City considers registration fees for vacant commercial buildings

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

Owners of vacant buildings in Darlington may have to “register” those properties with the city, and the cost would go up as the buildings’ condition went down. City planner Lisa Chalian-Rock offered that plan as a proposal to Darlington City Council during council’s April 13 meeting, and said it would be a way for the city to make extra money while at the same time pressuring the owners to do something with their empty commercial properties. Rock said cities such as Sumter, Columbia and Greenville have established a “vacant building registration program.” She said cities recognize that vacant buildings can attract transients, trespassers, create fire risks, safety hazards, decrease property values and discourage economic development. The proposal Rock presented to council would require the owner to register the building with the city if it’s vacant for 30 days or longer. The annual registration fee would depend on condition of the building. For a structure in good shape, the fee would be as low as $100; for a building in bad condition, it could be as high as $400 or $500. Rock estimated there are 100 to 125 vacant commercial properties within the city limits. That means, she said, the plan could generate at least $10,000 a year for the city, perhaps much more. “This will encourage people to either occupy the property, fix it up or sell it,” Rock said. The longer a building is vacant, the higher the registration fee, she said. Mayor Curtis Boyd said he is fully in favor of the plan. This problem “does way, way more damage to our city than people realize,” Boyd said. “An empty building discourages people from coming to our town.” The plan already has been drafted as an ordinance that council can vote on, but council asked the city attorney to clarify a few issues first. (The proposal has sparked a debate on The News & Press’ Facebook page. To read Mayor Boyd’s defense of the proposal, go to the newspaper’s Facebook page and look for the news item dealing with vacant buildings.) On another matter, Rock briefed council on the possibility of selling the two-story house on Pearl Street that until now has been known as the city’s Administration Building. The house, originally called the Julius A. Dargan house, was built in 1856, Rock said. The city bought it in 1999 and restored it, and its current assessed value is $176,000. Why is the city now mulling the idea of selling the house? Because right now, no city employees are working there. Previously, the house was the offices of Rock and City Manager Howard Garland. But Garland cleaned out his office and left shortly after City Council voted March 30 not to renew his contract, ending his 11-year tenure as manager. Rock’s office now has been moved to City Hall. Garland’s eventual successor is to have an office at City Hall. “If we’re not going to use the property, council needs to decide what to do,” Rock said. “I’ve shown it to some developers,” but she had no solid price to offer them. “If you are interested in selling it, I would suggest getting an official appraisal and a complete commercial inspection just so that we know what all the details are.” “We worked in that office,” Rock said. “It’s totally turn-key. … There’s nothing so outdated or wrong with it (that problems could arise). In that sense, it’s probably good, reasonable office space.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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