Lee County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge points to a map showing a parcel of land the county is considering rezoning from agricultural to heavy industrial to allow for the placement of a concrete plant at the location. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
LEESBURG — A proposed concrete plant looking to locate in Lee County has encountered opposition from residents and the county Planning Commission, leading to a public forum Tuesday at the Lee County Commission’s monthly work session.
Despite a recommendation from the county’s Planning Commission in late March to deny a request to rezone a piece of county-owned property along Mossy Dell Road from AG (agriculture) to I-2 (heavy industrial), commissioners are trying to decide whether to move forward with the request that would allow a new business, Leesburg Redi Mix, to purchase the property and erect a concrete plant.
According to Lee County planner Steve O’Neil, the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the request hinged mainly on concerns that the rezoning could be considered “spot zoning.”
“As I told the Planning Commission, one of the concerns that I had was the fact that this, by definition, is spot zoning,” O’Neil said. “Now, you guys can’t make a determination if it’s spot zoning, that’s up to the courts.”
O’Neil went on to explain that when courts are making a determination about something being considered spot zoning, they typically look at all the zoning in the immediate area, as well as the current uses for different parcels, because sometimes an area is zoned for one purpose but being used for another.
County Manager Ron Rabun elaborated on that, stating that land adjacent to the parcel is owned by the county and — despite being zoned as agricultural use — is actually being used by the county’s public works department, much the same way an industrial-zoned tract would be used.
“The area that public works is operating in now, which is the landfill, has heavy equipment, pipe storage, heavy trucks, animal control, that functions like an industrial operation there right now,” Rabun said. “So, (the concrete plant locating there is) not inconsistent with a large piece of property there now.”
County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge offered his opinion that describing the rezoning as spot zoning was incorrect. If the county were required to zone areas it uses, he said, then the landfill, public works area likely would already be zoned for industrial use.
“Because we are the government, we’re not required to zone the property we use,” said Muggridge. “If this was private entities, they would be rezoned if it was allowed. To say it’s spot zoning, I think, is incorrect. So, the reason I would consider voting other than the way that our planning and zoning board has basically advised us is because I think the premise isn’t correct.”
County Commissioner Greg Frich, stating that he would not support the rezoning request if he felt it were immoral or illegal, said that based on his discussions with the planning board, the only issue was whether the rezoning would be considered spot zoning. He stated that he would rely on County Attorney Jimmy Skipper to advise whether it was spot zoning.
Skipper, indicating that he had not fully reviewed everything, said he didn’t feel the rezoning would amount to spot zoning and also offered that the idea of avoiding spot zoning was to keep like properties in an area zoned together.
“I haven’t looked at all the maps, but I don’t know that it is spot zoning because you’ve got R1, you’ve got AG, you’ve got C2 in this area,” said Skipper. “Spot zoning is something that you look at. Even if it is spot zoning that’s not something that is a death penalty in respect to rezoning because the idea behind zoning is to keep like uses together to the extent that you can.”
The dictionary definition of spot zoning as the illegal singling out of a small parcel of land within the limits of an area zoned for particular uses and permitting other uses for that parcel for the special benefit of its owners and to the detriment of the other owners in the area and not as part of a scheme to benefit the entire area.
Hoping to make a claim that the rezoning would be a detriment, county resident Erin Thaggard, addressed the County Commission during the open forum to explain that she and her husband had concerns about the placement of a concrete plant in the area. They own and farmland adjacent to the parcel in question.
Thaggard said that in her eyes a decision to rezone should be considered spot zoning as the majority of the land around the property is zoned agricultural and is used for that purpose.
“We’re out here in the middle of the country, in the middle of farmland, and then all of a sudden you’re wanting to throw a concrete plant in the middle of it,” said Thaggard. “That’s like us asking if we can go to the business park off 82 and farm in the middle of a lot there. It just doesn’t mix.”
Thaggard said that she has concerns about potential pollution to her family’s property, property owned by other residents and to the Muckalee Creek that runs nearby and is used for crop irrigation and recreation. Thaggard also said she was concerned about air quality and noise if the concrete plant were to move into the area.
Thaggard said that while her family was opposed to the rezoning request that would allow the concrete plant to locate near her property, she was not opposed to the plant locating elsewhere in the county.
“We are not against economic development by any means. We just feel that it needs to be put in the proper location,” Thaggard said. “And this is not the proper location. We feel like there is better dirt somewhere else in the county.”
Following Thaggard at the forum was Brian Bridges, the owner of Leesburg Redi Mix, who stated that he was a resident of the county and that the plant would not create the kinds of issues raised by those opposed to it.
“I can understand anyone in here, their concerns,” Bridges said. “I have children in this community; I have to work in this environment. This environment is going to be as safe as we can possibly make it.”
Bridges explained that the only things used in making concrete were cement and flash, two things that are not considered pollutants.
“As far as pollutants, I am taken aback, because I don’t know what pollutants we’re talking about,” Bridges said. “This is cement and flash, both mined materials. They come from the ground. They have no foreign chemicals. So as far as pollutants, there are none.”
Bridges also said that the plant would be subject to Environmental Protection Agency regulations, that there would not be runoff into the Muckalee and that plant emissions would also be monitored.
No other testimony was offered at the forum and the no action was taken. The board is expected to vote on the matter at it’s next regular meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. April 22 in the Opal Cannon Auditorium the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building,102 Starksville Ave. North.