Proposed Southeast Decatur apartments advance, despite farmer's argument

·3 min read

Jun. 23—Bellowing cattle and the smell of manure at a small farm next to a proposed Upper River Road Southeast apartment complex would disturb the future tenants, the farm owners said, but their argument failed to derail the process of annexing land for the apartments into Decatur.

"Are any of the members of the Planning Commission familiar with the smell of fresh cow manure and the noise made from cows and just-weaned calves?" Greg Blythe asked the commission this week. "Has the Planning Commission considered the health issues of having livestock within 30 feet of an apartment building?"

The arguments by Greg and Lile Blythe added a new opposition approach to complaints previously made by residents of the Hickory Hills subdivision, also next to the proposed apartments, that the complex is ill-suited to the area due to its potential impact on neighbors, traffic and the environment.

Nonetheless, the Planning Commission voted unanimously in Tuesday's monthly meeting to recommend accepting local businessman Andy Villarreal's request to annex his 14.57 acres in the 2900 block of Upper River Road into the city.

The Planning Commission's recommendation to accept the Villarreal annexation now goes to the City Council for final consideration.

Villarreal had his property pre-zoned in April for R-4, multi-family residential, despite opposition from Hickory Hills residents and the Blythes, who do not live within the city limits.

Villarreal said in February that he plans to spend up to $25 million building a Class A apartment complex with 175 to 200 units.

The Blythes own 2.7 acres at 3207 Old River Road that Greg Blythe called a "working livestock farm" that has been in operation for over 20 years. Their property connects with Villarreal's property on its eastern end.

Planning Commission Kent Lawrence responded that he knows cattle are being raised in the area.

"What's the difference in (a farm) being 30 feet from apartments and 30 feet from a single-family home?" Lawrence said.

Lile Blythe said the city's consultant, Clarion Inc., said the zoning setback for property adjacent to agricultural land "should be 50 to 70 feet."

"It's not pleasant when there are three or four nights in which a mom (cow) is bellowing for her weaned calf," Lile Blythe said.

However, Lawrence said Clarion's setback recommendation is "one of many" that a committee struck from the proposed rewrite that is expected to become public later this summer.

"The setback is not in the rewrite," Lawrence said.

The city hired Clarion, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for $195,000 in 2018 to lead the effort to rewrite the zoning codes, some of which have been in place for more than 50 years.

Lile Blythe also asked if the commission had seen any environmental study of the effects of runoff from the apartments' parking lot on the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, but didn't get a response.

Jo-Amrah Dillingham, of Hickory Hills Road, suggested the city may have liability "from the water pollution created by a 400-car parking lot."

Dillingham asked what the financial benefits are for Villarreal to annex his property into the city for the apartment complex, and Lawrence answered that the "main thing is to get access to utilities and connect with city sewer."

Lile Blythe told the Planning Commission that the City Council "sometimes seems to rubber-stamp" the commission's recommendations. She urged the commission to reconsider the apartment complex.

Despite the light attendance at Tuesday's meeting, Lile Blythe said there's still major opposition from neighboring residents to the development.

"Sadly, many are truly against the apartments but they've just given up," she said.

bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.