A feed mill has been approved 5-0 in Comer.
Madison County commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to approve a rezoning that will allow Columbia Farms to relocate its feed mill operation in Lavonia to a 107-acre piece of property just east of Comer off Hwy. 72. The mill, which will be located on land adjacent to the rail line, will produce roughly 8,000 tons of poultry feed per week.
Company representatives said the feed mill will be on 20 to 25 acres, with the remaining portion of the property set aside as timber use.
Planning commission chairman Jim English urged the board to consider the entire tract of land, noting that once the land is zoned “industrial,” then the property is open for any industrial use without future board approval.
So the commissioners approved the rezoning with the stipulation that there will be no use of the wooded area of the property unless the company comes back to the board for approval.
While the board unanimously approved the proposal, opinions certainly varied Monday, with eight people speaking in favor of the mill and 12 speaking against it.
Lawton Lewis, director of feed manufacturing for Nash, Johnson and Sons Farm Inc., offered a Powerpoint presentation in the Madison County Superior Courtroom Monday.
He assured the audience that the feed mill will be an environmentally-friendly facility.
“It’s in our best interest to have a clean facility,” he said.
Lewis said the facility will be concrete and will not be noisy, adding that the mill will be buffered by trees. He said the business will bring jobs and tax revenue to the county. (See box for more details provided by Lewis Monday).
Others supported the plan, saying the county desperately needs jobs and tax revenue.
“I’m in favor of this; we need the taxes,” said Hoke Strickland. “We’re looking at a $200,000 a year tax (revenue) increase.”
Marvin White, Madison County’s Chamber of Commerce president and industrial development authority executive director, said the county needs the business.
“We’ve been working on this project for several months and I think it’s a good fit for Madison County,” he said. “It is agribusiness. And I’ve heard a lot about wanting agriculture things here in the county.”
White said the current Columbia feed mill is located just a couple of blocks from the town square in Lavonia.
Chip Chandler and John Stuedemann both followed White, echoing the sentiment about supporting agriculture.
“Farms need farm businesses around,” said Chandler.
“We need agriculture support industries; we have very few in this county,” he said, noting that Madison County ranks fifth in the state in poultry production.
But opponents of the plan said the BOC needs to consider the mill’s negative impact on surrounding property owners.
“I’m in direct opposition to this,” said Bill Usery, who added that he has a petition with the signatures of 82 people opposing the plan. “When you have a feed mill it has an adverse effect on property values in that contiguous area. … Feed mills are noisy, dusty, smelly, which would affect the residents of the area.”
Opponents voiced concern about increased truck traffic on the highway. They wondered if the facility will bring noise and light pollution.
And some area residents worried about water. One asked how the feed mill will get enough water if the city of Comer doesn’t agree to provide it. The mill plans to use 47,000 gallons of water per week.
White responded that the mill is “not a heavy user of water,” adding that a well that produces 50 gpm for three hours a day could provide what is needed for the facility.
Nancy Ingram of Cooper Road said she and her husband just bought a house and that a feed mill locating next to her will certainly have a negative impact on the resale value of their home.
“Who’s going to want to move in next to a feed mill?” she asked.
Keith Ingram said he worries about spillage from the feed mill attracting rodents to their home.
“If you have spillage, you’re going to have rodents,” he said. “And if you’re 150 yards away, you’re going to have rodents just like the mill has.”
Industrial authority member Gerry Burdette, who owns property adjoining the planned mill, said the issue was “gut wrenching for me,” agreeing that the county needs business and adding that he didn’t feel the mill would have an adverse effect on the environment. However, Burdette said the mill will hurt adjoining property values. And he said the proposed locale is not in line with the county’s future land use plan.
“Would you want this right next to your property?” Burdette asked the BOC.
Several opponents of the plan said the mill will harm the quaint country feel of the Comer area.
“It’s going to change the whole way that area is going, the whole feeling of the Comer area,” said Barbara Bendzunas, who urged the board to take more time to consider the matter.
Commissioner Bruce Scogin agreed that the board needed further input. He made a motion to send the matter back to the planning and zoning commission for a recommendation. The zoning board failed to muster a quorum last week and was unable to present a recommendation on the issue to the BOC.
But Scogin’s motion died for lack of a second. And the board agreed to vote on the matter Monday.
Commissioner Stanley Thomas said the company deserves a timely response to its request. And he said the mill will be a plus for Madison County.
“The fact that we’re so big in agriculture, I think we need to do something to support agriculture in the county,” said Thomas.
Commissioner Wesley Jordan said the county needs the tax revenue the mill will provide.
“Everybody in this room knows that we’re a county in tax trouble, paying basically everything out of our property taxes,” said Jordan.