High Falls State Park Enthusiasts Fight To Stop Adjacent Building Project
A group of Butts County residents are fighting to stop warehouses from being built on the banks of High Falls Lake.
Butts County proudly bills itself as Georgia’s Outdoor Capital, but there is concern. An aerial shot of Butts and surrounding counties reveals a threat to those thousands of acres of forests and fields. It is a man-made threat that is creeping across that landscape at kudzu-like speed.
Multi-million-square-foot warehouses and distribution centers are dominating the landscape of the I-75 corridor through Butts, Lamar and Monroe counties. Big-name companies like Home Depot, Dollar General and many others have chosen those exits for gargantuan warehouse facilities to distribute their wares to the Atlanta area and beyond.
Now, the onslaught of big industrial development is getting way too personal for many in the area. Not content to be confined to the I-75 exits, 3 million square feet of new warehouses may be coming directly to the shores of High Falls State Park.
Developer Hillwood Development has begun steps to build the warehouses on 284 acres of land directly on the northwest corner of 640-acre High Falls Lake.
Oddly enough, talk to residents who live in the neighborhoods that surround the state park and you may hear a reference to a 50-year-old song. They fear Joni Mitchell’s 1970s hit, “Big Yellow Taxi,” may about to come into fruition. In that ballad of environmental concern, she decries, “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”
The Butts County Development Authority purchased the 284 acres of land on the shores of the 640-acre lake 20 years ago and had it zoned industrial. The revelation that Hillwood Development now plans to build warehouses directly on the banks of the state park lake has triggered a skirmish.
On one side are the residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the state park, state park visitors and some politicians. On the other side are a developer, those who want to expand the tax base of the surrounding counties and several development boards.
“This is all about the rich people wanting to get richer,” said Joe Reed, who lives in a neighborhood near the state park.
He is helping to head efforts to thwart Hillwood Development’s plans to erect warehouses on the lake’s banks.
“We’re trying to get Hillwood Development to go away,” said Joe. “We’ve taken out Facebook ads in Georgia and in Fort Worth where Hillwood Development’s headquarters are. I sat outside Hillwood’s offices in Buckhead and refused to leave until someone talked to me. They finally let me in to talk to someone, but that was three months ago, and they have refused to talk to me since. Our next goal is to raise the money and purchase the property ourselves. It has a $4 million price tag.”
Reed says should Hillwood Development be successful in building the warehouses, the beauty and stillness of the park would disappear, and surrounding property values would plummet.
“Right now, you can get out in a kayak and see woods on the property,” he said. “If they build there, you’ll be looking at big warehouses and 18-wheelers coming in and out.”
Current Monroe County commissioners are against the warehouses and unanimously passed a resolution objecting to the project. Opposition to the warehouses has resulted in several protests at the Butts County courthouse. More than 6,500 people have signed a petition opposing the potential warehouses.
Regardless, Hillwood Development has moved to the due diligence stage in the negotiations. The Butts County Development Board isn’t backing down, either. Bob White is the executive head of that board and provided this prepared statement when asked by GON for an interview:
“Regarding the Authority’s property adjacent to High Falls Lake, the Development Authority of Butts County has owned the 280 acres that we refer to as Riverview Phase II since 2003, and it has been zoned for industrial development since 2008 and marketed for industrial development since that time. This property is adjacent to Phase I of the Riverview Business Park that has been in operation since the early 1990s. As part of the Authority’s due diligence, there have been various environmental, geotechnical and archaeological studies done on the property, and any development on the property will be subject to all applicable regulations of Butts County, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other governmental entities.”
High Falls Lake State Park is located off I-75 Exit 198 with High Falls State Park Road leading to the park.
“On both sides of Exit 198, they have cleared maybe 1,000 acres to build warehouses,” Reed said. “At Exit 205, plans are for at least 30 warehouses averaging 1 million square feet each. Four miles to the south of Exit 205, they have clearcut 500 acres for additional warehouse development. There are four truck stops at Exit 201. At Exit 201 west of I-75, two lots of 50 acres each are designated for additional warehouse development. The bottom line is that they can build on I-75, but they are not going to build on this lake.”
Reed describes the environmental impact study conducted by the Three Rivers Regional Planning Commission as scary. That study showed that warehouses on the shores of the state park lake could be expected to generate 1,300 tons of waste annually and require the consumption of 63,000 gallons of water per day. It would also produce 50,000 gallons of wastewater daily. There would also be 1,600 additional truck trips daily on a two-lane road.
Not returning calls or emails asking for comment on this issue were any Hillwood Development officials; Brad Vaughn, the head of zoning and development for Butts County; and Joe Brown, the Butts County District 3 commissioner whose district includes the state park.
If you’d like to get in touch and comment on this project, visit the Butts County Board of Commissioners website for contact info. The main office number is 770.775.8200. A direct email to Joe Brown is [email protected].