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Zoning request leads to pig of an argument
Property owner threats to load land with hogs
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The property on 3943 Hidden Hill Drive on Friday in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

A war of words between neighbors before the Hall County Board of Commissioners led to the threat that one neighbor would fill the other’s backyard with pigs.

On Hidden Hills Drive off of Browns Bridge Road, Larry Phillips applied to rezone his 2.6-acre lot from agricultural-residential-III to planned industrial development. Phillips has been using the lot and its storage facility to house heavy construction equipment. The lot sits across the street from Mincey Marble.

Phillip’s property had an industrial zone in 2008, but was changed at his request to its current agricultural zone in 2012 in the midst of the economic slump. In 2013, he received a permit to build a non-commercial pole barn to store agricultural equipment.

Hall County officials discovered that commercial equipment was being stored on the lot and forced Phillips to begin the process of rezoning the property, according to a report from the Hall County Planning Department and presentations to commissioners on Monday and Thursday.

An industrial zone would require Phillips to develop a stormwater management plan and make extensive improvements to the property to prevent runoff into nearby waterways.

However, the process fell apart on Thursday when commissioners rejected the application after learning that Phillips had installed three-phase power — which is used to power heavy engines and used in large electrical grids — in the facility he permitted as a 19,200-square-foot pole barn.

Phillips, who has owned the property since the mid-1980s, also acknowledged during the Thursday meeting that he was using the barn for a commercial welding project, which goes against his current zoning. That fact didn’t sit well with Commissioner Scott Gibbs.

“Mr. Phillips is in the development business. He knew he should have had a permit; he knew he should have had zoning,” Gibbs said, noting that he’s also in development and is well aware of permitting and zoning rules. “This ain’t anything personal, but if we’re going to have zoning we’ve got to enforce our zoning. … This is something that was built knowingly without following our zoning and building process.”

The vote to approve the zoning request failed 2-3, with commissioners Kathy Cooper and Billy Powell voting for the request and Commission Chairman Richard Higgins, Commissioner Jeff Stowe and Gibbs voting against it.

Even with the rezone rejected, Hall County is still going to require stormwater improvements at the property.

The vote came after extensive public comment against the rezone from property owners in the area, which culminated in testimony from Michael Massey, who has lived on Hidden Hills Drive since 1999.

Massey accused Phillips of a litany of abuses of the land on the 2.6-acre lot, afterward he asked, “If y’all zone it industrial, then what?”

Phillips argued against Massey’s comments, saying he hasn’t dumped material on the property and hasn’t mistreated neighbors with late-night noise and activity, including putting up a six-foot fence around the property.

He also said he intended to spend $300,000 improving the landscaping around the property, which now holds scrap metal and many junk cars.

“If I can rezone this thing, (we’ll) get it in compliance, run our business, do what we’ve got to do and not bother nobody. Period,” Phillips said. “If (Massey) doesn’t like that then I’ll put 100 pigs in his backyard with the agricultural part. We’re a farm.”

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