The 3-2 vote to approve, with commissioners Chipper Gardner and Bob Gilreath opposed, “is a plan change, it doesn’t effect zoning,” explained County Commission Chairman Gwen Flowers-Taylor, who voted for the change on the future land use map for the 128 tracts totaling 796.45 acres, more or less, to institutional/public, along with commissioners Eddie Freeman and Raymond Ray.
Flowers Taylor said, “if you are able to farm now, you will be able to farm after. If you are able to build a subdivision now, you will be able to build after.”
She said “the plan is not stamped with God’s seal. Nobody said it won’t change, but we have to plan for the future. I want my son to get a job – that hasn’t happened yet. I want him to pull up his pants – that hasn’t happened either. I may have to change tactics.”
Flowers-Taylor said, “All the plans we have made, if we don’t have water, if we don’t have industry and jobs, we will still be a broke, dead mill town.”
In response to residents saying they don’t want the airport, she said, “people don’t want new stuff in their back yard. This is almost in mine.”
She said of future commissioners, “I hope they’ll be smart enough to change plans, if it’s not working. All we’re doing is asking to solidify this plan.”
The change in the future land use map for the new airport site, roughly between Jackson, High Falls, Musgrove and Sapelo roads, said Community Development Director Chad Jacobs, “allows for the airport and future expansion of industrial next to the new airport site.”
Jacobs said the request is compliant with the goals listed in the Spalding County Comprehensive Plan and the county’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan and was supported by the Griffin-Spalding Area Transportation Committee.
The proposed change was unanimously recommended for denial by the Spalding County Planning Commission at its meeting last month, when more then 40 residents in and around the area in question turned out for the hearing with several speaking out against the change.
About that many of those same residents were at Monday’s called meeting with 10 speaking out, citing the decision of the voters to deny airport by voting down the transportation sales tax which would have funded the purchase of land and building of the new airport.
Also speaking against the change and explaining the recommendation to deny was Ed Johnson, chairman of the Spalding County Planning Commission. Johnson said there are concerns that Jackson Road Elementary is sitting at the end of the proposed runway and “if it has to be moved will cost the county taxpayers.”
He also said “changing 800 acres to commercial is not supportive of the community goals for the area.”
As a Spalding County homeowner and taxpayer, Johnson said, he was concerned about the negative impact of the new airport. “Residential values will drop,” he claimed.
Johnson also cited the proximity of Tara Field in Hampton to Griffin and Henry County’s plans to widen and lengthen the runway there to 100 feet wide and 5,500 feet long – “the same size and capabilities as what is proposed in this new airport, ”
He said, “I don’t think it makes sense to expand and fund an airport in Spalding County, when this (Tara Field) is maybe 15 minutes from (Georgia) Highway 16.”
Roger Bass, who lives on Musgrove Road, was critical of the “wishful thinking” for the new airport and “putting hundreds of children in danger” with an airport near Jackson Road Elementary and Kennedy Road Middle schools.
Jackson Road Elementary is 2,520 feet from the proposed airport site, while Anne Street Elementary is five feet closer to the current airport, only 2,515 feet away. Kennedy Road Middle is 4,150 feet away from the proposed airport site, while Crescent Elementary is 3,970 feet away from the current airport.
“There is a Plan B,” Bass said, “Butts County wants to build an airport near the interstate. That’s more logical and where industry wants to locate, near the interstate.”
Flowers-Taylor said she was disappointed Spalding County residents use Henry County as an example and do not want bring development and a tax base here. “We can’t compare ourselves to Henry County,” she said. “We’re not as big and don’t have as many people.”
Airport Authority members Dick Morrow and Carl Pruitt spoke in favor of the change with both touting the potential for jobs and increase in tax base from the ad valorem taxes paid to the county on a corporate jet parked at the new airport.
“One jet makes the airport profitable,” Morrow said. “Our little 3,700-foot runway can’t accommodate jets and that’s where the money is. One $10 million business jet pays $160,000 in property taxes.”
Pruitt said “there’s a dilemma, the current airport cannot make a profit. It’s too small, too short and on a two-lane road that makes it difficult to get cargo in or out.”
He said the old airport has to be maintained to certain standards. “It will cost $60 million to build a new airport, with 90 percent of the funding reimbursed by the FAA and GDOT. Do we put $15 million in the old one or $6 million in a new one?”
Pruitt was concerned as taxpayer that city and county “taxes will continue to go up without industry and jobs coming here.”
Morrow said his reason for pushing for the airport was “jobs, jobs and jobs. We need to create a business tax base. As homeowners, we need to share the tax burden with business.”
Prior to making the motion to approve the change, Ray said, "I want other people paying taxes. We can't do that if we don't bring business into the community."