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Proposed industrial rezoning passes in split vote by Dawson County Board of Commissioners
Stowers rezoning
Developer consultant Jim King and DADC board member Dr. Carroll Turner listen to District 1 commissioner Sharon Fausett as she pleads against a proposed rezoning for an industrial park off of Stowers Road West and Ga. 400. - photo by Julia Hansen

Area residents opposed to a proposed rezoning near their rural land did not leave the Dawson County Board of Commissioners’ most recent meeting happy. 

This story continues below.

“We have to vote them out,” one woman said as the board made a decision at their Dec. 15 voting session.

In a split 3-1 vote, the BOC approved Deer Run Partners LLC and Crownway Properties LLC’s requested rezoning of 32.1 acres for a 319,100-square-foot industrial park along Stowers Road West and Ga. 400. 

District 3 and 4 commissioners Tim Satterfield and Emory Dooley voted in favor of the rezoning, while District 1 commissioner Sharon Fausett opposed the request. Chris Gaines, who represents District 2, was not able to attend the meeting. 

Because Gaines could not attend and the vote would have otherwise been a tie, BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond voted in favor of the rezoning. 

The board’s decision follows the Dawson County Planning Commission’s recommendation of denial last month. 

Fausett, who is departing the board along with Satterfield, voiced her concerns about people’s health and wellbeing concerns with the incoming development’s potential impact on water and air quality and public access to recreational land. 

“I can't go with it. This is my swan song,” Fausett said. “I have to say how I feel about this, and it will make no difference in this vote–but we do have to worry about the quality of life.”

She added that economic aspects won’t matter when great environmental harm has been done. 

“If you can't breathe bc you don't have air quality…it's not going to matter if you have a job or not,” she said. 

Developer consultant Jim King has owned the land since 2002. He now owns it with business partner and Atlanta Gear Works (AGW) president Jack Conway Jr. 

King told the board that the front part of the parcel was rezoned commercial highway business (CHB) in 2009 for a potential shopping center that ultimately did not come to fruition. 

Then, in 2020, Dawson County changed its zoning ordinance, taking uses from CHB and putting them under the new commercial industrial restricted (CIR) designation. 

Looking at the county’s Future Land Use Plan, King pointed out that the property has been designated as industrial, along with the property just south of it, which is already zoned CIR.

Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell explained that Sub-Rural Residential (RSR) zoning made up a good portion of the request but added that 13.74 acres was already zoned CHB.

Since the county created the CIR classification in 2020, King has been before the board multiple times advocating for uses to be added back to his clients’ properties. 

Multiple Stowers Road West-area residents cited quality of life and preserving the environment as key to maintaining quality of life in the area. 

The state’s Department of Natural Resources previously wrote to the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission about a range of endangered and/or threatened species that could be impacted by the project. 

Runoff and erosive flooding, pollution and reduced groundwater recharge have also been listed as potential negative impacts. As part of the development’s stipulations, King agreed to a 25-foot buffer to the Etowah River tributary bordering his property. 

However, he balked at requiring 50 more feet of land for a 75-foot buffer, saying that much more “would render it (the property) undevelopable.”

Resident Fred Stowers shared that approving the rezoning would subvert the intent of the county’s zoning regulations and said a commercial retail property would be preferable. 

“If you zone it industrial, there’s no limitations on that unless you put limitations on that,” Stowers said, citing noise concerns and an impact to others’ property values. 

Others opposed did not want industrial uses to be added since that type of facility doesn’t already exist on a proximate parcel. 

King said he and his business partner envision potential uses such as self-storage, RV and boat storage, general light industrial and heavy manufacturing with AGW.

A 100,000-square-foot area would ideally be set aside as a future location for AGW, given the manufacturer’s “rapid” expansion over the past decade, King said at November’s Planning Commission meeting. 

“Where his current location on Hightower [Parkway] is, they have no more expansion room, so it’s either go here or possibly up into Lumpkin County,” King said then.  

The developer consultant added that they might be open to, say, a cement vendor as one of the uses. Satterfield clarified that having lubricants like oil on hand for AGW wouldn’t be considered storage of hazardous manufacturing materials. 

“You want to be able to accommodate as many [uses] as possible to bring jobs to the county,” King said to the board. 

As part of the prohibited uses, Farrell later mentioned that they couldn’t pad grade a site and then look for a tenant–there would have to be specific plans and usage in mind first. 

King reiterated that the Future Land Use Plan was developed by a board of county citizens and 

“not the Board of Commissioners and not me.” 

He explained that if the plan is followed, his parcel would be the last commercial one on that part of Ga. 400 and that a majority of the properties bordering the state highway are zoned for either commercial, industrial or multifamily uses 

“That’s where you want your growth. You want your growth confined to [Ga.] 400,” King said. “Therefore, all the properties further out, especially in the northern part of the county, are preserved.”

He, along with Development Authority of Dawson County members Tony Passarello and Dr. Carroll Turner, have supported the proposal’s plan to attract businesses with higher-paying wages and diversify the county’s tax base with necessary revenue. 

King mentioned that revenue generated by conservation easements are “10 percent” of what commercial taxes are, comparing his roughly-$5,000 annual tax bills to proximate agricultural properties with around $500 bills. 

Satterfield nodded to the county’s future land use and comprehensive plans.

“We can [either] go by it, do away with it or change it,” Satterfield said. “We’ve got a plan for a reason, so if we don't go by that plan ,somebody’s going to [legally] challenge us.” 

District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley agreed with Fausett but seconded Satterfield in terms of the property’s CIR classification jiving with the Future Land Use Plan.

“I love conservation, but we do have to work on our tax base, or we can't afford to keep lands in conservation. It’s Ga. 400-adjacent, so to me, this is where these types of properties have to be located…as close to a state road as possible.”

Several speakers decried the dangers to pedestrians and bikers from an expected increase

in traffic. 

Doug Powell said the approximate 135-degree left-turn onto Stowers Road from Ga. 400 would be doable for cars but not so for trucks, which may not be able to “make the turn and get out of the way fast enough, so it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Despite what others said, King said the sight distance toward the hill by Ga. 136 is feasible, with visibility past the traffic signal and 1,667 feet of room to turn.

However, traffic engineer Abdul Amer acknowledged the difficulty of the wide turn, given the 55-mph speed limit on that part of Ga. 400.

With potential challenges with right-of-way availability, grading and existing guardrail at the Stowers Road approach, Amer recommended a “channelized right turn lane with a larger radius return” be installed at Ga. 400 southbound and Stowers Road.

Resident Scott Wallace, who’s worked 23 years with Dawson County EMS, said he’s run “countless calls to Ga. 400 and Ga.136” as part of his time at Fire Station 3. 

“Stowers Road at the angle it comes in is a huge concern to me,” he said, “because as tricky as it is, when you add the traffic volume that’s expected to come with this, I see Stations 2 and 3 there every day.” 

King reiterated a willingness to eliminate a third driveway from draft site plans and just have two on Stowers Road, though he pointed out that there would be “more than 700 feet” between the entrances for the development and an existing neighborhood.

He commented that vehicles leaving the industrial park should have “no reason to turn left” but said he’s “happy to post signs saying ‘no left turn’” to mitigate that potential problem. 

Farrell subsequently clarified that with the board’s approval, the Georgia Department of Transportation would look at the Stowers Road West-Ga. 400 intersection.

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