LUMBERTON — After almost two hours of debate, the owners of a South Lumberton convenience store that has been called “a crime hub” were denied on Tuesday their request for a variance they needed to reopen the business.
V-Point Tobacco, located at 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, was destroyed by an electrical fire in January and has sat roofless since. Owner Abudayyah Rafat Ayed and his family, arguing in part that race was a factor in their being targeted, say they may appeal the decision in Superior Court.
“Tonight was another positive step in neighborhoods reclaiming their communities by standing together …,” said Councilman John Cantey, who led the opposition to the V-Point store during a Board of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday.
The board voted unanimously that representatives for Ayed had not met any of the four requirements needed to be granted the variance. A variance is given when a business can show extenuating circumstances would prevent it from following the exact letter of a zoning ordinance.
“That was our livelihood, that was our children, our bills … we didn’t even have insurance so we couldn’t fix it fast,” said Azizeh Abudayyah, Ayed’s wife.
Ayed had asked for an exemption from the setback requirements for the property, which says a building must be 40 feet from the streets’ right-of-ways and 10 feet from the property line.
The board decided that Ayed and attorney Knox Chavis had not shown that unnecessary hardship would result from following the ordinance, that the hardship would result from conditions unique to the property, that the hardship would not be the result of the applicant’s actions and — the most talked about tenet of the application — that the variance would ensure public safety.
Cantey spent the weekend collecting signatures from residents who do not want to see the store reopen. However, the list of 125 names was not accepted by the board because it erroneously listed the store’s address as 1216 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“These people, property owners mostly, have said ‘no, enough is enough’,” Cantey said, noting most on the list are elderly. Cantey called one petitioner to testify before the board.
“It is our right to be able to live in a safe community and not be afraid to come outside,” said Marilyn Thompson, who has lived a few hundred feet away from the store since the 1970s.
Cantey also entered as evidence 2,034 police calls from the past 10 years linked to the store’s address. Cantey said there had been six calls at the location since it burned, four of which he said were unrelated to the building itself.
Ayed’s wife, Azizeh Abudayyah, testified before the board, saying many of those calls came from her and her family asking police to help them remove someone from the store.
“We can’t risk our lives, our employees lives to get people out of there,” she said, telling the board a clerk injured in a 2006 shooting at the store was her brother-in-law.
Chavis argued not all the calls could be directly related to the store’s presence.
“They wouldn’t be wanting to rebuild that store if it was as bad as Mr. Cantey would have you believe,” he said.
Abudayyah testified that her family put up no-loitering signs at the city’s request and asked for more police presence. They would like to take the matter to Superior Court for appeal but first have to discuss it with their counsel.
Ayed’s family contends they are not responsible for what happens outside of their store and that the issue is based in race.
“He is against us, he is against us … he just thinks we are foreigners,” Abudayyah said, referring to Cantey.
Cantey denied allegations by Nahdiyyah Jarnagin, who testified on behalf of V-Point, that he once told her he wanted to “get the ‘A-rabs’ out” of South Lumberton.
Cantey said the loss of business is a “burden” for the community but that he would rather see the property empty than see V-Point reopen. He called the decision “an alert” for similar stores in the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of things going on at these stores that need to be looked at real hard,” Cantey said.