City Council honors lodges, awards grants, votes ‘no’ on rezoning
By Stephan Drew, Editor
Darlington City Council met on Tuesday, October 4th, addressed several pressing issues and recognized two local organizations. The request for rezoning of the Darlington County Cultural Realism Complex, located at 203 Orange Street, has created significant interest within the community and was on the agenda for a final vote.
Angela Johnson, Treasurer of the DCRCC, stated, “There is no threat of DCCRC engaging in any questionable activity on the property. You have residents who are vocal and afraid. You have residents who are scared of what a small change may bring to them.” She went on to relate a story which occurred in this area during the 1840s and 1850s when Col. E.R. Gregg refused to allow the construction of a railroad depot in Darlington. “Instead,” Johnson continued, “the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad crossed seven miles to the southeast of the City of Darlington, contributing to the growth of Florence. Yet, here we are again, dealing with people’s fears.”
DCCRC boardmember David Longacre told the council, “I’m here to help correct an error. Not a change but a correction.” Jannie Lathan, owner/operator of Lathan Consulting, addressed council when she said, “Your personal beliefs and bias should be removed.” She also thanked Lisa Bailey, former Darlington City Planner, for her years of service to the city and for her help in trying to get this accomplished.
Council member Elaine Reed also spoke in favor of the rezoning change. “One piece of property has two different zones. We need to correct the mistake that was made,” she stated.
Several citizens who live in the area, known as St. John’s Historic District, shared their concerns about the rezoning. Resident Kyle Owens stated, “The rezoning will allow for duplexes, triplexes, quadriplexes, banks, doctors’ offices, funeral homes and businesses like bed-and-breakfasts to operate within the historic district, bringing more traffic to the area.” Another resident, JackieLynn Jernigan, read a statement to council. Citing recent studies in South Carolina real estate values, Jernigan described how property values in historic districts around the state increased between 11% and 50% more than other properties which are notin historic districts.
Jernigan continued, “Local historic districts create a win-win situation for both homeowners and the community. Current owners can sell their houses for higher prices or make use of their increased equity. New homeowners can protect their investments in their houses and enjoy greater price gains, and the community strengthens its tax base.It was stated in the last meeting,if you change the zoning, they do not have to abide by Design Review which keeps the historic appeal.” Brandon Smith, also a resident of the historical district, asked the council, “The property-owning and taxpaying residents in our neighborhood have made it perfectly clear what our concerns are and why we oppose the rezoning. Please hear those voices and vote a resounding ‘no’.”
When council voted, there were three voting yes and three voting no. Therefore, the move to rezone did not pass. Council member Bryant Gardner offered a compromise when he asked Johnson if she would accept a variance to continue operating on the property as before. Johnson explained that the DCCRC had already paid a significant amount of money for the filing paperwork and could not afford a variance on their limited budget.
In other business, James Cooper, Director of the Grants Committee, presented the committee’s recommendations for $35,000 in hospitality grants. All six were voted on and approved by council. Charles Shugart, Director of Public Works for Darlington County, reported that he found water line damage and busted pipes at the new courthouse construction site and requested that council appropriate $27,841 for repairs. After disclosing to council that he had already eliminated some of the expense, he stated, “I think I can cut another $5,000 out of the cost.”
Mayor Curtis Boyd and council presented a proclamation to the Elks Lodge #1679 and Excelsior Temple #790. After recounting a long list of both lodges’ community service and the programs and opportunities they have brought to the youth and other citizens of Darlington, Boyd declared, “I, James Curtis Boyd, on behalf of Darlington City Council and the City of Darlington, do hereby proclaim the first week in October as Pee Dee United Elks Lodge #1679 and Excelsior Temple #790 Week.”
Police Chief Kelvin Washington, who will soon be retiring, also addressed council. “We’re in the short row now,” he said, “Keep praying for all of us and the City of Darlington.” Council also voted to appropriate $54,895 for the cleaning and repainting of the area on Hewitt and Lane Streets, near 72 Public Square. City Manager John Payne explained that this amount would cover clearing all debris, caulking and repairing any cracks, sanding, painting and other minor repairs.
Sheila Jones, Darlington Codes Enforcement Officer and City Building Inspector, told council that Barry McGirt had applied for the open position on the Planning Commission. Council voted and approved Mr. McGirt to occupy that position.
The Darlington City Council will hold their next meeting on Tuesday, November 1.