DECATUR — More than 100 acres on the west side of Decatur has officially been rezoned for a long-discussed $7.5 million recycling campus.
The Macon County board voted 13-5 during its meeting Thursday night to rezone the site on the 1100 block of North Wyckles Road near Harristown in preparation for a 109-acre “sustainability campus,” which would include a drive-thru recycling center and offices for the county's Environmental Management department. It also opens the possibility for a compost center, small solar farm and community gardens.
But board Chairman Jay Dunn said after Thursday’s decision that it may be a while before the county board votes on whether to build the facility.
“We have some questions on cost, questions on operations, questions on what we need first,” Dunn said.
Despite officials saying previously that they hoped the board could OK the project before the end of this year, Dunn said Thursday that the soonest the board would vote on the project is in early 2019. He said the upcoming Nov. 6 election, in which he and a handful of incumbent board members are up for re-election, could also affect that timeline.
Dunn also suggested the campus is not an “all-or-nothing” project, saying aspects like the recycling facility and the composting site could be taken up at different times by the board.
“It could be (all of it), it very well could not be as well,” he said. “That hasn’t been decided yet.”
Those who voted against the rezoning were board members Kevin Bird, Patricia Cox, Kevin Greenfield, Phillip Hogan and Debra Kraft. Board members Matt Brown, John Jackson and Grant Noland were not present.
Those who voted against the plan gave different reasons. While Cox expressed skepticism the location was the best site for the campus, Greenfield and Hogan both said after the meeting that it all came down to finances.
“It’s strictly the cost,” Greenfield said about his vote. He added he couldn’t find himself supporting a multi-million dollar project while the county is having financial issues.
The project’s initial cost estimate of $4.5 million was changed to $7.5 million, which Macon County Environmental Management Director Laurie Rasmus said was due to the steps needed to comply with regulatory requirements.
The construction cost would be covered through a 20-year bond issued by the Decatur Public Building Commission, which manages county facilities. That loan would be paid off through an existing tax levy and not increasing existing tax rates, officials have said.
The county recently finished making payments on the bond for its courthouse complex and office building. Officials have said paying off that debt would result in a property tax bill savings of $12 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home. But if another bond is not issued to pay for the recycling facility, that savings would be $18 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home.
As during the Sept. 27 meeting of the county’s Environmental, Education, Health & Welfare Committee, most of the opposition Thursday night came from those with the Tabernacle Baptist Church, located across Wyckles Road from the site.
The concerns ranged from the potential increase in traffic the campus could create, the potential odor from the composting site, the impact on property value in the neighboring area and how it could prevent further development.
“We are not against recycling, we are not against composting,” Harold “Hap” Gilbert, a member of the church, told the board before its vote. “We are opposed to this location.”
Regardless of what happens over the coming months, Dunn said he was hopeful Thursday night’s rezoning could lead to a project that's good for the entire county.
“It’s a good use of the property there, so hopefully we can build something on it that benefits the citizens of the county,” Dunn said.