Center rejects proposed industrial park

COVINGTON - The Northeast Georgia Development Center has declared an industrial park proposed for Hazelbrand Road not in the best interest of the region and the state.

The review board released its findings Wednesday, along with more than a dozen public comments it received, which were overwhelmingly in opposition to the project.

In its finding, the review board cited concerns with environmental and traffic impacts.

The park is planned for 214.8 acres along Hazelbrand Road, east of the city limits of Covington, about one mile from Home Depot.

The development is located within proximity of environmentally sensitive areas, including the Alcovy River, wetlands and floodplains associated with the Alcovy and Cornish Creek, the Alcovy River Tupelo Swamp and sites used for environmental education purposes and with high-priority species and habitats. It is directly adjacent to the Georgia Wildlife Federation's Alcovy Conservation Center.

The board also said the conceptual plan did not provide an adequate stormwater management plan and expressed concern about the loss of natural habitats, clearing of trees and vegetation and whether the roads can accommodate the additional traffic that will be generated.

A traffic study estimated an additional 14,000 vehicle trips would result once the park is at full build-out.

The Newton County Water Resources and Planning and Development departments joined the Georgia Wildlife Federation, the biology department at Oxford College and others in expressing concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the project.

The Georgia Wildlife Federation claimed it retains ownership of part of the property in question and there are "numerous contradictions and problems with the application related to ecological and environmental impacts of projects of that size," said Glenn Dowling, executive vice president for the GWF.

"We're very pleased that the RDC recognized the inherent discrepancies and problems with the DRI application," Dowling said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that it has plans to provide funding to the Georgia Wildlife Federation to construct a fishing deck, birding trail, and plantings for wildlife along Cornish Creek. The industrial park would ruin those plans, according to Field Supervisor Sandra S. Tucker.

"What family will want to come out and fish in the narrow Cornish Creek while looking into an industrial park? What will be the purpose of an Adopt-A-Stream project in a creek accepting stormwater runoff from industry adjacent to the stream? What will teachers learn by looking at concrete and industrial buildings?" Tucker stated in her letter to the RDC.

The conceptual plan for the development calls for 2.5 million square feet of industrial space at full buildout. Based on that number, more than 600 new jobs could be generated by the project.

By 2019, if the park is at full capacity, its value will be $125 million and it will generate an estimated $1.875 million annually in property tax revenue, according to the plan.

"This will result in jobs and capital investment; therefore, it's good for the community," said Jerry Silvio, president of Silvio Development Company, who was hired to find developers and potential users for the site.

Property owners William G. Gainer, J.S. Gainer and Essie Greer are seeking annexation into the city of Covington and a rezoning from county agricultural to city heavy industrial.

"The owner does not plan to develop the property," Silvio said. "The owner will prepare, through the rezoning process, to attract quality development to bring the property to market."

It will likely be up to the future developer to attract users, but, "If a large user like General Mills or SKC comes along, the property is suitable for the owner to subdivide and sell part of it," he added.

The property is bisected by Hazelbrand, leaving about 150 acres on one side of the road and about 70 on the other.

Though the park will create more traffic, Silvio said the benefits will be worth it, and he said the new traffic would be minor compared to what a retail development would generate.

A traffic study accompanying the information submitted for the DRI review recommends a signalized intersection to serve the main access road.

Ongoing improvements to Ga. Highway 142 and Interstate 20 will also help with congestion, Silvio said.

The RDC's findings are advisory, leaving it up to local governments to make the final decision in whether to approve DRIs. In cases where the project receives a negative review, the local government is required to notify the RDC and the Department of Community Affairs of its actions and identify all local requirements it has placed on the development that could mitigate any negative factors identified in the DRI review process.

The petition must go through the typical rezoning process, including public hearings, before the Covington Planning Commission and the City Council, which has final approval.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@