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Leaders proceed cautiously with Pembroke growth

POSTED: August 24, 2017 10:39 a.m.
Photo by Mark Swendra/

Charlie Higgins, right, and his sister Stephanie Rissmann, work in the kitchen of their downtown Pembroke eatery Higgins Place.

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As leaders in Pembroke begin work on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which is supposed to serve as a blueprint for its future, the call for "controlled" growth and maintaining the positive aspects of a small town lifestyle ring loudly.

"Whenever I get the chance to talk to people," Mayor Judy Cook said, "I talk about the positives of Pembroke," a North Bryan County community of 2,400. "It’s a good place to live. It’s quiet. You don’t see any heavy traffic. The crime is basically non-existent except for graffiti and things like that."

Its central proximity to towns like Statesboro, Claxton, Hinesville/Fort Stewart, Richmond Hill and Savannah make it a perfect bedroom community, Cook said.

More than a bedroom community?

But like any community, Pembroke would like to see more ways of keeping its residents shopping and eating in town, and attracting visitors to its distinct charm — like its history. The town would also like to give its own more opportunities to work there.

Overall though, "The majority of the people want controlled growth," Cook said, "and I’m with them." She added, "If you have too rapid of growth, you have a tendency to overload your streets, infrastructure, and schools. It has a ripple effect."

Dain Reams, a city of Pembroke planner, said he "wants to see Pembroke grow, but keep its character and small town feel." He and several other city officials cited an example in neighboring Pooler, where some believe controlled growth has been exceeded and there are lessons to be learned.

Pembroke will concentrate on attracting a balanced mix of new industry and mom and pop business establishments, make infrastructure improvements like building the new consolidated public safety facility, and offer affordable housing, for both the growing senior population and low income.

Sarah Williams is president of the North Bryan County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Shops on Main in Pembroke and Lucy Belle Farm. She’s optimistic about Pembroke and North Bryan’s future.

"We’re definitely growing. The economy is finally turning in some of the small communities," Williams said. "People are turning the older buildings into something."

One of those older buildings, Pembroke Town Centre, which includes the Shops on Main, is located on Railroad Street, downtown and is now home to small businesses that carry a variety of merchandise from handmade items to refinished furniture and antiques.

It’s also a place to catch a meal, and for one entrepreneurial family the chance to offer more dining options downtown.

Satisfying appetites

Charlie Higgins, with his sister, Stephanie Rissmann, own Higgins Place Sandwich Shop, which opened May 16 inside Shops on Main.

"We wanted to be in a seeable location," Higgins said. "Sarah (Williams) presented us with this opportunity. It’s been a dream of ours for some time."

Rissmann already lived in Pembroke, and Higgins just recently moved from Richmond Hill. Higgins brings plenty of food preparation experience to this new venture having worked more than 21 years at Carey Hilliards, most recently as its banquet, catering and purchasing manager in Savannah.

So far, business has been good, Higgins said. They are currently open 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m., and Tuesday nights, and they look to further expand their dinner hours.

"Obviously we have to grow, but we don’t want uncontrollable growth" Higgins said, echoing what was said by so many others. As for what would help the downtown? "Entertainment, like a theater or bowling alley would be good for our business," he said, meaning anything prompting a desire for one to catch a bite after doing some activity in the area.

For this to happen, more local restaurants, like Higgins, will need to expand their evening hours. Not too long ago, locals say, restaurants would close at 5 p.m., even on Friday and Saturday nights, giving area residents no other option but to drive to other towns. This is changing.

Also, there was a reason why some restaurants might have been discouraged from locating there. But Pembroke voters in March approved a measure to allow liquor to be served in restaurants on Sundays. City planner Reams hears residents would love to see a Mexican food restaurant open in Pembroke, now that there are no restrictions on serving something like a margarita.

Housing needs

One indication of growth is new construction. Although it may not seem like much, three new single family homes are currently being built on Shuman Street, across from Northwood apartments. It’s been five years since new homes were built, said Reams.

In June, after several years of delay, the income-based Sawmill Landing Apartments opened on Surrency Street, and the plan for a senior housing complex is becoming closer to reality.

The city is hoping to learn soon whether senior housing will be built at the old Bryan County Elementary School, according to Alex Floyd, Downtown Development director.

Presently, the 30-unit McFadden Place apartments accommodates seniors, but like most cities, Pembroke is seeing the need for more, and the proposed 60-unit plan would be a welcomed addition.

Floyd said the old school would be tore down, but the gym left intact in order to continue after-school programs.

Approximately 22 percent of Pembroke’s population is over 65, Floyd said.

In addition, Reams is hopeful that a recent change in zoning will help spur new development of smaller lots that are ideal for the aging population who may be looking to downsize. Referred to as cottage housing development, this allows several smaller homes (less than 1,000 square feet) to be built on a track of land that surrounds community green space. In all, each development would be comprised of four to 12 homes.

Getting input

A big part of planning involves gathering input from others. Floyd said the city is looking forward to Real Estate Professionals Day, 3 p.m. on Sept. 26, at City Hall. This will allow the city and Downtown Development Authority to "get to know the local real estate community better."

The city wants to begin to identify the "needs, trends and gaps" in community housing and work together to address them.

The guest speaker is Bill Gross, a developer from Kingsland who developed the Sawmill Landing Apartments and has developed both housing and retail along the Georgia coast.

Public safety center

Through SPLOST money, the city is looking to break ground before the end of this year on a facility that consolidates the police, fire, and EMS all under the same roof, Floyd said.

Comprehensive plan

Cities and counties are required to submit a comprehensive plan to the state every 10 years. Because their 2008 plans were filed jointly, both Pembroke and Bryan County’s plans are due next summer.

The city council, county commissioners and both the city and county planning and zoning boards will be hosting sessions throughout the next year when citizens can provide their input.

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