Wildwood residents Ryan and Melissa Faircloth (left), shown here with Bank of Dade's Audrey Clark and Dade PR clerk Carey Anderson, attended Monday's IDA meeting to voice their objections to a Wildwood chicken processing plant.
At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, anti-chicken-plant residents of Wildwood took their concerns to the regular monthly meeting of the Industrial Development Authority, where IDA executive director William Back told them their fears were justified—developer John Wise had informed him he was considering building a chicken plant on the 300-plus acres of the old Dave L. Brown farm he’d acquired in Dade.
Meanwhile, at 2 p.m. on Monday, in the adjoining room, Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, District 1 Commissioner Lamar Lowery and the county attorney were apparently hearing from the same developer that Wildwood residents should calm their fears, he had no such plans.
This Rumley revealed at a larger anti-chicken-plant meeting in Wildwood that evening, to which the press and general public, and in any case The Planet, were rather pointedly not invited, and on which The Planet is therefore unable to report. The only record of that meeting is a shaky cellphone video on Facebook with audio that fades out tantalizingly after Rumley says he met with the developer at 2 p.m. and “he assured us…” Dot, dot, dot.
But The Planet can report with eyewitness authority that half an hour into the IDA meeting, Dade County Attorney Robin Rogers, who was attending as IDA’s legal advisor, gathered his papers and bustled importantly from the room, appearing later from the commission office as the IDA meeting adjourned.
Why would the county government leave its IDA director fielding questions from angry and frightened Wildwood residents in the conference room when, next door in the county executive’s office, it had the developer laying their fears to rest? Why would the developer tell the commissioners and their attorney the opposite story of what, apparently, he’d told the IDA director? Is the IDA director just making it all up, or is the developer fibbing to one party or another? Which story should the public believe? And why, for that matter, would the county administration get over its years-long aversion to public meetings only to forget the part about, ahem, inviting the public?
Perhaps all those questions will be answered in the great bye and bye. For now, Dade County released on its Facebook page a statement that: "County Executive Ted Rumley and other Commissioners have spoken with the new land owner, Mr. Wise, over the past several weeks and the land owner says he has no intentions of building an animal processing plant."
It also released photographs from the meeting in Wildwood. Here's one:
County Executive Ted Rumley (left), and Wildwood residents Allen Townsend and Katie Bien address concerned citizens at a (sort of) public meeting Monday night.
In any case, The Planet must now return to the Aug. 19 IDA meeting as being the only one to which it was privy. In attendance were several of the aforementioned Wildwood residents asking for help against the threat of a chicken processing plant, and what emerged was a rare public airing of the “Z-word”: zoning.
“It’s like a four-letter word that no one wants to say,” said Melissa Faircloth, one of the Wildwood contingent. “But we need to say it.”
Ms. Faircloth, a realtor, said a chicken processing plant on the old Dave L. Brown farm would tank property values not just in her neighborhood but all over Dade since Wildwood was too small a housing market to pull “comps”—realty-speak for comparable houses—from, for purposes of appraising home value.
And what about the pressure a mega-chicken-plant would put on the county government to provide services such as roads and schools for the sudden influx of population it would trigger? asked Ms. Faircloth “We don’t have the infrastructure to handle this,” she said. “This is huge.”
Her husband, Ryan Faircloth, told a dire story about a chicken processing plant in another state that chose to pay yearly fines to environmental agencies because it was cheaper to do so than to stop polluting a local stream with processing waste. “Why isn’t the health of people more important than an industry?” he said.
The Faircloths chastened IDA board members for letting the old Dave L. Brown Farm acreage fall into the hands of someone who would use it for a chicken plant when IDA had first refusal on the property. “It’s like you don’t care,” said Ryan Faircloth.
Melissa Faircloth said residents were the people most affected by development but: “It feels like we’re the outsiders looking in.” She pointed out that not one of the IDA board members lives in Wildwood.
