Op-Ed: Reuel K. Sample – Proposed Rezoning

Articles published as Op-Ed are strictly the views and opinions of the person submitting the article and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Jefferson County Post. The Jefferson County Post does not verify the information contained within nor does it claim information included to be fact.

Imagine living next to an industrial zone where from dawn to setting sun the air is filled with the sound and smell of hundreds of animals being slaughtered a day. Picture yourself living next to a plant where they are allowed to make and store toxic chemicals. Or envision your home where you raise your family sitting right next to an industrial incinerator with toxic smoke going around the clock.

In Strawberry Plains, this nightmare scenario has a very real chance of becoming a reality.

After placing a public notice in a newspaper that not one person can recall and posting a sign that was mostly hidden by trees, the zoning board has decided to recommend the change in status of a piece of property along Highway 11E from Agricultural 1 (A-1) to Heavy Industrial (I-2). The stated intent of the owners of the property is to operate a full-scale slaughterhouse.

An I-2 designation is a major zoning change for this area. To put the enormity of the change in perspective, our county commissioner from our district tells me the only other place in Jefferson County to be zoned I-2 is the county landfill.

According to the Jefferson County Zoning Resolution (adopted 1998 and reprinted with amendments in April of 2021), the the intent of an I-2 zone is to:

establish areas for heavy industrial activities that will minimize any adverse effects on neighboring properties and the environment. (Resolution 2012-11)

Allowed uses for the area include:

  • Landfills
  • Smelting plants
  • Asphalt plants
  • Slaughter houses
  • Incinerators for burning of waste materials
  • Accessory Buildings
  • Chemical plants where potentially hazardous chemicals are used or made
  • Solar energy systems and wind energy systems
  • Custom Slaughterhouses

In short, such an area is designed for industrial applications that have high environmental impact, high truck and commercial traffic, and high noise and pollution. The result would be an inevitable decrease in property value, increase in home insurance rates of up to 40% for living next to heavy industry, and a massive change in the lay-of-the-land of Strawberry Plains.

The zoning board, along with a number of county commissioners, wants to put that sort of industry here – in Strawberry Plains – right in the middle of residential areas.

District 6 is made up of mostly farms and houses with a mine and other small commercial enterprises. We are farmers and business owners, a mix of white and blue collar workers. We support our local schools and businesses, pay taxes, and labor hard to improve our properties for ourselves and our children. Certainly this is not the place for a heavy industrial zone – whether it be a slaughterhouse or a chemical plant.

Is it understandable why we do not want that property rezoned?

On Monday, July 12 at an open hearing, the county commissioners heard from numerous residents of our area. Every single person who took the podium voiced their objection to the rezoning effort. Not one person rose to support it.

Yet in follow-up discussions, Commissioner John Neal Scarlett (District 7) voiced his overwhelming support of the idea. It is not in his district, not in his backyard – so he supports it. He casually brushed aside the argument that the people who actually live here do not want it. When confronted about the ridiculously low level of public notice, he said the board followed all the legal requirements. All one has to do is to try to read the small sign as it is passed at the legal speed of 55 mph while hidden by tree branches, or try to find the notice in the Standard Banner to realize how absurd “we followed the law” actually is. Apparently the zoning board did not want this effort to be widely known – or challenged.

Commissioner Scarlett also perpetuated the idea that the owners of the property – under the present zone – could put in a meat processing plant if they wanted at any time. That information is incorrect. An A-1 zone is allowed to put in a “custom slaughterhouse” – which is defined by allowing only 20 animal units per week. On the other hand, a full-scale slaughterhouse can process hundreds of animals a day. I am sure the commissioner knows this distinction. More importantly, we know the difference.

According to Rob Blevins – our county commissioner here in District 6 – there are a number of county commissioners who are fully supportive of this rezoning. They hold no regard for the wishes of members of this district or the economic/environmental impact it will have on this area. We certainly hope that is not the case, as it would demonstrate a surprising indifference of county commission to the clear desires of the tax-paying citizens of Strawberry Plains.

We are all in favor of economic development. We understand that a processing plant can be a good thing for our local livestock farmers. It means tax revenue for the county – and possible jobs for our residents. All are good things – and we continue to encourage the commission to seek ways to develop the economy of our county.

But there is a place for everything. Strawberry Plains is not the place for an I-2 zone. I do not hear Commissioner Scarlet working hard to place such a plant on his property and in his district. He knows what kind of environmental nuisance it is. Neither do I hear the commissioners who already have I-1 zones in their districts seeking to upgrade to I-2. Not one commissioner wants to put this plant and this rezoned area in their back yard – but they will put it in Strawberry Plains.

We invite our fellow citizens of this great county to come and visit our area to see what kind of impact it would have on our property and our standard of living. We urge you to ask yourself if you would want a large slaughterhouse killing hundreds of animals a day just off your back porch. Or for that matter – an industrial incinerator or a chemical processing plant.

And we urge the commissioners of Jefferson County to listen to us – and vote NO on the rezoning effort.

Submitted by Reuel K. Sample, Strawberry Plains, TN