by Chris Butler
Sumner County Executive Anthony Holt hoped last year to use taxpayer money to buy land for a new industrial park. But the county already has such a park, in Gallatin, with lots of acreage left for future needs.
A public outcry ensued, and Holt’s idea didn’t get far.
But that doesn’t mean this story is over, and it doesn’t mean a fight isn’t brewing.
Sumner County is about 40 miles northeast of Nashville.
A group of landowners in Sumner’s rural farming areas say they had the most to lose because that park would have been built adjacent to their properties. Their property values, they went on, would have suffered. A nearby industrial park might have displaced them from their homes.
The properties they own are small compared to those of their neighbors, who own large tracts of land awarded their ancestors by the U.S. government after the Revolutionary War.
The smaller property owners said they believe Holt and other people of influence, especially developers, are working discretely to make the industrial park a reality.
These property owners said the already existing Gallatin Industrial Park can fill whatever industrial needs the county has — and then some.
Gallatin Economic Development Agency Executive Director James Fenton said the park has 70 remaining acres to fill. He said elected officials in Gallatin are not inclined to purchase more land for the park at this point in time.
“We’re looking at working with the neighboring landowners as opposed to purchasing additional acreage,” Fenton said.
Brad Wear, whose home is near the park Holt wanted to build, said Gallatin’s existing park several miles away is well developed.
“All the stuff it needs is already at the site,” Wear said, adding this other industrial park might have taken up as much as 1,000 acres at a cost of $20 million to taxpayers.
“No one understands why we would impact a whole new area when we have land already developed. Clearly someone is pushing this.”
Wear and many of his neighbors met with Tennessee Watchdog late last month. Developers who are tight with Holt, they said, are trying to persuade folks with larger tracts to sell them, and the goal is to rezone it from agricultural to industrial.
“A number of other sites have been done similarly, and then they sit there for years and it costs many multiples more than originally stated,” Wear said.
“Counties or states become desperate because of the carrying costs of land, and all the infrastructure to build shovel ready is too expensive. These corporations that come in have all the leverage because they can pick from 100 sites in the Southeast and every one of them is desperate, and then they get those deals and it costs the counties and states a lot of money.”
As Tennessee Watchdog reported last year, Tennessee gave away $5.7 million in taxpayer money to develop industrial parks in 15 rural counties, yet those parks remained vacant.
Sumner County Commissioner Steve Graves said he fears the same thing would happen at Holt’s proposed park.
Another commissioner, Moe Taylor, said he has no evidence any businesses would come, which is why he opposes building a park.
“It’s a rural farming community lacking the proper infrastructure, and millions of dollars would be needed to provide it,” Taylor said.
“And in certain places it’s such a way that if you come across a car you have to stop or slow down.”
Larry Hinton, another commissioner, is against the proposed park. He says the county isn’t hurting for more people.
“The influx of population in Sumner County is faster than what we can keep up with now,” said Hinton, who added that many people are fleeing Nashville in favor of Sumner.
Fenton, meanwhile, when asked about the proposed park, said he’s “not stepping into that.” But he did say companies won’t wait long for needed infrastructure, and road access to the area is a challenge.
Holt told Tennessee Watchdog that, had his original plans gone through, he would have used state grant money on an industrial site evaluation. Holt’s eventual goal was to survey the land, do environmental studies, build a park and then lure in a regional employer.
“There was a lot of opposition to this. The board of county commissioners decided this wasn’t something they wanted to do,” Holt said.
“I let the grant money go back, and we did nothing. I dropped it.”
Holt said his proposed park is adjacent to a railroad and that Gallatin’s existing park is not.
“Their focus is on small 200-acre developments, and it’s not rail served,” Holt said.
“I’m talking about advanced manufacturing and heavy industry. This would have complemented the other site.”
But, as Tennessee Watchdog will report in parts two and three of this series, other people in power possibly aren’t giving up on the project.
Reprinted with permission from TennesseeWatchdog.org
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