Commission rejects Maxwell House alcohol application, defers renovating old jail

A subsidized apartment complex that houses the homeless and behavioral health patients won’t be downtown Augusta’s newest beer and wine outlet.

 

The Augusta Commission on Tuesday rejected an application by Kweli Hall to sell beer and wine at a convenience store he’s opening at the Maxwell House on Greene Street, despite Hall’s having property manager Valerie Kittles vouch for him.

The vote was 8-2 with commissioners Marion Williams and Dennis Williams opposed. Marion Williams said Hall was being treated unfairly and urged him to get a lawyer.

Hall compared his store to the “Yellow Store” on East Boundary used by residents of nearby public housing and low-income apartment complexes. “They’re going to get their alcohol regardless,” Hall said.

Kittles, of property management firms TPI and Ambling Management, said an area behavioral health program had about 50 clients who live at the complex and are enrolled in mental health and substance abuse programs, but that it was generally an “open center” with residents using a variety of vouchers, subsidies “and so forth” to live there.

“My main objective was to bring a store to the area” for residents without transportation to get money orders and other items, he said. Kittles said residents in the behavioral health program wouldn’t be served at the store, and that Hall couldn’t sell single bottles or cans of alcohol, only four-packs or higher.

Residents last week cited drunken brawls and the availability of drugs at the complex, which was renovated in 2005 through an Augusta Housing Authority bond issue. None attended Tuesday’s meeting, but several citizens stood up when asked if they opposed the alcohol license.

Commissioners said they weren’t rejecting the store, only the alcohol license. Commissioner Bill Fennoy said the application was the first he’s ever opposed.

“I believe to allow the applicant to sell alcoholic beverages will put a lot of individuals and a lot of families at risk,” Fennoy said.

IN OTHER ACTION

Commissioners also referred to a committee a request by Chief Superior Court Judge Carl Brown to renovate the former Joint Law Enforcement Center at 401 Walton Way into a juvenile court service center.

Brown said despite the construction of the new $67 million Augusta Judicial Center, more than 25 judges are competing to use eight courtrooms there with holding cells.

“A courtroom with a lockup gives us the ability to ensure appropriate decorum and behavior,” Brown said. “The availability of a courtroom allows us and enables us to resolve cases,” which “translates into revenue.”

Brown said the caseload is “in a growth pattern” with “no shortage of cases in the juvenile arena” and cited a 2004 commission study that said mold and moisture issues at 401 Walton Way could be repaired, rather than torn down as the commission intended, while building a new facility is not a good option.

“We just don’t have that kind of time,” to secure funding and design a building, Brown said. “It just breaks my heart.”

Chief Juvenile Judge Douglas Flanagan said Columbia and Burke counties are expanding their facilities and programs for juveniles, while the Richmond County program occupied a leaky rented building on Broad Street for years and now cramped space in the courthouse and municipal building.

After the agenda item, Flanagan said he did not prefer the old jail as a location.

The commission voted to send the discussion to the Public Safety committee to identify what juvenile court needs and whether renovating 401 Walton Way is a viable option.

The commission also voted down plans in the works for months by the Urban Redevelopment Agency to issue bonds for Foundry Place, a 221-unit market rate apartment complex near the Augusta University Dental College complex. The vote was 6-4 with Fennoy, Dennis Williams, Sammie Sias and Andrew Jefferson voting yes.

The commission also referred to a subcommittee plans to revamp street light fees to cover a deficit of about $865,000. City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said by “restricting expenses” the city can pull the funds from this year’s budget.

The city currently funds streetlights in three ways: a millage rate in the old city limits, per-household street light fees outside the old city and for arterial roads, the city’s general fund. The system, in place since consolidation 20 years ago, makes finding a fix difficult but Jackson and staff proposed several options last week.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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