Originally created 07/30/01

Fence comes between companies



Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop the U.S. Postal Service.

Just don't let a chain-link fence get in its way.

The fence, built March 16 between two shopping centers on Peach Orchard Road, has become a dividing line for the property owners, the tenants and their customers. And it has delayed the opening of a post office branch.

Donna Ricks, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service in Macon, said the post office will not open until there is access to the back area, which is now hindered by the fence. The building was slated to open June 28, but remains unoccupied.

"We can't accept a building unless we can get the mail in there," she said.

The post office is one of about a dozen tenants in the two shopping centers, at the intersection of Peach Orchard Road and Reedale Avenue near Bobby Jones Expressway.

One of the centers is owned by Case Investments, the other by Hull/Storey Development LLC. Since the fence was built, Case Investments has sued Hull/Storey to have it torn down.

Hull/Storey co-owner Jim Hull built the fence after the post office built a fence of its own. The post office fence was designed to provide a safe area in which to leave postal vehicles overnight.

Mr. Hull contends the post office's fence breached an easement agreement and that he wasn't aware of any shopping center in Georgia where "a portion of the paved parking area has been fenced off and shopping customers have been prohibited from parking in that area."

The fence runs between the vacant post office and Hull/Storey's shopping center, a location that blocks some customer access to Reedale Avenue, which meets Peach Orchard at a traffic signal. By not having access to that intersection, the customers for businesses in the Case Investments shopping center must detour through a neighborhood to avoid turning left without a traffic signal.

"I'm not going to fight that traffic," said Gloria Anderson, co-owner of Southern Tan, Hair and Nails and a tenant of Case Investments'. Ms. Anderson said she has refused to let her mother take the risk and visit her at work since the fence was built.

Richmond County Traffic Engineer Jim Huffstetler said it was not "desirable" to add another traffic light at the shopping center because too many lights can cause more congestion.

Kandy Barnwell, also a co-owner of Southern Tan, Hair and Nails, said the safety risks created by the fence are too great.

"Somebody's going to have to die before they do something about it," she said.

Linda Phillips, co-owner of Boo Bear's Village, said she is concerned about safe vehicle access, especially at the post office.

"There is no way an emergency truck can turn that corner and get to the back," she said.

The fence is also sitting between Mrs. Phillips' and some of her customers, she said.

"It's pretty dead," she said. "It's affected our business by about 50 percent."

Mrs. Phillips started to address the situation after the fence was erected, writing commissions and calling members of the media.

"I'm not a conglomerate," she said. "I don't have the big-lawyer dollars to fight this. All we can do is make some noise."

Ms. Anderson is feeling the pinch, too.

"They're losing business and so are we," she said.

And it's apparently happening on the other side of the fence, too. An employee from Express Cash, one of Mr. Hull's tenants, said the fence has caused more congestion than before and has affected business.

William Trotter, an attorney for Case Investments, said the company considering tearing down part of their property to allow a driveway for mail trucks. To do so, he said, would require relocating a tenant.

Still, Mr. Hull's fence is unnecessary, he said.

"This is a story that involves money, greed and abuse," Mr. Trotter said.

Mr. Hull said the battle over the fence has made him want to sever any ties with Case Investments.

"I've gotten frustrated with Case Investments," he said. "I don't want anything to do with them."

Quick removal of the fence doesn't look promising.

The case will be sent to a jury trial and that won't be sooner than September, Mr. Trotter said.

In the meantime, affected businesses hope the shopping center owners - and the federal government - can reach some kind of agreement.

"They managed to tear the Berlin Wall down," said Barbara Cleere, a hair stylist at Southern Tan, Hair and Nails. "How hard could it be to have this little fence torn down?"

Reach Rebecca Whitehead at (706) 823-3340.