Clarks Hill Marina owner looks to county to stop competition from moving in next door.
Nicholas Costello of Ridge Road went before the Columbia County Planning Commission on September 5th to apply for a zoning variance so he could construct indoor boat storage at the former Lakeside Marine. The previously existing business is within the 12 month window to continue previous operations for boat and RV repair.
As a part of the business plan, he wants to build indoor storage for boats and RV’s as opposed to parking in a gravel lot. The original zoning approved in 2011 allows for a gravel yard with open air boat and RV storage in the back of the lot with a 35’ undisturbed buffer. Costello stated he would prefer indoor storage as opposed to the already approved outdoor storage.
The open air boat and RV storage was previously approved by the county.
“I used to work for this dealership since I was 17 years old. I’ve been trying to buy it for two years.” Costello stated he had two loans to purchase the business, one a USDA and one a SBA.
At the hearing, Allen Revak of Athens, who stated he was the owner of Clarks Hill Marina next door to the proposed new business, spoke.
“I am owner operator Clarks Hill Marina. I’m not necessarily for or against this development.”
Revak continued, “However I do think it’s important that everybody here on this committee knows that the reason we serve, the reason we acquired the property on the lake.”
“The Corps of Engineers set aside this property to facilitate service to patrons on the lake and that’s the reason we’re in business and the reason we provide these types of services. We also run marinas in Clemson and Lake Sinclair. We have great report with the Corps of Engineers and take great pride in that.”
The reopening of the business next door to his marina was concerning to Revak, who told the committee, “They will be in direct competition with the service we provide.”
In regards to the boat ramp on Clarks Hill Marina property they lease from the Corps, Revak continued, “They may need to calculate the cost to provide this service and to get the boat to the water. The ramps on the water are controlled by us and they do cost to use.”
Vice-Chairman Henderson asked for clarification that his business is 100% occupied.
Revak admitted his storage is 100% full, but that they also have 30 acres to possibly add more and continue development.
“Our business plan has not changed and we continued to develop storage based on demand from the community.”
“We just want to make sure they [Costello] realize there are costs to utilize this service and the access to the lake.”
Commissioner Evans questioned the amount of access points to the water available to the public and Revak answered that there are many along the lake.
“However, this directly borders our property and I assume this business owner thinks he will have access without cost.”
Revak continued, “I don’t necessarily know what impacts this would have on our business but I do know that boat storage would be in direct competition to what we provide patrons on the lake.”
Committee Chair Jim Cox addressed Revak, “You do understand we’re talking about property use and not competitive advantage here?”
Revak responded, “Well, absolutely, and that’s the next point I’d like to make. I would hate to see someone take a business loan and realize that their pro-forma was not properly calculated because of the fact that they did not properly calculate the cost of providing the service or take into account the cost of providing the service for the customers to get their boats in the water.”
“The boat ramps that are on our property are controlled by us and it costs money to utilize those facilities, so I just want to make sure that everyone knows that has direct interest in this development that there will be a cost to facilitate this service on our property.”
“So it benefits you?” a committee member inquired.
“I would say that it does not directly benefit us because of the fact this is the business that we have decided to be a part of,” Revak replied.
Revak was asked about the development plan that the same committee had approved for him four years ago. “There was talk of a restaurant and a facility like this, but now what you’re doing is renting existing slips that came with the property. They came with the property. So if you were to move forward and build what you said you were going to years ago, would that benefit you?”
“Building additional storage?
“Building additional storage, yes.”
“That is what we are here to do.”
“That is happening?”
“Our business plan has not changed.”
“But it’s not happening yet?”
“At the point of approval from this committee we realized that it took a year just to get contracting and construction ready.” At this point Revak shifted back to his purpose for appearing before the committee.
“I’m not concerned or threatened by this,” Revak assured the committee.
“I’m just trying to make it clear that we’ve gone above and beyond to be on the water to provide these services. That’s what we do. In addition, for the individual or individuals that are looking to get into business I want to make sure they understand that there are cost to utilize our services and one of those services is access to the lake. It’s very important to those people.”
“This being the fact that it is directly bordering our property I can only assume that the business developer of this property thinks they can utilize that at no cost, or maybe they have…I don’t know what their business model is. I think it’s important that they understand this.”
“So the general public can come up and pay a fee and use this launch?”
When told he maybe should take this up with the applicant in a positive atmosphere, maybe work together to both make money, Revak replied, “Hey, I agree with you. There’s no reason you can’t work with people. But we have not been approached about this, so this is the first time I’ve seen anything is about to happen with this property. Which is why I’m not necessarily prepared to present my opinion here. I just think it’s important for the board, along with the community to understand what we do, that we are there, we’re on the lake, we’re active, and then it’s up to you to interpret whether or not this is good for the county.”
By this point, Chairman Cox had heard enough.
“Honestly, you’ve sat up here and made a veiled threat you can put the guy out of business.”
“Oh, nononono. Oh, no, let me be clear, there is no threat going on here,” Revak replied.
Cox continued, “I’m in sales. I negotiate everyday, and I can see exactly what you’re doing.
So if you’ve got a development plan you can throw forward lets do it.”
“If not, I don’t think you need to stand up here and be the harbinger of good news/bad news or try to advise somebody that is trying to execute and trying to live their dream of owning a business he’s worked in since he’s 17 years old. I appreciate the fact that you’re trying to do that. But if you want to do a development plan and you’ve got all this extra space then tell us what you’re going to do.”
Revak sheepishly replied, “We did four years ago. I’m not trying to get into an emotional heated conversation,” to which Cox responded, “No, and I”m not emotional at all. I’m just being very matter of fact. That’s the only way I know how to exist.”
Revak ended with, “I would love to speak with this business developer at a time that is convenient for them and us. To talk about what this means for his future business plan. I think that is prudent as a business owner to do.”
Vice-Chairman Henderson made a motion to table to October 3, 2019 RZ19-09-07. Commissioner Evans seconded the motion. The motion carried unanimously.