineering Department inquired about the size and type of trucks that would be using the adjacent road. Several of the speakers asked the same, given concerns about a logging-esque operation.

“If this happens and there’s a spill or an’re limiting people from their medical needs or their homes,” Rich added. 

The department also asked for more details on the machine’s normal business operating times. 

“[Someone] cannot fully access [the property] until ingress and egress is provided,” engineering comments state. “Part of the property is located inside the floodplain, and additional access points in the area will require additional permitting.”

After that part of the commission meeting, Townley declined further comment beyond what he had already said.