The Bulloch County commissioners by a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening approved a request from property owners to rezone a 22-acre site in the southeastern corner of the county from “AG-5” agricultural to “HI” heavy industrial for a Hyundai Motor Group injection-molded plastic parts supplier.
But the request, which had been sent forward by the appointed Planning and Zoning Board on a 4-3 vote May 11 to recommend approval with conditions, again drew opposition from some area residents. The elected commissioners adopted the “heavy industrial” zoning along with a condition proposed by county staff members that interprets injection molding as a “light manufacturing” process.
Speaking for the proposal on behalf of property owners Ronald and Essie DeLoach, local attorney Steve Rushing confirmed that the plastic auto parts plant is expected to employ about 120 people – a summary in the county’s review stated 40 employees per shift in three shifts – and identified the developer as YWK Investments LLC. But this is the developer of the site, not the company, which has yet to be identified, that would operate the factory.
Its purpose would be to supply parts to the Hyundai Motor Group’s Meta Plant America, the electric vehicle and battery manufacturing complex now under construction about five miles away in Bryan County.
“As you see, the county line cuts right through this property,” Rushing said. “So This particular lot is the closest lot, that’s still in Bulloch County, to the Hyundai plant.”
In fact, to westbound traffic on Interstate 16, whose right of way borders it, the now rezoned 21.94-acre parcel at 8527 Georgia Highway 119 South is literally the first land in Bulloch County. The DeLoaches’ whole tract of about 75 acres extends east into Bryan County, but the proposed factory site is in the Bulloch County portion.
“They have farmed this tract for many years, perhaps decades, but they’re now in their 80s, and they’re ready to take it easy for the rest of their lives, so they have approximately 22 acres of their property under a pending contract with YWK Investments for industrial development,” Rushing said.
The entrance to the site on Highway 119 is a little over a quarter mile from the I-16 interchange, he noted.
“Once the parts are produced, they’re put on a truck and go immediately to that interchange, just a little over a quarter mile away and head approximately six miles down the road to the Hyundai plant. …, Rushing said. “So you’re talking about very little impact on Bulloch County roads.”
He said it would be a multi-million-dollar facility added to the county’s tax base.
To be clear, this project is not one of the Hyundai supplier projects previously announced by the state or the Development Authority of Bulloch County, although Rushing also serves as the DABC’s attorney. He and Development Authority CEO Benjy Thompson previously said that the DABC is not involved with the project, whose developer is not seeking a county tax abatement.
However, Rushing recited a general statement of support from the DABC as part of his presentation Tuesday.
“They’ve authorized me to say that the Bulloch County Development Authority supports industrial growth in Bulloch County in locations that would best serve our citizens. …,” he said.
The DeLoach property’s proximity to I-16 Exit 137 within six miles of the Hyundai plant “suggests that the site is appropriate for industrial development,” the DABC statement concluded.
‘Light’ vs. height
The proposed 200,000-square-foot building is expected to be about 44 feet tall to allow for the injection molding equipment and internal cranes to lift molds.
Both Rushing and county Planning and Development Director James Pope said the building’s height is the main reason for the site to be zoned HI, heavy industrial, instead of LI, light industrial.
But Pope and other county staff members who reviewed the request recommended that the site be zoned heavy industrial subject to a number of conditions. The first condition states, “The principal use(s) approved for this property shall be limited to light manufacturing.”
“The reason that they are asking for heavy industrial is because of the height limitation that light industrial provides. …,” Pope had said in an interview. “The light industrial limit is 35 feet. But the process itself in the conditions we limited to light manufacturing.”
Key differences between heavy and light manufacturing are the kind of raw materials and processes used, he said. For example, the Aspen Aerogels plant under construction at Bruce Yawn Commerce Park will have tanks of different chemicals that feed into its manufacturing process and therefore is classed as heavy manufacturing.
“Light industrial, or light manufacturing, involves more of a stable product that gets turned into the end product, more palletized goods, things like that,” Pope said.
But Elaina Kelly, whose home is on Georgia Highway 46 near the site, named several chemicals listed by an Environmental Protection Agency website as being used in the molding of plastics. Kelly said she was representing Bay District residents when she spoke to the commissioners.
She asked those opposed to the rezoning to stand, and many people did, out of the crowd that packed the meeting room at the Bulloch County Center for Agriculture.
“These are my neighbors. This is my neighborhood,” Kelly said. “Within a three-mile radius of this plant we have 70 signatures on a petition to oppose the rezoning of this property.”
Area residents, Kelly said, have reasons to be concerned about traffic.
“This is now a very busy intersection,” she said. “The industrial facility will add 120 (employee) vehicles and 80 semi trucks a day.”
The 80-truck count was an estimated maximum in a project summary attached to the county report. The traffic impact section of the report stated that the capacity and condition of roads to the proposed plant “is inadequate and improvements will need to be made.”
A short road segment called Old Black Creek Road runs along the western end of the site from Highway 119. Another condition recommended by county staff members is for the property owner or developer to be responsible for improvements to this road.
County staff also recommended, and commissioners adopted, requirements for a traffic impact study, a hydrology study, a stormwater management plan and a fire safety plan as conditions for approval.
But Kelly said she thought the commissioners should see the results of the traffic study before they approved the rezoning. She expressed concerns about noise, light and air pollution, water use and runoff.
“We live here. This is our neighborhood,” she said. “I understand that it may bring jobs to the area, but you’re impacting our neighborhood and our chosen way of life.”
The proposed development summary states that the plant could use 50,000 gallons of water per day and that most of it would be discharged to the atmosphere through cooling towers.
The county staff review report states that the county expects to provide “future water and sewer system service to the parcel and general area. Temporary service measures may be required if construction is to be completed prior to water and sewer service to the parcel.”
The report describes the available fire service as coming from the Bay District Fire Department, 6.2 miles away, with an estimated 20-minute response time. “No additional resources are required,” the report states.
Kelly noted that this is a volunteer department. Rushing said the plant will have an automated fire suppression system.
Commissioner Anthony Simmons made the motion to approve the rezoning, with the stated conditions, and Commissioner Ray Mosley seconded the motion. Commissioner Toby Conner cast the “no” vote.