When East Park Historic Association President Vanessa Peterson saw a banner advertising a bail bonds office on East Stone Avenue, she was shocked. “When you’re standing in front of the building, you see houses and backyards with tree houses and swing sets,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense.”
Peterson added, “I’m actually excited about the growth and development on Stone, but I’m thinking more family-friendly development, such as walking to the grocery store, walking to dinner, and walking to stores like A Walk in the Woods. I was kind of thinking that’s the way Stone Avenue was headed. Not a bail bond office.”
Aladdin Bail Bonds, which claims to be the largest bail bond company in the United States with more than 50 locations in several western states, plans to open an office at 205 E. Stone Ave. The area is zoned C-2, a local commercial district that allows bail bonds offices by right. That means they are not required to undergo review by the city’s technical advisory committee or require a special exception through the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
That surprised Peterson, who said she and other residents of the five neighborhoods bordering Stone Avenue thought the area would be protected from such businesses just as it is from pay-day lenders, same-day lenders, and plasma banks.
This is the latest brouhaha on Stone Avenue — and in other commercial corridors around the city — about what kinds of businesses should back up to homes in Greenville’s long-established and historic neighborhoods.
“The bigger picture is that we need to take a closer look at the zoning and master plans for areas that run right up against neighborhoods,” said John DeWorken, president of the North Main Community Association. DeWorken has announced he’ll run for an at-large seat on the Greenville City Council. “It’s about preserving the neighborhoods and identifying areas that are very sensitive to this type of development.”
This is not the first time tensions have brewed in the Stone Avenue area as nearby residents have fought commercial growth they felt was creeping into their backyards.
More than a decade ago, payday lending, check-cashing, and blood plasma centers were proliferating along Stone Avenue, Laurens Road, and Pleasantburg Drive. City Council passed an ordinance that kept those businesses from renewing their leases if their building was within 3,000 feet of another similar business.
When Waffle House planned to build a 24-hour diner on Stone Avenue, residents protested, claiming the around-the-clock operation would adversely affect adjacent residents. That prompted the city to change its zoning laws to require businesses that wanted to stay open all night in lighter commercial areas to secure special approval first. The restaurant was eventually allowed to stay open around the clock.
Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle, who represents Stone Avenue, told her constituents in an email that the tools a city has to regulate businesses in a free market are limited. She said that the city planning department continually reviews land use and updates zoning and requirements.
“We must remain vigilant about the impact of businesses on our redeveloping corridors,” she said.
Doyle said the city requires business licenses and it has revoked licenses of businesses that had public safety issues or operated against code.
City Planning and Development Manager Jay Graham said city staff is reviewing how other cities handle similar situations.