City OKs rezoning for borrow pit

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- In a split-vote, the Albany City Commission voted 3-2 to rezone a piece of land to allow shallow surface mining in a move that could ultimately expand Albany State University.

After a lengthy discussion at its September voting meeting, the commission voted to have a special-called meeting before its regularly scheduled work session Tuesday to decide whether businessman Buddy Clark can use a piece of property located between two existing borrow pits as one as well.

A borrow pit, also known as a surface mine, is a piece of land that is excavated for its soil, which is often used in construction. The existing borrow pit Clark operates has almost reached the end of its life expectancy at roughly 45 feet deep.

The controversy comes from the fact that ASU has been involved in negotiations with Clark and company to acquire the piece of property he currently owns just off Sands Drive to fit in with the university's master plan. ASU officials told city officials last week that if they did not to rezone the other property, they would be in jeopardy of losing this particular piece as Clark would be forced to keep the property he has for a longer period of time.

Tuesday, the commission again heard from ASU officials, who this time said that discussions had leaned more towards Clark donating his current property to the ASU Foundation. But before that could happen, the city would have to rezone the other piece of property.

Additionally, the city has received notice of the developer's intent to sue if it didn't rezone the property, saying that the decision would impact the owner's ability to conduct business and that the company would be financially impacted by the decision.

During discussions of the deal, the city has walked a fine line between promoting economic development and the growth of the university and the appearance of strong-arming the developer into a deal with ASU.

Last week, Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard asked Clark in the open meeting if he could "guarantee" that if the city rezoned the new parcel of land that ASU would get the current piece his company is using.

At the same meeting, however, ASU President Everette Freeman expressed concerns over whether Clark would be obligated to fill in the borrow pit and essentially level it out before relinquishing it.

Under federal environmental regulations, before a borrow pit can be dug, developers must submit a reclamation plan for approval that describes what measures they plan to undertake before getting rid of the property.

This includes grading the slopes of the pit to a more gradual incline and planting vegetation for erosion control, but stops short of filling the hole.

Tuesday's vote will allow the company to move forward with addressing federal guidelines on borrow pits and will require a return to the Planning Commission and the City Commission for a special approval later this month.