The planning commission voted 5-3 Tuesday to recommend the Board of Commissioners deny the request to rezone 35.28 acres on Old Alabama Road near Highway 92 for an expansion of the 100-plus acre park in southwest Cherokee.
The authority, which is the governing body for the county-sponsored Cherokee Office of Economic Development, is requesting the land to be rezoned to light industrial, so it can be marketed to businesses that could bring money and jobs to the county.
Planning commission members Garland Stewart, Bill Dewrell and Rick Whiteside voted against denying the authority’s application. Earlier in the meeting, Dewrell and Whiteside unsuccessfully tried to table the request to give more time to research what the impacts of the development could be.
The Cherokee Board of Commissioners makes the final decision on zoning cases and will likely consider the request at its next meeting April 15.
The existing industrial park near Interstate 75 opened in 2013 and is the home of Inalfa Roof Systems, a Netherlands-based car parts manufacturer, which plans to employee 400 people in the next few years.
Heath Tippens, a project manager with the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, told the planning commission a surge of interest in the southwestern part of the county warranted adding more acreage to the park.
“We’ve already been experiencing record prospect activity,” Tippens said. “Fifty-four percent of business prospects in 2013 were for southwest Cherokee. Fifty-three percent of business prospects in 2014 thus far have been for southwest Cherokee.”
Development Authority member Ashley Holcomb told the planning commission the authority is considering purchasing the
land and then marketing it to industrial businesses. But to truly market the land, Holcomb said it needs to be rezoned beforehand to reduce red tape for prospective businesses.
Residents in the area and members of the planning commission, however, had concerns about building another industrial park in the largely residential area.
“You’re going to take an Inalfa and drop it right behind our houses,” nearby resident Daniel Strey told the commission. “(And) we don’t know what’s going to be going on in these buildings.”
Strey said he was concerned about the safety of potential industrial operations going on in the development, as well as light pollution and traffic issues on Old Alabama Road. He said tractor trailer traffic from the operations that may set up on the land could cause problems.
Lisa Barber, who said her home would be surrounded by the proposed development, also had concerns about safety and traffic on Old Alabama Road.
“It’s just a small two-lane road,” Barber told the board.
She added the area is “all residential” and “no place” for industrial operations.
Holcomb assured the commission county staff would have a say in whatever operations would be built on the property.
After the meeting, he clarified that the businesses might not even be industrial in the traditional sense of the word.
“There could be call centers. It might not having anything to do with 18-wheelers,” he said. “Light industrial is much different than heavy industrial.”
Planning commission member Thais Escondo said the authority’s plans didn’t fit with the county’s land use plan.
“There are other parcels for sale up and down Highway 92,” she said during the meeting. “We have areas designated where we want to direct this kind of development.”
Holcomb told Escondo the authority was interested in the land because it’s near the existing Cherokee 75 park.
He added the area is growing in general, because of its location near I-75, and was likely to eventually be high-density housing or some other development that would be different from what’s in the area today.