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Commercial developments questioned
Council postpones votes in hopes of peaceful solution
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Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification, which appears in Saturday's print edition: The fate of two planned businesses is uncertain after neighbors to the proposed commercial developments rallied in opposition.

Homeowners representing a pair of neighborhoods — the Fletcher Drive area and Pittman Park community — congregated at City Hall, during a Tuesday evening meeting of Statesboro City Council, to voice concerns about retail establishments forming in their residential areas.

The proposed businesses creating a stir: a small hair salon (Fletcher Drive) and a Parker's convenience store/gas station (Fair Road).

Council decided to table motions — until its next scheduled meeting — that would have allowed or denied the businesses a chance to open.

It did so, according to members, with hopes that parties interested in starting the businesses will meet with homeowners to alleviate their fears.

"If it is amenable to the people involved, I would like to have everyone sit down (residents and the developer) in the next week or so, to see all of the plans and maybe give each other an opportunity to find a compromise," said Councilman Phil Boyum, speaking of a young woman's request to renovate a Fletcher Drive building for use as a hair salon. "I think there is some middle ground where everyone can be happy."

Hair salon

Venus Mack appealed to council for a special exception that would allow her to operate a small salon in a building that sits on land zoned for single-family residential use.

Mack's family owns the property, and has for several years.

"I don't want to come into the neighborhood and cause any problems. What I am trying to do is something good for the neighborhood," she said. "I know that a lot of people here feel that this is not a good thing to do. I just want everyone to know that I am very negotiable and willing to work with anyone to find common ground."

Mack said the business would be "very small" and "likely service just one customer at a time."

Still, homeowners in the area raised objections, including safety concerns due to increased traffic.
"We are most concerned about this because it would establish a business in our residential community. One business opening in a residential community opens a floodgate, and we don't want that floodgate to be open," resident Leo Sable said. "All of us who live out there live there to raise families. We do not want to raise families in a business environment."

A special exception would not rezone land where the building sits; it would allow only for very specific use of the building as a hair salon, and only by Mack, according to Community Development Director Mandi Cody. The exception cannot transfer to a new owner.

After speaking to council, homeowners and Mack expressed a willingness to discuss compromise.

"Really think about this. And, if you can, give her a chance," urged Roosevelt Love, speaking on Mack's behalf. "It is not going to hurt anyone."

If a compromise cannot be reached, Boyum, whose district includes Fletcher Drive, said he would be inclined to deny the exception.

"I am in a tough situation. I certainly do not want to put my personal opinion on the folks that have to live there, so I would be inclined to side with the majority of people in the neighborhood," he said. "If this is something that they don't want, I'm compelled to go with the general consensus."

Parker's station

A similar debate was sparked regarding a plan to combine and rezone three tracts of land on Fair Road/Catherine Avenue/Herty Drive for use as a Parker's convenience store and gas station.

The land is located across the road from Georgia Southern University's Hanner Fieldhouse and is currently zoned for residential use.

"The property is located next to an extremely busy road, next to one of the fastest growing universities in the state of Georgia. It should be on commercial property," said Laura Marsh, of Franklin Taulbee Rushing Snipes and Marsh LLC., the law firm that represents the property owners. "The lot on Fair Road is no longer suitable for single family residential. I would not want my children playing in the yard next to what has become a five-lane highway."

Property owners say they have tried, and failed, for years to sell the land as it is currently zoned.
"It is a very practical area for commercial uses," said Richard Johnson, an owner of the property. "There is no reason why this property (and the Parker's project) can't be pleasant."

Homeowners nearby, though, want nothing to do with the plan.

"My main concern is: We do not need a commercial property in a residential neighborhood," said Ray Fry, who lives in the area. "People will be parking in places they should not, and traffic on Fair Road will worsen."
Said another resident: "We'd just like to not have our community disturbed."

According to a representative for Parker's, the store "would have landscape buffers, set-backs, LED lighting, and just one entrance (off of Fair Road, rather than Catherine Avenue or Herty Drive)" as a way to minimize impact for homeowners located behind the property.

Residents of the area were able to stave off comparable proposals in recent years, preventing an office building, a Salvation Army store and another gas station from setting up shop.

Those efforts, though, were successful prior to the development of the Statesboro Comprehensive Plan (2009-2029) for growth. The plan identifies Fair Road and adjacent land as suitable for commercial development.

"Not approving this zoning would cause a very real economic hardship on these owners, while providing no benefit to the general public. If this rezoning is denied, it effectively destroys the applicants' ability to ever develop this land," Marsh said. "No one wants to build a single family residence directly on Fair Road. The land is suitable only for commercial and retail use."

Councilman Travis Chance motioned to table votes, in hopes of both parties working together. But when asked, homeowners said they would not entertain a compromise.

"All I am asking is: as rational human beings, can the two parties sit down and find out if there is any middle ground? If there is, great. If there is not, that is fine as well," Chance said. "I am neither for nor against it. I see both sides. I would like to table this to allow the developer and the homeowners to get together to see if some compromise can be reached. If that is not possible, then we'll vote in two weeks."

Councilman John Riggs, whose district includes the area, voted against the motion to table, saying efforts at a compromise were likely futile.

"I have lived in District 4 for 38 years," he said. "I would have to defer to my constituents. Even if I were for the project, I'd have to vote against it."

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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