City commission approves Altama Jerk Shack alcohol license

·6 min read

Jul. 7—Brunswick City Commissioners approved Wednesday a request for an alcohol license for Altama Jerk Shack, a restaurant and bar planned for 4420 Altama Ave., Suite 30.

Immediately after introducing the agenda item, Brunswick Mayor Cosby Johnson questioned the owner, George Morris, about violence, referencing the August 2020 shooting of Kendrea Bacon, outside another bar he owns, Island Jerk Shack. He said he could not in good conscience vote to approve the license expecting violence there when residential communities surround the location and the Brunswick Police Department is short-staffed.

Johnson grilled Morris on security measures in the parking lot of the Island Jerk Shack at 5719 Altama Avenue, for which Morris said he was not responsible. Further, he said Island Jerk Shack was closed early that night out of concern for his employees' safety and was not involved in any way. He routinely calls the Glynn County Police Department and brought papers to prove it, Morris said. The GCPD failed him, he said, not the other way around.

Morris told The News in 2020 that the parking lot is often the site of large gatherings punctuated by drinking, gambling and fighting.

He told commissioners he felt like he was being held responsible for an incident he could have done nothing about.

Many businesses inhabit that area and don't have these issues, Johnson noted.

"I'm in favor of nightlife. I'm also in favor of nightlife in which we have a 50-50 connection with a business owner who wants to keep us safe," Johnson said.

During a public comment period, former commissioner Vincent Williams spoke in favor of the permit, as did former Brunswick mayor Cornell Harvey.

Other commissioners initially supported Johnson. Commissioner Johnny Cason made a motion to defer the permit until they were comfortable the establishment would be family friendly or that Morris would take appropriate security precautions.

After further discussion, Cason rescinded his motion and Commissioner Julie Martin motioned to approve the permit, but rescinded that when she learned Morris had not discussed the matter with the neighborhood planning associations in nearby residential areas. Cason then made another motion, this time to approve the permit. It passed 4-1, with commissioners Martin, Cason, Kendra Rolle and Mayor Pro Tem Felicia Harris voting in favor. Johnson was the sole opposing vote.

In other business, Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Leanza told the commission about a new hurricane evacuation zone.

Historically, Glynn County has been split into two evacuation zones, one east of I-95 and one west. St. Simons and Jekyll islands have now been designated as a separate, third zone.

"We're going to add the barrier islands as their own zone, and that's going to give us some flexibility before we zip out of the city," Leanza said.

The move was based on recommendations by Federal Emergency Management Agency contractor Dewberry, the Army Corps of Engineers and federal and state emergency management agencies, and on his first week on the job, Leanza found himself faced with deciding whether it was a good idea. Ultimately, he agreed.

The determination was based on the hurricane evacuation study, which takes into account the hazards posed by hurricanes, population and infrastructure vulnerability, population behavior and access to transportation. Tides are also taken into account, he said.

"It's hard to understand in a 10-minute presentation, but this is a very scientific study," Leanza said.

The new plan allows for more orderly evacuation so those leaving the islands and city don't clog the evacuation routes.

"We don't want to over-evacuate," Leanza said.

Evacuation routes are not changing, he clarified. The primary routes out of town are the Ga. 25 Spur and U.S. 341, per maps Leanza provided.

Both the islands and Brunswick are at risk of flooding during even a Category 1 hurricane.

Martin asked if the city could create its own zones to govern reentry after a storm. In the past, the county determined when residents could return, even city residents, and was not communicative with city leaders, she continued.

Leanza, relatively new to the post, said the county's leadership has learned much since the last storm and will be much more cooperative with other local governments in the future.

This move is part of a larger hurricane preparedness effort.

In about six months, he said the county should have a comprehensive evacuation plan including advertising the Need-a-Ride program, under which the Glynn County Board of Education provides school buses for those who don't have personal transportation, and public notification of which Red Cross shelters are open.

McDuffie said the city intends to be more intimately involved in disaster preparation and response efforts.

Leanza also said he's working on getting some locations certified as shelters from tropical storms and for those returning from an evacuation, but during any hurricane, flooding will be so bad it will not be truly safe to stay anywhere in the city.

"We don't want to message it in such a way that (people think) 'Come here to be safe,'" Leanza said.

In other business, Tres Hamilton, executive director of Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority, told city commissioners renovations to the old Risley school campus are well underway.

In 2019, the Glynn County Board of Education granted the old Risley campus to Rise Risley, an initiative dedicated to converting the campus into a center for community resources, education, counseling, employment and unity. In 2020, the organization held a massive effort to clean up the property.

"Then COVID hit and everything just shut down," Hamilton said.

Community Development Block Grant funds were awarded to replace the roof on the old elementary school building, she said. The project was complicated by the discovery of asbestos in the roof, and most recently the asbestos abatement was completed.

Ultimately, the old Risley campus will be a center for community services for children and families, education, counseling and more.

Partner organizations will use the old Risley Elementary School building as office space, including family services like Morningstar Family and Child Services.

The Jackson Building will host a few classrooms for a Head Start program, Hamilton said, which could start as early as the fall with six classes of 18 kids. The only part of the building still under renovation is the cafeteria, which will be used for culinary classes.

Finally, services for kids suffering with trauma will be housed in the Colored Memorial School building, formerly a theater building. Perhaps the most pressing issue causing trauma is living in poverty, she explained.

"That is a traumatic situation and our kids are losing ground, and the arts can help with that," Hamilton said.

An "expungement" clinic will be hosted soon, teaching men and women how to get parts of their criminal records expunged, thereby making it easier to get jobs and housing.

Johnson asked what the city could contribute to making Rise Risley happen.

The Colored Memorial alone would take around $4 million to fully restore. She made sure to note the campus is a historic property on the National Register of Historic Places, and it won't be cheap to completely renovate it.

The meeting continued past The News' deadline. Commissioners were also scheduled to consider an alcohol license for a Family Dollar store at 4420 Altama Ave. suite 27 and an appointment to the Glynn County Board of Health. Read Friday's edition of The News for the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting.