Representatives for two local businesses asked the Statesboro City Council to reconsider the city's decision to revoke their business licenses, which forced them to close Jan. 22.
Approximately 40 citizens showed up at Tuesday's council meeting to show support for the individuals speaking during public comments on behalf of the Statesboro Flea Market and Club Zone. Both businesses surrendered their licenses for failure to comply with variances granted by the council, which required the businesses to pave their parking lots within 18 months of opening.
Lorenzo Merritt, representing Club Zone, said he believes the council members are reasonable, fair and understanding and that they realize this is a circumstance where everyone should work together to benefit the whole.
“While there are some specific rules that are applicable to everyone, nevertheless in extreme situations you have to look for the exception,” Merritt said. “I believe that's what they will do and allow people up at the flea market as well as my people at Club Zone to go ahead with their business plans.”
In December, the Statesboro Planning and Zoning Commission approved Club Zone's variance request for an additional 12-month extension to complete the paving, but the request was denied by council at the Jan. 19 meeting. Merritt said the variance should be granted by council and that both businesses should be allowed to operate in order to generate revenue that would help complete the parking projects.
“I don't think there should be a closure of that business until the parking is completed,” Merritt said. “I no more think that is the case for Club Zone than it would be for the flea market - that would be unreasonable.”
Jerry Jennings, a land developer and home builder who owns the Statesboro Flea Market, said the sagging construction industry has made it financially difficult for him to comply with the variance request.
“We have taken extreme means to do what the city has asked us to do and I don't feel like we've gotten any recognition for what we've done,” Jennings said. “If the city still requires it, we have every intention of paving the parking lot.”
Merritt said the owners of Club Zone would prefer 12 months to complete the paving, but could finish in three to four months if given the opportunity.
Tom Grovenstein does not have a booth at the flea market but is instead a frequent customer. As a small businessman himself, he said he felt the need to support and speak up for the market's numerous vendors.
“I think it was obvious from the crowd that there are a lot of people who depend upon this as a livelihood or to add to their monthly funds,” Grovenstein said. “It's a great place to go on Saturday afternoon and talk - there's not many places like that anymore. I hope that the city council will use common sense and say, 'This is a nice place out there. There's no reason for them not to have that open.'”
The council members all understand the position that both the flea market and Club Zone are in, but they each said the rules have to be fairly and equally applied across the board.
“I don't want to take anybody's business license if they are contributing to the community,” said Councilman John Riggs. “But there are rules you have to follow and they were given the rules long before - it's like we're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Enforce or don't enforce. What we do for one, we want to do for the other.”
During the public presentations, Grovenstein listed a number of area businesses that operate without paved parking lots. Councilman Travis Chance said the city can't really balance decisions in the past with existing regulations because the city needs to be proactive, not retroactive.
“That's what's tough. Once you change the zoning, you have to comply with the current rules and regulations, which (in these instances) was that the paved parking requirement was based off the occupancy load,” Chance said. “Nothing is harder than making a decision when it impacts citizens. We did not and would not ever do anything to jeopardize jobs or to cause someone hardship. Our intention is simply to make sure we have conformity.”
Mayor Joe Brannen said it is a challenge to take into consideration city rules, the overall economy and pleas from the displaced vendors.
“It's a difficult situation. We want to accommodate and serve our business people here in town. We issued the business license without the paving requirement being met, but with the understanding that they would be able to meet it within 18 months,” Brannen said. “Even though the economy went bad, that's what happened - they didn't comply (with the variance).”
Councilman Will Britt said both business owners clearly understood they had to comply with the variance within the allotted time and if they failed to do so, it would result in the revocation of their business license.
“I think we go back to staff and go back to council and figure out what we can or can't do. My biggest concern is that they were given 18 months and they agreed to that. They agreed that if we give you a business license now, in 18 months you have to complete this,” Britt said.
Councilman Gary Lewis said he thinks a solution can be found to satisfy both parties, but added that it was important that all parties coming before the city be treated in a equitable manner.
“I will make sure that both of them are treated the same way. I'll make sure Jerry Jennings is treated no better than Club Zone,” Lewis said. “If one has to comply, both have to comply.”
Elizabeth Dalton, a vendor at the flea market who spoke on behalf of “Statesboro Flea Market Family,” said she hopes there can be a resolution that satisfies the city, the business owners and the vendors.
“We understand that we all have rules and regulations to abide by, but we hope that maybe we could find a way to work something out for all of us that not only have a booth at the flea market, but also for those that shop there,” Dalton said.
Riggs echoed her sentiment.
“We're going to have to discuss it and see what options they have and see what options we have, then hopefully we can find a common ground and work together,” Riggs said. “I hope.”