Wednesday, December 4, 2013
After a heated debate at its meeting Monday night, Dorchester County Council voted four in favor, two opposed and one abstaining to accept the offer on a piece of county land for sale in the King’s Grant subdivision.
The vote approved a proposed contract of sale on the property, which was formerly the site of a wastewater treatment facility, with buyers Larry and Tammy Curtis for $195,000. The vote allows the county to move forward with negotiating the contract, although the property is not officially sold yet.
The decision follows several weeks of back and forth with residents of King’s Grant and members of the homeowners association who were asking Council to reject the Curtis’ offer on the property and accept their developer’s offer – which was for $75,000 – instead.
Their concerns were heard at a public hearing held two weeks ago at the Council’s second November meeting. The contract was first introduced at a special called council meeting on Oct. 25.
More than two dozen residents of King’s Grant attended the public hearing, and Monday night’s turn-out was no different. Nine people spoke at the hearing; similarly, four spoke on Monday.
“That site was a sewage treatment facility for 40 years. There’s a lot of stuff in that ground,” said King’s Grant resident Myron Johnson. “If the buyers do get the property we will welcome them with open arms, but let me just tell you right now I would not build a house on that property if you gave it to me.”
“I’m asking you, how many of you would like to see your sons and daughters or grandchildren playing on that lot? Would you build a house there? I don’t think so,” said Michele McCullough, HOA president.
The property is currently zoned R2 for residential use. According to the buyers’ real estate agent, Bambi Magraw, they plan to use the property as it is zoned and build a home on the lot.
Alternatively, if the HOA purchased the lot their intentions were to use it to expand the subdivision recreation area, which surrounds the 1.2 acre property. Their amenities currently include a playground, marina, ball fields and walking trails, and they said they would use the property to add boat storage, marina parking and additional play areas for children.
When Council reached the agenda item, Councilman David Chinnis moved to accept the contract. Councilwoman Carroll Duncan seconded and was the first to announce her position to the group.
“Our responsibility is to do our due diligence with the peoples’ money and with property we own. We had the property appraised, put it up for sale, and we accepted earnest money for the sale,” she said. “It’s our obligation to follow through with the contract we started.”
Councilman Larry Hargett was next to jump into the discussion of the motion.
He mentioned Ordinance #04-14, which was passed in 2004 and stipulates there must be a 500 ft. buffer from the Ashley River (which borders the property) and new construction in specific areas, which he argued applies to the property.
“Is it fair to enter into a contract with people who don’t know that?” he asked John Frampton, county attorney. “I will vote against this, that’s just not right. … I can’t sell this to them without them knowing what they’re buying.”
Councilman Hargett has been opposed to the contract from the beginning: while he abstained from the vote to negotiate the contract at the Oct. 25 meeting, he voted with the rest of Council to postpone the contract decision until Monday at the Nov. 18 meeting, when he also announced he was “not in favor of this contract and will vote against it.”
The councilman has lived in King’s Grant for 32 years.
True to his word, Councilman Hargett voted against the contract at Monday’s meeting, along with Council Chairman Bill Hearn.
“I went out there and something doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right. The property in question sits in the boundaries of the common area, not as if this is abutting the property, it’s in the property. … In good conscience I cannot support this,” he said.
In addition to Councilman Chinnis, Councilman Jay Byars also expressed his support of the contract.
“This is one of those tough ones. What I want to do is help the citizens of King’s Grant but I feel I’m duty-bound to represent the rest of my constituents,” Councilman Byars said.
For him it all came down to the idea of ethics and accountability: “Once we open that Pandora’s box, how do we close it? That is my biggest concern…. We just can’t open that box of special treatment, we’ve got to keep it closed.”
After an unusual five-minute recess of the council, and with no end of the continual debating in sight, Councilman Chinnis brought the discussion to an end and called a vote on the question.
Councilmembers Byars, Chinnis, Davis and Duncan voted in favor of accepting the proposed contract. Councilmen Hargett and Hearn opposed. Councilman George Bailey abstained.