The developer, Jim Rollins, who hopes to build a Flash Foods gas station on the site on Highway 20, says it won’t work and the store will likely have to be torn down.”
“Bell’s Store is a done deal,” Rollins said Wednesday. “They can do what they want to. They can jump up and down and scream. ”
However, Rollins did say Wednesday he would consider allowing the structure to be moved off the site rather than tearing it down.
Before the unanimous vote Tuesday night, commissioners said the moratorium was intended to give the county time to come up with a historic preservation ordinance, which would start a permitting process for demolition of structures deemed historic by the Cherokee County Historical Society.
The 90-day moratorium bans demolition on 24 different structures, including Sixes School, the Free Home Traditions building and parts of the Mule Barn in Lathemtown, but specifically commissioners said they wanted to save Bell’s Store.
Commissioner Harry Johnston, who brought the idea of the temporary ban forward Tuesday, said the moratorium and potential historic preservation ordinance could likely delay demolitions but not stop them altogether in cases like Bell’s Store, where the property owner wants to sell.
“While we wish sometimes we could just wave our wand and everything is as we say, we are limited in our power,” Johnston said during the meeting Tuesday. “It’s only a delay. If the owner of the building wants to tear it down and is determined to do so, all we really do is hold them up for some period of a time.”
Built in 1935 by Edwin Bell Sr. as a general store, Bell’s Store sits at the intersection of Highway 20 and Union Hill Road in the Buffington community, and some describe it as one of the most historically important buildings in that area.
But despite its relevance to the history of Cherokee County, Johnston said it might be too late to save Bell’s Store, which Rollins has been working to buy for some time.
“There may be nothing we can do,” Johnston said.
Rollins said even though he doesn’t believe Cherokee County can stop him from tearing down the building if he chooses to, he is willing to offer a potential compromise.
Considering the historic relevance of Bell’s Store, Rollins said he would be willing to give the building to either the Cherokee County Historical Society or Lisa Meyer, who rents the building and runs a produce market there, if they would move it.
“If they want to move it,” Rollins said, “they can have it.”
When told of Rollins’ offer Wednesday, Meyer said she would be grateful to own the building itself, although she doesn’t know if she could accept.
“That would be really, really cool if we could do that,” she said. “I don’t know if I could move it or not. No. 1, you’ve got to have land to move it to. (And) it takes money. I have no idea what kind of expenses that is.”
Stefanie Joyner, executive director of the Cherokee County Historical Society, said moving the store wasn’t at all ideal, but it might end up being something to consider.
“It’s an option, but that’s not our preference,” Joyner said Wednesday. “We’re going to try to find every other solution before we take advantage of that offer. The building is historically important in Buffington. If you take it out of Buffington, it loses a lot of why it’s important.”
But Rollins said Bell’s Store is likely going to have to go to make way for the gas station, partly because the front of the building sits in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s right of way on Highway 20.
Whatever happens, though, Rollins said Meyer will be allowed to stay in the building to run her business for about six months while she weighs her options.
“We are not going to kick that lady out,” he said. “We’re not going to kick the lady down the road.”
And whether or not the Board of Commissioners’ effort to save Bell’s Store is successful or not, commissioners said Tuesday the hope is that other historic buildings could be saved as a result of the moratorium and potential historic preservation ordinance.
“If (Bell’s Store) does have to be demolished, or is demolished, at least it would have served as the catalyst that got us to preserve others, or provide others with the opportunity to be preserved,” Johnston said.
Commissioner Jason Nelms agreed the county needs to work to keep its history intact.
“That’s what everybody loves about Cherokee County,” Nelms said.
Also, during the meeting Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners:
• Voted unanimously to postpone a decision on lifting zoning conditions on a property at 7709 Turner Road amid resident and commissioner concerns about the developer’s request. Both commissioners and residents who spoke said they wanting to make sure that the business wanting to move in, a care facility for people with special needs, or any future businesses kept their impact on the residential neighborhood around the site down;
• Unanimously approved rezoning 25.65 acres off Bells Ferry Road for a single family residential subdivision applied for by John H. Pruett Jr.;
• Voted unanimously to approve a budget amendment for $46,374 for improvements, including security measures, at the county’s tax offices in Canton and Woodstock;
• Unanimously approved installing a multi-way stop at the intersection of Hembridge Drive and Mountain View Circle;
• Unanimously approved the 2014-18 Community Development Block Grant consolidated plan and submitting a grant application for $780,000 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2014; and
• Voted unanimously to decline renewing a contract concluding at the end of 2013 with Community Health Network for county employee wellness and to stop charging employees who smoke a surcharge. County Manager Jerry Cooper said the program has not been effective, as had the smoking surcharge.