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‘A bruise on the eye of our neighborhood’: Why residents are concerned about proposed liquor store near Chattahoochee River Club
BOC
District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson speaks to her constituents during a recess on Thursday, July 22. Neighbors from Chattahoochee River Club came to the meeting wearing black shirts in solidarity to oppose the proposed liquor store off River Club Drive.

During a regular meeting Thursday, July 22, commissioners heard from residents of Chattahoochee River Club about a proposed liquor store abutting the neighborhood. The parcel of land the store would be on is located at 3010 River Club Drive with an access point off the main road of the neighborhood.

The applicant requested a conditional alcohol license based on, according to County Attorney Ken Jarrard, a possible request from financers to have a license before investment.

Jarrard said that if the license was approved, a survey would have to be completed to make sure that the development met each requirement from the county.


The facts:

The building for the liquor store has not been constructed yet, but it is proposed to sit on a 1.9-acre tract at the intersection of Hwy. 20, Windermere Parkway and River Club Drive.

The land was zoned commercial business district (CBD) in 1995 as part of a planned unit development (PUD) with the coinciding neighborhood, Chattahoochee River Club.

The proposed development met all statutory requirements from a legal standpoint regarding buffers and setbacks.

The proposed development was approved by the Chattahoochee River Club Homeowners Association President Zane Reece and John Richards of the neighborhood’s Architect Control Committee, or ACC.

BOC
Around 50 neighbors from Chattahoochee River Club came to the BOC meeting to protest the development of a liquor store abutting their neighborhood. Those in opposition wore black shirts to demonstrate the "bruise" the shop would leave on their community.

Those opposed:

About 50 people from Chattahoochee River Club wearing black shirts attended the meeting to show opposition to the liquor store.

“You’ll notice that I’m wearing black and blue [tonight] because bruises and black eyes are black and blue,” said Scott Jewell, a resident of Chattahoochee River Club. “And that’s what this is going to be at the face of our neighborhood. This is going to be a bruise on the eye of our neighborhood.”

Stacey Torshia represented the neighborhood and voiced concerns about not knowing that the HOA had approved the liquor store. She said that there was “no public forum, no communication” between the HOA and residents. 

“All of the sudden, the orange [public hearing] sign appeared,” Torshia said.

“Our HOA did not bring this [issue] up,” she said.

Torshia said she was also worried about the store’s access point being off River Club Drive, which is the “main drive for the neighborhood.” She said that while the land is commercially zoned, she did not feel that the intersection was a commercial area.

She asked commissioners to allow stakeholders 30 days to process the proposed development and to speak with the HOA about the project.

Other neighbors such as Rodger Meyer, Keith Scott and Lindsey Adams also expressed concerns about the proximity of the liquor store to school bus stops, busy crosswalks, issues of traffic and crime.

“Having a liquor store at Market Place Boulevard, which is congested and where a lot of people are, is what criminals don’t want,” Scott said. “Having a liquor store where you can get in and out and immediately on Highway 20 [like Chattahoochee River Club] is what criminals do want.”

Scott Cooper, a neighbor and former architect, said that he did not believe the “context” of the liquor store fit the location. 

“I don’t think this fits within the context of the neighborhood flavor that we’re seeking,” Cooper said. “Especially when the project is located behind our entrance signage.”

“I just feel like this is just an opportunity for every underage teenager with a fake ID to bring their golf cart up and access alcohol a lot more easily,” he said.

 

Those in favor:

Jonathan Beard from Miles Hansford & Tallant, LLC spoke on behalf of the applicant, Hiral Patel.

Beard explained that in terms of access, Patel was comfortable of complying with the condition of opening the store after the easement on Hwy. 20 had been constructed. He said that the ACC of Chattahoochee River Club had verified all sketches and proposals and felt comfortable enough to sign off on them.

Beard also explained that the proposed name for the shop, Gary’s Liquors, could be changed to something that was a little more family-friendly.

Patel thanked the neighbors for coming and expressing concerns.

“I’m a mother, I have a son,” Patel said. “I understand [the concerns]. Trust me, I completely understand.”

In response to selling to underage minors, Patel said that she had been trained and certified to sell alcohol.

“I will not sell to anybody who I even think [has] a slight chance of being drunk,” Patel said. “We have a system in place … that will be scanning IDs [for] every single sale.”

Patel said that she has been working on this project for the past three years and wants to “come into the community as a friend” and not put any of her customers at risk.

Discussion:

District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson started the discussion by saying that many of the concerns the neighbors had “spoke to [her] as a parent” and that she would be “horrified if a liquor store was going to be on [her] front doorstep,” but those concerns did not necessarily hold up because the proposal met all statutory requirements from a legal standpoint.

“The unfortunate position that we’re in right now is that those parcels [of land] are all commercial [districts] so … the businesses have that established access and have that zoning and have had that since the time the property was zoned,” Semanson said.

Semanson said that there was no “legal means to change a zoning” unless the property owner requested it.

Semanson spoke with county staff about adding a condition to the conditional alcohol license of not allowing the store to open until the entrance and exit point on Hwy. 20 was open. She also wanted to include a condition that Patel would terminate the access from River Club Drive.

She spoke about possibly changing the name of the store so that the word ‘liquor’ was not as “harsh” and could “fit better in the community.”

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent said that while his children are now “raised,” he would have been “terribly worried” if a liquor store was opening adjacent to his neighborhood. However, Levent proposed a question to the neighbors of Chattahoochee River Club.

“Just try to think about other facilities that have something similar or maybe even more than what you’re looking at,” Levent said.

Levent referenced the Vickery area of the county where he could see children walking past multiple restaurants and a brewery.

He said that a customer at a liquor store “usually, not always, but usually” goes inside, gets what they want and come back out. At a brewery, Levent said that people could be sitting outside drinking and then getting in their cars, all within viewing distance of children and neighbors.

“If this doesn’t happen, does a restaurant that has a bar that serves [not meet the standards]?” Levent said. “What’s worse? That’s something … to think about.”

Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said that from working with the drug council, she has seen that “most of the kids … are getting their alcohol from their parents’ home” and not necessarily liquor stores.

“I’m not trying to make anybody mad, but that is the hard-core truth,” Mills said.

After hearing comments from neighbors, Semanson decided to postpone the item and have it return for another public hearing on Aug. 19. She said that she will be hosting a meeting between herself and the neighbors outside of the HOA so that neighbors can “have that dialogue that they were missing.”

The motion to postpone the item carried through with a 4-0 vote with District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper absent.