By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Reopening a full-service gas station in the arts and crafts style building at 129 S. Main Street was the topic of discussion at the Planning Commission meeting Monday night. However, environmental issues could derail the project before it even gets started.
Mechanic Jamie McCammon appeared before the Commission to explain his plan for restoring and reopening the historic building. With him was attorney Trent Howell who introduced the long-time resident.
“Jamie McCammon has told me he has an interest in buying the old Jenkins Service Station,” Howell said. “I agreed to come down here and speak to y’all about him. He would like to get this business, similar to what was there before, back into operation.”
Howell explained that McCammon had a contract to buy the property subject to getting approval of the Commission and the City for what he wants to do.
McCammon said that it was his intention to reopen the business like a 1950’s style service station. “I want to pump gas, I want to wash windshields. I want to check the peoples’ oil, especially the older people who can’t do that.”
“I found a couple of pictures of the way it was in the 50’s,” he continued. “I want to keep the building the same way it looked back then. If I have to put a new roof on it, I will. Whatever I’ve got to do to bring it up to par.”
But, bringing the building up to par could include having an environmental study conducted on the property that could lead to an expensive clean-up. “There could be contamination,” Humphreys said. “There’s no telling how many gallons of oil were dumped there.”
Commissioner Eddie Magee added, “When the EPA looks at that property, that’s going to decide a lot right there.”
McCammon’s added that he had spoken with a number of people who expressed an interest in having a full-service gas station. “There are still people in this town who can’t pump gas. It’s a burden.”
He emphasized the benefits of having a full-service gas station for senior citizens and the disabled. And, he added, it will also bring in taxes for the city.
Hours of operation would be from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. six days a week, according to McCammon. “There’s not going to be any heavy mechanic work. There’s not going to be any junk sitting around,” he emphasized. “Ask anyone about my (salvage) yard out on Hwy. 32. It was always kept clean. It will be the same here.”
“My biggest concern is that I am 52. In 15 years, 20 years, I am going to be too old to do this and hopefully I can pass it on to someone who can keep the old station going. It’s not doing the city any going sitting there empty. It’s going downhill.”
At the conclusion of McCammon’s presentation, Howell asked the Commissioners if they had any questions or comments.
Commission Chairman Billy Humphreys spoke first, telling McCammon that the area is zoned central business district (CBD) and that automotive shops were not allowed in that zone. “Every one of us here would like to see the building fixed up. But, that’s what the ordinance says.”
McCammon responded, “I don’t think there would be any complaints if there was a change in the zoning for that particular antique building. I’ve talked to people in my church. I’ve talked to everybody I know. I walked up and down Main Street talking to people. I’ve not heard anybody say, ‘we don’t want it there.’”
“The only people who would possibly have a complaint would be the people across the street,” he said.
Procedures For Rezoning
Humphreys then explained the procedure for getting the property rezoned, which includes going before the Board of Aldermen and a public hearing.
Commissioner Eddie Foster joined the discussion and said that he recommended McCammon go before the City Board and ask for a zoning variance. “Just for the life of this business, not any future business.”
The Commissioners recommended that McCammon put together a proposal and return to the Planning Commission. At that time the Commissioners will make a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen on whether or not to grant the variance.
Water Valley Main Street Director Mickey Howley joined the discussion and said that the recent Charrette singled out the building as important to the City. “It is one of the first commercial buildings you see as you come into the downtown district.”
Howley said that the WVMSA had been working for some time to get the building restored. “Main Street’s philosophy is to put old buildings to the highest and best use possible. We think when you do that you get your money out of it and the community will benefit as a whole.”
“Main Street feels that the zoning was put into place for a specific reason. So, the decision you guys have to make is not really an easy one,” Howley continued. “We want the building fixed, but we also like the current zoning.”
“That’s kind of a dilemma, isn’t it?”
McCammon thanked the commissions and said, “I’m tickled so far. At least I am not out on a rail.”
The only other action taken during the meeting was to elect Ken French as Planning Commission Chairman and Eddie Foster as Co-chairman.
The Planning Commission meets on the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the boardroom at City Hall. Persons wishing to appear before the group should contact City Clerk Vivian Snider.