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Fulton commissioners debate environmental zoning law
by Caroline Young
April 17, 2013 02:03 PM | 4008 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Environmentally hazardous locations may have to be further apart if the Fulton County Board of Commissioners approves an environmental justice amendment to the zoning code.

At its meeting Wednesday at the Fulton County Government Center in downtown Atlanta, the board voted 5-1 to defer the decision to the first week in June. It was previously deferred at the March 6 meet-ing.

The amendment would change Article 4 of the resolution to add Article 4.18 to promote environmentally adverse use, and establish distance requirements between “pollution points” and neighborhoods, said District 5 Commissioner Emma Darnell.

Darnell, who dissented, initially moved to approve a shorter deferral of the amendment to the first week in May, and said a shorter time period will be sufficient time to come to a conclusion.

“This is a health public safety issue,” she said.

A Fulton County resident who identified herself as Ms. Watkins, agrees with the amendment, said it would help to guard neighborhoods from environmental stressors.

“We need to be proactive and make sure any business that wishes to come into the area has a preap-proval meeting with planning staff and make sure they are not going to harm people that live there already,” she said.

Since the last deferral March 6, there was a “vigorous and robust response from representatives from both the community and businesses” in Fulton County, Darnell said.

“There are some portions of Fulton County which represent the highest concentration of environmental stressors and pollution points in a 14-county area,” she said. “Science indicates that if a community is minority, or low-income, or what they call ‘language isolated,’ the [better the] chances that they will have the highest concentration of landfills, water treatment plants and facilities that have been permitted by the EPD and EPA as imposing great risk to the populations.”

While District 2 (At-Large) Commissioner Pitts said he “whole-heartedly” agrees with Darnell, he made the motion to extend the time by another month. He said an additional 30 days would give the board more information “to address all of the issues,” including results of an eco-economic study.

Robert Broome, director of government affairs for the Atlanta Board of Realtors, said the board found enough money to fund an eco-economic analysis by putting together a coalition of groups. He said the study will take about four weeks to complete.

“Then that gives us time to digest and go over with our staff,” Broome said.

He said the board thinks there are several problems with the proposed amendments.

“This particular proposal is sort of the wrong way to do the right thing,” Broome said. “Rather than amending an ongoing resolution, the simplest and most effective thing the commission could do is to add environmental justice standards to the county’s comprehensive plan, which would force every applicant in land development … to address environmental concerns articulated in the county’s comprehensive plan.”

He said the problem is the existing comprehensive plan does not discuss environmental justice.

“We are amending the wrong document,” Broome said. “We do not need to add an additional layer.”

District 3 Commissioner Liz Hausmann said she agrees with Pitts’ thoughts.

“This is an important initiative we need to make sure we get right if we’re going to make this change,” she said.

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