On January 21, 2021 a “Zoning Variance Application” was filed with the City of Emerson by TPA Ventures which we now know is essentially a front for Amazon. The zoning variance was a request to increase the maximum building height from 50 ft to 120 ft so that Amazon could build a “sorting” warehouse on the north side of the LakePoint development. This proposed facility would be as tall as twelve story building and have a building footprint as large as SIX football fields!
Just two weeks after the initial filing, on Feb 4. 2021, the City of Emerson, GA Planning and Zoning Board held a meeting to review this zoning variance request. Interestingly, there was no Public Notice or zoning variance signs placed on the property that would have alerted citizens and nearby property owners about this proposed zoning variance request.
“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.'”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Luckily, several of the property’s neighbors heard about this heretofore “secret project” - the project never used the name Amazon, was called Project Oak. Numerous Emerson residents attended and spoke at this Planning and Zoning Board meeting and subsequently Planning and Zoning Board denied the requested zoning variance.
However, TPA Ventures appealed this Planning Board decision to the Emerson City Council. Just 18 days after the Planning Board’s vote, the Emerson City Council considered the appeal. This was another “hastily called and never noticed” meeting. The Emerson City Council, rejecting the recommendation of its own Planning Board and over the objections of several nearby property owners who spoke at the meeting, approved the requested zoning variance.
Following the Emerson City Council’s approval of TPA Ventures’ zoning variance, several Emerson citizens, along with the Homeowners Associations of the two residential subdivisions closest to the proposed facility, retained legal counsel and filed an Appeal of the Emerson City Council’s decision. These residential subdivisions will be impacted by the facility’s noise, traffic, and air pollution, and the proposed Amazon facility is easily visible just across Interstate 75. This Appeal was before the Superior Court of Bartow County and was based on several factors, including:
After hearing oral arguments and reviewing filings from all the parties, the Bartow County Superior Court found that the Plaintiffs did not have standing and thus could not appeal the Emerson City Council’s decision (Order dated May 6, 2021, in Civil Action File No. 21CV417). The Plaintiffs legal team felt very strongly the Judgement in this case may be overturned on appeal based in large part on the fact that the plaintiffs were allowed to speak against Project Oak at the City Council meeting. Therefore, from the perspective of the City Council, the plaintiffs had standing in this proceeding. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the record that Amazon’s council ever objected to the neighbors speaking out against Project Oak prior to the hearing before the Superior Court, and the Judge cannot now substitute her judgment on this issue. Finally, even if the Court had a question that standing was an issue, the plaintiffs’ counsel had repeatedly offered to submit such evidence of standing but the Judge never allowed this and, at the end of the hearing, specifically stated it was not necessary. To now come back and rule on the issue of standing seems patently unfair.
Finally, this very narrow ruling never addressed many of the important issues raised in this entire zoning variance proceeding, including but not limited to:
At this point in time, funds are being raised and legal research ongoing to appeal the Bartow County Superior Court’s Order that found that nearby residential property owners had no standing to resist Amazon’s proposed zoning variance. This second appeal will be to the Georgia Court of Appeals in Fulton County. It is unknown if this Court will hear this case, and if it does hear the case, when such a hearing might take place. Stay tuned.
Have you ever been to the LakePoint Sporting Complex during a tournament? Perhaps you’ve taken the family to one of Red Top State Park's beaches on a Sunday afternoon. If you have, then you already know that the traffic during these times is already bumper to bumper getting off Exit 285. While currently this is a mild inconvenience, the addition of the 5 story, 2.8 million square feet sorting facility (with a footprint of 650,000 square feet) that has been fast-tracked for development would make the LakePoint/Red Top area a traveler’s nightmare. At peak times, 1,100 trucks per day will arrive, that is 45 trucks per hour getting off at Red Top Mountain exit to make the left-hander onto the overpass, and then the left-hander onto the Connector. Aside from the fact that heavy traffic increases vehicle emissions and degrades ambient air quality, this introduces congestion beyond what the area can handle and poses a risk to public safety.
Lake Allatoona clean-up 2019
Lake Allatoona is located in northwest Georgia, 30 miles north of Atlanta. The Lake covers 12,000 acres, has 270 miles of shoreline, and is surrounded by another 25,000 acres of beautiful and largely wilderness-feel public land. The Lake is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is framed and bordered by the Allatoona Range of the Blue Ridge Mountains and meanders through Bartow, Cherokee and Cobb counties. It draws 9 to 10 million visitors a year and provides in excess of $250 million dollars to the local economy. It also offers 589 campsites and 188 picnic sites. It is home to nine city and county parks and one state park. There are eight commercial marinas and also three boat-accessible restaurants.
Online shopping, shifted into overdrive by the COVID-19 pandemic, is here to stay. But the logistics operations behind internet retail companies like Amazon are often as problematic as they are profitable, with a long history of skirting environmental laws and exploiting workers. We can look to California for an example of how such a development impacts the area around it. The surrounding area is described as...
“In the Inland Empire, a giant logistics hub located an hour east of L.A., residents outside the warehouses regularly choke on the thick, black smoke of diesel emissions wafting from the industry’s army of idling trucks.” 1
“...worst ozone and soot pollution in the country. San Bernardino and Riverside counties, which encompass the region, have asthma rates twice as high as the national average.” 1
“...‘diesel death zones’ will sicken even more people in an area that’s already overburdened by pollution.” 1
It’s not hard to find several articles on the internet that describe increased traffic, air pollution, noise pollution, and serious health effects from distribution centers developed too close to residential areas. The detrimental impact to our community far outweighs any positive economic benefit for the City of Emerson.
