A public meeting was held in Sale Creek Thursday night to hear comments from the people who would be most impacted by Hamilton County’s purchase of the McDonald Farm. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said that he sees the $16 million farm as a great opportunity for all the residents of Hamilton County along with the benefit of creating jobs.
Enterprise South, the site where the Volkswagen factory is located, was referenced as a model throughout the meeting. Mayor Coppinger used it as an example of modern manufacturing that doesn’t produce noise or pollution, to the roads throughout the community surrounding the facility and the passive park that is part of that property.
He said there may be the possibility of developing 300 more acres there and then no more land will be available. Looking to the future, McDonald Farm is the only large property left in the county with enough land for this type of development, he said.
The county has done due diligence on the property, he said, and found that there are 2,172 acres. A survey will be done before the sale is closed in the next three or four months. The family’s home is on the property, and until it is developed, that residence could be used as a wedding venue, a retreat or as a place to teach children about agriculture, he said. There are about 700 acres of the farm that are suitable for economic development.
At this time, needed infrastructure is not in place and he estimated it would take around five years to get it ready for an industrial site. Now there is no sewer system, but the treatment plant in Dayton has offered to take care of the sewage. There would also need to be drastic changes to provide water to the location and an on and off ramp built on Highway 27 for easy access. EPB is already on site and there is a railroad on the property. Spurs would be added to various locations. Until all the infrastructure is in place, he said that the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation department is excited because of the possibilities. He said no buildings are planned to be torn down but the county’s insurer would not approve having a swimming pool. There are also tennis courts, but they are not in good shape, he said.
Plans are for two phases. In the short term, he said he is looking at sharing the property with the whole Hamilton County community for educational, agricultural, and fun activities.
In the long run, the property will be developed. He is hoping to see a large business locate headquarters here, because he said they pay well. There is already interest in building a solar farm, and he said it could be put in a place that it would not be seen. He said the county would welcome participation from the community for activities such as building horseback riding trails or bike paths, and could be used for those activities until it is used for something else, he said. In response to the question about how much green space would actually remain after development of the site begins in several years, he replied “Some.” Some of the areas that are not suitable for development will be set aside for recreation, he said. “We have always said it would be for mixed use.” The goal is to fit into the community in a smart way with their input.
People who live in Sale Creek and many close neighbors to the farm asked questions and voiced their concerns. They included questions of how to handle increased traffic and avoid congestion with the addition of industry. Mayor Coppinger said roads would be enhanced and that good roads and the on/off ramp would be required for manufacturing. Asked about the number of new homes that would be expected with the development, he said that kind of growth would require the improvements to infrastructure and assistance from the state of Tennessee and could not start immediately. But he said another public meeting will be held before development starts so the residents would not be blindsided. Workforce and how to get many people to the north end of the county will be a concern for employers, in addition to the need for affordable housing. he said.
One speaker asked for a master plan to see what impact the development would have on the entire northern part of the county, including the environment. Another had concerns if a landfill would be permitted. Mayor Coppinger said that personally, he does not see the county operating a landfill because it is not centrally located. He said if it does, he hopes it would be in a remote area. Zoning would first have to be changed. Plus it would be a long process to get a permit. Public meetings would be held for that discussion, he said.
John McDonald, a distant cousin, said the family has owned the farm for 200 years and his family and many people in Sale Creek have strong agricultural backgrounds. His concern is with the changes, that public land rights for agriculture would be restricted. “We want you to participate,” said Mayor Coppinger.
The farm was an integral part of Hamilton County when it was established, said James Harvey. He suggested using the house and land for historic and agricultural purposes. To applause, he said “that with any industrial park the surrounding pay goes up, but the quality of life goes down.” He asked for the county to give “strong consideration to that and to preserve our way of life.”
"We can’t promise change isn’t coming," said the mayor. “Sometimes change isn’t good,” replied Mr. Harvey.
"We have the opportunity to do it right, and with community meetings, find a balance between what the citizens want and what’s best for the community,” said Mayor Coppinger.
Daniel Hopper said what keeps him in Sale Creek is the peace and quiet and being able to see the stars at night. His concern is about noise and pollution that manufacturing would cause. “We don’t want their neighbors complaining,” said the mayor, adding that manufacturing has changed.
Darlene Carlson, representing the Audubon Society which has property adjacent to the farm, asked for a buffer to camouflage the development.
One speaker suggested for the community of Sale Creek to incorporate in order to have more control over what will happen. The mayor replied that services that have to be paid under a charter cost a lot.