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Columbia County working to bring three businesses into conformity

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When Smallcakes opened in Liberty Square shopping center in May, the franchised cupcakery wasn’t technically allowed to do so.

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Three businesses in Liberty Square in Evans are not allowed under the current zoning. The Columbia County Planning Commission will likely address it in February.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Three businesses in Liberty Square in Evans are not allowed under the current zoning. The Columbia County Planning Commission will likely address it in February.

Jenna Martin
Business Reporter
Twitter: @JennaNMartin
E-mail | 706-823-3217

That’s because the bakery isn’t included in a list of approved uses for the Evans site; neither is a tattoo parlor nor a car rental agency that have been operating there for years.

According to Columbia County planning documents, Smallcakes, Old Tyme Tattoo & Barber and Budget/Avis Rent-A-Car are illegal uses for the Washington Road shopping center. The discrepancy, however, is considered to be a county oversight.

Smallcakes co-owner Lori Pitts, who lives in the Atlanta area, said she didn’t find out about the situation until a month ago when the landlord informed her. The business, the brainchild of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars star and Hephzibah native Jeff Martin, is the second bakery since 2012 to open in that same space.

“It was my understanding that at this point, it was kind of a technicality,” Pitts said. “Hopefully, it’s not a big deal. We are doing well there, and I think the center has been really good for us.”

The county planning manager, Nayna Mistry, said her department is taking administrative action by working with property manager Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Co. to bring the businesses into conformity and ensure that no one is forced out of the center.

The issue arose this fall when Sherman & Hemstreet applied for a sign variance to add space on a sign that fronts Washington Road across from the Evans Wal-Mart. It was then that a “number of permitted use irregularities” were discovered at the 4.8-acre center, according to county documents.

County research also showed that Budget Rentals had been operating on the site without paying its occupational tax for five years, though Mistry said that issue also is being addressed. Mes­sages left for the office manager were not immediately returned.

“We want to make sure that everything is matched up and handle everything at once,” Mistry said.

Because the retail center is zoned for planned-unit development, any business approved for the property must be specifically defined. The shopping center opened in 2006 with more than 20 allowed uses, including restaurants, medical clinics, banks and auto service stations.

In 2010, the center went through foreclosure and was acquired by SAP Two Investments LLC the following year for nearly $2.1 million.

“The narrative that was originally put there was not really comprehensive, and it was kind of vague,” said Chris Farrow, a commercial agent for Sherman & Hemstreet. “All we’re doing is redoing a variance to allow these business(es) to legally be in there.”

Farrow said he expects the owners to complete their proposed list of allowable uses by February, when the Columbia County Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the item.

“It really just depends on what the planning commission allows us to do,” Farrow said. “If they deny us putting these uses in the narrative, then (the businesses) could be forced out. I don’t think it’s going to come to that.”

The county’s deputy administrator, Glenn Kennedy II, said he also can’t see a situation in which the businesses are forced to leave the center.

“They all seem to be good neighbors,” he said.

Mistry said the county’s rapid growth and staff changes in recent years are likely to blame, at least in part, for the glitches.

“I would say that’s part of the growing pains, just to keep up with how things are,” she said. “Obviously, the county doesn’t want to keep delaying a lot of businesses and owners on what they want to do. Usually our response time is pretty quick, and we want to keep it that way. That doesn’t mean that errors don’t happen from time to time, or things get overlooked.”

Her department is seeking ways to prevent similar problems from emerging in the future, she added.

“We’re working with the building department to try and get a process in place where certain things are being checked before being issued,” Mistry said, “just to make sure we’re keeping on top of it.”

Comments (19) Add comment
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Marinerman1
7575
Points
Marinerman1 12/04/13 - 10:09 pm
5
1
Make A New List And Check It TWICE !

I cannot believe in this day and time, there would not have been a comprehensive list that numbers more than 20. I'm trying to figure out how the original chopper shop was on the list. And they continue to have problems getting the original locations leased the first time. There are still areas that have never had ANY build out.

jbartley
693
Points
jbartley 12/05/13 - 12:52 am
8
0
More problems!

Under Ron Cross and company this is just one more thing to show up! Look at the subdivisions regulations that weren't followed and we taxpayers are having to repave new subdivisions!

Riverman1
113813
Points
Riverman1 12/05/13 - 06:44 am
3
9
Understandable

When you have the tremendous population and economic growth that Columbia County is experiencing things like this happen. There are so many new shopping centers popping up it's hard to keep track of everything. When you are one of the fastest growing counties in the NATION with a high per capita income sometimes it's hard for government to keep up.

ColCo
1147
Points
ColCo 12/05/13 - 07:20 am
5
2
Uses ignored

The original landlord/owner/builder most likely signed two of the leases years ago, knowing the businesses were not on the approved list he agreed to, and ignored the fact. The new owners who bought the property in foreclosure probably never knew the approved use list even existed and thought they could lease to anyone. Should the county be required to review and approve every lease that every landlord in the county signs with a tenant? I don't think so.

soapy_725
44969
Points
soapy_725 12/05/13 - 08:57 am
0
0
Someone is not doing their job or it is a non issue? Not both.
Unpublished

CC will approve an outhouse in Publix if the the right developer is involved.

soapy_725
44969
Points
soapy_725 12/05/13 - 08:58 am
1
0
CC Zoning & Planning is a joke. Go visit and ask a question.
Unpublished

CC Zoning & Planning is a joke. Go visit and ask a question.

soapy_725
44969
Points
soapy_725 12/05/13 - 08:59 am
1
0
CC has one mission. Construction&schools. Concrete&asphalt
Unpublished

CC has one mission. Construction&schools. Concrete&asphalt

my.voice
6043
Points
my.voice 12/05/13 - 09:22 am
3
1
Sounds to me like Sherman &

Sounds to me like Sherman & Hemstreet didnt do THEIR due diligence.

Little Lamb
53944
Points
Little Lamb 12/05/13 - 09:36 am
6
0
PUD

Here is another abuse of PUD zoning. Instead of fixing this mess by issuing variances for these three businesses, Columbia County should instead change the zoning from PUD to general commercial. Then the owner could rent to businesses without getting approval from the planning department.

The thing about Budget Rentals not paying their occupational tax for five years is interesting. How many more businesses across the county "forget" to sign up for the tax when they open? Probably a lot. There must be no inspectors out looking for violators. It's an honor system tax.

Willow Bailey
20618
Points
Willow Bailey 12/05/13 - 09:50 am
2
0
For the most part, Columbia

For the most part, Columbia County is doing a great job.

David Parker
7925
Points
David Parker 12/05/13 - 10:04 am
2
0
What is best for the county?

What is best for the county? Should the county be responsible to prep and acclimate business to the tax laws and regulations of the county? If so, then are there State and Fed regs/tax that someone will need to assume training responsibility for? If you are far enough along to open the business, you should be responsible enough to understand the law. If not, it's the business owner's responsibility to employ someone to handle that angle. Are we really confused on who's mistake this is?

itsanotherday1
54225
Points
itsanotherday1 12/05/13 - 10:11 am
4
0
jbartley, you struck my peeve

jbartley, you struck my peeve nerve about paving. Developers should have to stand behind street integrity. They are making fortunes as it is, and for the taxpayers pick up the tab for shoddy roadwork is shameful.

County government should be held to account for allowing it.

David Parker
7925
Points
David Parker 12/05/13 - 10:15 am
4
0
It's free-market poison. For

It's free-market poison. For example, I want to open a car rental place. The competition is established and doing business. One operator "forgot" to pay tax and is wrongly located in a spot not zoned for car renting. It's a very high traffic locale and ideal for exposure and branding purposes. Another new operator, has to pay taxes and put their business in a spot that isn't quite as appealling and will get less traffic. etc. Not very equitable. With progress, there ARE going to be mistakes made, but remedying those mistakes immediately, even though it stings, will be better for everyone in the end.

Mr. Thackeray
1208
Points
Mr. Thackeray 12/05/13 - 10:26 am
6
1
Riverman

I lived in another of the countries fastest growing counties and it MUCH larger than CC to boot. These problems never happened. It is flat out poor management.

Riverman1
113813
Points
Riverman1 12/05/13 - 11:10 am
2
2
" These problems never

" These problems never happened."

Never? What perfect county was this?

a crazy old man
30
Points
a crazy old man 12/05/13 - 12:50 pm
2
0
Changes for conformity is not the answer,

This should have been caught by the folks at the permit and business license department but, first and foremost the new owners should of researched and known about the zoning and/or zoning restrictions and not rented to someone that didn’t fall under the guidelines so, even though it was partially faulted because of an oversight by county employee it is actually Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Company’s and the new owners SAP Two Investments LLC’s fault for not doing the proper research so, Sherman & Hemstreet and SAP Two Investments LLC’s should have to pay some fines and pay the businesses effected to relocated to a prime location that is zoned for them and they should have to pay for a years radio, television and internet advertising to make sure everyone knows the new locations and they should have to pay all unpaid taxes. Simply because, if you just change the zoning rules for these, it will open the doors for future businesses to do the same and move/open anywhere they want.

a crazy old man
30
Points
a crazy old man 12/05/13 - 01:20 pm
1
0
Why

How are two other eateries allowed and the one in this article is not?

David Parker
7925
Points
David Parker 12/05/13 - 01:26 pm
2
0
wheels

they're rattlin a smidge

countyman
22992
Points
countyman 12/05/13 - 03:18 pm
1
2
Shopping centers

Where are these mysterious new shopping centers popping up in Columbia County?

The commercial growth seems to be moving along much slower compared to the previous decade.

Their building some new apartments near the Walmart outside of the city limits in Grovetown. The PUD is supposed to include some retail but I don't believe the commercial portion has started construction..

There's some ongoing construction on Washington road in Evans between the Walmart and Gibbs road. The site preperation their working on might turn out to be another strip center because it's located right next to the Eagle Pointe center.

Those two developments are the only potential 'shopping centers' I see popping up in the entire county.

CobaltGeorge
214185
Points
CobaltGeorge 12/05/13 - 06:06 pm
0
1
cman,

I guess you haven't been up Columbia Road lately!

Riverman1
113813
Points
Riverman1 12/05/13 - 08:23 pm
2
0
Countyman, for goodness

Countyman, for goodness sakes, get the people and businesses to slow down coming to Columbia County if you have any influence.

Discussionstarter
539
Points
Discussionstarter 12/07/13 - 01:37 pm
1
0
Columbia County did not do their job.

When these businesses got their business license.... all the Columbia County office had to do was check the address of the business location and they should have caught it. With respect to the rental car company not having a business license for five years.... the business should be fined and the CC office is not doing their job either; the business knew they had to have a business license. Are all those businesses on Baston Road have proper zoning? Why is the dilipidated house still allowed to stand on Baston Road? This article is even more disturbing with respect to the recent findings of the Columbia County Code Enforcement not doing their job for years. At the end of the day.... who should be held responsible? Answer... the Columbia County Commissioners and Administrator.

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