Snellville OKs controversial pawn shop

Despite a chorus of objections from some residents, Snellville has green-lighted a business owner's proposal to relocate and build a large pawn shop on U.S. 78.

The Snellville City Council, by a 4-2 vote, on Monday granted a conditional use permit to Paul Slifko of Hill Top Pawn shop. The permit, a requirement of pawn shops in the city, paves the way for Slifko to build a 5,500-square-foot facility on 2.5 acres near U.S. 78 and Grayson Parkway.

The city's action comes after two months of council discussion and vote delays, two rounds of public comments and a specially called meeting between Slifko and concerned residents., After all that, the move still didn't sit well with some homeowners from the nearby Summit Chase subdivision.

Patricia Port, president of the Summit Chase Homes Association, told the City Council she feared the pawn shop, particularly one with guns as a major selling item, would diminish residential property values and deter other businesses from locating next it. Plus, she said, the construction plan wastes a chance for the city to fill vacant buildings.

"This was not a personal offense to Paul," Port said. "It's a reputable business. It's just that we were concerned."

Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said Tuesday the city was caught between two extremes: homeowners and a business that is "a great corporate citizen." Ultimately, he said, the city worked out a deal that will spur economic development.

The deal included an agreement that Hill Top's current location in a shopping center at 2234 Rawlins St. will be transformed into something other than a pawn shop. That location, near U.S. 78 and Scenic Highway, will become the epicenter of the city's new downtown in the next five years, city leaders said.

"His current location is not conducive to redevelopment of the core downtown," Councilman Tod Warner said. "[The move] gives him a more secure, better income-producing location. It gives the local residents a very low-impact neighbor. It should be win-win-win-win for everybody."

But Councilwoman Kelly Kautz, who voted against the measure, said Tuesday she has received about 50 e-mails from residents against the plan.

"It's disappointing that council didn't listen to the majority of citizens who opposed this," Kautz said. "It's a sad day in Snellville when revitalization efforts center around a 5,500-square-foot pawn shop."

Slifko, who's been in operation in Snellville for the past 16 years, said construction on the brick-and-stucco facility could begin as early as June, with a finish date by year's end. He said he was relieved by the council's decision.

"We're just so happy the city has embraced us and supported us," Slifko said.