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Dollar General coming near Gum Branch?

A Dollar General store might be built just east of Gum Branch, on Highway 196 and Cooper Lane.

The Liberty County Board of Commissioners approved the store during its meeting Tuesday, paving the way for the business to be located in an unincorporated area between the Hinesville and Gum Branch city limits.

William Nijem, agent for Teramore Development LLC — whom Nijem said is the preferred developer of Dollar General stores — filed a rezoning petition that was recommended for approval by the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission to rezone 1.89 acres of land from AR-1, agricultural residential district, to B-1, neighborhood commercial district. Only one neighbor along Cooper Lane opposed having a retail store in the area; however, the home is said to have a “For Sale” sign in the yard and appears to be vacant.

In the original proposal, the entrance to the store was off of Cooper Lane. It was changed to have the entrance along Highway 196.

Commissioner Gary Gilliard asked about access to the store.

“The people who live on Cooper Lane will have to come out onto 196 and then turn into the store? Is there a turning lane on 196?” Commissioner Connie Thrift answered yes.

Nijem said the developers learned that Cooper Lane is a private right of way and had concerns about using the street for a commercial purpose.

“We opted to step back and shift the point of ingress/regress to Highway 196, which quite frankly works a little better. I do see your point, Commissioner Gilliard. People are going to have to make a left-hand turn, but I do think this probably works better than what we initially had,” Nijem said. “We’re going to need GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) to approve that access point, and we do already have that. I really do believe that this is the highest and best use for this property as traffic has increased on 196 and that road has grown.”

Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette said he is particular about what is developed in unincorporated areas.

“I would hate to see just a tin building, put a top on it and call it a dollar store. I’m not saying it can’t be tin, I just want something attractive,” Lovette said.

Josh Hufstetler, executive vice president of Teramore Development, said the company has built more than
150 stores in the last eight years, and he would be happy to work with the commissioners throughout the building process and look at façade upgrades.

“We look forward to becoming part of the community. It’s a great market for us. We want you all to look at Teramore as a friend, not a foe,” Hufstetler said. “We’re not going to try to force anything down your throats that you or the surrounding community does not like.”

The deadline for the new store is October 2016, but Hufstetler said the developer will work to finish much earlier. Lovette said that residents often ask why the county has so many dollar stores. He tells them it’s not “us” but the developers who research whether the community can sustain a store.

“This is the first time we’ve had something like this in an unincorporated area, so it’s very exciting.” Thrift said. “Most of the time, it goes into a municipality versus an unincorporated area. I’m really happy about that.”

Gum Branch land-use map

The next agenda item was the Gum Branch Subarea Land Use Map, which included the proposed land use designations for the county’s unincorporated areas on either side of Gum Branch, including the area of the proposed Dollar General.

Melissa Jones, planner II for the LCPC, presented the proposed changes for Gum Branch’s land-use map, which include properties near Murrell Road changing from low-density residential to agriculture/forestry, and designating the Gum Branch Baptist Church Cemetery as public/institutional.

Jones said that the largest change proposed was the designation of Highway 196 between the city limits of Gum Branch and Hinesville.

“We are proposing that this is a mixed-use rural corridor. At the meetings, the residents and (Gum Branch) City Council members were adamant that they did not want any commercial development inside the city limits. They would rather it be outside the city limits in the unincorporated area,” Jones said.

Lovette suggested designating the unincorporated area on the other side of Gum Branch — from its city limits to the Long County line — as a mixed-use rural corridor to match the other side.

Jones said the residents were also adamant to keep that unincorporated area on the other side as rural and not a mixed-use rural corridor.

“I don’t want us to tie our hands. We certainly don’t want to deal with the city of Gum Branch, it’s their city. But the unincorporated area is our responsibility,” Lovette said.

Jones said that the commissioners can make that designation change.

“Chairman, I agree with you. Whatever happens in Gum Branch stays in Gum Branch. They can express their wishes, but the unincorporated falls here with the Liberty County commissioners,” Gilliard said. “Even for them to suggest from Hinesville to Gum Branch was kind of bold.”

Thrift said that because the land-use map is updated every five years, Gum Branch residents might be waiting to see what will be developed in the unincorporated area toward Hinesville in those five years, before suggesting that the other unincorporated area also become a mixed-use rural corridor. She then proposed to make Highway 196 a mixed-use rural corridor from the Gum Branch city limits to Long County.

The final Gum Branch subarea land-use map, including the nearby unincorporated areas, will have a final vote at the commissioners’ mid-month meeting this Thursday.

Other business

In other business, commissioners approved Stephanie Cockerm’s home-occupation request to operate a tutoring business. Cockerm is a math teacher at Bradwell Institute and will offer math-tutoring services for middle- and high-school students. Cockerm said she will also offer weekend tutoring and summer assistance.

Thrift said that she was glad Cockerm is opening this business for children who need extra help.

Commissioners also approved the rezoning petition for two properties next to Liberty County High School along Oglethorpe Highway, east of the Flemington city limits. James Smith, owner and agent for June Smith Hendry — his sister — to rezone their combined properties of 3 acres from R-2 (two-family residential district) and A-1 (agricultural district) to B-2 (general commercial district). The owners did not disclose their reasons for wanting to rezone the properties.

Commissioners approved a three-year lease agreement with the Liberty County Blazing Angels flying club to use the Liberty County Airport.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of an ambulance by Taylor Made Ambulance for $145,714. The cost of the ambulance will be paid from the general fund.

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