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Planning commission urges no quarry expansion
Hall Board of Commissioners have final say
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Listen as Hall County Planning Commission Chairman Don Smallwood voices his thoughts over a proposed quarry expansion off Candler Road in southeast Hall.

A group of southeast Hall residents won the first battle over whether a quarry operator can get government OK for a 113-acre expansion of its property.

The Hall County Planning Commission voted Monday night to recommend the Hall County Board of Commissioners deny Hanson Aggregates Southeast’s application.

The vote came after a one-hour public hearing marked by emotional pleas by residents to shoot down Hanson’s request to rezone the property to heavy industrial from agricultural and allow for the quarry to expand on some 71 of the 113 acres.

The property is at the end of Dixieland Farm Road, less than a couple of miles from Jackson County.

“This quarry has been there for 57 years,” said one resident, Dr. David Cohen. “A yes vote is condemning us to 20 to 40 years more of this nuisance.”

The vote capped a sharp request by planning board Chairman Don Smallwood.

“I think we need a commitment out of Hanson that you’re going to run the city water down there, if it’s necessary,” he said, referring to residents’ concerns about wells running dry. “You’re going to have to tell me that and I’m going to put it in the minutes right here.”

After a brief conference in the audience, Wayne Phears, Atlanta attorney representing Hanson, asked for 30 days “to work on that specific issue and come back with a clarification of what we can do in that particular incidence.”

“I don’t want you to put a condition on that I fight in front of the (county commission) and I don’t want to agree to something tonight that I haven’t had a chance to look at to see whether (Hanson) can realistically do or not,” Phears said.

Smallwood instead put the issue to a vote, telling Phears that he could consider the response in the time before the matter reaches the county commission. The commission is set to consider Hanson’s request at its Aug. 26 meeting and has final say on the issue.

Hanson first proposed the expansion in May 2003 and was denied by the commission. The application then wound its way through the courts, which ordered the application back to Hall County for reconsideration.

The matter returned Jan. 20 to the planning commission, which voted to delay Hanson’s request to July 19 to give the company and neighbors time to hash out differences.

The meeting was postponed again to this week to give even more time.

Phears, speaking in an interview last week, said the company has worked the hardest on refining well and blasting damage protection programs.

“In both of those, we are trying to assure (residents) that they won’t have issues but if they do, here’s an easy way to get them resolved,” he said.

But Gainesville lawyer Steve Gilliam, representing a neighboring property owner, Southern Traditions, had another perspective.

“Nothing has changed since (the Jan. 20 meeting) except for the weather,” he told the planning board. “We’ve gone from one of the coldest winters to one of the hottest summers, except for today.”

Barbara Brooks of Gainesville spoke to the planning board representing the estate of her ex-husband, who lived near the site. She lived there for 26 years and her son still lives at the house, she said.

“I know what the rock quarry will do ... I understand, it’s business as usual,” Brooks said. “But it doesn’t come close to how people feel about home, family and how we value the hard work of our family.

“I urge you to vote no. There’s no money in the world that can buy back what my children would lose.”

Phears said he understands residents don’t want the project.

“I also understand that we have to have it,” he said of Hanson’s request. “We sell the county, city and state stone. It’s going to come from somewhere and the question is ... if not here, then where?

“The question is do we expand this (site) or look for another one?”

If all goes as Hanson hopes, the expansion project would begin in January 2012, Phears said.

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