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Council awards $73,000 to Belle House, approves Belk variance
Belle House for Web
In this photo from July 2010, Vivian Thompson, left, closes a contract with Sarah Long for a wedding reception at "The Belle House." The city council voted Wednesday to reimburse the owners for about $73,000 of their water and sewage costs. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File

      Two weeks after approving up to $75,000 of reimbursements for construction costs incurred by the Belle House, the Statesboro City Council unanimously agreed on a final resolution.
      Council agreed Wednesday during its regular meeting at City Hall, based on the recommendation of Interim City Manager Frank Parker, to award $73,772.50 to the establishment, contingent on agreement by Belle House owner Biff Thompson to sign a release on all future claims against the city in regard to the project.
      Thompson, who originally sought compensation in the amount of $106,222.50, expressed reluctance to accept council's decision.
      "When we left the last meeting, it was my understanding that the council had approved $75,000 with the opportunity to discuss the difference between the $75,000 and $106,000," he said. "If you're telling me I'm only going to be paid the $73,000 and have to sign something saying I won't come back, I'll have to think about it."
      Parker said the reimbursements include approximately $58,000 for a water line running to the property, $6,000 in TAP fees, more than $8,000 in engineering costs, and additional costs tied to construction.
      "In its January 4 meeting, council authorized me to pay up to $75,000 for reimbursements to the Belle House project," said Parker. "The reimbursement amount I have come up with is $73,772.50."
      Thompson brought forth the motion after learning council, in September last year, voted to wave fees associated with tapping into city services and agreed to pay some construction costs for the recently completed Clubhouse project on Old Register Road.
      In an August meeting with Mayor Joe Brannen and former city manager Shane Haynes, Thompson was told the Belle House could also receive concessions if, like the Clubhouse, annexed property into the city.
      Thompson agreed to annex property, and the council voted in its last meeting to award reimbursements out of "fairness" to the Belle House.
      Mr. Thompson could not be reached for comment on whether he will accept council's decision.
      In an effort to avoid future discrepancies with water/sewage related projects, council voted to approve resolutions calling for the adoption of a standard water/sewage agreement.

Belk approval
      Members of council also voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a parking variance that allows for a 25,000 square-foot expansion to the Belk store located in the Statesboro Mall.
      The addition is slated to expand the building outward toward Highway 80 and increase the store's size to 97,000 square-feet. The expansion will result in the location becoming "one of the largest Belk stores anywhere outside of the Atlanta-area," said Steve Mitchell, representative of Hull, Storey, Gibson Companies, LLC, who own the property.
      The variance was needed because expansion of the building will remove an existing 72 parking spaces in front of the store, and exempt the property owner from having to provide an additional 100 spaces to comply with an ordinance requiring extra spaces for added building square-footage - The property already faced a deficit of 287 spaces.
      Council determined the 459 short-fall in spaces would not be an issue, as much of the allotted space is often unoccupied, and approved the motion dependent on considerations recommended by city development staff.
      The condition for approval, according to the Development Services Report presented to council, is that Hull, Storey, Gibson Companies add trees and vegetation to select sections of the existing parking area.
      "The Statesboro Comprehensive Master Plan is clear as to the desire of the community to limit vast, non-landscaped parking areas as it detracts from the character of the community and can become a blighted area once vacancies dominate the shopping center," reads the report. "In contrast, landscaping can visually improve a parking area, creating an inviting environment for patrons, and should be considered an applicable condition of the variance if approved by City Council."
      Improvements, according to Christian Lentz, director of Community Development, will include landscaping islands throughout the parking lot on the back-side of the Belk location, as well as a row of vegetation to serve as a buffer between the Belk lot and the adjacent Walmart property.
      Conditions also will include modification to the mall's Northside Drive entrance to help alleviate traffic, he said.
      Henry Clay, chairman of the City of Statesboro Beautification Commission and Statesboro Tree Board, spoke in favor of the addition.
      "I think this will be beneficial to the city and citizens of this area," he said. "Not only will it be good for the city, but it will be a great benefit for Hall, Storey, Gibson and all parties involved."
      The Statesboro City Council will next meet February 1 at 9 a.m.

Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454


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