"Buying Time": Beleaguered Dade County Commission Passes Emergency Block to Industrial Permitting

August 21, 2019

"It's not zoning," Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley repeated to the 40 or so citizens who showed up today to watch the county commission pass an emergency resolution to block permitting of unwanted industry.

 

In a brief but rather spectacularly well-attended special called meeting today, the Dade County Commission passed a resolution it insisted is not a prelude to zoning but an emergency measure that will allow it to fight the incursion of the chicken processing industry into the north end of the county.

 

“We’re aware that there could be a permit filed today or immediately, possibly this week, and this would deter that from happening,” said County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley as he opened the noon meeting.

 

As earlier reported, Rumley and District I Commissioner Lamar Lowery, whose Wildwood constituents would be most affected by a threatened chicken processing plant on the old Dave L. Brown farm, held a meeting Monday with John Wise, the developer who had bought the 300-plus north Dade acres. While in the Dade Commission meeting room Wildwood residents attending the Dade Industrial Development Authority (IDA) meeting heard from IDA director William Back that John Wise had told him he was in fact considering siting a mega-chicken plant in Wildwood, Rumley and Lowery in Rumley's office next door were hearing from Wise himself that he had no such intentions.

 

The urgency with which they passed today's resolution may reasonably be taken as an indication of which version the commissioners believed. It also comes in response to the concern expressed at a meeting of some 100 Wildwood residents later Monday. 

 

Today's resolution, commissioners stressed, is not an ordinance but a stopgap--"We're buying time" was said several times--meant to block any unwanted industry from settling in Dade while the county attorney is drafting one. It is active only for 120 days and is entitled expansively:

 

A Resolution Enacting a Temporary Emergency Moratorium on the Acceptance of Applications for Permits or Any Other Approvals, or the Processing of or Issuance of Decisions on any such Applications, for the Purpose of Siting, Constructing or Developing Industrial Facilities in Dade County, Ga. 

 

In a series of legal whereases, the resolution states that the commission wishes “to consider possible regulations which would regulate industrial uses of property in Dade County, to ensure that such uses are properly sited and operated in a way that is consistent with the public health, safety and welfare." While that is happening, it says in another whereas, “the Board of Commissioners wishes to preserve the status quo and not allow any applications for the siting of new industrial facilities."

 

Thus the resolution forbids the issuance of permits for any new industry in Dade for the stated four months or until the county attorney can draft an ordinance, the commissioners can agree on it, and the voters have their crack at it in public meetings. 

 

This ban District 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline took issue with, among other points. If the resolution passed, he said, IDA and the statewide economic development agency should both refund Dade's financial support for that period because: “They can’t do their job to market us with this," he said.

 

That said, Hartline was, as he has been before, the only commissioner willing to come out in favor of a concept the others seem to fear even saying: “If we’re going to pick and choose what can and cannot come into this county, we need zoning,” he said.

 

Another surfacing of the Z-word--and the agitation it engenders in politicians in a rural county--came when Hartline discussed garnering citizen input for the final ordinance. He had said earlier he'd heard emphatically from constituents since the events of Monday and: "They are not for the plant but they are against the way this is being handled. The whole county was not at that meeting."

 

(The Monday evening meeting at which Rumley and Lowery discussed the chicken plant specter was not open to public or press, a matter of some resentment from both. Lowery stressed in that regard that the event had been arranged not by the commission but by the Wildwood citizens. But back to the Z-word:)

 

"I’ve got 120 days to get the citizens of the county to have their input into this situation, into whether we do or do not want zoning…" began Hartline.

 

"It’s not zoning," interrupted Rumley. "You can call it what you want."

 

Lamar Lowery also made that disclaimer: “What we’re doing here is an alternative to zoning,” he said." It’s what counties use that don’t have zoning."

 

And in fact the resolution refers to regulating industries to ensure they are "properly sited and operated in a way that is consistent with the public health, safety and welfare," a wording that might suggest "zoning without zoning"-- the use of existing regulators to achieve the desired effect. Though Dade has no zoning, for example, its health department can already require adequate plumbing and force homeowners to clear certain kinds of waste from their land, and its fire departments can already dictate safety codes for building.

 

Phillip Hartline suggested that any zoning in Dade should be based on agriculture--"I think an agricultural county needs backbone.”

 

But the others continued skating determinedly around the Z-word, stressing instead the dangers of having no regulations at all. “We’re the governing authority and we’re going to have to do something to protect it," said Rumley, "or we’re going to wake up one day and no one’s going to be able to stop it.” He at various points spoke direly of hospital waste incinerators, soil contamination and radioactive waste. “We’re wide open,” he said. “We’ve got to protect ourselves. We see that more and more every day.”

 

District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford said of the threatened chicken plant: "I feel a processing plant would totally change our community."

 

Lamar Lowery went further:  “It could ruin a lot of people’s lives in my community, my county.”

 

Phillip Hartline moved that the Aug. 21 resolution be tabled until the commission had more time to think about it, but his was the only dissenting voice and his motion died for want of a second. The measure passed 4-1 with Hartline's the only vote against.

 

Rumley said a public hearing will be held on the final ordinance as soon as County Attorney Robin Rogers can complete it. The Planet will faithfully announce the date of any such hearing.

 

Meanwhile, interestingly, the commission did not seek input from the impressive roomful of residents as had made time in their day for the lunchtime meeting, and the roomful of residents let the commission adjourn without demanding an opportunity to speak. 

 

If you would like to contact the county government to weigh in on this or any other issue, here is a list of numbers :

 

County Commission Office Landline: (706) 657-4625

 

Cells

Allan Bradford 423-413-0245

Robert Goff 423-503-0618

Phillip Hartline 423-883-5844

Ted Rumley 423-667-8999

Lamar Lowery 423-661-4411

 

Alternately, you may email any of the commissioners from the county website at this link: 

http://dadecounty-ga.gov/Directory.aspx?did=19

 

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Dade County Commission is at 6 p.m. on Sept. 5.

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