Darlington City Council endures late night meeting
By Stephan Drew, Editor
Tuesday, September 6, was a long night for Darlington City Council but many issues were considered. In the first half of the 4-hour meeting, new businesses, Saturday concerts and funding grants were discussed. Citizens also made their grievances known during the 5-minute comments period. However, the lengthiest deliberations occurred over a repeated rezoning request.
The Darlington County Cultural Realism Complex has requested that their property at 203 Orange Street be rezoned as Office/Residential and council granted the proposal a 2nd Reading. Last year, DCCRC made the same request and it was denied. They waited the required 12 months and resubmitted their request.
The property in question abuts the Historic District and is now categorized as Residential (R10). The other end of the property aligns with Pearl Street and is zoned as General Commercial. Angela G. Johnson, DCCRC board member, and several others spoke of the need for the rezoning. Johnson stated, “This entity wants to insure that there is a community that’s going to be able to take advantage of whatever is out there – performing arts, visual arts, and historical preservation.” Several speakers recounted Mrs. Wilhelmina Johnson’s long history with the students and citizens of Darlington as well as the many programs and events she organized for the community.
A few citizens who live in proximity to the property voiced their concerns. Jackie Lynn Jernigan, a nearby resident stated, “My concern is how this will affect the property values of the residences that are in the historical district and also right across the street.” Council member Elaine Reed pointed out that there were other commercial businesses on Orange Street and asked if they had negatively affected property values in the historic district but received no specific answer.
The DCCRC has existed for nearly 50 years and has been administering the entire property as a business venture since moving to the 203 Orange Street location. However, during the pandemic, they were required to shut down. Since no classes or events were going on for more than 90 days, the situation changed.
David Longacre, DCCRC board member, explained the situation to council, “When we were using that building, it was grandfathered in. So, we had the ability to use it. But, that 90-day period ran out during the COVID lockdown so, that’s when it reverted back to residential. Now, you can’t even operate out of there the way we have been for almost 50 years.”
Council Member Sheila Bacchus stated, “So, we’re really just trying to fix a problem that COVID created.” The rezoning request was tabled for future consideration.
City Planning and Economic Director Lisa Bailey discussed the Saturdays on the Square, a monthly concert program presented by the city on the public square for the entire community. The concert with John King on Saturday, September 10 was the last of such events until the program begins again for New Year’s.
Brook Sylvester of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce disclosed business openings, reporting that Rush Fit Nutrition, at 413 Pearl Street, held a recent ribbon cutting. She also stated that Darlington Mercantile, at 46 Public Square, will hold its Grand Opening on Sept. 15, then opening for regular business at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 16. Sylvester reminded those present that the next “Business After Hours” will be held on Sept. 29 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at Pee Dee Treasures, located at 119 E. Broad Street. She also made council aware that a ribbon cutting is planned at 10 a.m. on October 1 for Down By the Creek, a children’s boutique located at 48 Public Square.
Water bills, fees
Nine citizens signed up for an alotted time to speak for 5 minutes each. Many cited their problems with fees and charges from the recent increases in water rates. Susan Rogers began by questioning numerous changes to her water bill. Rogers has county water and city sewage but explained that the county always has her usage correctly tabulated month after month. Rogers stated, “I got a bill from the city. I used zero water for one month. I only used 1200 gallons the next month. Then, you hit me up for almost 21,000 gallons, which would have filled my camper…” She asked why the city’s estimates were different from those supplied by the county. She went on to say, “Just go off the county’s report. It’s accurate, it’s never wrong.”
Janie Lathan, President & CEO of Lathan Consulting Corporation, also expressed her concern over increased water bills. “There was no public hearing on raising these water bills again,” Lathan said. She also asked if accurate rates could be printed on the water bills.
Rafel Patel related his experience with a faulty water meter. After the Water Dept. replaced the meter, his bill decreased somewhat. However, Mr. Patel explained, “Now, I’m getting a $100 a month storm drainage added to my bill.” Mayor Curtis Boyd explained that an error was made on the bills. “That is being corrected,” Boyd stated.
Litter and debris
Several citizens expressed concern over areas in the city which are regularly littered with grass clippings, vines, trash and other debris. Susan Rogers lamented the amount of old furniture, trash and rubbish left behind the buildings on the west side of the public square. “Between the homeless and the people buying furniture, leaving furniture, piling it all in the parking lot when they move out, the city street’s might look good but, take a back road and see the parking lot,” Rogers said. Nova Harkless and Mrs. Ham also added their voices in the complaints about weeds overgrowing fences and other debris-dumping issues in their neighborhoods. Council Member Elaine Reed explained that the grass had been cut in that area several days earlier but private property owners are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their own land.
Ernest Boston described an area near his home, which is filled with garbage, household goods and debris every month. He suggested that council purchase deer (motion) cameras to catch the perpetrators and charge them. Boston said, “There’s a fine of $75 or $100 for someone illegally dumping in the City of Darlington. A deer camera is about $119. Two fines would pay for a camera.” Council agreed to consider it.
Former Mayor Gloria Hines attempted to discuss a budget issue which included a specific employee’s pay raise. She was told that is a personnel matter and should not be discussed in an open meeting but, would be taken up in Executive Session.
Janie Lathan asked council members, “Did you know you approved a one-time $30,000 increase for the Director of Public Works?” In addition, Lathan asked about a recent police report which she said included City Manager John Payne’s name. Payne has previously denied any personal involvement in the incident. Council Member Bryant Gardner asked if Chief of Police Kelvin Washington could comment on the matter. Washington explained that, since it is an ongoing investigation, he cannot comment in an open meeting but suggested council enter Executive Session to discuss the situation.
The next city council meeting is on October 4 in City Hall, located at 100 Pearl Street.