Commissioners in attendance voted 3-0 to add another 90 days to the moratorium to give more time to a growing movement to move the building and protect it from south Georgia-based Flash Foods’ plans to destroy the landmark to build a gas station.
Commissioner Harry Johnston asked for the meeting after the revelation Friday that Canton-based Weaver Grading & Hauling requested a permit to tear down the former general store Feb. 5 as part of Flash Foods’ plans.
If the ban had not been extended, county staff would have had no choice but to grant the permit for the Highway 20 staple, as commissioners’ original 90-day ban enacted in November was set to expire Monday, Johnston said.
“As of tomorrow morning, we would have no basis to deny,” Johnston told Chairman Buzz Ahrens and Commissioner Jason Nelms, the only other commissioners at the called meeting.
Johnston said it wasn’t clear when the gas station chain hoped to tear down the store, because Lisa Meyer, who runs Cherokee Market in the building, was barely into a six-month lease, which the developer offered to give her time to move.
“It does not really appear destruction is eminent,” said Johnston, who represents Post 1, where the Buffington community relic sits. “But still I hate to see a demolition permit issued.”
Flash Foods representatives could not be reached for comment immediately Tuesday about when they wanted to tear down the building. Neither could the grading company or Jim Rollins, the embattled Macon-based developer who brokered the purchase of the property in December and helped fight off the public outrage over the project — and several others in Cherokee County.
Johnston, who described himself as the “instigator” for the county’s efforts against the destruction, said the Cherokee County Historical Society had been looking into moving the building, but many questions remained about how that would work. The historical society also came up with a list of 24 structures covered by the moratorium.
How to pay for the move was the biggest problem, Johnston said, although a property owner appears to be willing to accept the building at the corner of Hasty Trail and Highway 20, if someone can come up with the money.
On Friday, Stefanie Joyner, executive director of the historical society, said she had consulted with companies to move the building, and the cost was coming in high with $40,000 to move it and another $50,000-$60,000 to get the new site ready.
Johnston said if the historical society starts passing around the hat to fund the project, “I plan to write a check,” but there was still other red tape to maneuver through besides money.
“There could be some issues with that (site). I don’t know what the zoning of that property is. That’s another complication,” he said. “I don’t think there would be a tremendous controversy about rezoning it … But that’s not guaranteed. A number of things are still pending.”
All the same, Ahrens said it was encouraging to hear that Joyner had made progress in getting prices for the move.
Nelms agreed with his fellow commissioners that more time should be given for an alternative for the store being torn down.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got a group of concerned citizens willing to put up money,” Nelms said after the meeting. “Give them time to do it.”
From the first word of the company’s plans to destroy the building, commissioners and county officials have said they doubted they could do anything but give time to help save Bell’s Store, or the other landmarks in the moratorium. Originally, the 90-day ban voted on by commissioners with the thinking that it would result in a permanent historic preservation ordinance after the 90 days, but Johnston wasn’t sure about the fate of that plan Monday.
“I don’t know if we’ll end up passing that ordinance or not. It really is hard to say,” he said. “There really is no other pressing need for it except this one piece of property.”