East Flat Rock – Friends of East Flat Rock, opponents of the planned asphalt mixing plant in East Flat Rock, scored a major victory for at least the near future, as the project applicant last week withdrew his request to rezone the property to allow the facility.
The project was twice submitted for rezoning, and both times the request was pulled before Henderson County commissioners formally voted on the matter. The first time was eight months ago.
Many see withdrawing the rezoning request as an indicator that the current board seems against the rezoning.
Brian Gulden, attorney for rezoning applicant H.S. Shipman, LLC (Jeff Shipman), cited in an email several commissioners urging withdrawal of the conditional rezoning request to him and that commissioner Mike Edney publicly stood against the rezoning. The Tribune obtained a copy of the email, which Gulden sent to Henderson County Attorney Russ Burrell on Tuesday, June 1.
Gulden, of The Van Winkle Law Firm, classified the memo as a “formal withdrawal” for conditional rezoning case R-2021-01-C. The rezoning sought was from community commercial (allowing retail, offices) to conditional district zoning — for 6.5 vacant acres of Shipman’s nearly 12-acre tract off Spartanburg Hwy./U.S. 176.
Gulden emailed Burrell about this shortly after noon, which was six hours ahead of the special county meeting slated for that evening. The meeting then was canceled.
Had it gone on, project opponents were ready to show in full force, even though public input was not permitted. The matter was previously discussed in a public hearing.
Commissioners met Monday, June 7 and focused on a budget public hearing. Their next regularly scheduled meeting is June 16, starting at 9:30 am in the Historic Courthouse upstairs meeting room.
Project Foes’ Concerns
The rezoning could be resubmitted again, such as in upcoming years if different commissioners are elected who seem more favorable to it. Project foe Connie Marie Harrison-Bressler predicted “he will reapply when he feels he can win” with enough commissioner votes.
Other project opponents also commented on the Friends of East Flat Rock (FOEFR) Facebook home page. Some stated the site was cleared, causing run-off woes for nearby properties.
They express concern site preparation might continue — whether to prepare it for sale for another use or to swiftly build the asphalt plant even without rezoning authorization. They suggested that if the asphalt facility went up unauthorized, county fines might not deter enough and it might take legal action by the county and/or the citizens’ group to try to stop its completion or to shut it down.
Thus, donations will still be sought to build up a legal fund, FOEFR co-founder Michelle Tennant Nicholson indicated. She cautioned on the group’s Facebook page that “we don’t know if or when Jeff Shipman will reapply” for rezoning, and authorized construction of the facility. She also said that “naturally, we will remain united should the asphalt plant choose to reapply again.”
Jim Kilpatrick posted on the FOEFR Facebook page about both financial and emotional costs of dealing with a possible major industry nearby, and about no end necessarily for periodic renewal of rezoning requests for the asphalt project. He wrote the developer “has held this community hostage for a year now. People can’t sell their properties because no one is going to buy them with the prospect of an asphalt plant going in. This is not fair…”
Kilpatrick calls on commissioners to revise county regulations if needed, to put a limit on rezoning requests for a tract. “Stop this nonsense of pulling the permit at the last minute, and reapplying every six months!”
Brett Rice posted not opposition to an asphalt mixing plant, but instead that “hopefully he’ll build it in a more industrialized area locally.”
Friends of East Flat Rock leader Mrs. Nicholson celebrated, on Facebook (“We’ve won!”) and in press releases. She thanked commissioners, the Planning Board — which twice recommended against the rezoning — and planning staff for “endless hours receiving emails, letters and phone calls.” She noted strength in numbers of 13,353 people who signed a petition in the past year, since June 1, 2020, when first learning of the rezoning application. She thanked donors to the group, and media coverage.
Her gratitude is on behalf of “all the neighbors who signed our petition and have worked tirelessly to fight this asphalt plant rezoning property next door to our churches, schools, homes, and businesses.”
Nicholson termed the rezoning decision a choice of “what’s best for all of us, not just one of us. She said the site is merely 1,100 feet from her house. She noted that Greene River Game Lands are also nearby.
Looking ahead, she said, “since we defeated the asphalt plant twice, Friends of East Flat Rock will now serve as a volunteer group to leverage resources for East Flat Rock and its rich history and opportunities for growth in Henderson County.”