About a dozen residents of the neighborhood came to the meeting to voice their many concerns with developer Jim Rollins’ requests to annex and rezone 3.2 acres for the 10-pump station.
Rollins said Tuesday he decided to take a step back to address issues laid out by the city council and the residents, who have shown him impassioned opposition citing worries about the potential impact of the gas station including traffic, crime and decreased home values.
Rollins said he is doing this by writing a formal, open letter to the city council and residents, defending his plans.
“I’m trying to respond in writing to all those issues they have,” Rollins said. “Most of them, I have responded verbally, but I thought it might be better to respond in writing to the city council and also to the residents.”
After Mayor Tim Downing announced Rollins had withdrawn his requests earlier in the day, several residents said they were cautiously optimistic.
“Certainly, I’m pleased that’s not going forward at this point,” said Harmony on the Lakes resident Matt Verbiscer. “I would like to know under what conditions. Does that mean that it’s being tabled to come back in a month? Are they just waiting us out?”
Verbiscer’s nearby neighbor in Harmony on the Lakes, Don Hess, also had questions.
“How long is this being held or put in limbo?,” Hess asked. “Is it a year or two months — what’s the timeline?”
Holly Springs Attorney Bobby Dyer said after the meeting that Rollins withdrew his request to address concerns the city council had raised during its work session earlier in October.
But even though Rollins is trying to explain his position to the neighbors, he still doesn’t quite understand what to do about their complaints.
“I don’t know how you get past this,” Rollins said. “It’s an emotional issue with people that have little understanding of development.”
One of the worries mentioned most by Harmony on the Lakes residents have expressed is the potential impact on traffic.
Verbiscer mentioned his expectations for the increase in traffic at the location of Rollins’ proposed gas station on Hickory Flat Highway after the meeting Monday.
“Right now, I come out of our subdivision (and) very quickly I’ve got a green light,” he said. “If you put a facility like a gas station across there, that’s out the window. I’m not going to have that convenience.”
For Rollins, however, that concern doesn’t make sense.
“I don’t know why they would think that a convenience store is going to add to their traffic problems. There’s not going to be any more traffic,” the developer said Tuesday. “The traffic will be controlled by a traffic signal. I don’t know how you could have a better location, as a matter of fact, with traffic.”
Rollins said gas stations don’t increase traffic, because they catch passersby and don’t bring in customers who aren’t already in the area.
“They’re arguing something that is not arguable,” Rollins said. “Traffic engineers who make their living doing this kind of stuff will say the same thing: ‘It takes existing traffic off the highway.’”
Harmony on the Lakes residents have also said they were concerned the plan to operate the store 24-hour-a-day could bring crime to the neighborhood. But that too, according to Rollins, isn’t something to worry much about.
“Crime is a function normally of population,” he said.
Rollins noted crime hasn’t been an issue at another Flash Foods location in Cherokee County.
“The Flash Foods in Woodstock, since they’ve been keeping records (in) 1999, they’ve not had a store robbery,” he said.
Rollins said he isn’t willing to bend on the plans to run the store 24 hours, but that if it turns out there is no business during the night, Flash Foods will likely close the store around 1 a.m.
According to Rollins, residents’ fear about the potential decrease to property values due to the gas station is also a hollow worry.
“If anything, a convenience store will probably help the appraised value,” he said, “because it adds convenience to the neighborhood.”
But Hess said he and his neighbors aren’t interested in that convenience.
“We don’t need another convenient market,” Hess said. “There’s plenty around, a mile down the road.”
Rollins said he can understand the residents’ worries about their community growing and he was glad they have at least been friendly in raising their concerns.
He said he has also made compromises to help, such as stating he was willing to take the number of gas pumps down from 10 to eight, but beyond that he isn’t sure how to proceed.
“I don’t know what the neighborhood wants us to do,” he said. “We’ve given in on the number of pumps. We’ve completely redesigned the store and they looked at that and said they liked it.”
During the City Council meeting Monday night, the council also:
• Voted unanimously to pay off $415,189 owed on a loan taken out by the Downtown Development Authority of Holly Springs in March 2011 to buy a building in the Harmony on the Lakes area. City Manager Rob Logan said Tuesday that interest rate changes made paying off the loan the best option for the city. The money is coming from the city’s savings, Logan added; and
• Unanimously approved a Georgia Department of Transportation Local Government and Improvement Grant application.