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ZBA decision could hinge on study
Landscape firm seeks variance for fuel tanks
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Forsyth County News

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Also during its meeting Tuesday night, the Zoning Board of Appeals postponed to April 2 an appeal hearing for an administrative decision to approve a land disturbance permit for a planned Walmart in south Forsyth.

Smart Growth Forsyth County, along with the Laurel Springs Homeowners Association and resident Ernest Turner, appealed the planning department’s decision to issue a permit based on a site plan that doesn’t meet all the requirements of the Peachtree Parkway Overlay. Both sides requested the delay.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

A landscaping firm’s proposal to put fuel tanks near homes and a future school site in southwest Forsyth stirred concern during a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Tuesday night.

The board postponed a vote on the variance request from Gibbs Landscape Company to allow time for a risk assessment study to be conducted before its May 7 meeting.

The landscape business on James Road is seeking a variance to the county code that would allow it to store petroleum products within 250 feet of a residential property instead of the required 500 feet.

The company plans to install two 1,000-gallon, above-ground tanks on site for fueling vehicles, said Stephanie Gallagher, of the provider Great Lakes Petroleum.

The tanks the landscaping business wants are the safest on the market, including about a dozen pieces of equipment to prevent overflow or fire and a double-walled outer shell, she said.

Gallagher said the 500-feet requirement is the “most extreme setback” she’s seen as the Southeast environmental compliance specialist.

She added that the industry standard for smaller tanks like these is 15 feet.

For comparison, she said a large tank, such as the 20,000- or 30,000-gallon underground ones at a gas station, would trigger a state-mandated 300-foot setback from a school, church or public meeting place.

Considering the 6-acre size of the site, meeting the 500-foot setback is “almost impossible,” Gallagher said.

Noting that the regulation exists, zoning board member Debra Bradley said the panel will consider whether the variance would be detrimental to public health, safety and welfare.

“We hear frequently that Forsyth County has the strongest code, the farthest distance required,” Bradley said. “The best way we can address that is: Welcome to Forsyth County. Those are our regulations.”

She hoped that by the May meeting, the risk analysis study for the neighboring school site would give the board “more information to make a better informed decision.”

Though the county code only considers proximity to residential properties to trigger the distance requirement, the site of the future middle school arose as an issue in the request.

“Without the variance, we would have never known about it,” said Tim Amerson, facilities planning coordinator for Forsyth County Schools.

“Now that we’ve been informed, I’d be negligent not to be responsive.”

The district must follow the Georgia Department of Education regulations, which require a risk analysis for 13 different possible danger factors, including fuel tanks.

Approving the tank without conducting such a study could jeopardize the previous site approval by the state, which could impact funding, Amerson said.

The tank product is “top of the line,” he said, but still asked that the study be completed to determine the potential damage from different distances.

Based on those results, additional safety precautions could be taken, Amerson said.  

The probability of an explosion — the worst-case scenario — is a fraction of a percentage, but still a possibility, he said.

Nearby resident Richard Perry said protecting neighbors from potential danger should also weigh in the board’s decision, as should the environmental concerns posed by the company site’s, which is on higher ground and adjacent to a stream.