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Clarkston considers a permit for 24-hour convenience stores amid rise in burglaries

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Clarkston considers a permit for 24-hour convenience stores amid rise in burglaries

Clarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — The city of Clarkston recently began to enforce an ordinance on the books that requires convenience stores to be closed between midnight and 6 a.m. Previously, many of the stores had been open 24 hours and the owners assert that a recent rash of burglaries can be attributed to the stores being left empty, even though locked.

“Some of them are paying people to stay there at night, to keep people from breaking in,” said Councilmember YT Bell, at the Clarkston City Council’s work session on Jan. 31.

According to Vice Mayor Debra Johnson, Clarkston Police confirmed that robberies had increased since the businesses began to be closed at night.

“When they were open all night, we didn’t hear anything from them,” said Johnson.

The council is considering amending the city code to allow convenience stores that have video surveillance to apply for a permit to stay open 24 hours. No fees will be charged for the permit.

Councilmember Susan Hood thought it was an innovative approach, but she was concerned that the definition of convenience store in the ordinance was too broad and would allow other types of businesses to be open 24 hours.

Councilmember Jamie Carroll said the problem was city-wide.

“I feel like it’s a public safety issue,” said Carroll.

As part of a lengthy agenda, the council also made plans to expand the city’s greenspaces.

City staff recommended architectural services company Perkins and Will to conduct a greenway feasibility study for the city. The study is being funded by a $272,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission, with $68,000 in local share funding from the city.

Clarkston is also likely to purchase a two-acre parcel at 3520 Montreal Creek Court for the purpose of creating a park. The owner, Charles Hilton, Jr., has offered to sell the property to the city for $70,000.

Mayor Beverly Burks said that putting a park at the location would help to provide equitable access to greenspace for the surrounding neighborhood.

In response to a question from Carroll, City Manager Shawanna Qawiy said that the funds to purchase the property had already been budgeted, and city staff was in the process of seeking grants to make it usable as a park.

In addition to the greenspace plans, city staff recommended that Construction 57, Inc. complete the Church Street and Lovejoy Street sidewalks project. The project is being partially funded by a 2022 Local Maintenance Improvement Grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation in the amount of about $91,600. The city will pay for the rest of the $160,710 total cost.

The council spent some time tidying up the city’s organizational structure, including reorganizing the board of Clarkston’s Urban Redevelopment Agency. Members of the city council and the mayor are automatically members of the URA board, and only serve as long as they are also part of the governing body of Clarkston. The last meeting of the URA was held in 2017. The council will schedule a meeting to elect board officers before the next city council meeting.

Councilmember Laura Hopkins asked why the URA exists as a separate entity from the city council.

City Attorney Stephen Quinn said that forming a separate agency allowed the city to purchase bonds used for Friendship Forest without having to go through the process of having a referendum, and that there were financial advantages to the city in doing it that way.

The council also considered a resolution to deactivate Clarkston’s Housing Authority. The agency was originally formed in 1983 for the purpose of purchasing mortgage loans on single-family dwellings in order to house low-income families within Clarkston’s city limits. The Housing Authority is currently inactive and has no assets or liabilities.

Quinn said that because the Housing Authority has not made required filings for three years, it is not in compliance with Department of Community Affairs rules. Quinn stated that this could affect the standing of the city.

Qawiy said that there were no costs associated with disbanding the Housing Authority, but that making it an active agency again would require appointing a new board and creating a budget.

Quinn said that if the council chooses in the future, it can re-activate the Housing Authority.

Additionally, the city council heard requests for funding from local non-profits. The Clarkston Development Foundation has asked for $10,000 to support their early learning task force, early learning information fair, and story walk at Friendship Forest. CDF also regularly provides children’s activities at city events.

CDF Executive Director Roberta Malavenda said that a class from Emory University was designing an evaluation model in order to determine impact and use of the program.

Amani Women’s Center has asked for $82,800 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to continue their workforce development pilot program. Amani Women’s Center provides social support for refugees to help them prepare to enter the workforce in the United States, along with material help such as providing them with sewing machines, fabric, and instruction. Doris Mukangu, who is president and CEO of the organization, said that currently the majority of the people the center is working with are Afghan refugees.

Mukangu said that the center has a waiting list of 30–40 people, most of whom are Clarkston residents.

In legal matters, the council denied claims by two different people with the last name Wheeler against the city.

Jermarcus Wheeler has made previous claims against other local municipalities, including Avondale Estates, regarding an accident that occurred May 24, 2022, in unincorporated DeKalb County.

City Attorney Stephen Quinn said that Wheeler was involved in a police chase by DeKalb Police that resulted in an accident, and that an investigation indicates that no Clarkston police officers were involved.

Jaque Wheeler asserts that he was injured in an accident in Gwinnett County on April 6, 2022, and that the accident was caused by a city of Clarkston employee driving a city-owned vehicle.

Quinn stated that no city business was involved, and the city’s insurance has asked the city to deny the claim. He added that both individuals being named Wheeler appeared to be a coincidence.

In other news, the council discussed the renewal of a city services agreement with the Clarkston Community Center. The CCC is an independent nonprofit, but the city often uses the building for meetings and events. Clarkston pays the CCC $2,500 per quarter which allows the city, businesses, and individual residents to reserve spaces in the building at no additional charge.

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