Commission denies Turpin Hill liquor store license

The Augusta Commission heeded a neighborhood’s wishes and denied an alcohol license to an Evans couple Tuesday, although the couple said they had ties to the neighborhood.

 

Belle Clark of the Turpin Hill Neighborhood Association said she was returning to oppose the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard establishment reopening, as she had in years past, because of ongoing issues the area has with crime.

Clark said the storefront, which had been a liquor store off and on for decades, is opposed by all area churches and contributes “chaos” to an area already plagued by crime, including drugs and prostitution.

Located just a block from the Carrie J. Mays Community Center at 2102 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, “there are two convenience stores just blocks away from the liquor store that sell beer; that’s enough,” she said.

Commissioner Dennis Williams, who represents the area, said he weighed the pros and cons.

“If we vote against it, we’ll lose his liquor license and fees and his taxes,” Williams said. “If we vote in favor of it, it’s a possibility we can lose the confidence and the trust of the residents of this area.”

Commissioner Bill Fennoy, the one commission vote in favor of the license, said crime is happening in the area “regardless of whether he gets his license or not.”

Prospective operator Marcus Bush said as a youth sports coach and day care operator, he planned to be involved in the community, not just sell alcohol.

His wife Nicole Bush said she had relatives in the neighborhood and attended nearby schools including T.W. Josey High School and Paine College.

“We are very much affiliated with the neighborhood,” she said.

She said if they knew the store was opposed they’d have gone door to door beforehand.

The area isn’t zoned for a liquor store, but its nonconforming use is “grandfathered in,” Planning Director Melanie Wilson said. It has a 2017 alcohol license, Deputy Planning Director Rob Sherman said.

Commissioner Marion Williams drew applause from the dozen or so opponents to the store.

“These ladies late at night have to deal with this stuff; drunks staggering, cursing and fighting,” he said. “These ladies ought to be enjoying their life right now.”

In another matter, after heated debate, Mayor Hardie Davis broke a 5-5 tie to reject Commissioner Sammie Sias’ effort to cap general fund contributions to non-government groups.

The $25,000 cap on all groups except for the Augusta Museum of History, the Lucy Craft Laney Black History Museum and the Greater Augusta Arts Council weighs hard on groups like Richmond County Medical Society Project Access, representatives said.

Dr. Terry Cook, the chairman of the Project Access board of directors, said the program was created by the commission to replace what were millions in indigent care charges formerly paid by the government. The city general fund is Project Access’ only source of funds for overhead to manage a large supply of volunteer physicians and donated medical services, Cook said.

“The local government is not designed to carry nonprofits through the life of their existence,” Sias said. “If we continue to feed all these agencies, nobody is going to stand on their own.”

After heading behind closed doors, the commission also approved hiring Raymond James Associates to provide bond underwriting services for an unspecified project the Downtown Development Authority has been managing for several years at the city-owned Depot property on Reynolds Street.

The commission, which has never discussed openly the DDA or another entity issuing bonds for the project, voted 7-1-1 to approve with Commissioner Ben Hasan voting no and Sias abstaining.

Olive Road resident Laurene Reese spoke to the commission about injuries she sustained when dogs escaped her neighbor’s yard and bit her. The 1925 Olive Road site beside her home is operating a business despite it being zoned residential, she said.

The address is listed in property records as being owned by Commissioner Marion Williams. Williams said he is financing the site to a buyer, who owns the dogs, and had not been held liable for Reese’s injuries.

Commissioners deleted a request to require all garbage produced in Augusta to go to the city-owned landfill, after demolition companies complained, and referred Fennoy’s request to rename John C. Calhoun Expressway to a future meeting.

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

 

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