Mincey Marble got the go-ahead Thursday night to build a 100,750-square-foot plant on Browns Bridge Road, over the objections of many area residents.
After months of styrene debate, mounting opposition and meeting delays, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a rezoning allowing the plant’s construction on 11 acres across from current operations at 4321 Browns Bridge Road.
Commissioners Billy Powell and Jeff Stowe voted against the rezoning. Commissioners Kathy Cooper and Scott Gibbs and Chairman Richard Mecum voted for it.
The company, founded nearly 40 years ago at the same location, issued a statement following the meeting thanking commissioners for their vote.
“We pledge to validate their decision with the construction of a manufacturing facility that sets the highest standards for aesthetics and environmental responsibility,” the company said.
“In addition, we would like to thank all our many supporters, including our residential neighbors as well as our colleagues in the business community who stood up for Mincey Marble.”
Mincey also addressed opponents — and there were many, including hundreds who signed an online petition.
“To our opposition, we express our utmost respect and hope that they will eventually come around to support our company’s efforts to be a good neighbor,” Mincey said. “Our door is always open, and we will continue to listen.”
Opponents, who wore red shirts in a show of unity, weren’t feeling too conciliatory at the meeting.
Residents began streaming out of the meeting — several grumbling as they went — even before the final vote was taken. Cooper had just made a motion to approve the rezoning after commissioners rejected Powell’s motion to deny it.
“I think the (commission) orchestrated the vote tonight and made a bad decision that favored big business and overlooked the residents and voters’ best interest, and that will be harmful for Hall County,” said David Chastain, one of the chief opponents, after the meeting.
“I feel that in a year or two, the commissioners will look back and regret tonight’s vote.”
Blue shirt-wearing supporters, meanwhile, applauded as approval was given and were smiling and laughing as they left the room.
The vote marked the end of a contentious debate that split many in the community — a polarization that commissioners addressed in discussing the issue.
Objections included concerns over styrene odors emitted from the plant and their possible adverse health effects, traffic on the already busy Browns Bridge Road and lowering property values.
One of the overriding concerns was that the new plant simply didn’t fit in a residential neighborhood.
Company officials had said they believed the new plant would improve the environment, as it would replace an aging facility on nearby Hidden Hills Drive.
Arguments of both sides spilled over into Thursday’s meeting, which was so crowded county officials directed residents to an overflow room. Some 300 people ended up filling up the commission meeting room, with the crowd about evenly divided for and against the rezoning.
“Mincey wants to grow even larger, which is great for them, yet negative for us,” resident John Kandler told the commission. “They already impact us. Due to the styrene odor … we shut our windows, go back inside and wait for the wind to blow it away.”
Company president Donna Mincey talked about company successes and survivals in tough economies throughout its history, saying a modern, high-tech facility was needed “on land we’ve owned for years.
“We would be better able to manage our emissions, there would be no increase in traffic and we’d be enhancing the Browns Bridge Road corridor.”
In making the motion to approve the rezoning, Cooper said she believed the new plant will “offer jobs … but I also see it as a way to improve the environment.”
After the meeting, Powell said he was torn about how to vote on the issue.
“I’m an engineer and sometimes I use too much data and logic to make my decisions and not enough emotion,” he said. “I felt like the opposition was so passionate about the denial. I saw a lady break into tears after the vote.
“That’s how tough these decisions are.”
Jim Huddleston, vice president of operations, said afterward that work on the new building could start in 30 days and be completed in 10 months.
“We need it just as fast as we can,” he said.