Just three days before a controversial rezoning hearing for Rivian was set to take place in Walton County this Thursday, the Joint Development Authority (JDA) announced that the hearing would be postponed until further notice.
The temporary delay comes on the heels of an anti-Rivian group out of Rutledge, which has expanded to include other surrounding communities, officially obtaining legal representation to take on the massive Rivian Automotive development slated for a 2,000-acre site straddling Morgan and Walton Counties.
Donald D.J. Stack, the lead attorney with Stack & Associates, is representing the anti-Rivian group, kicking off the legal battle by filing a request for Walton County to delay the rezoning hearing — a necessary step before Rivian can move forward with the $5 billion project.
The JDA agreed, also asking Walton County to table the hearing, releasing the following statement Monday afternoon through the board’s attorney, Andrea Gray.
“Over the last several weeks, the public input surrounding the Rivian announcement has produced a thoughtful dialogue on how best to plan and prepare for an economic development opportunity of this size, unprecedented in both size and scope. This public interest has not gone unheard or unnoticed,” said Gray.
“This is a generational opportunity for our community, and we want to get it right. In response to the high volume of local input, we have charged our legal, environmental, and planning experts to thoroughly evaluate these new concerns and assess how those with merit may be addressed in our planning process. While we are confident this effort will result in a better outcome for all parties, this process will take time. Therefore, we have asked the Walton County Planning Commission to table all zoning matters pertaining to this project on the agenda slated for Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Thank you for participation in this public process and we look forward to a thoughtful, civil dialogue in weeks ahead.”
Stack issued a statement on the rezoning delay.
“We are pleased that in response to the expressions of concern by the community and its counsel, the JDA acknowledges the need for greater public participation in the process,” said Stack. “We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with the JDA toward ensuring that any development meets the needs of the entire community.”
The postponed rezoning hearing is being celebrated as the first win among anti-Rivian opponents.
“This was accomplished solely because our community unified for this opposition,” said Chas Moore, of Rutledge who helped organize a GoFundMe for the anti-Rivian crowd to hire legal representation. “This is only the beginning. We still have a long way to go with many hurdles ahead. In the weeks to come, we need to stay passionate and focused, while continuing to grow. This means attending all related meetings (regardless of the county they are in) and speaking out against the assembly plant in a respectful manner…So, celebrate tonight. Then tomorrow, let’s get back to work as a unified group…We will not allow this assembly plant to be built in our community.”
In less than a week’s time, the anti-Rivian movement raised $125,000 to pay for the legal retainer for Stack, and is continuing fundraising efforts to raise another $125,000 to pay the full legal fee.
Leaders from Rivian have pledged to host town-hall-style meetings in the near future, to get a better grasp on the local community’s concerns and to convey the company’s plans to protect greenspace, water, and other environmental resources in the area.
“Rivian cares deeply about the impact on not only the people near its locations but equally on the land, water, and other resources involved,” said Zach Dietmeier, senior manager for Rivian’s plant communications. “We have the opportunity to participate in impactful community engagement that improves the natural world and contributes to the mission of ‘Keeping the World Adventurous Forever.’”
Dietmeier believes Rivian is going above and beyond in ensuring a safe and sustainable plant is built.
“We are currently conducting several environmental impact studies, including but not exclusive to water; forest; wetlands; and storm water retention, reuse, and restoration on the site. We are closely studying traffic, erosion, lighting, parking, and topographic impacts to prioritize a localized look and feel to the proposed facility as well as site safety, a minimized impact, and a direct connection to nature,” Dietmeier explained.
“We will share more details about our planning and learnings as they are available, but we want to emphasize that no actions will be taken without the involvement of those that will be directly impacted. Rivian always commits to hearing and acting on community perspectives.”