Meeting Tuesday in Pembroke, the Bryan County Board of Commissioners took several steps related to the proposed Belfast Commerce Centre and I-95 interchange, which planners hope will bring big-box retailers and light industry to Richmond Hill’s south side.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to let Richmond Hill annex about 2,000 acres around the interstate highway and Belfast Siding Road. City officials had requested the county’s “concurrence” in the annexation.
Calling their vote a “no-brainer,” commissioners noted that the county will still receive taxes on the area, while the city will provide services.
“Obviously, Richmond Hill’s wastewater treatment plant is very near that area and they can service it better than we can, and of course we hope that there will be development there in the near future,” Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said afterward.
Commissioner Carter Infinger made the motion and Commissioner Noah Covington gave the second. The vote was the last step in the annexation process for the county, said County Administrator Ray Pittman. But the city of Richmond Hill has applied for and is awaiting U.S. Justice Department approval.
The annexation process is simplified by there being only one landowner — Rayonier Inc. through its associated companies TerraPointe LLC and Timberlands Holding Company Atlantic — who has requested the action, Burnsed said.
Commissioners also approved amending their agreement with the city of Richmond Hill and TerraPointe in support for the I-95 interchange. The original March 14 agreement gave an April 30, 2013, target date for the county and the Georgia Department of Transportation to agree on the interchange concept.
The amended version extends the target date to Nov. 30 and specifies that TerraPointe pays the DOT’s $94,000 fee for reviewing the plan. TerraPointe’s check has already been received and funds paid to the DOT, Pittman said.
This is in addition to TerraPointe’s commitment of $1.4 million for the highway project. The county and the city each committed $200,000, and these commitments remain unchanged.
The I-95 Belfast interchange, with its exits and onramps, is projected to cost around $12 million, with the rest coming from the state and federal governments.
The DOT is now expected to sign the agreement before Nov. 30. But construction will probably begin in 2018 and be completed in 2020, Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler has said. The timeline depends on budgeting decisions in Congress.
Other motions by the county commissioners clarify responsibility for government services beyond the annexed area and permit steps in the commerce center’s development.
A new resolution revises the Service Delivery Strategy, a state-mandated agreement between the county and its cities. Previously, I-95 divided the area served by Richmond Hill to the east from the area potentially served by the county. The amendment, which refers specifically to water and sewer, makes the city responsible for services not only in the annexed area, but westward to the county line.
Commissioners also approved preliminary plats for the first lots to be subdivided in the Belfast Commerce Centre and a street, Belfast Commerce Centre Drive, within the industrial park. The two plats are for relatively small portions, totaling slightly less than 65 acres. The plats were approved for Belfast Commerce Centre LLC on recommendations from the County Planning and Zoning office.
After temporarily adjourning for a public hearing on the subject, the commissioners also approved conditional use zoning for Timberlands Holding Company Atlantic to create a “sand mine” or borrow pit, in a 44-acre tract off Buggy Trail Road and Highway 17. Otherwise, the area is an A-5 agricultural zone. At the Planning Zoning Board’s request, the company must provide an 80-foot buffer, including 30 feet of trees, between mining operations and the highway.
All votes Tuesday were unanimous, but commissioners tabled some contentious issues, including a business license for a home-based towing service and a ban on smoking in county vehicles.
Todd Bradley owns a tow truck and applied for permits for a business based at his home on U.S. Highway 280, Black Creek. He has no storage yard for vehicles, but said he will tow vehicles when requested, mainly to garages for repairs, and will not store them at his home.
The Planning and Zoning board had already granted Bradley a home business office permit. The ordinance for these allows one vehicle stored at a home, noted Planning and Zoning Administrator Christy Williams. The tow truck complies by weighing less than 26,000 pounds and not requiring a commercial driver’s license, said Pittman.
But Bradley still needs an occupational tax certificate, and some neighbors from Deer Run subdivision and owners of existing towing services objected when he came to the commissioners for approval.
Commissioner Covington asked who owned the nine cars parked at Bradley’s property Monday. Bradley said that one was his brother’s and the rest were his. Covington then referred to these as “project cars.”
If the business permit were granted, Bradley could be subject to fines or revocation of the permit if he violates the ordinance. Without a storage facility, the sheriff’s office would never place Bradley on the call list to tow vehicles after wrecks, Pittman added..
“I really don’t see how you can operate a wrecker service without a storage yard,” said Commissioner Wade Price.
He moved, seconded by Covington, to table Bradley’s application to the next meeting. Commissioners approved certificates for four other home-based businesses.
Bryan County long has had a policy, backed by state law, prohibiting smoking in county-owned buildings. Pittman proposed adding a ban on all tobacco use in county vehicles. However, he said that the prohibition would not apply to the Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff, Pittman explained in an interview, is a constitutional officer with authority over his department and its fleet. Most other county vehicles are under the commissioners’ and administrator’s supervision.
Commissioners questioned this exemption, noting that Sheriff Clyde Smith and his officers are part of the county government.
“What we’re suggesting is that the county place this ordinance into effect and then we can discuss it with the sheriff,” Pittman said.
However, commissioners thought that this discussion should take place before adopting the ban. At Burnsed’s request, Infinger agreed to talk to the sheriff about the issue.