Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor approved both a text amendment and a conditional use request at a public hearing Wednesday morning, allowing a Dallas, Texas-headquartered company to build a lot to store used and damaged vehicles on 51 acres in southwest Bartow.
Earlier this year Copart of Connecticut, Inc. sought to rezone roughly 86 acres of land along Highway 113 from agricultural to industrial to facilitate expansion of their salvage yard. After those plans fizzled out, the company went back to the drawing board and returned with a proposal to construct a similar expansion abutting Beasley Road.
At a public meeting Monday evening, the Bartow County Planning Commission voted 5-to-1 to approve a conditional use request from the company, allowing "online wholesale/retail and auction of used and damaged operable and inoperable vehicles" on two land lots. However, they voted unanimously to deny Copart's zoning ordinance text amendment proposal.
"If we're going to let people write our text amendments as far as to custom fit their zonings, then there may not be any point in us having an ordinance handbook," said Bartow County Planning Commission Chairman Bill Hix. "We can't continue to let people write text for us — then we're opening ourselves up for continued text amendments, in all fairness, pretty much."
Planning Commissioner David Lanham went as far as to describe authorizing such a request as "opening a pandora's box."
"If we let citizens or landowners rewrite the rulebook to fit their need," he said, "then we're in a bad situation as a planning commission."
Still, County Commissioner Taylor overrode the planning commission's recommendations regarding the text amendment proposal.
"This is a unique situation," he said. "It looks like this property is surrounded by Georgia Power's property, and the applicant has other property on the south side here."
Copart was represented by attorney Jeff Watkins at Wednesday morning's commissioner hearing.
"There wouldn't be a need for it until the need arises, and that's what the case is here," he defended the text amendment request. "Copart's business has grown, they want to expand, which means more tax revenue for the county, more employment for the county."
Continuing, he addressed the planning commission's concerns about the approval setting a precedent for future zoning applicants.
"It allows Copart to expand their operations while, at the same time and probably most importantly, they would not have to rezone the property; it's already zoned light industrial," he said. "I believe the planning commission has concerns of property owners coming in and trying to do their own text amendments. The ordinance allows that, but there's concerns about that — I think the planning commission, as a person, believes that that's something the county and county staff should do, to address case law, to come in where the uses for the county changed and there needs to be wholesale amendments to the ordinance."
According to Copart of Georgia Operations Manager Joyce Benedict, the proposed expansion would allow the company to double its local workforce from 13 to 26 employees, with the additional 30-35 "usable acres" included in the property increasing the number of vehicles that can be stored onsite by more than 5,000.
"We're just trying to expand and grow our business," she said at Monday's planning commission meeting. "If we don't have the room to add the business to the location as it currently stands, we can't add jobs … as we sell cars, we add more people."
Additional conditions on the property includes restrictions on public and construction access on Beasley Road and a staff recommendation that Copart construct a 20-foot evergreen buffer along the property lines bordering tracts owned or formerly owned by a nearby motorsports business.
Other items approved by Commissioner Taylor at Wednesday's meeting include:
—The reappointment of Dr. Bob Poston to the Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Board; the reappointment of Erick Strickland to the Bartow-Pickens County Joint Development Authority; and the reappointment of Tommy Strickland, Larry Holt and Ronnie Evans to the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority.
— A request to apply for a fiscal year 2020 Federal Transit Administration Urbanized Area Formula grant, estimated by Bartow County Transit Department Director Weldon Dudley to be an allotment around $100,000.
— A request formally declaring the results of the May 22, 2018, elections, thus allowing the reimposition of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
— An amendment to an intergovernmental agreement between the Bartow County Sheriff's Office and the Bartow County School System concerning video equipment installed on school buses.
— Acceptance of right of way on Floyd Creek Church Road, Pine Bow Road and Ivan Evans Road.
— The donation of a 2000 Ford F-250 truck and a 2002 John Deere tractor to Taylorsville.
— The removal of a portion of Ross Road from the county road system. "It's a closed and unused stretch, so we'd recommend taking it out of the county," said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson. "The parcel to the east has been rezoned for an apartment complex and the developer has also bought that abandoned Ingles shopping center … so this property owner's requested we abandon this as a public road, because it's just going to become a part of the development access."