DECATUR — A plan to rezone more than 100 acres for a $7.5 million recycling campus on the west side of Decatur cleared a hurdle Thursday with approval from a county board committee.
A majority of the nine-person Environmental, Education, Health & Welfare Committee approved a proposal to rezone the site on the 1100 block of North Wyckles Road near Harristown. The decision now moves to the full county board, which is expected to consider the matter at its Oct. 11 meeting.
Approval would pave the way for a 109-acre “sustainability campus”, which would include a drive-thru recycling center and offices for the county's Environmental Management department, plus possibilities of a compost center, small solar farm and community gardens.
“I’m very pleased with this,” said Laurie Rasmus, director of the county’s Environmental Management department, after Thursday’s meeting.
A county board vote for construction on the facility itself is expected before the end of the calendar year.
Dozens of people showed up to Thursday’s meeting at the county office building in downtown Decatur. The crowd was a mix of those for and against the project, with the former noticeable by their green T-shirts that read “Macon County Recycling Center.”
Among those in opposition were members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, located across Wyckles Road from the site.
Those who spoke generally said they were supportive of recycling, but felt the proposed site was not the best location for the facility.
“Your responsibility isn’t necessarily to decide, ‘is this a good facility? Is it a facility that we need?” said Harold "Hap" Gilbert, a member of the church. “The question is, ‘Is this the right location for it?’ And I would contend that it is not the right location.”
Concerns raised by Gilbert and others included 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 in the area.
“When we built the church 15 years ago, the city encouraged us, saying the area across the road would be an ideal site for restaurants, motels and that kind of thing,” Gilbert said. “Nothing of that nature will ever be considered if this is changed to light industrial.”
For supporters like Margaret Evans, a recycling site is simply something the community needs. She described long waits in line because of the high demand at past recycling events, which the county’s Environmental Management department hosts in part because it lacks a permanent space to accept recycling.
“I think the fact that we’ve had these events from the Macon County Environmental Management shows us that we really need a facility so we don’t need to have these times where we go and drive and wait in line so we can recycle,” Evans said.
Board member Matt Brown was the lone ‘no’ vote on the rezoning plan, while board member Debra Kraft did not vote. Board member Grant Noland was not present Thursday evening.
Speaking after the meeting, Brown said he understood the concerns raised church members but said the main reason he voted "no" was because of his concern for the rising costs of the planned facility.
“That cost has increased dramatically from the initially anticipated cost,” Brown said.
The project’s initial cost estimate of $4.5 million was recently changed to $7.5 million, which Rasmus said was due to the steps needed to comply with regulatory requirements.
The construction cost is to 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 higher — $18 per year for the owner of a $75,000 home, officials have said.
“The cost of the facility is a big concern to me, and whether or not we should be putting that on taxpayers, I just don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Brown said, adding that he is supportive of the idea of having a new recycling center.
Kraft said she did not vote because she believed the process was being rushed. Like others, she supported the idea of a recycling center but hoped officials could slow down the process and more closely study the project being presented to them and its possible impact.
Committee Chairman Tim Dudley said after the meeting that he understood the concerns raised but said he believed the site made sense not only for a recycling facility but for other developments in the area. He cited easy access to the interstate and rail access to the Midwest Inland Port that runs along the north side of the proposed recycling site.
“It’s perfectly set up for M-1 (light industrial) zoning,” he said.