Forsyth County commissioners have approved the rezoning of a 115-acre property in north Forsyth from agricultural to heavy industrial, which would allow for an eco-industrial park.
The vote on the county-initiated rezoning was 3-2, with Chairman Charles Laughinghouse and Commissioner Brian Tam opposed.
The decision Thursday also included eight conditional use permits for a variety of purposes on the site.
Buckhorn Ventures has plans for a renewable energy and academic park on the Leland Drive site that currently houses their sand-mining operation.
In addition to sand manufacturing, the concept plan for the park includes buildings for other industries interested in environmentally-minded opportunities.
Michael Smith, a co-owner of the company, said in a presentation that Buckhorn officials have looked toward environmentally friendly industry based on their personal interests and incentives available for those types of businesses.
By locating together, the companies would be able to feed off “synergies in their operations,” Smith said.
“They’re going to collectively benefit and increase their viability by being together,” he said. “It increases economic performance while minimizing environmental impact.”
No specific businesses have been named for the site. Smith previously has said the company needed the rezoning before it could have those discussions.
Some of the potential businesses listed in the presentation included a biodiesel facility, wastewater remediation, a waste-to-power generation facility and academic center.
Those speaking against the rezoning Thursday cited the lack of specifics, as well as the application process being county-initiated.
“They don’t have anybody signed up. What they’re going to go out there and do is create a landfill under the guise of an eco-park,” said Andrea Cantrell Jones, an attorney for neighboring land owner, the Mashburn Family Trust.
One of several existing lawsuits between Buckhorn and the county seeks to overturn the denial of a 2001 rezoning request, which would have allowed a construction and demolition landfill.
A 2006 lawsuit the company brought against the county and the Mashburn Family Trust argues that the rezoning of the Mashburn property to residential was handled improperly.
In previous talks with county officials, Buckhorn leaders informally said they planned to drop lawsuits if the site was rezoned to M2, or heavy industrial. The specifics of which lawsuits, however, have not been made clear.
Whether there was cooperation between the trust and Buckhorn about dropping their suit became a topic of heated discussion between Jones and Commissioner Patrick Bell.
Bell represents District 4, which includes the site. He said staff and neighbors crafted the lengthy list of conditions to make the site acceptable.
Smith said the residential neighbors have expressed approval for what’s been proposed.
Conditions include prohibitions on “landfills, except for an ash landfill ancillary to any approved incinerator,” salvage yards, junkyards and “waste handling facilities,” except for those with conditional use permits.
Those permits allow for ash landfill, incinerators including medical waste “if limited to zero emission and zero odor waste to energy process,” and “limited and specific solid waste handling,” which allows for waste not appropriate for conversion to
energy or a normal byproduct of that process to be taken to a landfill elsewhere.
Bell said what Buckhorn proposed is an appropriate use for the site.
“It baffles me as to why there’s concern about an industrial park in an area that’s been classified as an industrial node on the future land-use map prior to your client’s zoning their residential property,” he said.
Two others spoke in opposition to the zoning being county-initiated, rather than Buckhorn applying in a normal application process.
“The county-initiated rezoning appears lax in terms of paperwork,” said Claudia Castro, deputy director of Smart Growth Forsyth.
Castro asked that the decision be delayed until a technical review and environmental studies could be conducted.
A part owner in the Mashburn Family Trust, Martha Mashburn Lappe said she feared the commission was approving something “vague.”
“We’re not opposed to the M2 zoning concept,” she said, “but we are opposed to the way it’s been handled.”
Bell has previously said the county-initiated route was part of working through settlement of lawsuits and allowing a different use of the property.
The commission had no public discussion on the matter before voting. The decision can be appealed over the next 30 days.