As Bernard Garrett, daughter Katie Garrett, and son Simon Garrett tell the story, the family's companies, Roll Off Systems, Walton C&D Landfill, and the proposed Harvest Recycling, are a simple outgrowth of the family's history of farming and its commitment to the land.
County records indeed document the agricultural origins and vestiges of what has become a business with 35 employees in both Oconee County and Walton County.
The business office is the converted home where Bernard Garrett raised his family.
On another piece of land, also zoned agriculture, they operate what the state Environment Protection Division classifies as a Recovered Materials Processing Facility. They also store containers and portable toilets from Roll Off Systems on that site.
Now the Garretts are asking Oconee County to grant them a special use permit within the agricultural zone to expand that second facility into a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) that would allow them to import a wider range of materials, including some household waste, so recyclable materials can be recovered and kept out of landfills.
They also are seeking a variance that would allow them to more than double the number of truck trips on Dials Mill Road to an estimated 100 as they expand the recycling operation.
That road, the Garretts point out, was built as a farm-to-market roadway in another era on land donated by the parents of Bernard Garrett.
To say that the Garrett narrative is not embraced by many of the neighbors in subdivisions that have grown up around the Garrett farms and businesses is an understatement. It also isn’t shared by all members of the extended Garrett family.
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis has joined with at least one neighbor and the Garretts to explore the possibility of alternate sites, including part of the county’s Gateway Industrial Park, before May 7, when the county is scheduled to make a decision on the implications of the Garrett narrative.
Meeting On April 19
According to Davis, Joshua Sharp and Simon Garrett, the three of them, plus Bernard Garrett, met in Davis’ office at the courthouse on April 19 to discuss the controversy raised by the Garretts’ request for the special use and variance permits.
Sharp, a chemist and research scientist at the University of Georgia, told me in a telephone conversation on Friday that he called Davis and requested that April 19 meeting after he, Bernard and Simon Garrett, and David Nisbet met in Sharp’s home the evening before.
Sharp, along with Nisbet, live in Belfair subdivision in the triangle between U.S. 78, SR 316 and Dials Mill Road in the far west of the county.
Belfair is near the site of the proposed MRF, at 1441 Dials Mill Road, and Sharp spoke against the special use and variance request at the Oconee County Planning Commission meeting on April 15.
The Planning Commission voted 9-2 to recommend approval of the special use permit to the BOC. The BOC alone considers the variance request. (The video of Katie Garrett above is from that same Planning Commmission meeting.)
IDA Land Suggested
Simon Garrett confirmed in a separate telephone conversation on Friday that he had participated in both meetings and confirmed Sharp’s statement that the possibility of the Garretts moving their project to the Gateway Industrial Park had been broached.
Simon Garrett told me in that telephone conversation on Friday that he and his father were open to that possibility.
The plan, Sharp, Simon Garret and Davis said, was for Davis to bring up, during a called meeting of the IDA held Monday afternoon, the possibility of the IDA selling a 13-acre tract to the Garretts for the MRF.
The IDA went into executive session shortly after convening on Monday. Russ Page, a citizen active in the county, attended that meeting and recorded it for me.
Davis told me when I spoke with him by telephone today that he would not divulge the discussions in the executive session, but he did say, as the video shows, that the executive session was called so the IDA could discuss land sale and land acquisition.
The IDA did not take any action when it reconvened after the executive session.
IDA Site Also A-1
Davis told me that he advised the Garretts that the 13-acre part of the Gateway Industrial Park, separated from the two larger tracts by SR 316, also is zoned agricultural and that the Garretts would have to go through the same process for that site as for the site they have on Dials Mill Road.
Simon Garrett told me on Friday that the Garretts had considered the Gateway site before settling on their current location.
“The vision of the county is more of a technology park,” he said. “But we are happy to be anywhere that the county is happy to have us.”
He said the company also had considered putting the MRF on the site of the Walton C&D Landfill, on U.S. 78 just inside Walton County, but the space on that site is too limited and a separate residence is too close based on Walton County requirements, he said.
Garrett said he feels the proposed location on Dials Mill Road is a “great” one because it is “not visible to the general public.”
