Effingham County commissioners have agreed to make adjustments in the stipulations placed on the Effingham Industrial Development Authority for its tracts off Interstate 16.
The original stipulations were imposed on the two tracts — a tract of more than 1,500 acres north of I-16 and a tract of 180 acres on the south side of the interstate — eight years ago. They called for the IDA to build a tertiary-level wastewater treatment plant, with a capacity of 100,000 gallons per day more than the anticipated demand, along with maintaining an 800-foot buffer between the plant and adjoining property owners. The stipulations also called for a 400-foot buffer between the entire tracts and neighboring residential property owners.
Commissioners opted to allow the IDA to negotiate smaller buffers with adjoining property owners and to remove the need to build an on-site wastewater treatment plant.
“I think this puts us in a much better situation,” said IDA CEO John Henry, “not to continue to spend taxpayer dollars on something that might not be necessary.”
Other changes included providing an access management plan and traffic safety plan to county staff. Under the original stipulations, the access management and traffic safety plans had to go before county staff and the commissioners for review and approval.
“We were happy to work with the public and address their concerns and listen to them,” Henry said. “I think it’s a win-win for the taxpayers of Effingham County.”
The planning board recommended making changes to the access management and traffic safety plans requirements and to the sewage treatment plant requirements. Board members balked at adjusting the buffers for the treatment plant and the property as a whole.
“A lot of the stipulations only refer to the north tract anyway,” county zoning administrator George Shaw said. “A treatment plant was not contemplated for the south tract.”
While Moon River Studios is planning to build a massive movie production complex on the northern tract, the south tract does not have a potential user.
Shaw said the planning board recommended denying the change in stipulations “because they felt strongly the buffers should stay in place.”
Shaw said traffic safety and access management plans generally come back to the staff, and not to commissioners, for approval.
“Through the discussion with the public and hearing their concerns at the planning and zoning meeting, we are willing to concede any of those changes,” Henry said. “We’re happy to pursue the zoning stipulations regarding buffers.”
Meldrim resident Hubert Sapp, a former county commissioner who pushed for the original stipulations, urged current commissioners to adhere to the buffer mandates.
“I have a problem in removing any of the stipulations or being able to have a contractual agreement with a property owner,” he said. “Right now, we don’t know what’s going in there. I’d rather that stipulation be in place. As such time as the movie studio goes in, as a quiet operation, I don’t think any of the property owners would have a problem with it.”
Sapp said that at the time of the stipulations, connecting the site to the county’s existing wastewater treatment lines would have been too expensive.
“It was five times more expensive to come to the county than it was to build the plant,” he said.
According to the studios, the engineering and design water lines plans for the first construction phase were submitted in April, and the studio has submitted the engineering and design of the entrance and main roads. A revised master plan was approved by the planning board May 18, and the company’s engineers, Hussey Gay Bell, is working on engineering and design for the sound stages in phase one.
“We continue to make strong and steady progress,” said Steven Wohlfeil, a principal of Hussey, Gay, Bell. “I am pleased with the filing for the water line and entrance permits, and we are working steadfastly on obtaining all of the other permits necessary to begin construction.”
Moon River CEO Jake Shapiro said their motto is the tortoise, because of its slow and steady pace, adding the directive is to “stick to the plan, don’t get distracted by shiny objects.”
“We feel great,” he said. “It’s terrific. We’re very happy. Everything is going forward very nicely. Everything has been going extremely smooth, according to plan.”