Control of retail developments — one big and one small — dominated stretches of Tuesday evening's three-hour Statesboro City Council meeting.
Polestar Development LLC, affiliated with the Hutton Company in building the Brampton Avenue shopping center that will include the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, received a zoning variance, but with three conditions.
Polestar had applied for a variance to create a property line along a shared wall between the Wal-Mart grocery store and a block of smaller shops proposed for the same site. Otherwise, the zoning ordinance would require 15-foot setbacks, adding up to 30 feet between two buildings along a property line.
Both the supermarket to be occupied by Wal-Mart and the building with smaller shops have the same owner, and the Wal-Mart company will not actually own either building, real estate agent Todd Manack told the council. But Wal-Mart, he reported, still insists on a property line.
"They're not going to own any portion of this, but they are the tenant in the grocery section, and they require that if there are small shop spaces built that that parcel be a separate parcel," Manack said.
He said he does not know the reason for the requirement and predicted that "that red line will go away," with the property division becoming a formality.
The variance came to the council with two conditions recommended by the city planning staff and the Planning Commission. A third condition was added as a result of discussion involving City Planning Director Mandi Cody, Manack and council members.
That the variance applies only to internal lot lines and not to neighboring properties was the first condition.
An ordinance requiring that every lot must have direct access from a public street prompted a second condition. While public Brampton Avenue will provide access to the Wal-Mart, the smaller shops would have direct access only from currently private Archway Drive.
Cody and her staff suggested requiring either a cross-access easement or that Archway Drive be improved to city standards and granted to the city. The planning board recommended the second option, requiring that Archway become a city street at the owner's or developer's expense.
But City Council members also sought to guard against the supermarket and the smaller shops, with their parking areas, being divided by walls or developed in ways that clash if they pass to different owners.
"We're getting into one piece of dirt sharing common things, and now we have two different owners; one owner wants to keep it nice and the other owner says, ‘You know what, Na! I'm not putting windows in,'" said Councilman Will Britt. "I'm just saying that's a concern."
But the new shopping center will be part of the existing Market District commercial subdivision, which Cody referred to as having Statesboro's strongest private covenants controlling the character of commercial buildings.
Manack told council members that the Market District Property Owners Association's design requirements will probably be more stringent than anything the city would require. This prompted Councilman Phil Boyum to suggest delaying the variance while waiting for the association's review board to give its approval first.
However, Mayor Jan Moore suggested adding a third condition instead. Cody's impromptu wording that the "attached retail space shall be constructed without separation and with thorough access, consistent in facade, appearance, landscape, lighting, et cetera," became the final condition on the variance unanimously approved by City Council.
The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, measuring 41,000 square feet, should open next spring, a company spokesman said last week. The adjoining block of shops will measure 16,000 square feet, and a gas station is also part of the center.
Regarding a much smaller business, council did not grant another extension for L&D Produce to continue operating a store without permits on U.S. Highway 80 East. A six-month special permission had stretched to 15 months.
Owned and operated by Leona and David Gerrald, L&D Produce's main location is on East Main Street. On April 2, 2013, David Gerrald received a "trial basis" approval from the council to sell produce and other items at a second site, land leased from attorney Lehman Franklin across from Lowe's.
L&D's store there is a trailer-like, air-conditioned building. Wheelchair access, restrooms and approved highway access were required for making the store permanent.
On Oct. 15, the council approved an extension of what was then referred to as a temporary business license, requiring Gerrald to meet deadlines set by the city's planning staff.
A building permit application was received Nov. 13 after a Nov. 1 deadline, according to a timeline Cody supplied the council. A Feb. 15 deadline then passed without the required improvements being completed.
A Georgia Department of Transportation permit for the driveway cut had not been applied for when Franklin and Gerrald both spoke at the March 18 meeting, where City Council approved a 120-day extension.
When Gerrald talked to the council Tuesday, he noted health problems affecting his ability do some of the work and said he did not want to engage in "he said/she said" over what documents had been received. He asked for two more weeks to resolve the situation. At one point Councilman John Riggs said he would offer a motion for an extension to Aug. 5. But other council members and the mayor said they were ready to bring the matter to a conclusion.
"I'm sorry for you that you and the landowner haven't been able to get together and do the things that need to be done to get that property up to where you can have a business permitted on it," Moore told Gerrald. "That sounds like an issue between you and the landowner, not an issue between you and council."
With no action by the council, L&D faces a deadline of Thursday to meet all the requirements, although Moore and council members suggested enforcement might not follow immediately. Riggs asked to be informed about the status of the application with the DOT, and interim City Manager Robert Cheshire said the city will get this information.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.