A local veterans post’s desire to be rezoned for alcohol consumption on the property was met with neighborhood opposition which resulted in the Thomson-McDuffie County Planning Commission taking no action and forwarding the request to the county commission.
The officials of the Hart Mack Wilson American Legion Post 312, located at 185 Viola Avery Street in Thomson, made the rezoning request to the planning commission Dec. 3. The Post’s current C-1 or neighborhood service commercial district, does not allow alcohol on the premises but a C-2 commercial designation would allow the use of alcohol on the property.
Zoning requests are introduced to the commission by Planning and Zoning Director Chase Beggs. He told the planning board that repairs were needed in the building and a sprinkler system needed to be installed and paved parking would be needed before the building could be open to the public for function. Beggs also said the property is surrounded by homes and residential property and is located 341 feet from the church across the street.
Representatives from law enforcement, businesses and residents were vocal in opposition because of a probable criminal element and violence that would be outside the building and increased traffic if alcohol was part of a function occurring inside the building.
Larry Adaway, speaking as a resident of the neighborhood and as a member the McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office, said he was concerned about alcohol being served at the building, which is the site of a former neighborhood lounge. He said Viola Avery Street is already used as a thruway or shortcut from many streets to Washington Road and approving alcohol at the Post would increase traffic on the roadway.
Adaway said the former business was problematic for law enforcement and the neighborhood. “When events were held, you could not get through there and you were afraid to go through there,” he said. “The element drawn in caused problems for the neighborhood and residents,” he said, citing violent crimes that occurred in the past and those that have happened recently
“The problems were outside,” he said. “The people who run the business cannot control what happens outside,” he said. Adaway said providing more parking and having alcohol at the current American Legion Post would increase hangout space. “The undesirable element will not be inside,” he said.
McDuffie County is currently decreasing blighted areas in the neighborhood and demolishing derelict property. “We are trying in every way we can to bring the area into complacence with what any individual will want to call their home,” Adaway said.
Johnny “Knot” Norris, post commander, told detractors that the Post was not opening a night-club. He said that the veterans wanted alcohol to be available when they held parties and other functions at the building. “These will be membership events,” he said. He added that the age limit for veterans and their guests would be 25. “We want be conducting nightclub activities. You would have to be a veteran and not just open to the public,” he said.
Numerous people spoke in opposition to alcohol at the Post.
Bernard Grant, who owns a childcare learning center in the area, supported the veterans and the American Legion but added that he has already lost business because of past and recent actions in the neighborhood. “We have lost tremendous business because of activities that have gone on in the neighborhood in general. It has cost me a good bit of money because people do not want to bring their children into the neighborhood,” he said.
The planning commission did not take action and forwarded the request to the County Commission without a recommendation.
The commission did approve a request from Matt Hammond, owner of Quality Canine Concepts, to add a Dog Kennel/Training Facility on 10.58 acres on 1339 Union Church Road.
Hammond sought a special exception request for a facility to train service dogs and to board up to 25 dogs on the property. The commission approved the request and the McDuffie County Commission will either uphold the request or disapprove it at its Dec. 17 meeting.