The Board of Commissioners has called a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to consider extending a moratorium on tearing down certain historic structures, after a demolition permit was applied for Feb. 5 for Bell’s Store on Highway 20.
The clock on the original moratorium runs out Monday, and with the permit request waiting in the wings, Commissioner Harry Johnston said Friday he wanted to consider giving a little more time to the cause of saving the store.
“In the end, we (likely) can’t totally stop the demolition,” said Johnston, who represents Post 1, where the structure now operated as a produce market sits. “There does appear to be a nearby property owner willing to have the building moved to his property. But someone is going to have to come up with the significant cost to move it.”
South Georgia-based Flash Foods has been planning to tear down the store to build a gas station, though many residents and the current tenant of the building have fought against those plans. The Macon-based broker for the company’s purchase of the land, Jim Rollins, has offered to let the Cherokee County Historical Society, the tenant — which is Cherokee Market or basically anyone else — have the building if they’ll move it off the land.
From the beginning, Johnston and other officials have said it was unlikely the county could stop the store built in 1935 from getting torn down, because Flash Foods was already working to buy the land before commissioners instituted the moratorium. According to the Cherokee Tax Assessors Office, the purchase was complete in late January.
Johnston said he wasn’t sure what action commissioners might take Monday because of the potential that too much pressure from the county against the demolition could lead to a legal battle.
“I’m not ruling anything out,” he said of his willingness for a legal bout. “On the other hand, I’m not too anxious to go to court, especially on something we might not win.”
Stefanie Joyner, executive director of the historical society, said she was shocked when she heard about the permit, because the broker had told her action to move the building just needed to be taken by June.
“I was totally caught off guard by the news,” Joyner said in an email Friday. “During the past couple of weeks, I have met with a nearby property owner who has offered to let us move it to their property and three moving companies.”
But the numbers are coming in high, with $40,000 estimated to move the building and other $50,000 to $60,000 to make repairs and upgrades for the new site, Joyner said, adding she was meeting with another mover next week to look for a lower price.
It wasn’t immediately clear Friday afternoon when the company planned to act on its permit to tear down the store, as Rollins, Flash Foods and the construction group that requested the permit, Canton-based Weaver Grading & Hauling, couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Jeff Watkins, Cherokee County director of planning and land use, said, hypothetically, the store could be torn down Tuesday, if the board doesn’t extend the moratorium.
“I don’t know where they are in the process,” Watkins said Friday, adding he wasn’t aware of any construction plans that have been turned into the county. “The earliest could be the day the moratorium is lifted.”
Watkins said, though, he expected the company to take action sometime in the next six months, because he didn’t think plans had been submitted to the county and the fact that company still had to consult the Georgia Environmental Protection Division about the demolition. The EPD couldn’t be reached late Friday on whether Flash Foods had started communications about tearing down the building.
Like Johnston, Watkins said he doubted the county could ultimately stop the store from being torn down, but he said a historic preservation ordinance in the works by the county could help save other historic structures.
“It’s very hard to tell someone else what they can do with their property or not do,” Watkins said. “Now, if we can put an ordinance in place that protects other historic structures, that’s a good thing I think.”
Lisa Meyer, owner of Cherokee Market, hopes Flash Foods doesn’t plan on tearing down the building anytime soon, since she’s still operating in there and signed a lease with new owners.
“Right now, I’m just in shock. No one’s communicating with me,” Meyer said Friday afternoon when told about the permit request. “But we just signed a six-month lease (with the developer).”
Meyer said she was looking for a new place to do business, and she planned to stay in the building until someone told her to leave, although she’s still not happy about it.
“I’m the only one losing on this whole deal,” she said. “Everyone is making out like a bandit and I’m losing everything.”