Buffer variance? VAR-2012-07 Copeland @ ZBOA 2011-06-05

A controversial case made its way from the Planning Commission for a rezoning recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a buffer variance decision, all before it reached the Lowndes County Commission for a decision on the rezoning.

Valdosta-Lowndes County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBOA) had one Lowndes County case at its 5 June 2012 meeting, a buffer variance request, VAR-2012-07. Related aspects of this same property had already been heard by the Greater Lowndes Planning Commission (GLPC) on 21 May 2012 as the controversial rezoning case REZ-2012-09 Copeland. ZBOA member Nancy Hobby recused herself from VAR-2012-07. ZBOA discussed it at great length and eventually decided to table it. ZBOA, unlike GLPC, does actually make binding decisions, but chose not to do so at this meeting for this case.

Presenting the Case

  • Carmella Braswell, Lowndes County Zoning Administrator, presented the case, saying the property owner, John A. Copeland, wanted a buffer variance for his property at 3258 Loch Laurel Road. The applicant and four neighbors spoke for the buffer variance, but one neighbor spoke against, and others had hired locally famous lawyer Bill Nijem to speak against.
  • Carmella Braswell noted that GLPC had moved its meeting ahead a week, but staff had managed to meet statutory requirements. ZBOA wanted to know what they were buffering against. Answer seemed to be one single-family residence and a pasture. Ms. Braswell said staff had considered buffering according to the zoning statutes, and there were for example churches nearby, plus the existing buffering was mostly on other landowners’ property, and the applicant would be required to plant his own vegetative buffer, plus staff recommended a six foot privacy fence. Dave Kirk noted the abuse of the property had been occuring since 1967. Ms. Braswell said that was unbenownst to county zoning. Also there was no current business license on the property, not since 2007. Gretchen Quarterman asked how long the residents to the north had been there: before or after 2007. Ms. Braswell said well before 2007, and they were present at the meeting. (See Gail Hiers below.)

Speaking For

  • The applicant, John A. Copeland of 3264 Loch Laurel Road, spoke for. He said he started his business in 1967, built a bigger building and moved into it in 1981. He said he was no relation to the other Mr. Copeland. A long history of the use of the land ensued, and the applicant said there were no complaints during any of those uses. He said he’s out of money and he needs to do something, so he was asking for rezoning. Laverne Gaskins asked about the business license. He said he made a mistake.
  • Alan Davis of 3284 Loch Laurel Road spoke for. He said his property adjoins, and the guys in the applicant’s shop helped him repair things. Davis said he had no problem with a fence on the north side, which was what ZBOA was considering. He said the current uses of the subject property were less noisy than Valdosta Airport, which is a training location for Moody Air Force Base.
  • Charles Miles of 3274 Loch Laurel spoke for. He said the subject shop was totally visible from his back yard, and he supported his neighbor in every respect. However, he didn’t want a privacy fence on his side, and he also didn’t understand why one would be required only on the north side. Plus like Alan Davis said, Valdosta Airport is noisier.
  • Norman Bush 3140 Loch Laurel Road spoke for. He bought the north end of the old Copeland farm, and John A. Copeland bought the south end. He didn’t see why anyone would complain of diesels around there, since there were many.
  • Kevin Copeland of 3208 Loch Laurel Road spoke for. He said John Copeland is his father, and he worked for him for years. Regarding noise, 10-20 years ago they did a lot more work and made a lot more noise, starting before daylight and until after dark. Whatever noise is going on there is a lot less than was before, he said.

Speaking Against

  • William Nijem, “Mr. Robert’s son-in-law,” spoke against. William doesn’t live there, nor does Mr. Robert Copeland, who recently acquired the property just north of the applicant’s property, but actually lives across the road from the applicant. He also left ZBOA a packet about other property owners who oppose both the rezoning and the buffer variance. Among other things, they have horses, and they want them protected. Also there are questions about hazardous waste disposal. They don’t want to force anybody out of business, but this is residential agricultural property, not commercial. ZBOA vice-chair Orrenstein pointed out those issues were with zoning, not with the buffer. Nijem said that was true, and raised the question of why the variance was being requested before the rezoning. And if the property was rezoned, he would definitely be in favor of a buffer. Continuing, Nijem said the nuisance next door had been ongoing since his client had owned the property, although there had been no business on the subject property at the time (2009).
  • Gail Hiers, whose family owns the property at 3466 Brown Road that adjoins the subject property, said she can see that property, and it has been used for truck repair, now semi-truck repair. She said it was no longer a continued family business; it’s turning into a commercial business; semi lights are higher than the barrier ZBOA was considering; and the trucks roar while they idle; plus they come in down both Brown Road and Loch Laurel Road, with more noise. She said she would prefer ZBOA grant no variance, asked for the maximum possible barrier.

Discussion and Vote

  • ZBOA had in hand a petition for, with 29 signatures. However, it was in favor of the rezoning, and ZBOA was considering a buffer variance. Carmella Braswell, Lowndes County Zoning Administrator, clarified that staff recommends the variance with four conditions, contingent upon success of the rezoning (at the Lowndes County Commission).
  • Dave Kirk noted that the abuse of the current zoning of the property had been going on for years, but the neighborhood had changed, and that should also be taken into account. Laverne Gaskins said she thought any ZBOA decision would be premature, because the objections she was hearing were to the zoning, not so much to the buffer. Carmella Braswell said her understanding was that the applicant was actively looking to lease the property until after the impending rezoning vote at the County Commission. Laverne Gaskins made a motion to table to the next regularly scheduled ZBOA meeting; it passed unanimously.

Here’s a video playlist:

VAR-2012-07 Copeland
Regular Session, Valdosta-Lowndes County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBOA),
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 5 June 2011.
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE).