Taking a Slice Out of Pumpkin Center

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Taking a Slice Out of Pumpkin Center

It’s been a rough couple of years for the convenience store at Pumpkin Center.

In late 2012, store owner Young Ju Kim and his wife, Hyun Su Kim, were arrested for selling synthetic marijuana in their Columbia County store, located at the corner of Wrightsboro Road and Appling Harlem Highway.

Hyun Su Kim was charged with 17 counts of possession of a counterfeit substance with an intent to distribute and pled guilty to seven counts of reckless conduct.

In a similar case, Lewiston Express owner Atul Patel pled guilty to nine counts of possession of an imitation substance with intent and received $4,500 in fines and seven years probation.

Earlier this month, both stores came before the Columbia County Commission involving alcohol license issues. Patel was appealing the denial of his alcohol license renewal and Kim was facing the revocation of his store’s alcohol license.

County ordinance states that such offences come at the cost of your ability to maintain your alcohol license. Both businesses were unsuccessful in their appeals and both lost the ability to sell alcohol at their stores.

Chairman Ron Cross framed the alcohol license issue by stating that an alcohol license is a privilege granted by the governing authority and not a right of business ownership. Commissioner Bill Morris used the occasion to make a point about responsibility.

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“I understand this is a difficult situation, but I think it’s incumbent upon the person that’s in business [to keep abreast of the changing rules],” he said. “He should have been aware that this is a game that’s going on with this stuff. I think we have a moral responsibility to protect our customers and our citizens, and I think he was asleep at the wheel and just needs to pay better attention and not even participate in this stuff.”

Though Morris was speaking specifically about Patel, both businesses argued that the regulatory changes involving the substances made it difficult to know whether the substances were legal or not. Manufacturers of synthetic marijuana and regulators have been playing a cat and mouse game, with each making changes in response to changes made by the other. As a result, some products are legal one day and illegal the next.

In Kim’s case, his attorney told the commission that Kim was also unaware that his wife’s plea deal would affect his ability to hold an alcohol license.

“Mr. Kim and his wife would have probably acted differently with respect to the criminal charges if they had been aware that their business was at stake,” the attorney said. “If it had been told to them, they very seriously may have considered a different outcome, because without the alcohol license, their business will no longer continue. They will go out of business. It is that important to them.”

In spite of the appeal, commissioners voted unanimously to revoke the license.

As if that wasn’t enough, now the long-anticipated traffic roundabout planned for the Pumpkin Circle intersection is about to change the very landscape where the store is located.

Starting Wednesday, the traffic pattern was adjusted to its new circular configuration even though there is still approximately a month of construction left before the project is finished.

“In order to be able to complete the construction that has to take place in the center of the roundabout, we’ve got to get the traffic shifted to the outside,” said Rodney Way, area engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation. “So we’ll be putting them in a travel pattern that’s similar to what they’ll be traveling in during the final stage.”

According to Engineering Services Director Matt Schlachter, that’s standard operating procedure.

“When we did the one in Riverwood, we went from a T intersection to a roundabout,” he said. “At some point we had to start letting people go around it while we finished building it. There’s just no other way to build it and keep traffic going as well.”

Though the Pumpkin Center roundabout has been criticized by locals since it was first proposed, it’s tough to argue with the safety numbers. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at 24 intersections show a 39 percent overall decrease in crashes, a 76 percent decrease in injury crashes and an 89 percent decrease in fatal/incapacitating crashes.

And if other projects are any indication, the criticism will take a roundabout of its own. Before and after perception studies show that roundabouts averaged a 68 percent negative rating going in and a 73 percent positive rating coming out.

As for the store at Pumpkin Center, though the project only took a small corner of their property, which necessitated a shift in signage, the frustrations and confusion of such an extensive and controversial traffic project seem particularly ill-timed.