When Augusta native Rody Jacobs, the owner of Jacobs Land Management, proposed building a new neighborhood restaurant on Skinner Mill Road in west Augusta featuring a smokehouse, large brick oven, covered patio and outdoor seating with a central fireplace, little did he know what a hornets’ nest he was about to stir up.
All of a sudden, a storm of criticism came his way.
“I am a resident of District 7 in Richmond County, and I have been most of my life,” Jacobs said, explaining that he lives off Warren Road in west Augusta. “I grew up off Boy Scout Road and in the Waverly subdivision off of Skinner Mill.”
If anyone knows west Augusta and the surrounding neighborhoods, it’s Jacobs and his family.
But a few weeks after the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission approved his request to rezone a 1.1-acre piece of property at 3004 Skinner Mill Road from residential use to neighborhood business for his proposed restaurant, more than 200 nearby residents in west Augusta signed a petition opposing his plans.
Several members of the politically active neighborhood group, West Augusta Alliance, also voiced their objections to the proposed family-friendly restaurant.
Concerns ranged from a fear of increased traffic on Skinner Mill and Boy Scout roads to the possible disruption of an adjacent 200-year-old private, family cemetery.
By the time Jacobs’ request for a zoning change reached the Augusta Commission last week, most of west Augusta was talking about his proposal for a new neighborhood restaurant.
Despite the fact that there are already several nearby commercial businesses on Boy Scout Road including Augusta Swim Supply, Westside Animal Hospital and The Foundry at Rae’s Creek, Jacobs knew he was facing an uphill battle.
“The best way to transition from a commercial area, which is at the intersection of Skinner Mill and Boy Scout, to a residential area is a project that is woven into the fabric of its surroundings, which is exactly what we intend to do,” Jacobs explained. “A neighborhood restaurant must mesh well with the surrounding environment. It must have a unique vibe. It must have top-notch service. It must have excellent food, and it must improve the overall quality and value of the surrounding neighborhood.”
This proposed new restaurant is expected to meet all of those high standards, Jacobs said, adding that he also gathered more than 230 signatures from local residents who support the rezoning.
“Our restaurant will include an indoor dining area, a small covered outdoor patio and an open courtyard surrounded by mature trees, an outdoor fireplace and various seating options,” he said. “There will be a large brick oven in the interior that you can dine around and watch foods be prepared, as well as a small smokehouse adjacent to the outdoor courtyard where you can watch the fresh meats being slow smoked in one of our custom, offset barrel smokers.”
While the restaurant does plan to serve alcohol, Jacobs insists it will be a family-friendly environment that will be a positive addition to nearby neighborhoods.
“You will be able to join us for brunch after church on Sunday and let your kids play under the large canopy of trees in the courtyard,” Jacobs said. “You will be able to enjoy good conversation and great food by the outdoor fireplace on a cool evening in the fall.”
This proposed restaurant will be the kind of establishment that residents in the neighborhood will enjoy, Jacobs said.
However, Mary Tibbetts of the West Augusta Alliance told commissioners on July 17 that there already is too much dangerous traffic along Skinner Mill Road.
“It is located at a blind curve,” Tibbetts said, referring to the property at 3004 Skinner Mill Road. “Making lefthand turns off of that property is going to be a feat within itself because you can’t see up the road or down the road.”
Recently, a driver struck a nearby culvert and manhole cover, knocking it “clean off,” Tibbetts said.
She also objected to Jacobs’ recent comparison of his proposed restaurant to other neighborhood venues such as Rae’s Coastal Cafe in Forest Hills Racquet Club or the restaurants at Hammond’s Ferry in North Augusta.
“The fact is, we are not a Rae’s Creek, Forest Hills or Hammond’s Ferry,” Tibbetts said. “Those communities were built with restaurants in their community. They had their little shops placed there, and they had some say-so in what would happen in that particular community. We, as a neighborhood, do not have and will not have any input into what goes on with this man’s property. He can do whatever he chooses.”
And if the restaurant is not successful, the nearby communities will be stuck with the neighborhood business zoning at that location, she said.
“Unfortunately, if and when he fails, we residents of the community will be left with abandoned buildings and lots to take care of,” she said. “The property will be zoned for commercial business and will not be reversed back to the zone that it was in before. This will set a precedent for commercial property ventures that will perpetuate our concerns for safety up and down Skinner Mill Road. It is a two-lane community road, not like Washington Road.”
Tibbetts pleaded with the Augusta Commission to vote against the rezoning of the property.
“It could happen to your neighborhood,” she told commissioners. “It could happen next door to you.”
In order to help alleviate some of the traffic concerns near the proposed restaurant, Jacobs said he has come up with a solution: two separate entrances, one on Skinner Mill Road and the other on Boy Scout Road.
“We will install a right turn lane along Skinner Mill Road, so cars coming around the curve do not have to stop for traffic pulling into the parking lot,” he said. “We have also communicated with the owner of the adjacent property on the corner of Boy Scout and Skinner Mill roads, and he has agreed to allow us access so we can have an entrance and exit directly onto Boy Scout Road.”
Interim Planning Director Rob Sherman told commissioners that the Richmond County Planning and Development Office recommended approval of the rezoning application.
“The preliminary review of his concept plan was done by various departments at a workshop,” Sherman said. “The traffic engineer reviewed it and said that he had no objections with it based on what’s proposed, provided that they put in a turn lane. So if you are traveling on Skinner Mill Road, there will be like a deceleration lane where you can get off the travel path and turn right into the restaurant. And there will be another entrance and exit off of Boy Scout Road.”
Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle expressed concern that the restaurant would possibly cause additional traffic concerns in the area.
“I live on Windsor Spring Road, and I know traffic,” he joked.
Sherman explained that Skinner Mill Road is a major road connecting Walton Way Extension to Boy Scout Road.
“Skinner Mill Road is a heavily traveled road. This will increase the traffic on it,” Sherman said. “And then you have the Warren Road bridge going into that neighborhood, so there is a good amount of traffic coming on Skinner Mill Road. So it is a major road.”
However, even with the rezoning approval, Sherman explained that Jacobs’ plans for the restaurant will have to be reviewed and approved by the city.
“At this point, they are asking for the rezoning so it can be used for a restaurant,” Sherman said. “A portion of the property is zoned B-1 (neighborhood business). A third is zoned B-1, and about two-thirds is residential. This will allow him to move forward with a site plan.”
Once the site plan is completed, it will be reviewed by the utilities, traffic engineering and planning departments.
“Once it is all approved, then he can go forward with the actual construction,” Sherman explained.
Jacobs also told commissioners that he reached out to the nearby neighborhoods to explain to residents his plans for the new restaurant.
“Several weeks prior to our zoning commission meeting, I hosted a meeting on a Wednesday evening for anybody who was interested in coming and hearing us discuss what we are proposing and ask any questions,” Jacobs said. “I think there were approximately 30 to 35 people at that meeting within the neighborhoods. They asked questions and expressed concerns, and I made sure to answer the questions and address those concerns at that meeting.”
Along with the construction of the proposed deceleration lane, Jacobs told residents that he plans to rebuild the sidewalk in front of the restaurant to allow for safer pedestrian traffic.
“I have also already met with lighting engineers to determine how we incorporate tasteful street lightning and site lighting to help illuminate the area,” Jacobs said. “That was one of the big concerns that was brought up at the meeting that I held. It is a dark area, and they had concerns with vehicular traffic and the pedestrian traffic, so I have addressed that. And we have already started working on designs that will be functional and aesthetically pleasing as well.”
Another obstacle Jacobs’ proposed restaurant faced was objections of its close proximity to a private, family cemetery.
“Barely a year ago, my mother-in-law, Catherine Skinner Plunkett, passed at the age of 92,” Marcia Plunkett explained. “Upon her passing, my husband and I, Mark Plunkett, inherited the Skinner family cemetery located at 3010 Skinner Mill Road.”
The private family cemetery is adjacent from the proposed location of the new restaurant, she said.
“In the years that I’ve been in the family, my husband and I have assisted his mother with the upkeep of the Skinner family cemetery that she inherited from her aunt in 1976,” Marcia Plunkett said. “Catherine was very passionate about maintaining the memory of her ancestors and the integrity of their final resting place.”
The property has a great deal of history and meaning to the entire Skinner family, she said.
“It is located one-half mile east of our residence on Skinner Mill Circle, which along with three other properties we own on Skinner Mill Road, are part of the original land grant deeded over 200 years ago to the family,” she said. “There are nearly 30 souls buried in the Skinner family cemetery over a 127-year period from 1817 until 1944. … Most notably is Major William Skinner III, born in 1744. For payment for his service during the Revolutionary War of 1776, Major Skinner was given a land grant. The original land grant was in Screven County where George Washington stopped and had breakfast with him in 1791 on his tour through Georgia.”
In 1806, Skinner traded land grants with a relative and was deeded more than 4,120 acres in Richmond County.
“This track of land would come to be known as Skinnerville,” Marcia Plunkett said, adding that she fears for the future of the family cemetery. “The fence line has been breached several times in the past by drivers losing control on the dangerous curve it sits on. But aside from those unwanted visitors, the cemetery has been anonymous and inaccessible to anyone other than family, friends and its two neighbors.”
Over the last several decades, the Skinner family has been fortunate to have residential neighbors living by the cemetery, she said.
“These neighbors have been protective, as well as respectful, of the private cemetery,” Marcia Plunkett said. “This historic cemetery is now threatened with uncertainty. Unlike a public cemetery, a private cemetery has no onsite caretaker to oversee it and maintain it daily.”
“Curious patrons from an adjacent business could easily trespass and cause irreversible damage,” she added. “Only one such incident, and the sanctity and history will be lost forever.”
However, Jacobs said he wants to continue to respect and honor the cemetery.
“We have communicated with the owners of the adjacent cemetery and have agreed to maintain the historical property for them,” he said. “I have expressed interest in memorializing the cemetery by constructing a monument that explains the history and the importance of respecting the adjacent property.”
Jacobs also said he would incorporate “green screen” fences made from a flowering, evergreen vine to shield the property from residential areas and the adjacent cemetery.
But Marcia Plunkett said the Skinner family had no interest in his offer.
“The Skinner family in no way wishes or agrees to have this cemetery or any of its residents exploited for anyone’s use. It is our preference that it stay anonymous and inaccessible,” she said. “To be perfectly clear, we are staunchly opposed to a business, especially a restaurant with a bar, next door to our cemetery.”
Despite the criticism of his proposed restaurant, Jacobs insisted that he has worked hard on creating an extremely inviting atmosphere for the community.
“There are several green elements that we have incorporated into the design and architecture that will be unique to the property and will allow the project to mesh well with the surrounding environment,” he said. “All of the stormwater runoff collected from the building and the parking lot will be directed into an underground retention system, so there will be no need for a detention pond on the property.”
In his report to the Augusta Commission, City Planner Edward Morrow explained a small portion of the property does fall within the 500-year flood plain, but that Jacobs has helped resolve that issue by planning to use drivable grass pervious pavers, as well as develop an underground stormwater system.
“The rainwater stored in the underground retention wells will also be pumped through an irrigation system and will provide water to the newly landscaped site,” Jacobs said. “The main entrance and main drive aisle of the parking lot will be asphalt, but all of the parking stalls or parking spaces will be constructed using a drivable grass product.”
This will deter any major runoff from the development of the property, he said.
“Drivable grass is a structural product that allows you to have a grass parking lot that will hold up to vehicular traffic,” he said. “This product allows water to percolate into the ground and eventually into the underground stormwater retention system and irrigation system.”
This will help with the entire look of the property, he said.
“A drivable grass parking lot also filters the water runoff before it enters the ground, improving water quality and provides an aesthetically pleasing alternative to a complete asphalt or concrete parking lot,” he said. “The outdoor courtyard will be enclosed by a green screen planted fence that will be covered by flowering evergreen vine.”
Jacobs insisted he has done everything possible to make the neighborhood restaurant compatible with the surrounding community.
In the end, the Augusta Commission unanimously agreed with Jacobs and approved the rezoning of the property with a vote of 9-0, with Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis absent from the meeting.
Jacobs promised that the majority of the community will not be disappointed with his new restaurant.
“Our goal is to create a uniquely inviting community atmosphere,” Jacobs said, “while serving quality food, prepared by trained chefs, that is family-friendly and caters to all ages.”