Planning commission urges OK for pawn shop

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Elizabeth City Planning Commissioner Gary White speaks during a hearing on Elizabeth City Pawns and Guns' request for a conditional use permit as commission Chairman Ernest Sutton listens, Tuesday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A local pawn shop has won the Elizabeth City Planning Commission’s support to open a second store in a long vacant supermarket in the 700 block of North Hughes Boulevard.

As part of its recommendation, the Planning Commission also voted 4-0 to delete four key conditions the city had recommended Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns follow before being granted a conditional use permit to renovate and occupy part of the former S&R Supermarket.

The commission’s recommendation is still subject to City Council approval, which is scheduled to take up Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns’ request for the conditional use permit later this month.

If councilors agree with the commission’s recommendation, Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns won’t have to install sidewalks along the front and Sawyer Street sides of the S&R property; can keep open both of its current entrances from Hughes Boulevard; and won’t have to plant any trees or shrubs on the property.

All are conditions city officials had recommended the commission set for the application to win its recommendation.

But Planning Commissioner Gary White said the board should reject the conditions, saying he supports anyone willing to renovate the former S&R and try to operate a successful business there.

“It’s an improvement,” White said. “You’re coming in and you’re buying something that has been there forever. I’m 61 years old. It (the former S&R) was there ever since I could ride a bicycle.”

Planning Commission Chairman Ernest Sutton and commission members Johnson Biggs and Carlton O’Neal joined White in voting to recommend EC Pawn and Guns’ request to City Council. Councilors will decide on July 23 when to set a public hearing on the request.

Eric Rainwater and Kevin Stroud, who are partners in Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns, said later they were pleased with the commission’s decision.

“They were really responsive,” Rainwater said. “I thought they did a great job. It went a lot better than we thought it would.”

Rainwater said he and Stroud were concerned the commission was going to force Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns to construct sidewalks they felt weren’t needed and to close one the business’s entrances.

“We felt like the city was using us to pay for all that,” he said. “And we didn’t feel like as businessmen that we should be forced to do that.”

Prior to the board’s vote, city Planner Cheryl Eggar told the commission that city staff and the N.C. Department of Transportation had expressed concerns about leaving open the former S&R’s northern entrance from Hughes Boulevard, noting it’s close to Sawyer Street.

Eggar said the city staff wanted the entrance closed. But as a compromise, DOT would allow the former S&R’s southern entrance from Hughes Boulevard to be widened, she said.

Eggar said city staff also wanted the applicants to build sidewalks on North Hughes Boulevard in front of the former S&R and along Sawyer Street on the building’s north side. She said the sidewalks could be delayed, however, while DOT completed an access improvement project along North Hughes. She indicated that if DOT delayed its project beyond January 2020, Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns would have to construct the sidewalk on North Hughes then.

City staff also wanted Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns to plant six trees and 36 shrubs along North Hughes Boulevard and four trees and 24 shrubs along Sawyer Street, Eggar said.

Addressing Planning Commission members, Rainwater noted that he and Stroud have enjoyed good relations with the city in the past. The company had to get city approval for both its first location in the 900 block of West Ehringhaus Street and its second location in the 1500 block of West Ehringhaus Street. The company also plans to follow a city recommendation it widen a second entrance from Hughes Boulevard to the S&R building.

However, Rainwater suggested the other conditions being placed on his company to get city approval for the former S&R site were unreasonable.

“We just feel like that it’s kind of arbitrary at this point to make us be held to a standard that others around us aren’t being held to,” he said.

For example, Rainwater noted that Van’s Pizza House, which is just north of the former S&R, has an entrance along North Hughes that is close to Sawyer Street. He also noted the Nu-Quality ice cream stand across Hughes Boulevard from the former S&R also has an entrance close to Sawyer.

Rainwater also pointed out that there aren’t any sidewalks in front of Van’s or the Salvation Army Family Store, which is just south of the former S&R.

He expressed concern about Elizabeth City Pawns and Guns completing a sidewalk along North Hughes Boulevard after January 2020 and then DOT coming along months later and tearing it up as part of a road-improvement project.

Rainwater also questioned the logic of installing a sidewalk along Sawyer Street that would dead-end near a vehicle junkyard.

Biggs asked Eggar if the planning staff’s sidewalk requirement was something new.

Eggar responded that when the city gets the opportunity to expand sidewalks within business districts, it likes to do so. She said the hope is that sidewalks can eventually be connected.

As for requiring a sidewalk along Sawyer Street, Eggar said the city envisions a pedestrian connection between North Hughes Boulevard and West Broad Street. She also noted the city has been improving sidewalks along Hughes Boulevard.

Stroud responded that having connected sidewalks along Hughes Boulevard is a great idea. However, he doesn’t see it happening unless DOT does it.

Alex Rich, a local real estate broker who represents Elizabeth City Pawn and Guns, expressed concern about the city imposing too many regulations on his clients.

“I just want to make sure that the city isn’t using that CUP (conditional use permit) process to squeeze a business owner any harder than the other business owners that try to open a new business and expand business in our town,” Rich said.

Peter Thomson, a real estate broker representing the Roebuck family, who own the former S&R, also addressed the Planning Commission. He said although the list price for the former S&R site has been reduced in recent years, potential buyers have been reluctant to purchase because of the building’s renovation costs. He said Rainwater and Stroud’s plans for a partial renovation should allow them to invest in repairs that will still allow them to make a profit.

“I think it’s kind of a unique opportunity for them and it’s also a unique opportunity for the Roebucks,” he said.

In calling for removal of the tree and shrub requirement, White, a former law enforcement officer, noted that visibility is important to pawn businesses for safety reasons.