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Dougherty Commission approves rezoning deal

ALBANY, Ga. — Dougherty County Commissioners worked out a compromise Monday that will allow a pecan grower to plant an orchard on land at 519 Old Pretoria Road, but it also will provide a larger-than-called-for buffer between the orchard and adjacent homeowners.

Eddie and Shirley Nelson objected to conditions suggested for approval of Molly Willis Pecans’ request to rezone 120.89 acres of land from commercial to agricultural in order to plant a new orchard adjacent to the Nelsons’ home, saying spraying of chemicals on the trees would further endanger Shirley Nelson’s chronic health condition.

County Senior Planner Rozanne Braswell said Lenny Wells of the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences had suggested in phone and email messages that a 150-foot buffer along the northern boundary of the property and a 75-foot buffer along the southern boundary would provide a sufficient buffer from the chemicals.

The Nelsons said they’d prefer an additional 75 feet of buffer along the southern boundary, but Commissioner Gloria Gaines said she’d like to have confirmation that the chemicals that might be used on the pecan trees carry detrimental health risks.

“What, do you want me to get sick and bring a lawyer in here?” Shirley Nelson asked. “Even with the buffer you’re suggesting, the chemicals will still be in the air. All we’re asking is that you add another 75 feet to the buffer at our property. If you do that, you won’t hear another word from us.”

When Lanier Engineering Director of Engineering Bobby Donley, speaking on behalf of Willis Pecans, suggested the additional 75 feet of open space would have little impact on chemical retention, Commissioner Muarlean Edwards accused Donley of putting the business’s concerns over that of people.

“The laws of this county — the reason I’m up here — were passed to impact people,” Edwards said. “If you can’t give up an additional 75 feet for a human being, we need to revisit this.”

Ernest and Carol Worthy, who also own land in the area, said they too were concerned about the 75-foot buffer and also the impact rezoning would have on their property value.

“Your property’s zoning will not change, so this will not impact your property value,” Braswell said.

When Gaines hinted that she’d like to table the matter to obtain more information, Donley said the property owners would be willing to add the 75 feet of buffer to expedite the matter.

“Before you decide to table this, I’m certain we could go to a 150-foot buffer,” Donley said. “(Molly Willis Pecans) is trying to get this property where it’s usable and we can put some people to work.”

Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard asked the Nelsons and the Worthys if they were willing to OK the rezoning if an additional 75 feet of buffer adjacent to their property is added. They agreed to the compromise, asking also that they be notified at least 24 hours before any spraying takes place and that they be given a list of any chemicals used in spraying.

Gaines and Donley had said they couldn’t imagine any chemicals being used that did not meet strict Environmental Protection Division safety standards.

Commissioners also approved at the meeting a $23,000 bid for roof repairs at the county’s Tallulah Massey Library; OK’d 5.32 miles of road resurfacing projects, and approved a measure recommended by the commission’s Governmental Affairs Committee to appoint a member of the commission to the Dougherty County Library Board of Trustees.