The Hyundai-centered boom in industrial development in this part of Georgia landed before the Bulloch County commissioners for decisions on multiple proposals this week. Commissioners unanimously approved, with some added conditions, rezoning requests to allow 3 million square feet of industrial warehousing to be built on roughly 360 acres along the south side of Rocky Road.
Rocky Road is the farther south of the two access roads from U.S. Highway 301 to Bruce Yawn Commerce Park, the Development Authority of Bulloch County’s industrial site at the I-16 interchange. Joon Georgia Inc., a unit of auto body parts manufacturer Ajin USA, has committed to build a factory on the Rocky Road side of the commerce park, and construction of Aspen Aerogels’ aerogel-insulation plant is well under construction on the side of the park nearer the interstate highway.
The proposed developer of the warehousing is Northpoint Development, based in Savannah and in Charleston, South Carolina. But the project came to the Bulloch County commissioners as six separate requests, from different local owners of six contiguous parcels, to rezone their land from AG-5 agricultural to LI light industrial. Those owners were Garrett Nevil with 66 acres, Robert Rushing with 69 acres, Tommy Brannen with 32 acres, Jennifer and DJ Vickery with 14.28 acres, Ricky Nevil with 172.84 acres and Travis Phillips with 5.45 acres.
Together, those add up to a 359.57-acre tract, where Northpoint plans to build 10 warehouses totaling 3,078,800 square feet, plus connecting driveways and parking areas for trucks and employees. For comparison, the Statesboro Walmart Distribution Center measures a little over 2 million square feet.
One of the property owners, Garrett Nevil, was Bulloch County Board of Commissioners chair for 12 years, concluding in 2016. He spoke to the current commissioners when their hearing for his rezoning request was held during their Tuesday, April 4 meeting.
“Several years ago,” he noted, Bulloch County and the city of Statesboro began to prepare the industrial park site at the interchange, investing millions of dollars to clear the land and extend city and water sewer service to the area. The state, he noted, also put money into the road improvements.
“We know what is being proposed for the next phase of construction down there, and we find it to be acceptable and environmentally friendly to our community,” Garrett Nevil said. “We know this site will be developed sooner or later, and it always counted to me from the beginning as to what goes there. We are satisfied with the proposal that has been made.”
Another Nevil, land surveyor Marlin Nevil, signed up as an opposition speaker. But after noting that the applicant property owners are his neighbors, friends and relatives, he said he was not opposed to them and did not want to stand in their way.
Instead, he asked for the county to protect the neighbors who have concerns about the property. He and his sister, Lisa Nevil Crowe, whose home is on Union Church Road in view of the warehouse tract, submitted a list of 10 additional conditions they suggested the county put on the rezoning.
One of these would have restricted the property to warehouse use, prohibiting assembly or manufacturing work on the site. Others conditions suggested by the neighbors included restrictions on vehicles using Union Church Road and a requirement for a 100-foot planted buffer along that side of the warehouse tract.
The county staff had already included a requirement for a 25-foot buffer, and this was sent forward with other staff conditions on the Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation for approval of the zoning change requests. That board had voted 3-2 to recommend approval, with one member abstaining.
Jim Collins, from the Savannah engineering firm Thomas & Hutton, which is working on the project for Northpoint Development, said trucks and other vehicles going to and from the warehouses will use only Rocky Road and not Union Church Road for access. The company wanted no access to the property from Union Church Road, he said, with the one exception being an access point for emergency vehicles, such as fire trucks and ambulances, at Kelly Pond Road and Union Church Road, as also recommended by county staff.
Collins also noted that the county’s buffer requirement was for “95% opacity,” meaning with very little of the warehouse site showing through, and that evergreen trees were recommended.
But the commissioners, before their vote on Garrett Nevil’s portion of the property, increased the buffer requirement to 50 feet as a compromise position. They then carried this requirement over to the other five parcels. Before their vote on rezoning Ricky Nevil’s tract, which was the largest, they added a condition prohibiting use of Union Church Road to access or exit the warehouse tract, except for emergency vehicles.
All of the commissioners’ votes on these zoning changes – through six separate motions – were unanimous, except that Commissioner Timmy Rushing abstained from voting on the parcels belonging to Robert Rushing and Jennifer and DJ Vickery, because he is related to them.
Farming and traffic
The added conditions will not satisfy everyone’s concerns, as indicated when farmer Clayton Anderson spoke in opposition during Tuesday’s hearing on one of the parcels.
“This is a lot of farmland that you’re taking out, and I fear for the safety of myself and my workers, for my grandson operating a tractor out there with all of the traffic you’ve talked about, another road coming into Union Church. That’s where we drive our tractors,” Anderson said.
A traffic study, noted in the county’s report, predicted that the warehouses and nearby industrial development will generate 5,552 vehicle trips per day.
Anderson said he hopes the county holds the developers to all of the conditions. He added that he believes the commissioners undervalue farmers’ contribution to the county.
Since the commissioners last year approved zoning changes allowing more than 1 million square feet of warehousing, planned by a different development company, on the other side of I-16, more than 4 million square feet of warehousing is now slated for construction around the interchange.
Worker RV camp
But the commissioners unanimously denied a zoning change requested for creation of a recreational vehicle park with 160 spaces in the southeastern end of Bulloch County. The location, a 51-acre tract owned by Branda and McKinley Talley on Seed Tick Road, is not far from the Joint Development Authority Mega Site in northern Bryan County where Hyundai Motor Group’s $5.5 billion electric vehicle and battery plant is being built, and a developer proposed that the campground would provide temporary housing for construction workers.
“We’re not interested in getting into the RV park business long-term,” said developer James Dasher. “We feel that we have a piece of property that lends itself to providing a need for a few of our construction workers that are coming into the area to build an 8,500-employee facility that our four-county JDA has brought just a few miles from our property.”
But Seed Tick Road is a dirt road, and the Talleys’ requests for a zoning change from AG-5 to HC highway-commercial and for conditional use approval for an RV park and campground drew recommendations for denial from the county staff members who reviewed it. They listed 60 conditions they thought the developers should meet to make it acceptable.
A crowd of area residents opposed to the project showed up at two meetings of the P&Z Board and then at Tuesday evening’s Board of Commissioners meeting. A petition opposing it carried 202 signatures.
Local attorney Andrew Lavoie, retained by some of the neighbors opposing the project, argued that the zoning change would create “an island of highway-commercial zoning with nothing like it anywhere around it.”
The appointed Planning and Zoning Board had, by a 6-0 vote, recommended denial. The elected commissioners also voted 6-0 in favor of a motion to deny the zoning change request, which made the conditional use application moot.