HAMLET — City Council whole-heartedly welcomed a new clerk and reluctantly put the kibosh on a new business Tuesday night.
During a workshop meeting earlier in the afternoon, council members decided 5-0 to replace longtime City Clerk Tammy Kirkley — who resigned Jan. 18 after 17 years with the city — with zoning administrator Gail Strickland, who joined the city 14 years ago as an administrative assistant.
“I am (excited),” Strickland said shortly before her swearing-in by Mayor Bill Bayless. “It’s a new adventure. (I’ll be) serving the citizens of Hamlet in a new capacity.”
Strickland’s is the first face most people see when they visit City Hall and the first voice they hear when they call. In her new capacity, she will be shifting offices and no longer will be so much in the public eye — except at council meetings, where she will keep minutes and answer council inquiries. A fledgling administrative assistant will take her place in the front office.
After more than a half-hour of back-and-forth among council members, neighbors, prospective business owners and an owner who sought new zoning for his old building, the board also voted to reject the owner’s bid — losing out on new business and potential revenue for the city.
One after the other, council members said they hated to turn away potential revenue from a proposed mall to be built in the now-dilapidated Resource Recycling site but felt they could not trust that absentee owner C.H. Lee would keep up the property if the new venture should fail.
Some council members and neighbors also worried that rezoning the site at the corner of Battley Dairy and Freeman Mill roads from light industrial to neighborhood business might someday allow for a bar or nightclub on the property, which sits in a largely residential area that wasn’t developed when the industrial building went in.
Four neighbors stood to protest rezoning the building, a move the city zoning board approved 4-1 last month. Calling the building a trashy eyesore, the neighbors also cited traffic concerns.
“Over the past several years, it’s looked horrible,” council member Jesse McQueen said of the building, which sits down the road from his home.
“Why did you just start clearing up now,” he asked Lee, “just to get the rezoning going?”
Lee said he tried to keep up the site but lives in Winston-Salem and is able to come to Hamlet only weekly.
“There (seems to be) no concern for this property unless you’re coming out with a benefit (such as rezoning),” council member Johnathan Buie told Lee. “If this building was a burden (to maintain) before … it’s just going to go back down” if the proposed businesses did not succeed.
In the end, council members wanted more of a sure thing, voting down the rezoning request 5-0.
Rodney and Molly Grooms had plans to turn the building into a small-business mall with partner William Ferguson, who owns The Hive recreation center in Rockingham. The Grooms own and run 32 Thrift in downtown Hamlet.
“It’s been my passion to take other small businesses and make them flourish,” Molly Grooms said after the meeting, promising she would not give up that idea.
In other business, the council:
• learned the need for new members of the Hamlet Depot Board, which works to maintain the city’s historic depot and companion buildings.
• was told of vacancies on the city’s planning board, which considers proposed development in the city.
• recognized the coming retirements of E.G. Dunn, supervisor of the city’s wastewater treatment plant and a 24-year city employee, and Gene Stewart, a seven-year employee at the city’s water plant.
• was told the city would begin advertising for an administrative assistant to take over some of Strickland’s former duties, as well as a part-time collection clerk in the utilities office.
Those interested in any of those positions may call City Hall at 910-582-2651.
Council members also voted to demolish an abandoned house at 302 W. Hamlet Ave. The house has been vacant since 2015, when the city lost contact with its owners.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]