Citizens Swamp Zoning Request, Deny New Business

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Citizens came out in numbers Monday night to oppose a zoning request for a business seeking opportunity in Pickens County. Previously, Jonathan Brown requested to rezone 15 acres of property located at Pendley Circle in Jasper for the purpose of establishing a multi-purpose facility. The request was to rezone the property from Agricultural Use to Highway Business. According to Brown’s letter of intent, the facility will be used for weddings, receptions, company galas, and similar events. Although Brown’s plan does not include the sale of alcohol, it does allow guests to bring their own.

During a planning and zoning meeting Monday night, citizens presumably most effected by the facility appeared before the county planning board to oppose Brown’s plan. According to the map presented to the county, the desired location at Pendley Circle is in close proximity to the Long Swamp Baptist Church.

Speaking on behalf of the opposition and representing several parties, Citizen and Attorney Nancy Maddox addressed the board, presenting a petition with 48 signatures. She also presented the board with an information packet. In her litany of reasons for opposition, Maddox argued that the events at the facility would disturb church services at the Long Swamp church, noting the alcohol component could cause disruptions in the community. She also said the facility lacked sufficient parking and appropriate water and sewage abatement. Maddox added that no evidence of need of such a business was identified and the facility would cause noise pollution. Also in opposition, Harold Cantrell presented the board with a petition with 25 signatures of Long Swamp church members opposing the request, although he noted the church has 200 members. Cantrell was mainly concerned with noise pollution created by the events at the facility, since the Long Swamp Baptist Church property lies adjacent to the 15 acres at Pendley Circle. Cantrell also feared visitors to the Long Swamp Cemetery would be disturbed by the noise from Brown’s facility.

“We don’t wish these people any ill-will,”

he said,

“Why, I’d like to see everybody to be successful in their business interests, but we don’t wish it to the loss to the tranquility of the Long Swamp community and to the church.”

Despite the myriad opposition, supporters of the venture also came out to voice their opinions. Andrew Robb, who currently owns the property in question, defended Brown’s business venture. He started by saying change can bring fear and comments can be either fear-based or fact-based.

“Most of what’s in here (Maddox’s information packet) is not factual,”

he said. He went on to say Brown’s business wouldn’t be the first event-type of business to come to the community, saying the Chamber of Commerce has the type of events that Brown’s business would have, likewise the community center, and that every church in the county has weddings and wedding receptions.

“I checked with the sheriff’s office,”

he said,

“and they have never had a problem with any of it. That’s fact, not speculation that there’s going to be drunks on the road or people throwing trash out on the road…that’s just guessing what might happen.”

But, Robb also brought up a legal issue. He noted that a business like the one proposed by Brown already exists in the county, emphasizing that the company was licensed to operate under an agricultural zoning designation by the county.

“If there’s a legal entity already operating,”

he said,

“paying money to the county, can’t they (Brown and his fiancée) just buy it (the property) and do what they want?”

Planning and Zoning Director Joey Low said that the facility was grandfathered in. Robb, however, clarified that the property was grandfathered in, not the business. Also, Planning and Zoning Board vice Chair Pat Holmes clarified the rule, reading form the ordinance.

“Under Use Description,”

she said,

“it says business service establishments of more 2,500 square feet of gross floor area are not permitted under Agriculture (zoning).”

Further Robb brought to the board’s attention that the county’s own Planning and Zoning Director recommended approval of the request.

Following public commentary, Jonathan Brown addressed the crowd, attempting to assuage the concerns of the citizens. He said he will limit parking spaces to 40 to 60 spaces. Further, he said he will contractually prohibit anyone from parking on anyone else’s property.

“As far as our people affecting horse traffic…(and) drunk drivers running over horses and people,”

he said,

“the only people leaving that will be leaving our place after an event will be at night; I don’t usually see people riding horses at that hour.”

Also, addressing concerns about noise pollution, Brown said Monday through Thursday on non-holidays, the facility will not make noise before 9:00 A.M. or after 9:00 P.M., adding that the grounds will be completely closed and empty by 10:00 P.M. On Saturday and Sunday, all events end by midnight and grounds cleaned up by 1:00 A.M.

“We will never disturb the Long Swamp Baptist Church services in any way,”

he said. Additionally, in an attempt to ease concerns about alcohol usage, he explained that his facility will not sell alcohol, but will allow clients to bring beer and wine. However, he said he will also require the clients to carry insurance of $1 million. Further, Brown appealed to the crowd, saying his business could help benefit the 300 local businesses in the area.

“We have every intention of working with our neighbors,”

he said.

Following Brown’s comments, board member Clayton Preble said the request had too many open issues, citing, access, noise, and the peace and quiet of the people who live in that particular area. Preble then made a motion to deny the rezoning request. The motion was approved unanimously.

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