Council to rule on EMC zoning request Thursday night

A rezoning application filed by Grady Electric Membership Corporation has neighboring homeowners concerned and the Cairo City Council will make a decision on the matter tomorrow night.
Members of the city of Cairo Planning Commission heard from EMC officials as well as local residents concerning the proposed rezoning of all of the EMC’s property to light industrial zone (I1) during the planning commission meeting last Thursday night.
Public utilities are, according to the city code, to be located in the I1 zone, but since the 1950s the EMC has operated at its current location and some of its property is zoned commercial while recent acquisitions are zoned for residential development.
EMC attorney Claire Chason, Rex Robinson, Donnie Prince and Wayne Windham all spoke on behalf of the public utility concerning the rezoning application.
Attorney Chason told members of the planning commission the EMC’s desire is to have all of its property, which includes the former American Legion Post 122 and undeveloped land previously owned by the Roddenbery family, under one zone rather than multiple zones.
Planning Commission Chairman Margaret Tyson questioned the timing of the request. Rex Robinson of the EMC said that city personnel had told the utility that the proper zone for its operations under the city code is light industrial.
Robert Sellers, representing the Northwest Neighborhood Association, during his remarks to the planning commission and questioning of EMC officials, said it is his understanding that the need for the rezoning is to allow the utility to lease space on its new 300 ft. communications tower.
“We’ve been informed the real reason to rezone is so you can lease space on your radio tower. We think that is a great idea. We want you to make money,” Sellers commented.
However, Sellers said the Northwest Neighborhood Association’s Board of Directors is concerned about the possibility of the EMC merging with another utility or being purchased by another firm such as the Southern Company.
Sellers said neighboring residents are not opposed to the rezoning if the zoning would revert to the current zones should the Grady EMC cease to exist.
“Who would have ever thought we would see the financial markets collapse and big banks taken over. We hope it never happens, but something could happen to the EMC,” Sellers said.
He also noted that federal funds support the EMC and with the current fiscal condition of the nation, that is also cause for concern to local residents.
Sellers requested the EMC withdraw their application and resubmit it with the provision for the zoning to revert to the current zoning.
Planning commission member Tom Kimmel noted that the city code allows for rezoning with a limited use provision. Section 22-52 of the city code sets the process for an applicant to request that a certain property be classified as a limited use. The code states, “In some areas of the city, a particular land use activity selected out of a general zoning classification may have less community impact than some of the other uses within that classification. The limited use must be among the uses permitted for in the zone district for which the limited use is taken. In the event that the conditions for which the limited use zoning was granted is violated, the property would revert to the prior zoning classification.”
Planning commission officials asked EMC representatives if they would be agreeable to such a condition.
Attorney Chason said she was not prepared to answer or commit to any changes in the EMC’s zoning application.
Other concerns about the new communications tower were raised by northwest Cairo residents.
Susan Gainous, whose property adjoins the EMC, expressed concern about the tower not being supported by guy wires.
She said that her parents’ home is only 15 feet from the new tower and she estimated 10 to 11 homes could be possibly damaged if the tower were to fall.
Robinson assured the residents that the tower had been “over engineered” for the load and would withstand high speed winds.
Wayne Windham said if the tower were to fall, there would be nothing left of Cairo. “It will be one of the last things standing,” Windham predicted.
Ms. Gainous suggested that guy wires be installed so that if the tower fell it would fall onto the EMC property, rather than the neighboring residences.
Larry Gainous said he would not sleep easy on storming nights, but he acknowledged that the EMC has, for the most part, been a good neighbor and he credited the organization for bringing electricity to rural Grady County.
However, he said the fencing erected by the EMC that borders his property showed total disregard for the neighboring residents.
“I don’t think your wives would let you put up a fence like that in your yard,” Mr. Gainous said.
Donnie Prince of EMC admitted the fencing is not attractive, but noted that it is a temporary enclosure. EMC officials say much of what has been done in the past several years was in an attempt to secure the EMC facility and equipment from theft, which they say continues to be a major problem.
Residents of Magnolia Estates, which is located west of the EMC property that is currently zoned residential, spoke in opposition to the rezoning.
Bill Bryan, a resident of Magnolia Drive and the owner of a real estate firm in Bainbridge, questioned why the EMC had purchased the property before it was rezoned from residential.
Bryan said he would never have bought his property, which joins the EMS property, had it not been zoned residential.
According to Bryan, the EMC bought the nine acres from the Roddenbery family in 2009 and at that time it was zoned residential.
“If it has been ok for the last two years, it ought to be ok now,” Bryan said.
Dr. Ron Spooner, chairman of the Magnolia Estates homeowners association, questioned what the plans are for the nine acre tract.
EMC officials said there are no current or future plans for the property, and Spooner asked if the utility would consider leaving the property zoned residential and then seek rezoning when there is an actual need for the land.
“It certainly would make your neighbors feel more comfortable,” Dr. Spooner said.
Attorney Chason said she could not make a commitment, but did not rule out the possibility of a change of direction when the EMC’s application goes before the Cairo City Council Thursday night.
EMC officials said last week the “ultimate goal” of the EMC is to be a good neighbor and corporate citizen. Prince said the EMC has tried to be “attentive to their neighbors” and is working to make the utility complex “a better neighbor” and to beautify its facility and grounds which is a gateway to the city from the west.
After hearing from all concerned parties, Chairman Tyson called for a vote and Planning Commissioner Kimmel offered a motion to rezone the property currently zoned C-2 to I-1 under the limited use provision and to leave the remaining EMC property zoned as is. Kimmel’s motion was seconded by Planning Commissioner Don Nickerson.
Chairman Tyson noted that this is merely the recommendation of the planning commission and it will be up to the city council to make the final decision tomorrow night.
The city council is meeting Thursday night at 6 p.m. The meeting was rescheduled to avoid a conflict with the annual membership meeting of the Georgia Municipal Association in Savannah.

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