Clermont residents said they noticed a foul odor since the summer, and they believed Hulsey Environmental Services, a plumbing business on Cleveland Highway, was the source.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners sided with the residents on Thursday when they voted to deny the business’ request to build a truck terminal on the property.
Commissioner Kathy Cooper was absent from Thursday’s meeting, and all other commissioners voted to deny the request after hearing from residents who said Hulsey’s trucks were creating an odor that was not just unpleasant but that they feared could be a hazard.
Commissioners also had been scheduled to vote on whether to revoke Hulsey’s business license but decided to withdraw that item.
Hulsey has been at 6724 Cleveland Highway since May 2018, when the business relocated from Calvary Church Road in Gainesville. The company offers plumbing and septic tank services and works with other businesses, including poultry plants, to process byproducts.
When Hulsey was issued its business license last year, one condition was that no trucks were allowed to be parked on the property. Hulsey received four citations for having trucks parked on site and was notified on Oct. 19 that its business license could be revoked.
Business owner John Hulsey told commissioners Thursday that he had not intentionally violated the terms of his business license.
“I’m sorry that we have come to this misunderstanding. … I never, ever intended to cause a misunderstanding,” he said.
Joshua Scoggins, Hulsey’s attorney, said that the business was changing its request to limit the terminal to three tractor trailers. The original request had been for 10 trucks. He also said that any trucks parked on the property would be empty and vacuum-sealed, truck repairs would be done inside and no commercial truck washing would be done on-site.
The request was denied by the Hall County Planning Commission on Nov. 5, but the 2-1 vote was unconventional because one commission member abstained and one was absent from the meeting. Srikanth Yamala, the county’s planning director, clarified the vote after the crowd had left, telling the commission that the item had needed three votes to pass.
Hulsey filed an appeal of the planning commission’s decision on Nov. 9.
Paul Whitmire, whose farm is adjacent to the business, said he did not expect the issue to reach commissioners as a zoning matter when he first reported the odor in August. To him, the smell was an environmental concern, and he knew his neighbors and nearby business owners were also being affected.
Whitmire asked commissioners to deny the truck terminal and said that even if commissioners imposed restrictions on Hulsey, there was no guarantee the rules would be followed.
“There’s not one positive — one positive for the county, one positive for the community, not one positive for the neighbors,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire and Chris Hollifield, another neighbor, hired attorney Wes Robinson to help argue their case to commissioners. Robinson said that while Clermont is not an industrial area, residents did not have a problem with businesses that had previously occupied the site but were troubled by the odor they had noticed since Hulsey moved in.
Hollifield said that after Hulsey had learned its business license could be revoked, both the trucks and the smell were not a problem.
“I could smell it at my house. I could smell it when I got home at night. It took many violations for (Hulsey) to finally remove those trucks,” Hollifield said. “Now that the trucks have been gone, no smell. It cannot be a coincidence.”
Scott Glover, owner of nearby Mountain Fresh Creamery, said the smell had also negatively affected his business.
“We rely heavily on folks coming up and buying ice cream and being able to sit outside and enjoy the area, the mountains, the green grass, so a real concern for us is the smell,” Glover said. “We certainly can’t afford to lose customers.”
After the vote, Hollifield said the community members were happy with the result after months of dealing with both the odor and the zoning and appeals process.
“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people I didn’t know. … It’s a good strong community in Clermont,” he said.
Scoggins, Hulsey’s attorney, said after the meeting that he would encourage the business to take the case to the Hall County Superior Court and said Thursday’s public hearing had been “really a trial.” He said he planned to challenge the planning commission’s decision because the majority of commission members who voted were in favor of the request.
“The planning commission approved the truck terminal. It was only after the meeting had progressed that the planning director decided, ‘Well, I’m going to say that it was denied.’ That’s a big point of contention,” Scoggins said.