A Dallas, Texas-headquartered company's request to rezone 86.7 acres of land along Highway 113 from agricultural to light industrial was turned down by the Bartow County Planning Commission Monday evening.
The measure failed by a 4-2 vote, with commission members Greg Bowen and Bryan Canty casting the sole 'yea' votes. The commission also voted down a proposed text amendment — which would allow "wholesale and retail sale and auction of used and damaged operable and inoperable vehicles" in two land lots in the area — 5-1, with Canty the lone member approving the proposal.
The application was filed by Copart of Connecticut Inc., a publicly traded company with more than 200 locations in about a dozen countries, including one facility at 1880 GA 113 in Bartow.
The property requested for rezoning is located within the Etowah Valley Historic District and is currently zoned A-1. Copart has proposed altering the county zoning ordinance to permit certain operations there — which are currently only allowed in heavy industrial districts — under the less restrictive I-1 zoning, with no conditional use permit requirements.
Attorney Jeffrey A. Watkins represented the applicant at the public hearing.
"The text amendment was drafted and crafted in order to make it more attractive for the county," he said. "They've invested approximately $5 million in that site after they bought it and they started operating. Obviously, if this zoning is approved they'll double their capacity, they'll be hiring more employees."
Watkins said the property, as A-1 zoned land, is generating about $1,500 in county taxes a year. Factoring in Copart's 1880 GA 113 location, he said the company's total holdings in the area — pending the rezoning is approved and operations are allowed to commence — may generate as much as $100,000 in yearly tax revenue.
"That's nothing, I guess, to scoff at," he said, "especially in this area of the county where it's mostly farmland and it's under agricultural covenants."
Watkins said Copart's plans would include about 3,800 feet of berm along GA 113 and about 2,000 feet of berm along Beasley Road. He also said they have agreed to plant several thousand hardwood trees around the proposed development, which would prevent vehicles in lots from being visible from nearby roadways.
"Copart has been a very good neighbor, and I think with the plans they have shown us, that they plan to do with the berms and the planting, you wouldn't see what's going on," said local resident Martha Choate. "When you see what they plan to spend to hide their operation, I hope you will decide to approve it."
Several commissioners, however, raised concerns that junkyards could potentially take advantage of "loopholes" in the text amendment.
Watkins said that is unlikely, considering the text amendment includes a number of provisions — including regulations that forbid onsite auctions, require vehicles stay on the property for no more than 100 days and mandate that at least 40 percent of the vehicles on the property are in operable condition — which traditional salvage yards wouldn't be able to meet.
Still, Bowen said he was worried about the precedent that may be set.
"One that's already been vetted and looked at by attorneys, that's one thing," he said, "but every business coming in here could write their own [text amendment] up, that's what we probably could be approving here."
Despite the commission's rejection of both applications, Chairman Bill Hix said there's certainly time for Copart to make some adjustments to their proposals.
"There might be some compromise that could be reached to make this still work out for both sides," he said.
The commission's recommendations, however, are not final. County Commissioner Steve Taylor will vote whether to approve the text amendment and/or the rezoning proposal — as currently written — at a meeting scheduled today at 10 a.m. The public hearing will take place in the Commissioner's Conference/Hearing Room at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center at 135 West Cherokee Avenue.