The developer of a controversial quarry project planned for Whitesburg received another setback on Thursday when county officials denied the company’s building permit.
Birmingham-based developer Green Rock, LLC, wants to build a rock quarry on approximately 360 acres near the intersection of Black Dirt and Hutcheson Roads. The developer estimates the value of the project to be $20 million.
But the proposal has received strong pushback from residents as well as other organizations concerned about the quarry’s impact on the area.
The Black Dirt Road property is zoned agricultural, and until August, the development of natural resources — including quarries — was allowed on agricultural land. But county commissioners changed the wording of the agriculture zoning classification, moving the development language to the industrial classification.
The developer’s plans had been put on hold by the state Environmental Protection Division because Green Rock did not have a zoning compliance certificate from the Carroll County Planning and Zoning office. That certificate would say the proposed quarry is compatible with the land use of the surrounding area.
The building permit would allow the developer to continue working on the property.
On Thursday, Carroll County Community Director Ben Skipper wrote a letter to Green Rock’s attorney saying that certificate will not be forthcoming. The county has also denied the developer’s commercial building permit application.
“The property is currently zoned in the ‘agricultural’ zoning district under Carroll County’s Zoning Ordinance,” Skipper’s letter said, a copy of which was obtained on Friday by the Times-Georgian. “As Carroll County’s attorney has previously conveyed to the applicant’s counsel, a rock quarry is not listed as a permitted or conditional use under the agricultural zoning district in Carroll County’s Zoning Ordinance.”
Permitted uses on agricultural land used to allow for the development of natural resources — including quarries — until the county commission changed the zoning ordinance in August.
“Rock quarries are expressly listed as a conditional use in the industrial zoning district under Carroll County’s Zoning Ordinance. As such, Green Rock, LLC, would be required to comply with the requirements of Carroll County’s Zoning Ordinance to seek rezoning of the subject property from agricultural to industrial for the proposed use of a rock quarry.”
The state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) must grant Green Rock’s application for a mining permit. However, without a building permit and compliance certificate, the agency will not review Green Rock’s proposal further.
The developer’s attorneys were notified by the EPD last month their application would be “incomplete” without these items from Carroll County officials.
According to the Carroll County zoning ordinances in effect when the quarry was proposed, the development of natural resources — including quarries — was permitted on land with the “agricultural” designation. Because quarries were a permitted use, the developer did not need approval from the Board of Commissioners for the project.
In August, however, county commissioners changed the agricultural and industrial sections of the county’s zoning ordinance at the request of District 5 Commissioner Ernest Reynolds and Skipper. That change was unanimously approved by the county commission on Aug. 4.
The developer submitted his commercial building permit package on Nov. 10 to the county’s Department of Community Development, according to Skipper’s letter. That was three months after the changes had been made to the zoning ordinance.
The quarry has been met with criticism and opposition from many, including a citizen’s group in Whitesburg, current Whitesburg mayor Amy Williford, Reynolds, former District 5 Commissioner Kevin Jackson, and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an environmental group that protects the Chattahoochee River, which flows near the site.
Now the developer is planning legal action unless county officials sign off on the building permit package, which includes the zoning compliance certificate.
Director of Mining Operations David Grayson told the Times-Georgian on Wednesday that “nothing has changed” despite the setbacks. He added the developer is not interested in finding another piece of property in an industrial area of the county.
He said there would be a 1,000-foot buffer between the Black Dirt Road site and the Chattahoochee River, as well as a 400-foot buffer around the rest of the property to the northeast and to the south. The county and state require that the buffer around the property be 200 feet — and 50 feet from any streams.
However, he said the buffer was extended to 400 feet after hearing the concerns of homeowners near the property entrance. He also increased the buffer from the stream to 100 feet.
“Nothing has changed, and we feel like we had a legal right under the current zoning at the time that we drilled the property and spent a bunch of money on the property,” Grayson said on Wednesday.
But Grayson said the developer could try to appeal the county’s decision through the Planning and Zoning Commission, or the Board of Commissioners.
“We are now going to move forward in the process, and the most likely process is that we will seek legal recourse. We feel clearly that we have the legal right to do it. They are not going to leave us any angle here really to move forward.”