During the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, the board discussed what, if any, ways the county could persuade developer Jim Rollins against tearing down Bell’s Store to build a Flash Foods gas station on the corner of Union Hill Road and Highway 20.
Although Rollins’ name wasn’t mentioned during the lengthy talk between commissioners and Jeff Watkins, Cherokee County director of planning and land use, Watkins confirmed later that Rollins was the developer in question.
Rollins has also recently been met with impassioned opposition from residents in Holly Springs and unincorporated Cherokee County about his plans to build gas stations at the entrances of the Estates at Brooke Park and Harmony on the Lakes.
To deal with Rollins’ latest plans, Watkins said his office had been looking into historic preservation grants and other methods, but no clear answer has been found yet. The property wouldn’t require any rezoning, Watkins added.
Rollins confirmed Wednesday the most up-to-date plans call for demolishing the building, which was built in 1935 and has in recent years operated as a produce stand.
He said, though, leaving the store standing has been considered.
“We’re kicking around the idea of leaving the store and putting gas pumps behind it, maybe trying to utilize the existing building,” Rollins said.
But there may be big problems there and it is a real possibility that the old store will have to go, he said.
“There’s no utilities available and they are already having septic tank issues,” Rollins said. “It’s not a viable commercially usable site as it stands.”
Whatever shape the former general store is in, Watkins, Commissioner Harry Johnston and Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens seemed to agree Tuesday night it would be a shame for it to be torn down.
“I’d sure hate to see that building go,” Watkins said. “That’s the character of that area.”
Johnston noted the wealth of history in the Buffington area, which includes the now-lost site of Fort Buffington, where hundreds of Cherokee Indians were rounded up to be sent away on the Trail of Tears. And Johnston said Bell’s Store is another part of Buffington’s heritage.
“I understand that the current use as a fruit stand, while it’s a good use, is maybe not the highest investment for that corner,” he said. “But it sure would be good if we had some sort of incentive that would encourage the preservation of that building as part of whatever is developed there.”
Stefanie Joyner, executive director of the Cherokee County Historical Society, said in general the Buffington community and other areas along Highway 20 have the cards stacked against them keeping their character.
“The Highway 20 corridor is greatly in danger of losing its identity,” Joyner said Wednesday. “(Bell’s Store) is one of the few landmarks of that area that we have left. I think it’s important that we keep our identity.”
Considering that, she said the historical society would work to keep the aging store standing by getting its members involved.
They may also consider getting Bell’s Store added to the National Register of Historic Places, “But it could take years,” Joyner said.
Joyner said the historical society would also be receptive to Rollins building his gas station but keeping the store standing, although they would prefer the site just be left alone.
Although not a common occurrence, Johnston said Tuesday night the county could perhaps pull together some money and put it toward the redevelopment of the site, if Rollins were willing to preserve the building.
“We’re not really prone to be that generous with money,” he said. “But that is an option.”
Watkins said during the meeting Tuesday county staff had also considered trying to convince Rollins to leave the store.
“When we looked at that site, another thing we thought of was they don’t have to tear it down for this new building,” the planning director said. “That building sits far from the front of where they’re putting (the new) building that perhaps they could work it into the plan.”
But Rollins said leaving the store and building the gas station could present problems for operating the store, which likely won’t be built until late 2014 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, after withdrawing a rezoning and annexation request in October, Rollins said he will be back before the Holly Springs City Council in December for approval of his plans to build at the north entrance of Harmony on the Lakes.
Rollins acknowledged his choices of sites for his gas stations haven’t exactly been popular so far.
“I’ve now started taking to wearing bulletproof vests when I drive through Cherokee County,” he joked.
Also, during the meeting Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners:
• Tentatively set the board’s 2014 annual retreat to take place at Barnsley Gardens Resort in Adairsville on Jan. 16 and 17;
• Unanimously approved accepting right-of-way, roadways and drainage structures in the Hampton Station subdivision;
• Unanimously approved receiving a wellness grant in the amount of $25,000 from Northside Hospital for five years;
• Voted unanimously to renew a contract with DECA, AMR Business Products, of Marietta, in the total amount of $8,883 for software services at the E-911 center;
• Voted unanimously to authorize County Manager Jerry Cooper to sign a professional services agreement renewal for three years designating Gallagher Benefit Services as the broker of record for medical services in the amount of $73,000 and voluntary benefit offerings on a commission basis of around $16,792 a year;
• Unanimously approved accepting a $32,300 grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety for the DUI and drug court;
• Unanimously approved the purchase of three thermal imaging cameras from Bullard for $30,033 and to amend the fiscal year 2014 budget to move $22,300 from the fire operation uniforms fund to the fire operations capital outlay and another amendment to show an $8,000 contribution from Ball Ground Volunteer;
• Voted unanimously to approve an $8,500 from ASPCA for the animal shelter;
• Unanimously approved a professional services agreement with Mauldin and Jenkins for annual auditing at a cost of about $61,000 a year; and
• Voted unanimously to approve Cooper’s acceptance of renewing a contract with Midwest Employers Casualty Company for workers compensation and employers’ liability insurance for the premium of $162,23, which Cooper said is a 4.7 percent cost cut from last year.