Board recommends rejection of rezoning, land use map reclassification for 466-acre parcel
Members of the Bartow County Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday night to recommend denial of a request to rezone more than 400 acres in Adairsville for a possible mining operation.
In addition to the rezoning request, applicant Yellowstone, LLC also sought the reclassification of the future land use map for the 466-acre parcel along Rock Fence Road from agricultural/forestry to mining.
Commissioners likewise voted unanimously to recommend denial of that request — actions that elicited cheers and applause from dozens of community members who came out in opposition to the proposals.
Ultimately, Bartow County Planning Commission Chairman Bill Hix said the local government received more than 100 emails in opposition to the proposals. Bartow County Zoning Administrator Richard Osborne said the proposed rezoning and land use reclassification also drew objections from organizations such as the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association, the Coosa River Basin Initiative and a litany of groups representing the interests of the City of Adairsville, such as the Adairsville Downtown Development Authority and the Adairsville Historic Preservation Commission.
Local attorney William Neel, Jr. represented the applicant at Monday night’s public hearing, which lasted roughly two hours.
“I’m certainly aware of the situation we have here, a lot of people that have strong feelings toward this particular project,” he said. “I believe that the biggest problem that we do have here, however, is that there is a fear of the unknown — that is the problem.”
Neel said that Galen McDaniel — owner of Yellowstone, LLC — holds the mineral rights for the 466-acre tract, but he does not own the parcel’s surface rights.
“If this commission denies this request tonight, basically what you are doing is you are taking away Mr. McDaniel’s property right completely,” he said. “When we have a situation like this, I ask that you be very careful in denying a property right, because that is going to be a condemnation and taking of his property that the County is going to end up being responsible for — that’s Georgia law, plain and simple.”
He also responded to concerns from residents about the possibility of water contamination due to mining operations on the property.
“They all use the term ‘potential damage’ or ‘likely to be a problem,’” he said. “They don’t know that, they’re talking about aquifers … the only thing I really know is, the last time I checked, is water’s going to flow downhill, and that may not apply when you get to underground water aquifers, because we don’t know where all of those drainage areas lead to.”
Neel told the commission that McDaniel had “no immediate plans” to begin mining operations on the property, adding that the applicant had no intentions of putting an inert landfill on the tract.
Attorney Brandon Bowen represented the City of Adairsville at the hearing.
“Every piece of property in Bartow County has mineral rights associated with it,” he said. “Under [Neel’s] argument, mining would be permissible on every single parcel of land in the county, and that’s just not true.”
Bowen also raised concerns about the vagueness of the applicant’s rezoning request.
“We don’t know if they plan to do a pit mine, placer mining, strip mining — some folks seem to think that natural gas may be available up here, or shale, which would involve fracking,” he said. “We don’t know if digging would be involved, blasting, chemical or hydraulic mining methods … all of this would be permissible if this property were rezoned to mining.”
Potential impacts on the local water supply, he said, were far and away Adairsville’s biggest concerns about the proposal.
“The property that is under consideration is in the same unconfined, groundwater aquifer as the City’s Lewis Spring, which supplies the water for the City,” he said. “The likelihood of well and spring pollution resulting from contaminants entering sinkholes is very high … if landfilling activity did occur in this area, if there were mining done in this area, it would directly impact the water system.”
Bowen also said he was worried about possible mining operations impacting traffic in the vicinity.
“If the mine is not open, trucks constantly queue up outside and you have to negotiate driving around them,” he said. “And of course, getting to it … anyone who’s traveling to this using 75 is going to have to go through Adairsville.”
Barnsley Resort President David Friederich also voiced opposition to the proposal.
“For our resort, the negative impact also includes the risk of hundreds of jobs that we provide in this community,” he said. “A decline in our occupancy would mean significant losses to the sales and hotel/motel tax, which we provide [as] a contribution to Bartow County and feeds our [convention and visitors bureau] as well.”
Numerous residents spoke out against the proposal, some of whom raised concerns about the impacts of a mining operation on housing values.
“I really didn’t expect this, and I apologize to the people for being an inconvenience tonight,” McDaniel told the audience. “We didn’t expect this amount of people in opposition.”
Although he did not specify what his exact intentions with the tract were, McDaniel did indicate that he was particularly interested in exploring the possibility of drilling for natural gas on the property.
“To prove I’m not interested in an inert landfill — it’s not profitable here, nor I don’t see in the future where it would be — if there would be a way to exclude that, I’m open to that,” he told the commissioners. “I won’t even investigate anything, I’ll back shelf it for three years if you say ‘yes.’”
That proposition drew loud groans and rumblings of “no” from the gallery. At one point during the hearing, Hix asked if anyone in the audience supported the proposal.
Not a single attendee at the hearing stood up.
Before the planning commission voted on the two requests, Neel told the commissioners that he felt it was “wrong” that Vulcan was allowed to operate a quarry in Adairsville “but to deny Mr. McDaniel the chance to do it on his property.”
All the applicant wants, Neel said, “is have time to figure out what he can do” on the property.
“If there’s something that requires a significant buffer, he's open to conditions,” Neel said.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor will cast the sole vote to approve or deny the rezoning and land use reclassification requests at a public meeting scheduled today at 10 a.m. at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center, located at 135 West Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville.
“I do think we have a pulse on what the community’s looking for,” Hix said at the end of Monday night’s meeting. “There’s some very valid concerns.”