Iron Mountain Park, the 4,300-acre recreational and entertainment venue under construction in Lumpkin County’s Mill Creek area, got the go ahead from the Board of Commissioners last week to continue with plans—with some conditions.
The SLUA (Special Land Use Approval) passed unanimously after a public hearing.
From the outset residents of the area have voiced concerns. Many of those who spoke talked about noise and dust from the venue’s ATV trails, hours of operation, and traffic. These concerns triggered the county’s requirement for a SLUA, which calls for a public hearing before approval is voted on. Those who showed up for the May 7 hearing lined the walls and overflowed into the hall.
“The Board of Commissioners decided not to enforce the time limit for each party imposed by the regulation, because they wanted to hear from everyone who took the time to be present at the hearing,” said Board Chairman Chris Dockery. “After nearly four hours of discussion and deliberation, the board’s decision was to table the SLUA until more information was provided.”
Part of that information was presented by attorney Kasey Strum, hired by a group of residents, Foothills Citizens for Smart Growth (FCSG), that banded together to be sure their concerns were heard. She told the Board the SLUA application did not include a DRI (Development of Regional Impact) study, required by Georgia Mountains Regional Commission (GMRC) for a development the size and scope of Iron Mountain Park.
The DRI could not be completed due to the lack of details in Stansbury’s concept plan.
Stansbury submitted a new concept plan, which the county submitted to GMRC. The agency returned a completed DRI to the county just before the Oct. 1 public hearing.
Since that first public hearing, Dockery told the crowd, a total of 17 Open Records requests concerning Iron Mountain Park were answered; two Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GEPD) complaints resulting in no findings of runoff when the property was inspected took place; additional GEPD inspections in June, July and August, accompanied by county staff occurred; county staff conducted several site inspections; and several meetings between staff and members of FCSG, two of which included Stansbury at Iron Mountain Park, took place before the Oct. 1 SLUA public hearing was held.
GMRC’s analysis states it “finds that the proposed action does NOT present any potential adverse inter-jurisdictional impacts, WITH the noted conditions.”
The analysis basically states the county should be sure the property owner is following state and local laws when it comes to stormwater runoff and wastewater.
“And BMPs [Best Management Practices] are suggested,” said Adam Hazell, Director of Planning for GMRC. “Georgia is a home rule state. GMRC has no authority to say a government agency must go above and beyond local laws. And this is a rare beast. Most policies don’t cover something like this.”
The motion to approve the SLUA contains several conditions and is the result of input from all commissioners. Dockery; County Manager Stan Kelley; Planning Director Bruce Georgia; Division Director/Planning and Public Works, Larry Reiter; and County Attorney Joy Edelberg crafted the motion, made by Bobby Mayfield, whose district includes the Mill Creek area.
In addition to the obvious requirements that all Lumpkin County development and federal, state and local erosion and sediment control regulations shall apply, several added provisions include
• all stream crossings must be via drainage structures—no fording of creeks allowed
• hours of operation for ATV and Motocross trails and concerts are limited to no earlier than 7 a.m. seven days a week; no later than one hour after dusk Sunday-Thursday; and no later than 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A special permit must be issued for any deviation from these hours
• all access to the site is to be via Highway 52
• a tunnel under Sheep Wallow Road must be constructed within six months for traffic moving to the southern portion of the park. All construction plans and activity on county rights-of-way must be approved by the county engineer
• ATV and motorcycles are limited to maximum decibel level of 120db at operating speeds
• fencing must be completed with 24 months—with fencing adjacent to residents’ homes coming first
• no use of former logging roads or any trail within the buffer
• limit loud music and other noise on trails within 300-feet of property line by establishing “Quiet Zones,” clearly marked with signage
• all ATVs and motorcycles are required to have spark arrestors
This last requirement “… is to prevent sparks from coming out of the exhaust pipe and it will also result in a dramatic decrease in the sound level,” said Georgia.
Fencing is to be five-strand barbed wire in part of the 30 miles of trails. A wooden fence will be erected along the side and rear property lines.
Not all recommendations of the FCSG group were met—all recommendations from the park’s own noise study were not required; the park was not required to follow best management practices of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, which includes shutting trails down one hour after dusk, including weekends; and members did not feel they (or the board) had adequate time to review all the information in the DIR before a vote was taken. Additionally, Kottman said, “nothing significant was said about runoff and siltation or Department of Natural Resources’ comments about endangered wildlife.”
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division submitted a letter to GMRC stating concerns about the Holiday Darter and Etowah Crayfish, two aquatic species and the impact downstream to other species of sedimentation form construction, changes in runoff patterns, increased stream temperatures and habitat degradation.
US Fish and Wildlife Service also submitted a letter stating concern for the already-threatened Cherokee darter and timber removal’s affect on the endangered Northern long-eared bat population within the development.
“We need to start paying attention to these experts,” Kottman said.
She was, however, “pleased to see the Commission adopted several of the noise study recommendations about excess noise and signs.”
The group was also pleased about Stansbury’s agreement to move some trails and install wooden fencing.
“I feel like we really made a difference—just not quite as much as we would have liked,” Kottman said. “The BOC used a deliberate process and we appreciate having a voice. FCSG greatly appreciated working with Bruce Georgia. Through many meetings Bruce provided the community with a better understanding of the Land Use Code, addressed concerns of individual property owners and ensured the developer is held accountable.”
Georgia, Dockery said, was a big help to the BOC as well. “After the first SLUA public hearing [the commissioners] had a list of concerns, and Bruce got us answers.
“This was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve been a part of—a very big decision. We had to balance the property rights of the residents with those of Mr. Stansbury. I applaud the staff and BOC for their due diligence and feel the decision we made is the best solution to protect the residents’ rights and Mr. Stansbury’s right to make the best use of his property.”
Dockery said he appreciates all the citizens who shared their input. “It enabled us to make a very informed decision, considering all aspects of the situation.”
“It was a tough decision, and tough for us, but I do think it was fair for everyone in the end,” Craig Stansbury said.
Stansbury is already working on the engineering for the tunnel under Sheep Wallow Road, and proceeding with plans for cabins and a campground.
“I hope to have permits in the next 45 days,” he said.