History of the Site
Bernard, 69, and Simon, 32, had invited me to visit the headquarters of Roll Off Systems, on B. Garrett Drive, and the site of the proposed MRF on April 13.
This was after I published a story on April 10 containing a video clip of Sherri Tirri, 1190 Dials Mill Road, calling attention critically to the request for the special use permit for the MRF.
Tirri is the daughter of Jerry Garrett, a brother of Bernard Garrett, and therefore cousin of Simon and Katie Garrett.
Bernard Garrett told me that the farm on which he and his five brothers were raised consisted of 240 acres. (Katie told the Planning Commission, video clip above, that her father was born on the farm.)
William C. Garrett, on his death, divided that farm among the six sons, Bernard Garrett said, and Bernard got the roughly 40 acres at 1441 Dials Mill Road. About 9 acres of that land are to be used for the MRF.
Bernard Garrett said he purchased roughly 100 acres, the current site of Roll Off Systems, so he could expand his farming, and that he got into the recycling business first as an outgrowth of clearing land both for farming and for residential development. He began by composting the cleared wood products, he said.
Simon Garrett repeated that story at the Planning Commission meeting.
Bernard Garrett told me the division of the original 240 acres has not been done amicably. He also said that the final resolution of the estate remains unsettled.
Dials Mill Road Story
Bernard also told me that Dials Mill Road had been built through the original 240 acres of the family farm and that the family had given up the land for the project during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Katie Garrett, 21, repeated the story as part of her presentation to the Planning Commission.
The story is important, she said, because the Garretts, through the variance request, are asking to use a roadway that they helped build.
That variance request is necessary because Dials Mill Road is currently classified as a Minor Collector, while the county’s Unified Development Code specifies that Recycling and Materials Recovery Facilities must be accessed from a road classified as an arterial or major collector road.
The County planning staff, in a report dated April 17, said that, “Based upon the standards and limitations for hardship variance approval, this request does not meet the necessary conditions to grant a hardship variance.”
The staff also has not recommended approval of the special use permit for the MRF.
B.R. White, director of Planning and Code Enforcement for Oconee County, told me on Friday that the current use by the Garretts of the land at 1441 Dials Mill Road for storage of canisters and portable toilets and for the Recovered Materials Processing Facility is not in compliance with the county’s Unified Development Code.
White said the county “just recently found out about” the operation.
“Code enforcement operates by complaint,” he said. “We don’t know until somebody tells us about it.”
White said his office would “see how far we get with the Special Use Permit” before deciding on the next course of action.
White also said the operation of Roll Off Systems on land zoned agricultural would not be allowed under the current zoning law, but it could have been allowed when the business license was granted to the Garretts.
If the Garretts were to ask to expand that operation, he said, they would have to meet current code for that expansion.
I received a comment on my posting on April 15 dealing with the county’s noise ordinance and the Garretts' operation of Roll Off Systems. I did not publish the comment because it did not meet the standards I have spelled out for comments on the site. (See the column at the right.)
I did call Gaby Bryan in the Code Enforcement Office after receiving the comment and asked her to explain to me what the county’s ordinance prohibits.
That ordinance, on the county web site, states that “No person shall create or cause to be created an excessively loud and disturbing noise within the unincorporated area of the county between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.”
Excessively loud noise and disturbing noise, according to the county ordinance, “means if a person of normal hearing who is inside a residence that is not the location of the source of the noise can: (1) Clearly hear the noise; (2) Distinguish the noise from the background ambient noise; and (3) Ascertain and identify the nature and the source of the noise.”
There is an exception, Bryan told me.
Because farmers operate equipment at all hours of the day and farm animals make noises at all hours of the day, farms are exempt.
The ordinance states: “This article shall not apply to noises arising from normal and customary transportation and agricultural activities.”
The Garrett narrative makes it clear that they are part of Old Oconee, that they are farmers operating on agricultural land and that they, not the people in the subdivisions surrounding them, were there first.
NOTE: I made a mistake in an earlier version of this story. The father of Bernard Garrett is William C. Garrett, and that is the name that Bernard Garrett gave me. I misread my own notes and confused the name of the father with the name of one of the six sons. I apologize.
The full video of the Planning Commission meeting, from which all of the video clips used here are taken, is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.