BOC shoots down plans for chicken plant
Is the matter headed to court?
BY ZACH MITCHAM
County commissioners unanimously shot down plans for a massive chicken plant in northern Madison County Monday night. Now, ecstatic opponents of the plan will wait to see if the applicants take the battle to court.
“We’ll weigh the options,” said Brian Rochester, an attorney representing zoning applicant Brent Booker of Country Charm Farms.
Rochester noted after Monday’s meeting that Country Charm has 30 days to appeal the BOC vote. The attorney filed a “constitutional challenge” with the county prior to the BOC denial, a procedural measure that paves the way for a suit. He said he feels there is solid grounds for an appeal.
“You’re voting on whether A-1 is an allowable use in this area,” Rochester told commissioners, propping up a map with all the A-1 classifications highlighted in pink in the Jot Em Down Road area. “You can’t look at this map and tell me A-1 is not appropriate for this area.”
Rochester said the proposed 42,000-square foot chicken egg facility on 178 acres off Jot Em Down Road would generate about 60 jobs, with an estimated 50 positions being filled locally. He said the plant would follow all Georgia Environmental Protection Division guidelines, that the facility would take six to eight years to reach full completion, that no chicken houses would be within 500 feet of neighboring property lines, that no litter would be spread on the site and that the litter would be stored indoors.
“It’s a very concentrated operation leaving a lot of open space,” he said. “We feel this is actually a good product for this location.”
Rochester was the lone speaker to voice such an opinion Monday. The opposition was overwhelming. A huge line of people filed through the metal detector at the Madison County Superior Courtroom Monday night, hoping to hear the debate about the controversial proposal. People crowded onto the pews, lined the walls, stood in the doorway and sat in the waiting area. Over 180 people signed the attendance pad that was passed around.
Many people wore bright green “NO CAFO” stickers. (CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation).
Twenty-two people stepped to the podium to ask Madison County commissioners to turn down the proposed chicken egg plant.
Many were emotional. And parent after parent asked the board to consider the welfare of their kids. One speaker carried her child to the podium and had her daughter speak into the microphone, asking the commissioners not to put a chicken plant in her backyard. Another spoke of his family heartbreak, losing a child. He urged the board not to hurt families in the area with a vote for the plant.
Residents of the area pointed out that Jot Em Down Road is curvy and that the constant flow of transfer trucks to and from the facility would prove dangerous to motorists and kids waiting for school buses along the road.
“You’re talking kids standing on the side of the road with transfer trucks,” said Donna Smith. “Is that safe?”
Opponents asked the BOC to consider the enormous size of the plant. Bob Toll noted that the proposed 12-layer plant would house 1.5 million birds.
“That’s the equivalent of 50 broiler houses that we’re accustomed to,” said Toll, whose house is 700 feet from the proposed site. Toll said such a massive facility would harm the health of his family and destroy the value of his home.
Donald Stack, an attorney representing Citizens for Sensible Agriculture, which formed to oppose the chicken plant, emphasized that those against the plans are not against farming or development.
“The folks here that I represent are opposed to this, but they are not opposed to agriculture, not opposed to development, not opposed to progress,” said Stack. “However, this rezoning is not about sensible agriculture. It’s not about good development. It’s not about good progress.”
A major point of concern was water to the facility. Commissioner Stanley Thomas asked Rochester if Country Charm has conducted a hydrology study for the development, which would use an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 gallons a day. Rochester said that they have not, adding that they won’t develop on the property if there is no water available.
Perry Turner of Mt. Zion Road said the plant would pollute the county’s waterways and affect neighboring well supplies.
“When they dig a deeper well, it’s going to drain everybody else’s well,” said Turner. “It’s going to affect a whole lot of people.”
Dudley Hartel, president of Property Owners for Common Sense Growth (POCSG), said the organization is against the proposal.
“The rezone is inconsistent with current land use in the area,” said Hartel. “POCSG started as a result of an attack on Madison County farms. We are behind farms and farming in this county. It’s the largest industry we have. We don’t see a denial of this rezoning as any beginning of a series of denials that will attack farming…Just as it’s inappropriate to put commercial or residential development close to intensive ag areas, it is just as wrong to put intensive ag in an area of residential development.”
David Phillips of Jot Em Down Road told the BOC that they needed to consider what their decision would mean in the long run.
“You (the BOC) have a decision to make tonight,” said Phillips. “Either bring the operation in, which we’ve heard nothing good tonight, or severely and adversely affect all the people in this room. That’s your decision.”
After a lengthy public hearing, county commissioners thanked opponents of the plan for their input.
“I’m very, very sorry that the people in the Jot Em Down community had to use their funds that their family and children needed to defend their rights and their safety, air quality and everything,” said commercial John Pethel.
Commissioner Mike Youngblood said the people of Jot Em Down Road have some “good looking farms up there.”
“It’s something you should be proud of,” said Youngblood. “…The support that’s come out of this area. You need to be commended for coming together the way you have and showing up at these meetings and constantly staying there.”
Commissioner Thomas said that he struggled with the decision, noting that he took office with the intent of bringing business to the county.
“It’s been a tough decision,” he said. “But when you do the research and talk to people, it opens your eyes.”