Last week, The Herald reported that a group of residents nearby to the planned Hoover Treated Wood Products project along Potter
Woodberry Road north of Havana, represented by Tallahassee environmental lawyer Randall Denker, had signed an agreement with the company that they got the necessary concessions they were look- ing for.
In return for these concessions, the neighbors agreed to quit their opposition to the project which they had displayed earlier during the project’s two appearances before the county’s Planning and Zon- ing Commission.
The agreement with the neighbors and Hoover, represented by the Tallahassee-based Carlton Fields law firm, was even finalized at the April 3 Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners meeting where the project was up for approval.
On the surface, the residents were happy with the agreement and all the county commissioners were hailing the process by which the company came to an ageement with the neighbors as proof the system works. However, scratch beneath the surface and there is much more going on than meets the eye.
Potter Woodberry neighborhood resident Bryan Baxley said his group only got about four of 13 concessions it asked for from the company and that his group was encouraged to concede by Denker “because of all the funding already approved, we would never have convinced the county to oppose the project due to a potential lawsuit against the county.”
Until this project came along, Baxley explained, most owners and residents along Potter Woodbery Road were not even aware that the property was zoned for heavy industrial usage.
“Although this area has heavy industrial zoning, it is not nearly a heavy industrial site with its ex- cessive elevations, wetlands and wildlife,” Baxley said. “Ultimately, we would have liked to had the plant relocate to an industrial setting within the county so job creation would have still been a plus. The Coastal Lumber Company also owns land, for example, that fronts U.S. 27 that also is heavy industrial.”
Denker added, “I think the real story here is why the county ever thought it was a good idea to zone land with wetlands, steep slopes, watercourses, en- dangered species and high ecological value as heavy industrial. The truth is that my clients would have preferred to not have heavy industrial uses next to their homes but, because the zoning allowed these uses, they were forced to find a way to live with this. I don’t think any of them is happy about this out- come but they took the best deal that they could negotiate under the circumstances.”
While Denker pointed out that she and her clients did sign an agreement to no longer oppose the project based on what Hoover agreed to in writ- ing, she did point out that if Hoover doesn’t pro- vide what it promises; or if it tries to further develop the land (Hoover is only using 11 of the 65 acres it purchased right now); or if it changes the function of the plant on the property, her clients reserve the right to once again oppose the company.
“It is my opinion that this property should never have been zoned as ‘heavy industrial’ and that any further development on that site would be inadvis- able due to the wetlands, steep slopes and other sen- sitive environmental features,” Denker concluded. “Hoover would not agree to leave the rest of the property undeveloped so I suspect that my clients may have to come back and fight on another day. I hope that I am wrong. This has all been very stress- ful for them.”
Words By: Randall Lieberman, Editor