Port Wentworth farmers ready to sell due to industrial development

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 8:31 PM EDT
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PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WTOC) - Industrial development in Port Wentworth has put a stain on the city for decades...so much so that there is an active moratorium for any industrial rezoning.

Generational farmers in Monteith and Meinhard communities say the damage has already been done.

“What they do is tax or zone you out,” said Willie Johnson, who owns Promised Land Farms.

Willie Johnson and his brother Robert have owned Promised Land Farms for 22 years.

“I’m 78 years old...” said Robert Johnson, who owns Promised Land Farms.

Between the Johnsons and the Hesters, they own more than 200 acres of land, but they’re ready to give it all away – not because they want to.

“We cant’ afford to leave and rebuild elsewhere at residential rates,” said Janet Hester, who owns Hester Farms. “We can’t even afford a commercial rate.”

Hendley Rd. was the latest project – rezoned two years ago to industrial. They said they never realized how much harm development could do until it happened.

Hester said, “next thing you know they’re clearing the timber. Next thing, you know they’re bringing in dirt, hauling and changing the road and the reality of what that looked like...we went oh, wow...”

Now, they’re appealing to the city to help them leave with some of the investment they’ve worked their whole lives for.

They are doing that by asking for the very thing they’ve pushed against – industrial rezoning.

“If I don’t leave...look what will happen. I’m trying to do something while I’m still here.”

A historic designation has been discussed for years.

Farmers wanted it before as a form of protection.

Now, they say it will only prevent a developer from wanting to buy their land due to the protections that are often affiliated with land that is deemed historic.

“Now is not the time to rezone us historic. It would actually hurt and harm our ability to sell our land and get enough money to relocate,” said Hester.

The farmers said they are speaking for themselves. They don’t have a timeline, but they know it’s what’s best and they’re hoping the city will right what they say are years of wrongs.

“We’ve been squeezed and squeezed and squeezed...they tax us, squeezing warehouses...where can we go?”

Port Wentworth ‘s city manager said their request to rezone those neighborhoods industrial is not the direction the city is heading, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

WTOC has reported they currently have an agency re-evaluating their zoning ordinances during their industrial rezoning moratorium.