new office

St. Simons Land Trust Director of Finance and Stewardship Sue Tuttle and Executive Director David Pope stand outside the land trust’s new office building on Frederica Road.

What was once the center of a controversial Dollar General site plan proposal is now home to the St. Simons Land Trust.

In an interview on Thursday with land trust leadership, two words repeatedly came up: “rent free.”

“It’s just nice to be in a place owned by the land trust,” said Development Director Emily Ellison. “The landlady, she was great, but being in a place we own and can hold events and parties and speaker series is just wonderful.”

Land trust Executive Director David Pope said, so far, the new offices have met or exceeded what they expected.

The 1.47-acre piece of land at 1810 Frederica Road was the center of much controversy in 2016 when Teramore Development filed plans to build a Dollar General on the lot.

The Islands Planning Commission denied site plans for the discount retail chain twice before the developer took the county to court. Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley sided with the IPC in both cases, upholding its decisions.

Later, in March 2018, the land trust acquired the property for $1.55 million, paid in full thanks to a grant from the Anschutz Foundation, also the owners of the Sea Island Co., Pope said in a previous interview with The News.

“We’re grateful to (Teramore) because they could have said ‘No, we want to build a dollar store here,’” Pope said Thursday.

Residents of the neighboring Laurel View subdivision, next door to 1810 Frederica Road, vigorously opposed the 2016 proposal to build a Dollar General on the property. Its members worked to spread the word and encourage St. Simons Island residents to voice their concerns about the proposal.

“They called us up when we bought the place and threw a party for us,” Pope said. “We’ll be inviting them to our opening party in the coming months.”

“The day we announced the land trust had purchased this, we were inundated with thanks,” Ellison added.

Along with the new office space, the land trust plans to make good use of the spacious lot, much of which still remains undeveloped.

“The lot is a lot bigger than people think it is because the house only sits on the first third of it,” Pope said.

Four doors, two desks and the office’s conference room table were all recycled from wood that was part of the house’s construction.

A carpenter took wooden beams and boards removed from the house and refashioned them, all at the recommendation of the contractor in charge of the renovations, Shelly Renner Construction, Finance Director Sue Tuttle said.

While he didn’t want to say exactly how much the grant that was used to purchase the property was worth, Pope said it was more than enough to cover the $1.55 million purchase price and the renovations.

Converting the house to an office took time, Pope said. Contractors removed walls to open up the interior, removed some of the residential features, such as a fireplace, installed bigger windows, reworked the carport and garage area, built a larger front porch and raised ceilings where possible, he explained.

“We have room to have some events here, and (we will) be respectful to the neighbors,” Pope said.

Further plans include a hedge to buffer the neighbors from activity on the land trust’s lot and eventually opening up the property to visitors.

“While we get to enjoy the place every day as a place to work — a place to live, sometimes — it is also a place for the whole community,” Ellison said.

Eventually, passersby will be able to stop over at the offices to take a break or just enjoy the scenery.

“We would love for it to be a place for bikers riding by to stop and say ‘We’re going to walk around back there,’” Tuttle said.

All-in-all, Pope said the land trust is happy with its purchase.

“We aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future,” Tuttle said.

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