By Charlie Bauder,WNEG

Stephens County Commissioners decide to postpone a decision on a proposal to put poultry houses on a Freeman Creek Road property.

Commissioners decided that at their meeting Tuesday at the historic Stephens County Courthouse in downtown Toccoa.

The decision came following a two-hour-long public hearing on the proposal by William Hutto to operate eight poultry houses on his property at 140 Freeman Creek Road.

To do so, Hutto is requesting that his property be re-zoned from Agricultural Residential to Agriculture Intensive, that he be granted a conditional use permit for a poultry operation, and that he be given a variance to allow two of his proposed eight houses, which are already on the property, to be closer to a neighboring property line than the ordinance currently permits.

During the public hearing, neighbors on both sides of the fence spoke out.

Chad Bartmas lives directly in front of Hutto’s property and did so when a poultry farm was previously active on the land.

He said he supports Hutto.

“We have no concerns in reference to the health and safety of ourselves or our children, just as we have no concerns now about the operation of a new poultry farm,” said Bartmas.

However, nearby resident Mike Herron opposes the proposed poultry farm.

“The proposed zoning change would go beyond the traditional agricultural character of Stephens County,” said Herron. “More important, an industrial chicken farm of this size would emit the unbearable stench of death, destroy property values, and endanger the health of elderly and children who live in close proximity to this location.”
Stephens County Extension Agent Forrest Connelly said a properly, well-managed poultry farm will not pollute or cause environmental problems for neighbors.

He cited UGA data regarding ammonia from poultry houses as an example.

According to Connelly, at 100, 200, 300, and 500 feet from the fan, ammonia disperses very quickly into the atmosphere.

“The particles could not be measured at any significant level,” said Connelly. “In the studies, the ammonia concentrations were less than one part per million at 50 percent, 75 percent, 85 percent, and 90 percent of the time, respectively. At 500 feet, there was no difference observed than normal air samples.”

However, attorney Don Stack, who represented Stephens County in the Wilbros’ case, said there is a long history of environmental, health and safety, and quality of life impacts from poultry farms of this nature and to argue otherwise is false.

Arguing against the houses, Stack said odor and ammonia will be a problem in these houses because data shows that poultry houses surpass ammonia thresholds when there are four houses on a single site, let alone eight houses.

“The studies themselves show that ammonia from poultry facilities is detected as far as five to six miles away, although it is typically within a three-mile radius,” said Stack. “Contrary to what they were telling you earlier, these people will be subjected to ammonia releases and will cause eye and respiratory irritation.”

Fieldale representatives say that Stack’s numbers are based on an estimated number of birds on the property that is way too high, meaning all of his numbers are too high.

Others pointed to the economic benefit of farming.

Speaking on behalf of the Stephens County Farm Bureau, Brittany Ivey said that poultry farming is an important industry in Stephens County, pumping $90 million into Stephens County.

She said that the county needs to remember that zoning should protect farmers as well.

“When we started talking about zoning five years ago, we were promised this was not to come after agriculture,” said Ivey. “This was not going to affect the agriculture interests of farmers here in Stephens County. “Here, we have a chance to make good on our word to protect our farmers and make sure we can continue to grow our agriculture community here in Stephens County.”

However, Stack said that parcels within a mile will see millions in lost property value.

“The current total assessed value from the Stephens County Tax Assessor within one mile stands at $37,949,367,” said Stack. “Studies have shown you can expect a devaluation of 30 to 40 percent from these facilities. Even if you assumed only a 20 percent devaluation, you are talking about a devaluation to the tax base for Stephens County of $7.5 million.”

During the regular meeting, Stephens County Commissioner Dennis Bell made a motion to postpone a decision on all three of Hutto’s requests.

Bell said that would give the county more time to look at everything and try and help the two sides meet and reach a settlement.

“The biggest thing I want to do is go back and make sure we have the true facts,” said Bell. “There are so many rumors.”

Commissioner Dean Scarborough said he was against postponing votes on the re-zoning and conditional use requests.

“I feel like both sides were very well represented today, as well as last Tuesday night, and all these folks that came out, they expected a vote today and I thought we had enough time to come up with a reason why we would vote one way or the other,” said Scarborough.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to postpone the re-zoning and conditional use requests with Scarborough voting against.

County commissioners did vote 4-0 to postpone Hutto’s variance request. Scarborough says he supported that decision because the variance request is now for two existing houses, instead of just one as it was previously.

Commissioner Michelle Ivester recused herself from all of the votes on the advice of counsel because her real estate business has listings in the immediate area of Hutto’s property.