Paul Wadley industrial park poorly located
The Jefferson County Development Authority has purchased 161 acres of agricultural land on Highway 319 between Bartow and Wadley. With tax dollars! SPLOST tax dollars! This land has been used for agricultural and hunting purposes for at least a century and a half or longer. However, regardless of history, traditional use or the zoning of surrounding properties, folks at the Development Authority purchased the parcel with intention to develop it into an industrial park (What an oxymoron!) although several other such parks already exist in the county.
When the land was originally zoned, tradition and history of this property was rightfully described as farmland with some non-farm residences where intensive land development would not be likely to occur, according to the Code of Ordinances.
Nevertheless, in December 2011, the Board of Commissioners turned their backs on original zoning assurances when the zoning of this farmland was changed to include two new industrial districts described in the Code of Ordinances as M-1 and M-2.
No maps indicating the locations of these two new districts within the 161 acres accompanied commission approval of the changes. If maps exist, minutes of related transactions do not include them.
According to the Jefferson County Code of Ordinances, areas designated M-1 are districts which are intended to encourage industrial development compatible with uses of residential property adjoining or surrounding the district, with suitable open spaces, landscaping and parking areas. (Paraphrased from Municode descriptions.)
Alas, descriptions of M-2 designations are substantially different, and they are described in the Municode thusly: M-2 districts are established to provide areas for manufacturing, assembling, fabricating, warehousing and related activities. These uses generate some emissions and have some adverse effects on surrounding properties and are not compatible with primary commercial, institutional and residential uses. (Paraphrased: emissions and adverse effects can be expected from this district and these will not be compatible with institutional or residential uses close by.)
Part or all of the M-2 parcel surely has been reserved for the controversial North Star Jefferson Renewable Energy Facility since that plant probably will produce emissions and other adverse effects and these will not be compatible with schools or institutions, residences or “primary” commercial activities.
Will the North Star Jefferson plant be the only facility of this kind in this district or will there be others? Will this “park” continue to be modified by additional M-2 developments? Imagine four or five other challenging factories on the properties. Wow!
The Chamber of Commerce, the Development Authority of Jefferson County and other advocates have maintained that North Star Jefferson will benefit the county. To the contrary, according to code descriptions, owners of properties close to this site most likely will find the value of their lands diminished and, I expect, damaged in other ways by adverse effects from this kind of industrial development. The general quality of life will be eroded by airborne contaminants (even if sanctioned by authorizing permits), by additional odor, by noise and by light pollution as well as by traffic congestion.
So, it seems to me, benefits to local residents will, at best, be limited and minimal, and, indeed, quite a few citizens may, in fact, experience significant property value loss as time passes. To my knowledge, no documents actually have confirmed that citizens at large will benefit from this emerging development and no publicly vetted documents have compared benefits with actual costs to taxpayers.
Moreover, this county-sponsored project may very well complicate and exacerbate already faltering issues of fragile financial support systems in Jefferson County. These issues include financial obligations which may be too great for a small and shrinking population. Additionally, according to the 2011 Georgia County Guide, 35 percent of the population in Jefferson County was receiving medicaid assistance and food stamps in 2009. That percentage probably has increased. Also, from that report, the Jefferson County public school system had an enrollment with more than 83 percent of the students from economically disadvantaged families. Clearly, solutions to problems in Jefferson County are not industrial development followed by more industrial development.
In the meantime, one of the most beautiful sections of the county likely will continue to be threatened even more as the prospects for this industrial park are developed. Natural resources will be further damaged and destruction of wildlife habitats will also continue.
Thank you very much.
Bill Paul is a 5th generation native of Jefferson County and he is an artist who lives in Athens. In 2002, Paul, Emeritus Professor of Art, retired from the faculty of the University of Georgia after 43 years of college teaching in Georgia and Missouri.