City moves forward with property demolition

Lindsay Byrd presented a plaque to Police Chief Danny Watson and Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh Sept. 5 during the Darlington City Council meeting. Photo by Melissa Rollins

By Melissa Rollins, Editor,

The City of Darlington will have fewer blighted properties thanks to a vote from city council to move forward with a demolition project presented by Codes Inspector Alex Gainey.

The project involves more than 50 properties, including commercial structures. Gainey said that the city could go one of two ways: they could bid the work out or use an employee of the city with demolition experience, keeping the work in-house.
“We need to decide what is the best option for the City of Darlington,” Gainey said. “Right now, we have 51 residences and three commercial properties on the list; originally we had 59, which was 56 (residences) and three (commercial). A couple of houses have already been taken down and then we’ve had a couple of people that have told us that they were going to tear a house down or bring them up to code.”

Gainey said that it is expected that more properties will be taken off the demolition list.

“We do have one commercial property that is going to be taken off the list because it is going to be torn down in the next two to three weeks; that is going to be at the corner of 401 and 52,” Gainey said. “The same contractor is also going to be taking down a house at the corner of Broad and Vaughan Street that was owned by Diamond Hill Plywood.”

Though there are commercial properties on the list, Gainey said they wouldn’t be the focal point of the demolition work.
“Our focus right now is going to be on the residential structures in the City of Darlington; that is going to leave two commercial structures,” Gainey said. “We are going to focus on the residential because we can take those down for a lot lesser cost. Right now, we have about $60,000 in our budget for demolition.”

One consideration the city must make when deciding whether to bid out or work in-house is the regulations that DHEC has for demolition projects.

“One thing we are trying to do is stay out of the Greater Project criteria through DHEC,” Gainey said. “In years past when demolition was done, in my understanding, it was stopped because it fell under Greater Project criteria and the proper paperwork was not filed through DHEC; the proper permits were not obtained. Basically what happens when it falls under Greater Project, you have to have asbestos and lead paint testing and sampling done. If there is asbestos then you have to have the abated side of it done before you can ever tear the property down.”

There are several reasons demolition might fall under Greater Project, Gainey said.

“Number one, if it falls under a federal grant that makes it fall under a Greater Project,” Gainey said. “If a city or municipality is tearing it down for roads, if you are tearing it down to build a school, if you tear down two or more properties in a compact city block, that qualifies as a Greater Project. What we have done here is, I’ve strategically placed them around the city so that when we start tearing down, whichever way we decide to go, we can tear them down in a manner that we stay out of the Greater Project. We can tear one down in this neighborhood, tear one down in this neighborhood, keep going around until we get them all.”

Gainey gave rough estimates for what he thought it would cost the city to bid out the project versus doing it in-house.
He said that he believed bidding out the project, to include asbestos sampling, would cost around $195,000 meaning that the city would only be able to have 18-20 houses torn down. If the city employee does the work, asbestos sampling would not be required and the city could tear down all of the properties on the list and possibly still have money left from the allotted $60,000.

Councilmembers Elaine Reed and Carolyn Bruce expressed concern over exposing a city employee to asbestos simply to save money on sampling and abatement costs. Gainey explained that the equipment the city would lease to complete the demolition would prevent any exposure because it would have an enclosed cab and a filter to trap asbestos particles. There would be no risk and it would allow the city to determine in what order the houses were torn down to stay out of the Greater Project criteria.

After some back and forth, council took a vote to move forward in-house with the demolition. The lone nay vote came from Mayor Gloria Hines. Councilmembers Bryant Gardner and Coleman Cannon were absent.

Under old business, council gave final approval on the $100,000 sale of 410 Pearl Street to Genesis Health Care.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Lindsay Byrd presented a plaque to Police Chief Danny Watson and Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh. Byrd thanked the men for the work they have done in the past year with the soup kitchen staffed each Saturday with volunteers. Byrd said that since the kitchen was started in May 2016, around 9,000 meals have been given out.
Councilwoman Reed thanked everyone involved with the soup kitchen saying that many children in her ward benefit from the generosity of the volunteers.

Also in the public comment section, two citizens expressed concern over an SCDOT project at the Main Street Bridge. Doris Davis said that the project will greatly impact her property.

“I want to say that I hope they can widen the bridge without bothering any of us’ property,” Davis said. “I know on my side it is not as bad as it is on the other side but it looks like to me that they can widen that bridge without bothering any of us’ property.”

In City Manager Howard Garland’s monthly manager report, he mentioned the bridge project.

“The issue we (city staff) are having a hard time understanding is why SCDOT needs to buy right-of-way further down on North Main Street,” Garland wrote. “Specifically on property owned by Doris Davis…and David Eads…(who) would lose significant portions of their front yards. We have been in contact with SCDOT and expressed our concerns at homeowners losing their front yards.”

Garland also spoke out in the meeting about the desire for people to keep their property.

“Fix the bridge but don’t take people’s front yards,” Garland said. “For us, it doesn’t make any sense other than just shifting the road for the sake of shifting the road. The drawings neighbors have shown us, they won’t have any front yard at all.”

A proposal to accept bids from SCDOT for two pieces of property on Main Street was tabled. Garland said that the property in question, known to many as Psillos Garden, was gifted to the city and he would like more time to research whether any stipulations were placed on the gift by the family. Garland also said that the property had historical significance being that several soldiers were buried there until 1981 when they were moved to the National Cemetery in Florence.

Author: Duane Childers

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