January 4 marked the beginning of a new formation of the city council in Peachtree City. Council Members Laura Johnson and Suzanne Brown cast the first votes of their four-year term.
The council is fresh off of campaign promises and oaths of office to defend the U.S. Constitution, Georgia Constitution, and the city’s ordinance
New Council, same result?
It was good to see Suzanne Brown defend our zoning ordinances and deny a residential variance request that clearly did not meet the criteria for allowing a variance. Unfortunately, Brown was the only member of the council who voted the right way.
As is required, there were no extraordinary or exceptional conditions solely to the property in question. Council Members Clint Holland, Frank Destadio, and Laura Johnson were using some kind of subjective feel-good logic to grant a use that the current zoning and the layout of the existing structure would not allow. Mayor Kim Learnard has never shown much regard for the city’s zoning ordinances.
It’s particularly disappointing to see Holland and Destadio wing it like that in a council meeting, especially after both recently condemned the city’s mishandling of administrative variances. As for Johnson, she is new, does not know how things work, and has a lot to learn. Let’s hope she learns quickly.
Paying attention to hazards
There was a second variance on the agenda for Universal Environmental Services on Dividend Drive. The applicant asked for a variance to install a large industrial holding tank (the facility recycles used motor oil). Looking at the schematic images of the property, the applicant could have accommodated the additional infrastructure without the variance.
Holland was on the right track, asking why the applicant could not resize the diameter and height of the holding tank to fit on the site. The applicant waffled on his reply not wanting to change anything.
It would have been appropriate to continue the variance request at the next city council meeting to give staff and the applicant time to review alternatives to the applicant’s proposal.
The applicant said their business is booming, bringing in loads of tanker trucks and rail cars full of oil. This is where the council members needed to pay serious attention.
Looking at the satellite photo of the Universal Environmental Services site, it is very cramped and there is only one way in and out. This is a serious problem if they are expanding beyond their current operation.
What about emergencies?
The city needs to ensure that the facility can safely expand and does not create a significant hazmat risk to neighboring businesses and residents. The council needs to have the fire department review the facility’s emergency hazmat plan and the evacuation plan should a fire or explosion render the response out of control.
Let’s not forget that the Georgia-Pacific operation on that same site had to move due to the volatility of the materials they were handling.
If Universal Environmental Services cannot provide an adequate hazmat response plan, then it should not be expanding. The city needs to take the matter very seriously.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]