An ambitious proposal for an agri-business and annexation in the Town of Buckhead met its fiercest critic Monday night at the regular meeting of the Buckhead Town Council.
Former Morgan County Magistrate Judge Lynne Perkins-Brown used approximately 10 minutes of the meeting to criticize the scope and nature of the proposal. Beginning in January of this year, Raul Rivera has been requesting that the Town of Buckhead consider annexing approximately 270 acres of his property to create a new town zoning designation that would allow for his Callidora Ranch concept to operate.
The concept, Rivera has said at several meetings, would be a dude ranch and trail destination and also a working cattle farm. If the ranch can get the annexation and get the town to write a zoning designation that would fit the far-reaching enterprise, the concept would include a farmer’s market, slaughter house, private special events, horse shows and rodeos in an arena, fishing and dog trails and zip lines.
Brown, speaking on behalf of her daughter Gigi Gerhardt, whose property abuts part of Rivera’s, warned the council that creating a zoning designation for the project and allowing the annexation would hurt the town “both environmentally and financially.”
“It could cost you a lot,” she said.
Brown asked the town council to request an environmental study from Rivera before it made any decisions on Rivera’s proposal, “so that you know you’re doing the right thing for your city.”
In January, according to minutes from the Buckhead Town Council meeting, Rivera proposed the ranch concept and included that the slaughterhouse would process 30 cows a day. In later meetings, he has reduced that projection to 15 cows. Brown argued that a slaughterhouse would have a devastating affect on the town’s residents and quality of life. The operation, she said, would affect the “water, air and soil.”
“You cannot have a slaughterhouse and not have a smell and you all will smell it,” she said. She also questioned how waste products from the operation would be disposed and suggested that it could be used as a fertilizer and add excessive nitrates to the soil.
In a phone call after the meeting, Rivera said the concept of the ranch was an attempt at successful agriculture practice. “Our main goal is to create a sustainable farm,” he said. He said the ranch would have to have a diverse stream of income producing ideas to survive, in large part because of it’s small size. “Diversification is the way to do it.”
Rivera also took exception to Brown’s allegation of stench and the possibility of lagoon pools for waste material. “Ours would be heavily regulated.”
At the same meeting, the town council agreed to sign off on a request by Callidora Ranch to have the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGRC) compose new zoning regulations to fit the project. Dick Schmidt, an attorney for Callidora Ranch, reiterated a promise that the company would pay for the NEGRC to complete the work. At last month’s town council meeting, Schmidt expressed frustration with the lack of speed by which an ordinance was being created and offered to have the NEGRC complete the work.
Chuck Jarrell, director of Morgan County Planning and Development, told the council that the county has a rough draft of an ordinance that would create the new zoning designation but was waiting on Callidora Ranch’s zoning change application before they completed the work. “We have a proposed draft. We’re still fine tuning,” he said.
“That’s news to us,” said Schmidt.
“We’re paying all the cost to get this done and at this point we would like to get it done by the (NEGRC),” Schmidt said.
Once the ordinance is written, the proposed zoning regulation would go before the Morgan County Planning Commission for a recommendation of approval or denial and then would go before the Buckhead Town Council for final approval or denial. Council Member Richard Harris made the motion for Schmidt’s letter to be sent to the NEGRC requesting that the zoning ordinance be created. The motion passed unanimously.
Prior to Schmidt’s request, Miriam Foster, one of 22 persons attending the meeting, asked the council for clarification of Rivera’s request for a zoning designation. “Why is it to his advantage to annex this place to Buckhead,” she said. “It’s a mystery to me and I hope he answers it tonight.”
Rivera, who was in attendance with Schmidt and Callidora Ranch General Manager David Hodge, told the council that some of the layers of his proposed operation, including the slaughterhouse, would be a “conditional use” in whatever zoning designation is created.
Brown alleged that the project would increase pressure and weight of heavy trucks on what she said was a marginal Old Buckhead Road, the main thoroughfare through the town. “This road needs to be fixed. It hasn’t been touched in 15 years,” she said.
She also alleged that Rivera was seeking the zoning designation and annexation because he was, “trying to go through the back door through the county.”
“Y’all are going to dig a deep hole,” she told the council.
Council Member Harris said currently Buckhead has a deer processing business within the town limits. “I’m not aware of any smell,” he said.
In the phone call, Rivera said Callidora Ranch was “trying to do everything we can do to be good neighbors.” He said the project has been transparent to Buckhead citizens “from the beginning.”