Another resident, Chris Thompson, was less inclined to jump the board: “I do think we have an ally in the IDA,” he said.
And in fact, that was IDA’s message, that it did care, and that it sided with the residents against the looming specter of a chicken processing plant. “I think everyone in this room agrees that we need to do whatever we can do to moderate this,” said IDA ED William Back. And: “I think there’s a general consensus that we don’t want that problem here in Dade County.”
Back had started the chicken plant discussion by describing his conversation with John Wise, who bought the 300-plus north Dade acres after owner Leonard Nixon died. “At that point it was essentially a rumor,” he said, referring to the possibility of a chicken processing plant.
Wise, said Back, told him he was considering two options for the land: an industrial park or a chicken processing plant. Wise, said Back, owns property around chicken processing plants in Chattanooga.
(Photo: File shot of IDA board)
He explained that though IDA at one point had had first refusal on the land, it was with the understanding that it was for an industrial deal [IDA and the Dade water board had agreed to extend the Highway 299 sewer to the land in the event that an industry wanted to relocate there, with IDA as the landlord]; and at that time IDA had in any case specifically spelled out that animal processing plants were excluded. “It is not an IDA project,” he said.
What had subsequently happened was that Wise had bought the land from the Nixon heirs in a private deal. “IDA has zero involvement,” he said. And: “There’s nothing at this point that the IDA can do.”
But he said he’d told Katie Bien, one of the other Wildwood landowners, about an environmental protection group that helps residents of threatened areas resist incursion by unwanted industry. And he asked for help from citizens in monitoring Chattanooga local government entities about poultry processing–are they subsidizing moves from Chattanooga to places like Dade? “We really need to be attentive to what’s happening in Chattanooga as well as at the state level,” he said.
IDA board members also assured the Wildwoods residents they felt their pain. Nobody’s in favor of turning Wildwood into chicken processing central, said member Larry Case. “But where there’s no zoning…” Dot, dot, dot.
Dade landowners have in the past been vehemently opposed to ordinances that would in any way restrict what they could do with their own property. Maybe that will change now, intimated Case. “This is a good time to get people interested in zoning,” he said. “Once it’s in here, you’re out of luck.” He said some Dade citizens had been trying to educate the public about the benefits of zoning for years. “Overall, it’s to protect the residents,” he said.
On that subject, the Dade County Commission recently passed a resolution—as opposed to an ordinance—against chicken processing plants, and has called a special meeting at noon on Wednesday to pass another one imposing a moratorium on permits for heavy industry.
Back says Fred’s is dead
In other business, IDA ED Back pronounced Trenton’s Fred’s dollar store unofficially dead. Though no such announcement has come from Fred's corporate office, and though Fred’s employees say they have not yet been given their walking papers—“We don’t know what’s going on,” one told The Planet on Tuesday—Back said First Choice, the landlord company for Fred’s new store on South Main Street, is looking for a new tenant. The Fred’s pharmacy closed Aug. 15, and Back as well as random other shoppers have noticed Fred’s shelves have remained empty as they ran out of stock.
"We’re expecting a Chapter 11 closing by the end of the year," intoned Back.
And Hunter’s Stabbed in the Back
Meanwhile, said Back, the Gross Shopping Center building on North Main that Fred’s occupied before it moved into its new building a couple of years ago is about to get a new tenant: BB’s Salvage Grocery Store. BB’s Salvage Grocery is the dented-can-and overstock grocery that used to occupy the smaller corner storefront of the shopping center now known as Hunter’s Salvage Grocery, which has a similar inventory. “BB’s sold that business to Hunter’s and is now coming back to compete with Hunter’s.” said Back.
That's good luck for the shopping center, to have a paying tenant, he said, but bad luck on the small business owner who bought the grocery without a noncompete agreement. “Apparently they did it with a handshake and a howdy-do,” he said.
IDA held a closed-door, or executive, session briefly on real estate, but came back to announce no action had been taken. Its next meeting is at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept 16.