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“Spot zoning at its worst” : Area residents resist proposed industrial space near their rural land and Dawson County’s commercial corridor
Planning 1
Dawson County resident Arlene McClure shares multiple concerns about a proposed industrial site on Stowers Road West and Ga. 400 during the Planning Commission’s Nov. 15 meeting. - photo by Julia Hansen

While an area developer is eyeing 32.1 acres for a proposed 300,000-square-foot industrial park along Stowers Road West and Ga. 400, that’s not exactly the picture Arlene McClure and many of her neighbors had in mind for land close to their homes. 

This story continues below.

“That’s not the plan that the landowners have for this property,” McClure said during the Dawson County Planning Commission’s Nov. 15 meeting. “We have no intention of letting our property go industrial.” 

With a range of concerns in mind, the Planning Commission recommended denial 2-1 for the land’s proposed rezone and variances, with chairman Jason Hamby abstaining as is typically the case. 

Planning commissioners Steve Sanvi and John Maloney were not able to attend and vote. 

The proposal will now advance to the Board of Commissioners for a Dec. 15 hearing during the board’s voting session. That meeting will take place in the Dawson County Government Center’s second-floor assembly room immediately after the board’s 4 p.m. work session. At that time, the BOC can vote to ultimately approve, deny or table the proposed rezone and variances.

Deer Run Partners LLC and Crownway Properties LLC requested for the 32.1 acres to be rezoned from Commercial Highway Business (CHB) and Residential Sub Rural (RSR) to Commercial Industrial Restricted (CIR), according to a rezoning request application.

If ultimately approved, the project would entail about 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 137,400 square feet of flex space and 81,700 square feet of self-storage space. 

Local developer consultant Jim King and Atlanta Gear Works (AGW) president Jack Conway Jr. are both part-owners of the property through the LLCs. 

He’s owned the land since 2002, King said during the Planning Commission meeting. 

“It’s come to the point where we've been marketing the property and had a lot of inquiries on the various uses, and all of them require rezoning,” King added. 

He estimated that the front part of the parcel was rezoned CHB around 2009. Then, in 2020, Dawson County changed its zoning ordinance, taking uses from CHB and putting them under the new CIR designation. 

The 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. 

The company currently has 50-plus employees, making it one of the county’s bigger employers, according to 2022 estimates from the Development Authority of Dawson County. 

“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. 

When asked by Hamby, King explained that the current request differs from the earlier rezoning because a proposed purchaser at that time had the land under contract for a retail development. 

Now, King said they plan to keep or preserve some of the uses, like for AGW, while selling off some of the other ones. 

DADC board member Tony Passarello supported the industrial proposal out of what he called “consistency” and the development board’s plan to attract new businesses to the county. 

Passarello cited AGW’s higher-than-average salary and benefits packages for area employees, the proposed space’s location along the Ga. 400 corridor and potential to diversify the current tax digest. 

“All development projects will have pluses and minuses, but rarely does a development project fit so well and appropriately and consistently with our goals,” Passarello said. 

Land use concerns

Arlene McClure, whose family owns a farm a few parcels away from the proposed site, told planning commissioners that hers and another family have put almost 900 acres into conservation and plan to keep their land that way. 

She pointed to Dawson County’s Future Land Use Map, something she said “citizens spent countless hours creating,” and referenced the agricultural and residential areas on both the north and south sides of Stowers Road. 

“I feel like the community should be grateful to those of us who are still wanting to preserve the natural environment and beauty that we have,” McClure said. “There's so little of it left.”

During his rebuttal, King mentioned that the land on Stowers Road beyond his parcel is set to remain agricultural in the Future Land Use Map. 

“Because the conservation property has a greatly reduced tax rate, the county’s got to have a tax base to support that,” King added, highlighting the Ga. 400 corridor’s role in generating sales revenue for the tax digest. 

Many residents’ concerns centered around traffic. McClure explained that Stowers Road West is a little, narrow road that starts paved and turns to gravel farther away from Ga. 400. Residents, their friends and area athletes use the road for walking, jogging, biking, so having trucks on the road would put them in danger, particularly with vehicles turning and speeding thinking it’s Ga. 136, she said. 

In the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission’s Oct. 24 memo to Dawson County officials, about 1,264 daily trips, with some being freight vehicles, would be expected in the area. Between 137-175 vehicle trips would be expected per hour. 

