Tempers flare over proposed Mountville gas station

Published 10:39 am Thursday, December 3, 2020

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Drug and alcohol use, loitering, dangerous levels of traffic, decreased property values, litter and loud music were among concerns expressed by Mountville residents about a potential gas station on Greenville Road.

The discussion took place for about an hour and 45 minutes at the Troup County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday morning. The uproar ultimately resulted in commissioners voting to delay action on a rezoning request and a special use request that would enable property at 4588 Greenville Road to be developed into a gas station and convenience store.

Following the lengthy discussion, commissioners also encouraged residents and the business partners to meet and work through their concerns.

The crowd of Mountville residents at the start of the meeting was so large that Chairman Patrick Crews asked them to wait outside for the first part of the meeting. Many county staff were at the meeting in its first half due to employee recognition awards that were being given out, and due to the pandemic, the commission is trying to facilitate social distancing.

When the Mountville part of the agenda was reached, Jay Anderson, community development director for the county, outlined the applications and explained that staff were recommending approval.

Gulshan and Virginia Singh purchased the property from Joe and Ricky McConnell, and are requesting that 4588 Greenville Road be rezoned from agricultural residential to neighborhood commercial. If approved, they plan to build a gas station and convenience store with a drive-thru to sell pizza, fried chicken and other food.

Anderson said several people had called the county expressing concerns, but after reviewing planning and zoning standards, county staff did not believe the gas station would increase traffic to a dangerous level, create adverse environmental impact, generate conditions such as noise, light, glare, odor or similar objectionable features, or adversely affect the health, safety and general welfare of the community.

Anderson mentioned aesthetic concerns that he had discussed with the applicants. Mountville is the oldest part of Troup County, and residents spoke proudly about the historic character of the area.

“I love Mountville myself. I don’t live out there, but I’ve always appreciated it,” Anderson said. “I am a construction, architecture type guy, and I love the churches and the old white homes and the siding and the architecture that’s out there. And so, the staff did have discussions with the applicant about having some design standards that would help it blend in.”

The Board of Zoning has already approved the request with a 5-2 vote.

Anderson also dispelled rumors that the property was being made into a truck stop.

One concern among residents is traffic and speeding. The site plan includes a deceleration lane for cars turning right into the station. The convenience store would have a 370-foot driveway off the road.

One of the conditions that county staff recommended was no loud music after 10 p.m., which is often included in similar applications.

Commissioner Ellis Cadenhead, whose district includes Mountville, questioned if the store could play loud music on Sundays. The property is across the street from Mountville Methodist Church and Mountville Baptist Church.

“Yes, they could, and so could the property next door to them, and so could the property next door to them because we don’t have a noise ordinance that says you can’t do it … anybody in Mountville could play amplified music on Sunday,” Anderson said.

Cadenhead also asked why staff didn’t think there would be increased traffic. Anderson responded by saying that was not their finding, but that the increase would not cause a safety hazard.

“When we review that standard, we always review that standard based upon, will it be excessive … we would not expect to see traffic backed up,” County Engineer James Emery said.

Charles Newsome, a Mountville resident and trustee of Mountville Baptist Church, spoke in opposition of the proposal. He also presented a petition that members of Mountville Baptist Church had signed.

“I’m sure when they open the store, they’re going to want to sell beer and wine,” Newsome said. “I really don’t prefer that to be going on across the road.”

Another resident, Georgia Hammock, said most people in Mountville eat at home and don’t need a drive-thru, and that the gas station would attract crime.

“There might be people hanging out, buying lottery tickets, selling beer, whatsoever, trafficking … it can happen, and if our children are out there, that is a possibility and I know that’s far-fetched, but it is a safety [concern].”

The meeting erupted later on when Hammock again took the podium to accuse Manbil Singh, a partner in the business, of laughing while residents were “pouring our hearts out.”

“Our community is not a joke … He doesn’t care! Obviously if he’s laughing, he does not care,” Hammock said, turning and pointing at Singh.

Singh denied laughing, but his associate, Sam Deush, yelled back at Hammock, “It is funny. This is not a nuclear power plant!”

Crews worked to maintain order.

“I don’t want to call law enforcement up here. This is not an attack on Mr. Singh today,” Crews said.

Deush, who works in the food industry and would help set up the drive-thru and kitchen, later spoke in support. Deush said he didn’t understand what the big deal was.

“How many gas stations are in Troup County? Did it ruin Troup County? No, it’s beautiful!” Deush said.

He also said the idea of the store attracting crime was illogical.

“Oh, I can’t wait, I’m a drug addict, I can’t wait to go to Mountville now they have a gas station,” he said sarcastically. “What? That’s why I was laughing. I find it amusing. Is this like The Twilight Zone?”

Manbir Singh spoke to commissioners, saying he and his business partners were willing to be “good neighbors.” He disputed claims that the gas station would lower property values. He asked for residents, including the churches, to sit down with him and work through their concerns. He also offered to do away with the drive thru if people were concerned about backups.

“We sure don’t want to be there and aggravate people and not be successful,” Singh said.

Judy Standridge, who lives on Greenville Road, also brought up traffic, saying the highway was already too dangerous.

“This is a dangerous road. I don’t know what criteria you’re using, young man,” she said, addressing Anderson. “But I don’t think he’s been in Mountville anytime recently, and I don’t think he has tried to get out of one of our driveways.”

Standridge went on to argue that the gas station would decrease her property value due to “the drunks that stagger in and out to get their second or third 30-pack or 24-pack for the day, the kids that come in and try to buy the cigarettes, the rolling papers that are sold to the people who have vices that we won’t bother to mention.”

She went on to describe landscaping plans and proposals to make the store fit in with the community as putting lipstick on a pig.

Connie Stothard of Stothard Engineerng spoke in support of the proposal, defending the site plan, which she helped design, and noting the property would have 16 trees and 167 shrubs lining the highway. She also spoke about security and said the store was willing to turn the lights off at 10 p.m., lock a gate that would prevent people from gathering in the parking lot and will have security cameras.

She also noted that the drive-thru part of the convenience store planned to employ local teenagers through a partnership with the school system.

Another concern, brought up by Commissioner Morris Jones, was an old cemetery in the rear of the property, which some citizens may need to access. Stothard said that wouldn’t be an issue.

Not all Mountville residents were opposed to the gas station. Anderson said some had called the county inquiring about the rezoning, and when told what would be built, were fine with it.

“Him [Singh] building a store is not going to pull down the neighborhood, it’s going to provide a service,” said Arthur Howard, a Mountville resident. “People in the neighborhood make the neighborhood … man’s just trying to make a living, he wants to be part of the community. Let him in.”