Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting
What: Public hearing and vote on proposed rezoning for Mincey Marble
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
A smile crossed Donna Mincey’s face as she pressed her fingertips against the shower stall, one example of what is produced at her family-owned company.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she said. “For a little Gainesville company, we’re all over North America.”
The president and CEO of Mincey Marble at 4321 Browns Bridge Road in West Hall hopes to keep the success rolling with a new 100,750-square-foot plant across the road — an effort that has drawn waves of criticism from nearby residents.
With each public gathering on the issue, the crowd has grown. An online petition was pushing close to 400 names last week.
“We are not opposed to their growth but want to see them be respectful of the existing zoning and move to an appropriately zoned area,” the petition reads.
Opponents say they expect a packed room Thursday as the issue goes before the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
“There are a number of issues that have caused concerns for the citizens,” said Lewis Miller, a nearby resident and one of the staunchest opponents. “(The chemical) styrene is one, traffic is another and fire and life safety is a third.”
Mincey Marble, which has been at the location for 39 years, is seeking a zoning change to planned industrial development in order to build the plant, which would also be off Spainhill Road and would replace a smaller operation off nearby Hidden Hills Drive.
The proposed zoning is “site plan-specific, so if (Mincey) sold the property down the road, it couldn’t be used for any other use than what’s (proposed) right now,” project civil engineer Ed Myers has said.
In an interview last week, company officials elaborated on their plans.
“Around the first of the year, we realized how much our Hidden Hills facility was outdated, and it was going to be very expensive to renovate it,” Mincey said.
“That’s when we started thinking why don’t we build a new one instead of sinking all the money it would take to renovate the old place — and still have an old place when we got through with it.”
In addition to providing manufacturing space, the new building would give the company more room to store its fiberglass bath and shower molds, which are used to encase the product being made. The plant produces shower stalls, drainage pans and bathroom vanity tops used most often in hotels.
“We’ve got to deal with this mold problem,” Mincey said, with a laugh. “Year after year, it (takes up) a bigger percentage of our space.”
She provided a tour of current operations, showing the production process from early casts to packaging in wooden crates for shipping.
“I feel like some days we get more lumber than Lowe’s,” said Jim Huddleston, vice president of operations.
With the proposed building, “we are consolidating operations, not expanding,” Mincey said. “Yes, the new building is larger, but it does not mean any addition to staff or operations, just more space for larger, more modern equipment, additional storage and greater operational efficiencies.”
One of the biggest complaints about the proposal is that it doesn’t fit the mostly residential character of the area.
Miller, for one, doesn’t buy the planned industrial development rezoning request. The company originally had sought a heavy industrial zoning.
Mincey “thought they were answering our call, which was how do you stop others from coming in and requesting additional industrial development?” he said.
“Changing this to PID does not prevent anyone else from coming in on adjacent sites and saying we want PID or heavy industrial.”
Styrene, a chemical byproduct, is also a huge issue with residents, who say odors drift across neighborhoods.
Company officials said they realize there are odors — but not at late hours, long after production has stopped — and are taking steps to address the problem. Equipment that would help odors dissipate as they rise into the air are on order and should be installed soon.
“In the new facility, we’ll be able to incorporate this technology even better,” Mincey said. “We don’t want people to be aggravated by what we’re doing. We want to be a good neighbor.”
Another worry from residents is the project’s impact on traffic. Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369, is especially busy along the two-road stretch in front of Mincey between Forsyth County and McEver Road.
Area government officials and the Georgia Department of Transportation have talked for years about widening the road to four lanes, but the project isn’t planned in the near future.
“Mincey thinks they want to put together a center turn lane, and that does not resolve the problem,” Miller said. “If anything, it exacerbates the problem.”
Mincey officials have said they hope to put in left turn lanes they believe will not only help with their travel needs but help residents and motorists.
“There is greater future traffic impact from commercial and residential areas that have expanded throughout the Browns Bridge Road corridor,” Mincey said. “Our traffic from operations is minimal compared to the rest of Brown’s Bridge traffic.”
At a public meeting in early August at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, residents basically said they wanted operations to move out of the area totally.
“We’re happy with your success — we truly are, but (the plant) does not belong in the middle of a residential area,” Sheila Chastain told company officials.
With that comment, applause rippled across the audience of some 150 residents who attended.
Company officials said they had explored that option some, but settled on developing off Browns Bridge.
Relocating operations is not like moving “from one house to another,” Mincey said.
“This is a big operation,” she said. “We’ve been here 40 years. We own all this property, we’re all zoned (properly). We don’t have to do that.”
Mincey officials have considered a Plan B if commissioners don’t OK the rezoning.
“We’ve thought about that a lot, because this certainly isn’t a sure thing,” Mincey said. “We’d have to renovate our existing Hidden Hills plant. We’d have to significantly modernize it ... and that would be disruptive and expensive — certainly not our first choice.”
Company officials also believe there’s a “silent majority” that supports their project.
“We have always been a good corporate neighbor to our community and to the nearby retail and residential area that has grown up around us in the last 40 years,” Mincey said. “We feel that many more people in the immediate area and the community quietly support us.”