Residents disagree over whether Columbus should annex Giardini

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 2
Area residents recently expressed varying opinions on whether it would be in Columbus’ best interest to voluntarily annex Giardini Trattoria, a restaurant between Columbus and Mill Spring.
Columbus Town Council held a public hearing about the requested annexation on Thursday, July 21. About 15 people spoke, mostly in favor of the town accepting the restaurant’s annexation request. About 40 people attended the public hearing, which is the largest audience Columbus council has likely seen in years.
Residents in favor of the annexation said it would be a win/win for the town and the fine dining restaurant.
Some Columbus residents, however, said they don’t want the town to grow any larger and they have concerns about what the property could be in the future.
Giardini owners Joe Laudisio and Mary Lyth requested to be voluntarily annexed into the city limits of Columbus. If approved, the annexation would be a voluntary satellite annexation, meaning the property is not contiguous to the town. The satellite voluntary annexation also means that the town would not be required to extend utility service, such as water and sewer.
Lyth said the restaurant wants to be annexed in order to sell beer and wine. The restaurant currently offers brown bag, which means patrons can bring their own beer and wine.
“It is a win/win situation,” said Lyth. “I believe we have proved ourselves to be a wonderful corporate partner.”
Lyth said in the four years Giardini has been open they have created 14 jobs for local residents and they attract customers from as far away as Charleston, S.C., Charlotte, Florida “and beyond.” The restaurant also supports local agriculture by working with local organic farmers, she said.
No one disputed that Giardini is an excellent contributor to the local economy, but a few Columbus residents expressed concern over the proposed annexation.
“I do worry that another owner of this particular property could ask in some way to hook up to our town water,” said Susan Johann. “I do worry about the services we would have to provide. There are more than 20 homes in Beechwood that don’t have a fire hydrant.”
Johann suggested that maybe the restaurant should petition the county to change its status as a dry county. No alcohol can be sold in Polk County except in the towns of Columbus, Saluda and Tryon, which have had special referendums to allow the sale of alcohol. Lyth said Giardini wants to apply for a beer and wine license, but not sell liquor.
Of the speakers, 10 were in favor, noting that Giardini has been ranked one of the top 100 best restaurants in the state of North Carolina.
John Gargiulo called it a win/win as well, saying he thinks the restaurant being a part of Columbus will benefit the town, the area and the restaurant.
“I see no reason in the world why they should not be annexed,” said Gargiulo.
Patricia Gass said the town should annex the restaurant because they support the local economy and sell organic food that is grown in Polk County.
“I think they have given a tremendous boost to Columbus’ image,” said Gass. “I hope council will make the necessary arrangement to annex them so they can prosper more.”
But Columbus resident Kathleen Kent said she didn’t hear any of the people in support say where they live. Most of the people in support lived outside of Columbus; one couple was from Lake Lure.
Kent said she thinks the alcohol sales issue should be taken up with the county. She said the restaurant is located between town limits and the recently annexed Foster Creek.
“The property is nearly two miles from town limits,” said Kent.
Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf said she’d like to know if Giardini would want to be a part of Columbus if they could sell alcohol in the county.
“I think the main thing I’d like to know is if you had a choice, if the county wasn’t dry, would you still want to be in Columbus?” Metcalf said.
Lyth responded that they don’t have that option, so it’s hard to say what they would do in a different situation.
Council directed staff to gather data, such as what revenues the town will receive from sales tax and beer and wine tax if Giardini were annexed. The tax revenue would be $600 per year, according to town manager Jonathan Kanipe.
Council set a special meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. when a decision is expected.
Council gave no indication whether or not the majority wants to annex the restaurant. The town denied the same request for annexation from Giardini about a year and a half ago.

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