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Benton County board denies appeal of Simmons plant

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's Planning Appeals Board on Monday said neighbors of the proposed Simmons Foods plant near Gentry have no standing to appeal the plant's approval.

The Appeals Board voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution saying "non-applicants" have no right to appeal decisions of the Benton County Planning Board. Appeals Board Chairman Mark Curtis cast the lone vote in favor of allowing the appeal.

Planning appeals

Benton County planning regulations provide a written appeal must be filed “by the applicant” within 30 days of the decision sought to be appealed. Applicant is defined as “the person or persons making an application to the county for approval of any type of review subject of this ordinance.”

Source: Benton County

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The Appeals Board held a public meeting, but allowed comments only from board members and county attorney George Spence.

Spence told the board the county's planning regulations as currently written do not allow anyone other than the applicant in a project to appeal a Planning Board decision. Spence said earlier versions of the planning ordinance allowed for adjacent property owners to appeal planning decision, but that language was left out when the ordinance was revised in 2014.

"It is my advice that you dismiss this appeal as one that cannot be pursued," Spence told the board.

Curtis said he was troubled by the restrictions on who can appeal. He said the current planning regulation initially says "citizens" can appeal and he would like to see that term broadly applied.

"I think it includes all of us and should include all of us," Curtis said.

Joel Jones, Justice of the Peace for District 7 and a member of the appeals board, made the motion to deny the appeal. Jones said he's "in a quandary" over the language in the ordinance, but he believes the language that restricts appeals to applicants is clear. Jones said the ordinance is now being revised and this section will be looked at as part of the revisions.

"That's certainly something I'll take up in the Quorum Court," Jones said.

According to information submitted to the Planning Department, the company plans a 400,000-square-foot poultry processing facility on 563 acres at 9802 S. Arkansas 59. The building site would take up about 100 acres.

David Jackson, Simmons president and chief operating officer for prepared foods, told the Planning Board at the December meetings the company needed to move from its location in downtown Decatur because space there is limited and the company plans to expand the operation. Jackson said the company has about 700 employees at the Decatur location and will have about 900 at the new location when it opens.

Over a period of three to four years, the company plans to grow the operation to have up to 2,500 employees, Jackson said.

The plant will operate 24 hours a day from Sunday through Friday with three shifts each day -- two production shifts and one cleanup shift, Jackson said.

Jackson estimated the plant will have trucks driving on and off the site at a rate of about one truck every six minutes. Randy Tolbert, one of the consultants for the project, said the Arkansas Department of Transportation will make the decision on whether a traffic light is to be installed at the plant entrance on Arkansas 59. Turns lanes will be added, he said.

According to Jackson, the company planned to break ground on the plant early in 2018 and open in the fourth quarter of 2019. He said the operation will shift from the Decatur location to the new plant immediately.

The county's Planning Board voted to approve the plans for the plant in December after a public hearing. Neighbors objected to the project at the hearing, citing concerns over increased truck traffic and employee traffic; the potential adverse effect on property value; possible groundwater contamination; the potential leaks of hazardous chemicals used in the facility; odors and noise from the operation and the conflict between an industrial facility and the surrounding residential and agricultural uses.

Benton County's planning ordinance provides for land use planning, not zoning. The county uses a compatibility matrix listing the categories of land use recognized in the ordinance from agricultural to heavy industrial and ranks them for compatibility. Residential use would be compatible with other residential uses, while heavy industrial would be listed as incompatible with surrounding residential property.

The Planning Board uses the matrix to help determine if projects fit into uses and if incompatible uses can be modified enough to be approved.

When the board approved the Simmons Foods plant board members noted the company was willing to mitigate problems with traffic, noise, odors and lighting. The plant will have larger setbacks from the property lines than the minimum requirements under the county ordinance, will shield outdoor lighting to limit any effect on neighboring properties and will have extensive landscape buffering.

NW News on 02/13/2018

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