“This is mind boggling to those of us that relish the peace and quiet we have now,” said Doug Powell, a Stowers Road resident. 

District 4 Planning Commissioner and Vice-Chair Neil Hornsey asked if the third driveway shown on concept plans could be removed so there would only be two access points. 

King seemed amenable to that, clarifying that no one from the industrial space would need to drive farther down the road and suggesting signage to direct vehicles back to Ga. 400. 

Much of Ga. 400 in the Stowers Road area has a dividing median and limited curb cuts to maintain higher speed levels, which would direct most traffic exiting the development north via the Stowers Road intersection, the GMRC report stated.

McClure wondered how northbound trucks would be able to turn onto Stowers Road, especially with cars speeding there and called the maneuver “risky enough, even in a car.”

She also had concerns about traffic sight distance for vehicles turning north onto Ga. 400, given the hill from the Ga. 136 intersection, but King called that particular left turn “necessary” and said the visibility is actually clear looking that way. 

In a traffic study for the proposed project, Abdul Amer of A and R Engineering expressed similar concerns about Stowers Road West’s and the intersection’s ability to handle the amount of expected truck traffic.

“The intersection of Ga. 400 and Stowers Road is currently at an acute angle with a small radius return for traffic turning right from Stowers Road onto southbound Ga. 400,” Amer stated in his report. “With increase in traffic, including truck traffic, on Stowers Road, the right-turn movement can be difficult given the acute angle and high speeds [of] more than 55 mph on 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.

Fred Stowers, whose family also has proximate farmland, acknowledged the “for sale” sign has been on the property for a while but called the proposal “spot zoning at its worst.”

Stowers critiqued the proposed space’s removal from sewage capacity and the “over 30 houses within 150 feet of this property on the west and north sides.” 

He also expressed doubts about an industrial facility being able to contain the type of noise that’d be expected there and disagreed with the requested variances to reduce the parking area by 50% and reduce setback restrictions by 25%.

“The only reason we can see in the application for requesting this is so the development can make the property more valuable,” Stowers said. 

Stowers elaborated that commercial or industrial is not the only thing that pays taxes in Dawson County and added that “it’s supported primarily by the residential people now,” with him and “pleased to pay” the higher property taxes for their land because “we get results.” 

“It’s all the more reason to hold on to the current setbacks and parking,” he added. 

Multiple people shared concerns about preserving the land for its natural beauty and habitat for animals.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams wrote the GMRC a letter mentioning the land’s inclusion in the high-priority Upper Etowah watershed and habitat for various threatened or endangered birds, fish and bats.  

The GMRC report addressed concerns about adding 39% impervious surfaces “to a steeply sloped area” and an expected increase in surface runoff into streams, which could impact sedimentation, chemical pollution, erosive flooding and reduced groundwater recharge. 

DNR suggestions included increasing the buffer widths on tributary streams to 50 feet and using “constructed wetland designs with native vegetation in stormwater management areas.” Other possible fixes could entail reducing impervious surfaces or using “alternative construction materials that allow for infiltration.” 

Three streams run through the proposed site property and converge into a big creek that then intersects Grant Road and flows through McClure’s property and eventually into the Etowah River, she said. 

That part of Grant Road near her family farm hosts a problematic culvert that frequently floods. When it does, heavy rains bring water and often debris into her family’s farm pastures, said McClure, and then runoff from chicken and cow manure, fertilizer and pesticides are taken toward the Etowah River. 

She explained that talks with the county had yielded a potential two-culvert fix that ended up being a concern for area fish and a bridge option which would be expensive. 

“Even if they do mitigation and collect the water, treat it and then let it out, the water’s going to flow downstream through that culvert,” McClure said. “Does the county or the developer have $250,000 to $1,000,000 to speed up replacement? There’s also no retention pond planned.” 

She urged the county not to “make the mistake of approving this manufacturing facility that will ruin the rural atmosphere and ecological value of Stowers Road West.”

Tanya Wallace, who lives in a subdivision across from the site, suggested a “better purpose” for the land than stripping it and constructing “a bunch of useless buildings for money,” particularly in light of recent economic concerns. 

“For the folks like us that have always had family here and want to have kids and grandkids enjoy this land…we’re opening that up to a huge mess,” Wallace said to the planning commission. “If this passes and it gets stripped, it's just a matter of time for everybody, even maybe where you folks live.”