LUMBERTON — A city councilman and residents who are unhappy that a South Lumberton store that has been plagued by crime might reopen are taking matters into their own hands.
John Cantey, who represents Precinct 5 on the City Council, was gathering signatures from residents on Saturday who oppose the reconstruction of V-Point Tobacco. In an email to The Robesonian at about 2 p.m. on Saturday, Cantey said he had 75 signatures.
“I’m roughly staying in a half-mile radius of the store,” he wrote. “A lot of people not home, etc., but I’m probably going to stop at 100. That speaks volumes when you have 100 property owners saying no.”
Cantey expects many of them to join him when he brings the petition to a Board of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the project will be discussed.
The store, at the V-shaped intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Marion Road, was gutted by an electrical fire in January.
According to Cantey, the owner, Abudayyah Rafat Ayed, has applied for a variance from the city in order to rebuild the structure, the roof of which collapsed during the blaze. Variances are allowed when a business can show some extenuating circumstance would prevent it from adhering to a zoning ordinance.
“I’ve been fighting this thing for the past 10 years and enough is enough. And by an act of God, we finally have a foothold to make our demand,” Cantey said.
Ayed said the store isn’t to blame for crimes in the area.
“When you build a store in the middle of a town everybody will go over there,” he said.
Cantey believes local businesses have “a responsibility to enhance their community” and said the V-Point store did not.
“When those elderly people are brave enough … to try to make it up to the store to purchase something and they get robbed, I have a serious issue with that,” Cantey said.
Ayed sees a different picture.
“Everybody says they want the store there. I’m not bad with the neighborhood. I’ve been over there almost 10 years … everything is good,” he said.
In November, a 17-year-old was shot in the leg at the store. In June 2008, a Fairmont man was shot to death near V-Point while riding his bicycle. A clerk at the store was injured in a shooting in August 2006.
“I contacted the Police Department and they sent me every crime report for the past 10 years … I’m sad to say it’s over 100 pages with at least 10 to 12 incidents on each page,” Cantey said.
In addition to the crime, Cantey also takes issue with the store’s products.
“Eighty percent of sales are detrimental to the people in the community,” he said, giving alcohol, individual cigarettes and drug paraphernalia as examples.
The Planning Department has notified residents in a three-block radius of the store about the meeting. Cantey said he was sending out 900 fliers inviting other area residents to attend.
“It gives us an opportunity to allow the citizens input if that’s what they want back there, and all the ones I’ve spoken to so far don’t want it,” Cantey said.
According to Brandon Love, the director of the Planning Department, Ayed applied for the variance so he could be allowed to rebuild the store in the same spot although that placement violates some mandated setbacks. Furthermore, Love said, the cost to rebuild the store exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure.
Cantey said he would like to see a business in that spot that gives back to the community and works with the local government to reduce crime. If the store is rebuilt, Ayed said he will work with police as much as he can.
“I have a responsibility to the community and to the citizens who want some business there also,” Cantey said. “If it’s not going to be the right business, like Kash & Karry, we are content with nothing going in there.”