The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution for Roger Dale Richardson et al and the Fayetteville Lincoln County Industrial Development Board to rezone a piece of property near the Tennessee-Alabama state line from A-1 Ag-Forestry-Rural to I-1 General Industrial.
The commission rejected the rezoning request after a public hearing during the Oct. 19 meeting but was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in September.
District 2 Commissioner John Thorpe made the motion to approve the resolution; seconded by District 6 Commissioner Pat Haynes.
The property includes 129.74 acres with approximately 2,633 feet of state-maintained Huntsville Highway road frontage. It’s bordered to the north by parcels zoned agricultural, to the south by parcels zoned suburban-residential and agricultural, to the east by parcels zoned agricultural and to the west across Huntsville Highway by parcels zoned general commercial including a Dollar General, as reported by Planning and Zoning Director Nancy Harris at last month’s public hearing.
After the motion was seconded, District 4 Commissioner Charles Hunter requested resident Michael Nance be allowed to address the full commission.
Nance said he was pleased last month when the zoning request was voted down but six days later, he said he received a letter stating the issue would be considered at the November meeting. “I emailed all 24 commissioners requesting answers,” Nance said. “Mr. Hunter was the only one who responded. I tried to find information I was hoping the commissioners would provide. I’m not a politician and I don’t know where to find all the resources.”
He said he then emailed Fayetteville Lincoln County Industrial Development Director Elaine Middleton. Nance said Middleton was out of town, but her assistant gave him a lot of information.
Nance showed a color-coded map of the area surrounding the property where residential was highlight in blue; agriculture was shown in yellow and commercial was highlighted in black. Nance said the area is already crowded with homes, plus, a new subdivision is under construction and the possibility of new apartments … “now you want to add industrial.”
Nance agreed that the county needs industrial growth, “but in an area that has so much residential, I don’t feel this is the place for it.”
District 6 Commissioner Doug Cunningham, who sits on the Industrial Oversight Committee, said the county has been searching for industrial property for the past 10 years, and looking really hard the past four years. “We’re critically short,” he said, adding, 30 acres at the old Posey house on Winchester Road is currently under development. He said Runway Centre Industrial Park only has a 26-acre site, an 8-acre site and two small lots conducive to something like an engineering firm. “We’re desperate for sites,” Cunningham said.
According to Cunningham, the Tennessee Department of Economic Development (TDEC) evaluated potential site locations in Lincoln County. “This was the site in Lincoln County TDEC suggested if we ever got the chance to buy this property. Companies want to be as close to (Huntsville) as possible. This site is close, is relatively flat, has sewer, electricity, water, internet, it’s on a four-lane highway and all the acreages can be used.”
He said only a few pieces of property in the county fits that description, “this is the only one for sale.”
When asked the market value of the property, Cunningham said he didn’t know. The 106 acres at Runway Centre was purchased for $500,000 10 years ago. “A lot of people, including the mayor, said we’d grossly overpaid,” Cunningham said. “People said ‘Doug is doing something, such and such bank or such and such family are lining their pockets.’ None of that was true. The county made its We made our money back by selling two lots.”
Nearby residents and property owners had expressed concerns over decreased property values, pollution and water and air quality.
“Folks, we have laws against that. We’re not putting in a steel mill or a slaughterhouse,” Cunningham said, adding companies such as auto parts or healthcare products would be looking at the property.
“The state has stricter laws in regard to air quality and noise pollution that we do for big subdivisions.”
He said companies pay taxes that help keep county taxes lower. “Kids in school today are going to need to work,” Cunningham said. “It’s a constant battle to attract and keep jobs.”
During the October public hearing, resident Arden Humphrey expressed concerns with traffic hazards and congestion in the area. “When the state put in a turning lane on U.S. 231/431 going south, they did not widen the bridge,” she said. “What that means is you have to make a little zip or else you hit the bridge above it.”
Humphrey said the most dangerous thing for those living on her side of the road is coming north on the highway. “If we are coming north and need to turn, we have no turning lanes because they did not widen the bridge,” she said.
Elaine Middleton said the Industrial Development Board has done its due diligence on this property, including boundary survey, Phase I environmental, geo-technical, endangered species and cultural resources, as required by the state of Tennessee and TDEC. “There are no environmental issues with this property,” she said.
Middleton and Cunningham said state and federal grants could be obtained to widen the bridge and offset other costs.
Middleton said Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has looked at the property and done a conception layout. She said the property is large enough for roughly six industries. “We don’t know exactly how many and the size will be developed based on the needs of prospective buyers that will fit industrial zoning.”
“I hear all this talk about sewer systems and state grants in regard to all these things coming in,” said resident Matthew Hancock, who grew up on Hancock Road. “I see all this pushing back on the taxpayers. You talk about all these grants. Residential homeowners on the highway are being forced to pay for sewer. We didn’t ask for this, so why are we paying for sewer?”
For example, Hancock said his mother is on septic, but if she has problems, she will be forced to connect to sewer. “What kind of crap is that! It doesn’t make sense,” Hancock stated. “When I hear about all this stuff about great things that gonna happen, I don’t buy it. You’re not selling me on this; you’re not selling a lot of us.”
Hancock said this has nothing to do with the Richardsons. “You are more than welcome to sell your property. You have been very good to our family. This has to do with the commissioners and the strong-arm tactics. You’re saying all this great industrial (business) is good for us. I’m not seeing any good returns from this. It’s good ‘ole boy aristocracy getting their pockets lined by developing this property. I don’t know anyone whose lives have been enhanced by all this.”
He reminded the commissioners that people in their early to mid-30s are becoming homeowners. “We’re paying very, very, very close attention to what’s going on.”
The resolution to rezone the property passed by a vote of 17 yeses, six voting no and one absent. The commissioners who voted against the measure were District 1 Danny Walker, District 3 Jack Atchley, District 4 Randy Bradford, District 4 Charles Hunter, District 4 Steve Spray and District 8 Darren Holland.