New recreation complex for Darlington

Lee Andrews, Darlington Area Recreation Director at the site of the future recreation complex in in Darlington. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Lee Andrews, Darlington Area Recreation Director at the site of the future recreation complex in in Darlington.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Jana E. Pye, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The July meeting of the Darlington City Council was a long one, but the best news of the night – according to Darlington Area Recreation Department Director Lee Andrews – were the votes related to new ball fields for the city.

Council approved First Reading of Ordinance 2016-11, a Hospitality Tax Bond in the amount of $1.5 million to develop a baseball and softball complex. The bond will be paid by revenue generated by hospitality tax from the site, which will be a tourism related attraction and may be used by local teams and to host tournaments.

Council member Bryant Gardner asked if a playground could be developed on site, which was confirmed by Andrews to be included.

Later in the meeting, council also voted to approve First Reading of Ordinance 2016-13 regarding the purchase of 100 acres for the proposed recreation complex, on a site located off Lawson Road.

According to Andrews, the property has over 55 acres of usable land with two areas of wetlands. The S & ME, Inc. from Conway prepared a 137-page report on the land insuring the area is environmentally clean.

“The great thing about recreation is we don’t have to build in structures,” said Andrews. “We have a lot of trails and green spaces we can use. On an aerial view off Byerly Park, they have about 100 acres too, and on the 47 acres developed they have 8 combination baseball – softball fields, 6 tennis courts, 2 football fields, 1 regulation sized track, 12 horseshoe pits, 3 storage buildings, 1 maintenance shop, and 566 parking spaces. The parking at Blue Street and BA Gary, well, the parking is a premium at both. So just having 566 parking spaces on 47 acres excites me, because that means I can put people there.”

Andrews continued; “When you are talking about a baseball and softball complex, we have to really think of it as a recreational complex; not everybody plays baseball and softball, I understand that. We need green space, place for citizens to go walk and not worry about their kids because there is a playground for them. We are in dire need of recreational facilities. Whether we do this here, or someplace else, we have to do something. The facilities we have field-wise, I will put up against anybody in the area including Byerly Park. Our fields are second to none as far as playing surfaces. But our facilities around the fields are dead last.. and I am sometimes ashamed that we host some things, but, we do.. and people come play at our facilities.”

Darlington hosted the Ozone District over the past year at the Blue Street field, with teams coming from Marlboro County, Cheraw, Hartsville, Lee County, and more. “We invested in a portable restroom for that facility – not a port-a-john, a nice air-conditioned mobile restroom facility and it did it’s job.”

Andrews said that the property adjoins 50 acres owned by the Pee Dee Land Trust, and that area could tie into a natural preserve similar to Williamson Park. A boardwalk could be built over the wetlands area to create another green space for a variety of recreation, perhaps a walking trail, dog park, Frisbee golf, etc. Phase 1 of the project will concentrate on the baseball and softball fields, with additional plans for future growth of the highly anticipated recreation complex.

USDA Police Car Grant Acceptance:

Mayor Gloria Hines signed documents from USDA’s Stewart Hucks for a USDA Grant to purchase a police car, a 50-50 match to purchase two vehicles for the Darlington Police Department for the price of one.

Chief Danny Watson explained to council that the purchase of the one vehicle was already well within his budget, and the grant for the USDA will allow the department to bring two new vehicles into their fleet. The retired vehicles will be given to other departments within the city; per USDA requirements, they may not be sold for profit without providing a percentage refund – using them in another department in the city complies with USDA requirements.

First Reading Ordinance 2016-08 (Water/Sewer Rate Increase)

City voted to approve first reading of Ordinance 2016-08 for the Water and Sewer Increase; a public hearing will be held on August 2nd regarding the increase. Read more about budget discussions about the rate increase: Water bills may go up in Darlington

First Reading Ordinance 2016-10 (General Obligation Bond)

Council voted to approve a General Obligation Bond in the amount of $1 million for roof repair and maintenance on the City Administration Building, city gymnasiums, city street and sanitation department, city hall and Council on Aging. The bond will be payable from taxes leveed by the city over 10 years.

As explained to council members by attorney Ben Zeigler, the General Obligation Bond is under the city’s debt limit of $1.3 million- 8% of assessed value of the city, which in Darlington’s case is about $15 million. To borrow more than that, the bond would require an afffirmative vote from the taxpayers. This also means that if the city needs to borrow more money in the near future, they will need to go to the residents of the city to have the request approved by a vote.

“That debt limit is there to protect the tax papers so that public bodies don’t go out and just borrow willy nilly when the bond is ultimately footed by the tax payers,” said Zeigler

This bond will require another reading, and state law requires a 60 day waiting period after the second reading is approved.

Councilman John Milling asked if the city was allowed to earn interest on the funds, and Zeigler answered that it was absolutely allowed.

First Reading Ordinance 2016-12 – Annexation Keith Evans Construction:

Keith Evans of Keith Evans Construction requested property to be annexed into the city, from property located at Sartor Drive and Barfield Road – located a few blocks from Darlington High School. Evans plans to build a series of rental units to fill a need for rentals in Darlington. He plans to build a series of 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom homes approximately 850 square feet, fully energy efficient and described as “similar to the rainbow row painted small homes you see at the beach.”

He says the rent will be approximately $750 per month; the homes are energy efficient and reportedly owners will expect a low electricity bill of about $50 per month.

Council voted to reinstate Judy Alexander to another term on the PDRTA board.

City Councilwoman Carolyn Bruce commended Police Chief Danny Watson on the job he and other law enforcement are doing on the building ramps for the elderly in Darlington.
Council will join together to help with the search for a new city attorney; present City Attorney Albert James will retire from the position in September.

During public comments, resident George Knapp spoke to Mayor Hines; he sent a copy of his concerns to the News and Press, printed as a Letter to the Editor. A video of part of the dialogue between Knapp and Mayor Hines is available to view below.

Council met in executive session to choose a Engineer for the Chalmers Street “The Ditch” issue; they met after their closed session to vote on the six bids, awarding the bid to Hannah Engineering of Florence, S.C.

The council meets again on Tuesday, August 2, 2016 for the regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m.

Author: Duane Childers

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