2010
06.06

In mid-March 101 addresses in Noble along Hwy. 27, West Reed Rd., Straightgut Rd. and in Emerald Acres subdivison received a letter from Walker County Planning & Development. That letter revealed the county’s intentions to rezone several hundred acres of property in the area for industrial use. Residents were invited to attend a meeting about the proposal on April 8th at the Walker Civic Center.

Detailed within the letter was a plan to rezone four separate tracts of property. The first and smallest is a 40-acre plot on West Reed Rd. next to Emerald Acres. That residential-zoned tract already belongs to the county development authority but isn’t usable for industrial development due to its deep-but-narrow shape and a lack of railroad or highway access. The other three tracts, 376 acres of agricultural land across the highway from Center Point Rd. belonging to Joe Swanson, have direct access to Highway 27 and lie along the railroad, making them ideal for an industrial park.

Noble residents who attended the April 8th meeting brought up specific concerns about the rezoning plan, but left feeling that their worries about noise, pollution, and property values had fallen on deaf ears. Meeting attendees also left with several major questions unanswered: Why this site instead of an existing industrial zone, and what company (if any) is the property being prepared for?

Walker County owns two industrial parks; one south of LaFayette where Roper is located and a second site in Rock Spring housing Nissin Brake and an empty facility formerly used by Cardinal Communications. (The Rock Spring park also hosts Balloons & Tunes each fall.) A number of existing non-government industrial sites are also for sale around the county, including LaFayette Cone Co. and the closed Imperial/Sweetheart Cup facility, both in Noble. Jeff Mullis-directed Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority maintains an extensive list of all these sites, both public and private, on its Web site.

However, none of those properties are as large as the 416 acre site being rezoned. In fact, the county’s existing industrial parks only have a COMBINED 202 acres (120 in LaFayette, 82 in Rock Spring), and much of that is chopped up or already being used. The largest privately owned industrial site available, Barwick in Kensington, comes in at just under 199 acres. That means the only option left for a larger industrial development (especially one needing direct railroad and highway access) is the Swanson property in Noble.

Whether or not the county actually has such a facility moving in is another question entirely.

A number of rumors concerning the site’s future have been floated about, with many concerning a Volkswagen supplier coming to LaFayette. Unfortunately that’s not very likely, and hasn’t really ever been considering how far the city is from Enterprise South Industrial Park north of Chattanooga where VW’s new facility is being built. Enterprise South has some 3,000 total developable acres, far more than Volkswagen needs for its own facility, and if that isn’t enough for suppliers there are a dozen or more sizable industrial parks with better infrastructure located much closer to the ESIP site. Additionally, the VW plant is on track to begin production in early 2011; that six or eight months isn’t even enough time to work out a contract with a potential site developer, much less have a manufacturing facility built and ready to supply auto parts.

Another rumor concerns some type of “warehouse” for Roper being built on the site. Such a warehouse would allow GE to expand its existing LaFayette Roper plant and produce more product without shipping delays, but such a facility would add few (if any) jobs to the area and certainly wouldn’t require a site more than twice the size of Roper’s current landlocked location, parking lot included. If Roper needs 400-plus acres, we expect they would build an entirely new facility there to replace the existing mill, allowing for a larger, modern plant retaining the same employees as its 40-year-old predecessor. That move would also let Roper continue using North Georgia Electric utilities without paying the City of LaFayette franchise tax. Within the current economic conditions this type of drastic development is highly unlikely, but still somewhat more likely than seeing a Volkwagen supplier open up in Noble.

There are hundreds of other potential users for the county’s future industrial park, and we should all keep our fingers crossed for something with desperately needed jobs to eventually open on the site. Building a new manufacturing plant on the 416 acres would disrupt the lives of some who live nearby, but that’s a small sacrifice compared to the positive impact even a few hundred new jobs would make to a community on the edge of economic death. A solid industrial employer would do wonders for the county and potentially increase property values in Noble and beyond as new residents move in and existing residents are able to move up.

The county might buy the land and do nothing with it for the time being, which isn’t the best use of money but does at least keep the prime acreage left open for industrial development instead of being carved up for yet another tacky subdivision. But one possible outcome could be a county-sponsored land rape, with trees cut down and hills scraped away with thin hopes of attracting an unknown developer to the site. That’s what the City of LaFayette has done at the corner of W. McCarter and Gordon Pond Rds, clearing off a wooded tract in hopes of attracting a supposed Volkswagen supplier to a piece of property barely big enough for building a Hardee’s.

Walker County should certainly encourage companies to first consider redeveloping existing industrial sites like Sweetheart, Barwick, Reichold, or the Rock Spring business park. Realistically some of those sites would be less desirable for a major manufacturer, and there’s no excuse for limiting potential economic growth just to avoid kicking up dust in a few quiet neighborhoods. However, with that said, any future developments on county-owned land should come with multiple-decade written agreements that guarantee companies won’t pack up and leave before the paint dries on their new facilities. The very last thing Walker County needs is another brand-new abandoned facility like Cardinal Communications’ plant in Rock Spring, or another half-million-dollar rail spur like the county built for PlyMart a year before its local store closed.

During a second meeting at Commissioner Bebe Heiskell’s office on April 22nd, residents were given concessions about noise barriers and property line restrictions for the site and reassured that any facility built would be accessed from Highway 27, not narrow residential West Reed Rd. Heiskell then approved the plan, not unexpected considering the county’s multiple-thousand dollar investment to install fiber optic Internet service onto the site several months before the plan was announced. (Shortly after rezoning was approved Joe Swanson’s wife began telling people he sold the property to the county for $4 million, or $10,638 per acre. The county has so far made no statement to confirm or deny this rumor.)

