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Commission OKs rezoning along Fleming Shortcut
Melissa Morris
Standing in front of a projection of the site, Melissa Morris, talks about Liberty County's presence on the Internet. - photo by Photo by Tiffany King

A new business — or businesses — might be coming soon to Leroy Coffer Highway.

Virgil Jones’ petition to rezone more than an acre of land across from Fleming Food Mart, at the intersection with Freedman Grove Road, was approved at Tuesday’s Liberty County Board of Commissioners meeting.

His petition asked to change the zoning for his property from agricultural residential, AR-1, to general commercial, B-2, for a business such as a convenience store or a building that houses several businesses.

When the petition was presented June 16 to the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, Janhvi Amin, owner of Fleming Food Mart, spoke against the rezoning. Jones was not in attendance at the county commissioners meeting.

Amin told planning commissioners that she had to shut down and rebuild her business when the Georgia Department of Transportation expanded the road some time ago. Because there is an old house on the property that Jones currently owns, she was told that it was a historic site and the road could not be expanded on that side. Amin said she didn’t think it was fair that she had to pay a lot of costs in rebuilding, penalties and fines, only to have Jones be able to build a competitive business there.

County Commissioner Pat Bowen asked Jeremy McAbee, planner I for the LCPC, who presented the petition, about any inquiries into the “historical” house on the property.

McAbee said he contacted GDOT about the building and wasn’t given a decisive answer. He was told that GDOT follows state guidelines when it comes to historic sites. At the LCPC meeting, Planning Commissioner Phil Odum said GDOT considers any building 50 years and older a historic site.

When McAbee reiterated this to the county commissioners, some commented that, under that standard, a lot of buildings in Liberty would be considered “historic.” McAbee said he could not find the house listed in Liberty County’s historic records or on any official state list of historic properties.

Amin was not at the county commissioners meeting, but Jones was. He wanted to clarify some things in relation to the petition.

“I want to make it known that at the time (of the expansion), I did not own the property. I just brought the property earlier this year. I understand Ms. Amin’s concerns but I think her argument is with the state. This is now a county process,” Jones said. “The other opposition she had was that she didn’t want to see competition, and I understand that, but that’s not how business works. I promise you that the property will be a business that will fit in with the community. It will be a good fit for the area.”

Jones said the highway is heavily traveled, presenting a great business opportunity.

Bowen said he could understand Amin’s argument.

“I think her argument was that the state came in there and disrupted everything. They made her pay a large sum of money to redo that store and the gas tank. The state moved those gas tanks and made her relocate the whole store,” Bowen said. “She was under the assumption that the state was saying it’s a historical site and maybe she thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to sink this money here, I’m going to have a nice place.’ If she shad known that maybe one day there could be another convenience store, she may have rethought the way she spent her money.”

Commissioner Eddie Walden was concerned that with the “historic” house on the property, GDOT might add stipulations to how it’s used. This might make Jones want to revert to the original zoning. Walden asked if there was a certain time frame for Jones to rezone his property if necessary.

LCPC Executive Director Jeff Ricketson was in the audience and said timing wouldn’t be a problem if Jones had to refile.

In an unrelated matter, county commissioners heard an update on the county’s website. Melissa Morris, the county’s website intern, showed changes to the site, the addition of new information, a more user-friendly interface, added images and internal links. Broken links were fixed, and the clutter was cleaned up for a more organized, uniform look.

Morris also has been teaching department heads how to update department pages themselves. Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel, who also has been working on the website, said departments will get a how-to guide for updating the web.  Morris created a cheat sheet as well and is working on making it easier for users to find forms.

Commissioner Justin Frasier said the site represents Liberty County well. He mentioned that businesses and people moving usually first look at a county’s website.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “From looking at our old website to this one, we do have something we can be proud of.”
In other business:

• The local timber ordinance was amended to include changes mandated by state law.

• A resolution for worker’s compensation for the volunteer firefighters was approved.

• A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax planning meeting for the commissioners was scheduled for July 27.

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