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Eco-industrial park focus of hearing
Company wants rezoning at 115-acre site
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Forsyth County News

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The hearing on Buckhorn’s rezoning request is set for Thursday at the Forsyth County commission’s regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in the County Administration Building.

A proposal for a renewable energy industrial and academic park in northern Forsyth will be the subject of a Thursday public hearing for a county-initiated rezoning.

The 115-acre property off Leland Drive owned by Buckhorn Ventures would need to be rezoned from agricultural to heavy industrial to move forward with the business plans.

The company has proposed the eco-industrial park on the site that currently houses their sandmining operation.

In addition to sand manufacturing, the concept plan for the park includes buildings for other industries interested in operating environmentally-minded businesses.

In a community presentation, Buckhorn listed potential businesses including a biodiesel facility, wastewater remediation, a waste-to-power generation facility and academic center.

The site lies in the district of Commissioner Patrick Bell, who said the concept seems to fit with the surrounding industrial node on the county’s future land-use map, including a border with the American Proteins rendering plant.

“We’ll still be monitoring to make sure that appropriate businesses go in,” Bell said. “This is not zoning any businesses, it’s just zoning the property and then the businesses have to come in.”

The idea of sustainable and environmental business is rooted in the personal interests of Buckhorn’s owners, partner Michael Smith said.

The aim is to draw businesses that are not only environmentally conscious but can work together toward a closed-loop system.

For example in the park’s energy component, Smith said “often times the waste stream of one industry is the feed stream of another.”

The eco-industrial park is also driven by the current economy and certain initiatives available to environmentally-minded businesses.

“The companies that we’ll be focusing on, we think, will have access to capital that a typical industrial company might not in this environment,” he said.

The rezoning is the next step toward making the park a reality.

“Until we have land use and can tell companies we have land use, i.e. rezone, we really can’t advance our discussions with companies,” Smith said.

Bell has expressed interest in the possibilities of attracting these types of businesses to Forsyth County.

“I think it’s the beginning of creating a whole new chapter up there with an industry that is gaining a lot of excitement in the world,” he said. “If we can help bring those industries to the county, to me, it would be terribly exciting.”

The property in question also has a tumultuous history in land-use dealings with Forsyth County.

Several lawsuits exist between Buckhorn and the county, including one seeking 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 neighboring landowner, the Mashburn Family Trust, argues that the rezoning of the Mashburn property to residential was handled improperly.

Buckhorn has informally agreed to drop lawsuits against the county if the rezoning and conditional use permit are approved, though the specifics of which lawsuits could not be made clear.

Bell cited the pending litigation as an impetus for the rezoning being county-initiated.

“We can’t contractually zone properties,” he said. “We don’t have a deal, if you will, that is part of the rezoning that all the lawsuits go away.

“It’s part of working through settlement of lawsuits and allowing them a different use of the property without them having to hire zoning attorneys and all that stuff. We’ve done it before.”

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said dropping the lawsuits is “not part of any deal, but I think they have indicated informally that’s probably where this would go.”

Buckhorn has not, however, indicated to the Mashburn Family Trust that the company intends to drop the suit against it, said Andrea Jones, the attorney representing the trust.

If that were the case, she said, counterclaims on the suit “would still need to be dealt with.”

Jones plans to submit written opposition to the rezoning, as well as voice those concerns during the public hearing Thursday.

She declined to go into details of those concerns.

Other adjacent property owners appear to like the plan, said Bell, who added that Buckhorn has worked with neighbors in determining some acceptable conditions.

The main concerns have been noise and odor, he said.

As a result, the many proposed conditions would prohibit landfills, cement plants, waste-handling facilities and solid waste transfer stations.

Also not allowed would be junk, salvage and stock yards, as well as outdoor shooting ranges and automobile service establishments.

A conditional use permit, however, indicates that incinerators would be allowed “if limited to a zero emission and zero odor waste to energy process.”