Eagle's nest, one of many protected birds that claim Lake Allatoona as home
A partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia Power in 1998 created a long-lasting habitat for ospreys at Allatoona Lake. In 1995, a nesting pair of ospreys (a large raptor that hunts fish) made their home in the top of a dying pine tree near Victoria Day Use Area on Allatoona Lake. The ospreys utilized the same nest in 1996 and 1997. 2
Georgia DNR started releasing young eagles in 1979. The birds were obtained from captive breeding facilities and wild nests in states where the birds were more numerous. Sapelo Island was the initial release site, and the program was later expanded to Butler Island (Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area) and Lake Allatoona. 3
The citizens of Emerson that are aware of Project Oak share concerns over soil contamination, safety, traffic congestion, and air and noise pollution. We believe the impact of the additional noise to the communities surrounding Red Top Mountain and LakePoint cannot be understated. The lives of people living in Emerson - and the experience of those who just want to enjoy the peaceful, natural setting of Red Top Mountain State Park - will be constantly interrupted by the rumble of trucks and compression brakes, as trucks move from the sorting facility to the highway 24 hours a day. It could ruin our ability to enjoy the multitude of outdoor activities the area provides.
Science says it best...
“Exposure to prolonged or excessive noise has been shown to cause a range of health problems ranging from stress, poor concentration, productivity losses in the workplace, and communication difficulties and fatigue from lack of sleep, to more serious issues such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, tinnitus and hearing loss.” 4
A compression release brake, also commonly known as a “Jake brake,” opens the exhaust valves at the top of the compression stroke, creating a loud noise similar to the firing of a gun, a loud growl or a giant breaking wind. While this may be music to an engineer’s ears, to residents that will be exposed to the sound 24/7, it can be a constant source of stress and disruption, eroding their quality of life.
This is a campaign to support the protection of Lake Allatoona, wildlife provided sanctuary by this precious resource and the health of its surrounding communities. We are friends and neighbors - literally - to this treasured ecosystem. We are nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. We are environmentalists, people who believe in responsible growth and stewards of the earth. We believe in corporate accountability to the environment that supports life as we know it. We demand our community leadership thoroughly evaluate the impact any development will have on Lake Allatoona and the surrounding wildlife, such as eagles, ospreys and other protected birds that the lake is a sanctuary to. Project Oak is being fast-tracked in a way that is ethically questionable. We strongly oppose this development and will do what ever we can to impede its progress.
On the frontlines you have Atlanta-based TPA Ventures, LLC, the development company who initially filed the developments of regional impact (DRI) application.5 We now know this company is working on behalf of the behemoth Amazon, who is the driving force behind the 2.8 million square feet sortation facility (with a footprint of 650,000 square feet) to be constructed near Red Top Mountain. The running joke is Amazon’s business strategy is to “eat the world,” and while this may be an exaggeration, the online retail giant continues a rapid and sweeping expansion of its logistics machine across the country.
That appears to be the mantra behind Project Oak, and it appears to be working to the detriment of the communities where Amazon sets up a stronghold. In 2019, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, made about $2,489 per second, more than twice what the median U.S. worker made in a week, and he is the first person ever to be worth $200 billion.6 But at what cost to us and our natural resources? Environmental advocates are following growth in the logistics industry with great concern: These giant warehouses are a sprawling and ugly land use that overwhelms the scale of adjacent residential and commercial neighborhoods. Also, distribution center activity significantly impacts public health due to particulate pollution emitted by trucks transporting goods to and from these facilities.7
Factoring in contracted drivers, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the project ultimately produce 350-400 new jobs. Taylor anticipates the investment from Amazon to be closer to $50 million in Bartow County.8
In the short term... most likely, but there is much to consider when looking at the long game. Environmental concerns aside, this sorting facility could drain the surrounding labor pool, leaving local business with a shortage of available workers.
“A study completed by the Economic Policy Institute reports that Amazon fulfillment centers don’t create a boost in local economy as promised. The findings, contrary to Amazon’s claims about positive job growth, indicate that fulfillment centers opened in counties over the last 15 years are not generating broader economic growth. Amazon asserts their fulfillment centers will bring thousands of jobs to a city or county. Many of these developments, however, are taxpayer subsidized. The study reports that Amazon has received an estimated $1 billion in state and local subsidies in exchange for hundreds of jobs, indicating it isn’t working out financially for taxpayers. Data analyzed to measure employment in counties where fulfillment warehouses opened showed a small reduction in overall employment countywide, which further supports the EPI’s thesis that fulfillment warehouses don’t bring job growth. The EPI study concedes that some jobs are created, but it’s unlikely they are making a significant impact on regional economies.” 7
So if this fast-tracked development doesn’t boost Emerson’s economy in the long-term, provides no incentive to the taxpaying citizens of Emerson and will adversely affect the ecosystem around Red Top Mountain and Lake Allatoona, who does it benefit?
Sources: 5 https://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2021/01/29/amazon-atlanta-logistics-lakepoint-sports.html, 6 https://www.businessinsider.com/how-rich-is-jeff-bezos-mind-blowing-facts-net-worth-2019-4, 7 https://www.mh-rgc.org/environmental-impacts, 8 https://www.panattoni.com/news_article/amazon-announces-delivery-station-development-in-acworth/, 9 https://www.epi.org/publication/unfulfilled-promises-amazon-warehouses-do-not-generate-broad-based-employment-growth/