In an attempt to address neighborhood concerns about increased traffic and other potential issues that allow the owner of a property on Fancy Gap Road to use it by operating a grocery store, officials have delayed appropriate rezoning measures.
The small size of the property at 1515 Fancy Gap Road near Westwood Drive – 0.18 acres – and the limited availability of parking there is a consideration along with its location in a densely populated area off US 52-North.
Such issues prompted the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to vote during a meeting last Thursday evening to postpone a decision on a motion to change the zoning of the package from residential to business.
“For the best chance of a passage, I say we should submit this for the next meeting,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley, summarizing the situation. “I would like some clarification.”
The location in question contains an unused building that historically housed a convenience / country store that closed in the fall of 2015, according to Andy Goodall, director of urban planning.
Recent rededication efforts by its owner – Ibrahim Kaya of Colonia, New Jersey – have created a delicate dilemma that Mount Airy officials seem difficult to resolve.
The building’s origins date back to the 1950s when there were no zones in the affected area that was part of Surry County until it was incorporated into the city about 15 years ago.
“Unfortunately, 60 years later, we’re trying to figure out what to do with it here,” Goodall told the commissioners on Thursday.
The property is now in a zone area of the R-20 (residential area), and after the annexation, the business was allowed to continue to operate there as a legally non-compliant use until it was closed in 2015.
In order for a supermarket to be rebuilt, Mount Airy officials must approve the rezoning of the site to a non-residential classification, according to city planners.
The present application consists in converting the package from R-20 to the designation B-3 (Neighborhood Business), with the conditions that the use of the property is restricted to a “convenience food business”.
In addition, no parking signs or strips should be posted on the sidewalk adjacent to Westwood Drive and an accessible space should be provided to address concerns about on-site parking.
These initial conditions were imposed by the Mount Airy Planning Board. Since the matter moved to the commissioners, they have added more, including installing an 8-foot privacy fence outside the building and a subdued landscape island.
The planning group, an advisory body for the city commissioners, voted to recommend the rededication by a 5-3 decision in February, which is not binding on the commissioners.
The split decision reflected neighbors’ complaints about the resulting increased traffic (both vehicles and pedestrians), the lack of on-site parking for the proposed grocery store, and vehicle parking on the street (Westwood Drive) than that Company previously worked there.
The commissioners also had a lot to say on Thursday evening.
Much of the discussion has centered on the smallness of the space in question and its implications for the availability of parking spaces and neighboring properties.
“It’s a pretty tight lot,” agreed city planner Ben Barcroft. “The lot itself is only 40 feet wide.”
“Why not find a use for it that is not (accompanied by) a constant flow of traffic,” Cawley said at one point, suggesting that an office could be a good alternative.
The commissioners also questioned whether the supermarket’s possible nightly operating schedule would disrupt the neighborhood.
“I don’t think it’s really a suitable area for 24-hour business,” said Commissioner Steve Yokeley, calling for a deadline to be included under the terms.
“Running a neighborhood shop at twelve o’clock at night may not be a good idea,” agreed fellow board member Tom Koch.
However, the discussion revealed that this may not be possible from a legal point of view.
“They have to be enforceable terms,” said Goodall.
While city ordinances regulate the opening times of a noisy industrial facility or when the LED lighting has to be switched off at night, the planning director pointed out that 24-hour schedules for convenience stores must apply to all.
Goodall said the owner would have to agree to such a condition.
Kaya, who was present at the meeting, said the store should be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Yokeley said he thinks the planning and any other emerging conditions should be set out in the reallocation ordinance being considered by the commissioners.
“I couldn’t vote for the way it is now,” he said. “I just think the hours need to be regulated.”
The planning director said the reallocation issue was made further problematic by the possibility that the building would deteriorate further and would eventually have to be demolished if the owner couldn’t do anything with the property.
“And this is where we struggle with it,” said Goodall when he found a solution.
Although the Mount Airy Planning Bureau received emails from neighboring owners speaking out against the reallocation in the densely populated area, no one spoke about it during a public hearing during the commissioners’ meeting on Thursday evening.
Two written comments were received for the hearing, read by Carolyn Hegler, a town clerk.
One was from Jennifer McBride, a neighboring owner affiliated with a company called M&H Mechanical, LLC on Fancy Gap Road.
McBride denied the rededication request.
“My main concern is the lack of adequate parking in this particular location,” she wrote of the store. “I don’t want your customers to park on my property.”
McBride said this would force fences to be erected at their own expense.
She also mentioned the presence of “people of questionable character” walking up and down Fancy Gap Road, and that the store could exacerbate that presence. McBride believes this will create more problems than solutions.
Carol Burke, who lives in Mount Airy, took a different view in her written comments for the public hearing.
“Before this property was annexed by the city, this grocery store was a positive grocery store for the area,” advised Burke.
“When I was teaching horseback riding to preschool and elementary school students at Turfwood Stables on the corner of Fancy Gap Road and Miller Road, this was a well-run grocery store with a customer supportive of the business owner,” continued Burke.
“I am not aware of any wrongdoing or drug-related activity that has occurred over the many years that the business has been at this location.”
More recently, “the area has unfortunately become an oasis of drugs and illegal activity,” wrote Burke, citing Surry Sheriff Steve Hiatt’s recent efforts to address this problem in the nearby area, which is still recognized by county officials is covered.
“Hopefully, with a properly managed supermarket under the jurisdiction of the Mount Airy City Police Department, this area can be returned to a beautiful, law-abiding, drug-free community, which is what we all want,” commented Burke.
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