Originally created 08/30/99

Rezoning call riles residents

Now Meg Davis knows how the mice in her barn feel.

She's caught in McDuffie County's mousetrap -- the 13 acres surrounding her home back up to a planned 396-acre industrial park adjacent to Interstate 20.

"It's like a mouse in a mousetrap -- you're pinned down and you've got nowhere to go," she said. "All you can do is eat the cheese. And the cheese is pretty rotten."

The McDuffie County Commission will meet with residents at 6 p.m. today in the county courthouse before voting at a 10 a.m. meeting Wednesday on a request to rezone the land to light industrial use.

If approved, the industrial park would span both sides of Georgia Highway 150 -- commonly called Cobbham Road -- to just north of Stagecoach Road.

McDuffie County has two interstate exits -- Exit 59 and Exit 60. The park is slated for Exit 60. That easy access to the interstate makes the land so suitable for the park, county leaders said.

"Interstate 20 is the economic engine for McDuffie County," said Winston Oxford, executive director of the authority. "Up until 20 years ago when you thought of transportation, you thought of railroad. Trucking is the transportatin of the 21st century. Trucks like four-lane highways -- it is safer."

Mrs. Davis -- along with dozens of other residents from the Stagecoach Road area -- will attend the meeting in an effort to preserving her rural home. Residents say the park will cut residential property values, increase noise and threaten Germany Creek and Folly Lake with pollution.

"It makes me feel awful. They are going to build all this stuff in here on me, and I can't do anything about it," said 76-year-old Sammie Shanks, who owns 17 acres near the proposed site. Mr. Shanks and his wife, Beatrice, moved to McDuffie County in 1989 after he retired from Searle Corp. in Atlanta.

Members of the Thomson-McDuffie County Development Authority are asking for the rezoning. The authority paid approximately $2.1 million for the land, using dollars earmarked for industrial development in a 1998 local option sales tax initiative, Mr. Oxford said.

"The way that we see us developing this site is ... very similar to the Horizon South development where John Deere is located," Mr. Oxford said.

But even light industrial zoning won't make Mrs. Davis happy. She and her husband Damon own 13 acres near the site. Their property was recently appraised at $150,000, but she doesn't think she can find a buyer at any price.

"That's not a lot of money to a lot of people, but to Damon and I, it's everything we have," she said. "If (the park) comes in beside us, we'll never sell the place. Nobody will ever want it. We'll end up taking a loss and could go bankrupt because of it."

The couple moved from a house in a subdivision into an old farmhouse to get away from cluttered residential areas.

"We went down in house to pick up the land so we could have our chickens and our cows and Damon could have his hunting dogs," Mrs. Davis said. "We basically took everything we had and sunk it in this place."

No matter what happens, Mrs. Davis said, she understands the commission has a decision to make.

"It's not a personal thing," she said. "I respect the job they have to do. And I would hope that maybe they would give some respect to how we feel. If they put themselves in our shoes, maybe they can understand why we hurt about this and how difficult it is."

Meanwhile, other residents aren't being so generous. Carol and Robert Grzybowski -- who dub the rezoning a "done deal" -- already have initiated a recall petition for each commissioner. So far, they've got more than 100 signatures against three of the five board members.

"It is being very well received with the population throughout the county," he said. "Basically a lot of them have said we don't like the way the local commissioners are running our county."

Jason B. Smith can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.


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