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Residents wary of quarry’s plans to expand

POSTED: March 2, 2014 11:35 p.m.

Vulcan Construction Materials, owner of the working quarry bounded by Hog Mountain, Blackjack and Swansey roads in Flowery Branch, is seeking to grow its footprint, expanding operations by about 40 acres.

Attorneys for Vulcan filed a request for annexation and rezoning of the agriculturally zoned acreage into the Flowery Branch city limits to be designated for a conditional use permit for manufacturing. The land is adjacent to the existing approximately 375-acre Friendship Quarry.

A public hearing will be held on the request Thursday at 6 p.m. at Flowery Branch City Hall, immediately before City Council’s work session.

In a letter to John McHenry, city planner, an attorney speaking on behalf of Vulcan Materials said the request will allow the life of the quarry to be extended by approximately 15-20 years by supplying 15-20 tons of rock materials.

“In addition to the economic development activities that are created by this type of operation, the city, county and residents in the area benefit from having reduced costs associated with aggregate materials due to close proximity and reduced shipping costs,” wrote attorney Wendy S. Butler of Wendy Butler & Associates LLC.

“Aggregate is a fundamental component of all infrastructure and development, including the construction of residential homes, baseball fields, driveways, buildings, roads, sidewalks and all construction projects,” Butler stated in the letter.

According to Butler, the use of the additional acreage will not increase operations or traffic in the area, but is merely to extend the life of the quarry.

Homeowner Debbie Callahan, who lives across the street from the land proposed for annexation, met with a Vulcan representative this past Thursday, along with seven of her neighbors.

“A number of us have written the city with concerns,” Callahan said.

Initially city representatives were to join the meeting, but it was held informally at the Vulcan site with residents and Vulcan Materials’ Jimmy Fleming, vice president of human resources.

Callahan, who is the informal voice for her neighbors, said all the residents of the homes facing the land proposed for expansion along Hog Mountain Road, near the intersection of Friendship Road, have tried to be good neighbors to the quarry that has been there for decades. And, she said, each of the owners of the large operation has been committed to good relations as well.

“Currently, (the entrance) is two miles down the road, or 1,500 feet as the crow flies,” Callahan said.

But this property will be immediately across the road from homes that many residents hope to remain in through retirement. Callahan acknowledged there will be a buffer, and an embankment with trees, but, “when they blast, our house shakes; there’s dust — a cloud of it will rise and settle.

“We’ve been good neighbors, and we’ve dealt with it as it stands; we hope it’s not going to be unbearable.”

Callahan said residents were used to the controlled blasting, but, “all of these properties contain wells,” she said. “When you blast, it’s going to disrupt water tables.”

Hog Mountain Road is along the county sewer line system, Callahan said, and residents can connect to its lines.

“That’s not an option for us,” she said. “A resident is financially responsible for the lines from the home to the road.”

As small-business owners, she said, it would be cost-prohibitive to engage sewer service. And, they like having their well.

“We all hope to retire here. ... Our neighbor to the left moved back to his family’s farm,” Callahan said, and she and her neighbors fear the quarry may skimp on maintaining what its perimeter looks like. “That’s what M-2 zoning lends itself to — rental properties; and they’re not always maintained as well.”

Both Vulcan Materials and Flowery Branch officials have committed that one condition of the quarry expansion is that there be no new entrance or exit along Hog Mountain Road.

“However, in the past week, Hog Mountain (Road) has posted ‘no through trucks, 10-wheels or more,’” said Callahan, unless an area in that proximity is being developed by an outside party.

“This is a big cut-through for trucks,” she said, “and we have cyclists on the road all of the time.” Callahan said she is frightened for the safety of both the cyclists and the drivers who must navigate aroundthem, in heavy truck traffic.

“We’re just concerned, too,” she said, “that with the city of Flowery Branch, that they can stay within their little village; they do not have (to) look at it, live next to it. It’s almost like we’re an island.”

City Manager Bill Andrew and McHenry reiterated that a condition of the annexation and rezoning was there would be no additional access to the quarry along Hog Mountain Road. And, as for neighbors, Andrew said, the majority of city officials reside in nearby Sterling on the Lake, which is also close to the quarry, including neighborhood access along Blackjack Road, a quarry boundary.

A Vulcan area sales manager also resides in the master-planned community, so Andrew said he felt residents should feel confident choices detrimental to their quality of life would not be entertained.

Fleming, speaking for Vulcan, said the expansion is purely “in recognition of the fact that we have an existing site there. You don’t locate quarries every day,” he said, “or find the right kind of rock in every location.

“We have quarries that have been in existence over 100 years,” said Fleming. ”With all the capital you have invested ... you want to extend its life,” he said, as well as be able to provide a site that is close to developing areas, which is what is happening throughout the south end of the county.

“All of our blasting is controlled,” Fleming said. “Blasting is designed for what the proximity to the nearest structures are.”

He equated the operation to that of bringing down a building in a tight urban zone.

“We do it very well, very successfully.”

Fleming said he can understand Hog Mountain Road residents’ concerns.

“People have the same type of questions that I would have about developments around my house,” he said. “We want to do our best to hear the questions; that’s why I really appreciated the meeting. No matter what happens, they’ll be our neighbors.”

“The Vulcan reps were very cordial,” said Callahan, “and inviting and listened.”

Although no tangible resolutions were made, each side said the conversation was amenable and ongoing.

One idea, generated after the meeting by Callahan’s husband, was creating a multiuse path within the quarry buffer zone along Hog Mountain Road. Flowery Branch and Hall County are in active discussion about trail connectivity throughout Northeast Georgia, including South Hall. Hog Mountain Road is already a designated biking roadway.

“My response (to the idea) is absolutely,” Fleming said, “because it’s not (unlike) what we’ve done in other locations,” noting wildlife walking trails, and nature habitats that Vulcan has developed surrounding quarries in North Carolina and California. “We have educational signs out there,” he said. “It’s part of the school curriculum.

“We’ve already had discussions with Hall County with other trails.”

“There is (going to be) no new access point; that is definitive,” said McHenry, who said he had yet to hear the multiuse path idea, but that he thought it a good one. “There also will be no increase in truck traffic, and several conditions have been put in place.

“I certainly feel that Vulcan has met all their conditions, and they are interested in being a good neighbor,” McHenry said. “You want to try to as a city, to build bridges between community, commercial and industrial.”

If Vulcan would consider something like a trail system within its property buffer, said Callahan, “that is something in the neighborhood that would be positive.

“Hey, they would be the hero in the neighborhood.”


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