Walker County Planning Committee and the Planning & Development Office together work on rezoning plans, but knowledge of any future site occupants is outside the scope of those agencies. Discussions between the county and any potential developer are conducted solely through the commissioner’s office to keep corporate plans secret until a deal has been finalized, akin to the deal worked out in secret between Catoosa County and Costco. Residents will have to remain in the dark for now, hoping with fingers crossed that Bebe Heiskell will keep their best interests in mind as she handles any type of negotiation for the property and its future occupant(s).

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10 comments so far

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  1. Just a couple of corrections for the public’s information. “That residential-zoned tract has belonged to the county planning comission for more than a decade but has never been usable for industrial development due to its deep-but-narrow shape and a lack of railroad or highway access.” This statement is completely false. The Walker County Planning Commission does not own any property. The Walker County Development Authority purchased this 40+ acre peice of property from Linda Swanson on 4-21-2009, NOT a decade ago so I am not sure where L.U. got the information about why it has not been developed or for how long it has been owned.

    “Walker County Planning & Development has authority to rezone land, approve site plans, and handle county land purchases” This statement is completely false. The Walker County Planning & Development Office does not have the authority to rezone land, approve site plans, or handle county land purchases.

    I will not get into a debate on this website as it does not accurately portray many things; however, these two statements are said specifically about my department and I wanted to get them corrected.

    As suggested to L.U. before, please get a copy of the Commissioner’s minutes of that second public hearing so that you can get the accurate information. I intentionally asked many questions to the Commissioner in that meeting so that she would have the opportunity to answer the questions directly on the record so that anyone wishing to get some additional information would have access to the minutes.

    So that everone knows the process of rezones, the Planning & Development Office gathers information to submit to the Planning Commission who votes on whether or not to recommend the rezone to the Commissioner who then makes the final decision with regard to the rezone. The Planning Commission, not the Planning & Development Office, are responsible for approving site plans or subdivision plans. The Planning Commission nor the Planning Office have any involvement what so ever with land purchases by the Walker County Development Authority. The Planning Commission nor the Planning Office are included in any information related to any potential developer until far into the process of relocation to our county, usually when they either need a rezone, submit a plat for dividing the property, or when they submit a plan for a land disturbing activity permit. In the second meeting before Commissioner Heiskell, she made a committment to those that showed up by stating that she will take the site plans before the Planning Commission for public comment when they are available on paper.

    I sincerely hope this helps clear up the errors that were noted in this article. I really wish that the facts would be checked out before they are posted because all this does is stir up trouble when incorrect information is posted here or anywhere else. I am all for public knowledge and the public being involved, but posting incorrect information does not help anyone involved. It only causes hard feelings.

  2. Kelia-

    Mistakes between the Planning Commission, Development Authority, and Planning and Development Office are mistakes made because of three agencies with similar names and overlapping purposes all working on the same (or similar) projects. However those mistakes are on us and we’ll correct the statements.

    According to the county’s own GIS records the Linda Swanson property was last sold in 1985. The article is wrong because the public records are wrong, call up the county tax office and tell them to update their database if you don’t want people to get the wrong idea. This statement on our part will be redacted regardless.

    We’ll also correct or redact the part about what the commission does and doesn’t do, but there’s a serious overlap in these agencies and you surely understand how easy it would be to confuse three organizations with redundant purposes and similar names.

    Your statement that “the Planning Commission nor the Planning Office are included in any information related to any potential developer until far into the process of relocation to our county” is correctly reflected in this report. Much of what’s here was taken from information provided by you, your office, or residents living in the area. We did not obtain minutes from the meeting because that would require contacting your office directly and we didn’t have a chance to do it – the planning commission should post its minutes on the Internet in the interest of public accountability and transparency.

    Overall I thought this was a rather positive report, we’re not against what your department (or the county as a whole) did here, just wanted to warn against another waste of money like the PlyMart railroad spur or another abandoned facility like Cardinal… Hoping to hear some good news soon about a large employer moving into Noble.

    Thanks for your corrections.

    – The LaFayette Underground

  3. Cardinal Equipment isn’t a empty building by no means, it is in fuuly production. get your info right.

  4. When we wrote the article Cardinal was listed as empty. Glad to hear there’s some activity in there now.

    – The LU

  5. Lu
    Do you think the county own the cardinal building or use to own the building?
    I am the one that built the cardinal building. You have your story wrong about the cardinal building in all your statements even your reply. But if the county would like to buy the building I will sale it to them. Do you know something I don’t?
    Please fill free to e-mail me anytime.

  6. Cardinal Equipment:

    Per the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority web site your facility is 38,500 square feet sitting on 3.1 acres and available for $1.6 million. If it’s not for sale then you need to get with Jeff Mullis and ask him to take it down off the NWGAJDA “available properties” page.

    http://nwgajda.com/Available-Properties.aspx

    Thanks for reading,

    – The LaFayette Underground

  7. yes it is for sale more than i need.
    that don’t mean (like the PlyMart railroad spur or another abandoned facility like Cardinal…)
    just not true. but you just keep on reporting bad info, iam sure you will get a lot of replys.
    just what you like.

  8. ceo, aka buddy,

    I sincerely hope you don’t do your own paperwork.

  9. Nope, I have staff for that…

  10. So what you’re saying is you have a giant facility that isn’t being fully used, empty to the point that you’d love to unload it on somebody. How many employees do you have, and what percentage of the building are you actually using?

    Merry Christmas!

    – The LaFayette Underground