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‘We don't want to lose four historic houses'

  • Thursday, August 14, 2014

Monica Kreber/Journal Scene A total of four properties could be bought by CPW for a new office building, including two houses on N. Cedar Street.

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The Summerville Preservation Society is on a mission to keep the town’s historic atmosphere intact, starting with four houses that might be in danger of being torn down and replaced with an office building.

The Summerville Commissioners of Public Works is in the process of buying property to establish a new office building to move into. They are looking into a total of four pieces of property that are occupied by four houses on West 1st North Street and North Cedar Street, near Parks Funeral Home.

Those houses are not in the town’s historic district, which stops at the railroad tracks with the exception of individual properties added in 2012.

Heyward Hutson, president of the Summerville Preservation Society, came to CPW’s regular meeting Aug. 12 to address the commissioners on why they should not tear down the houses. He was joined by other members of the Preservation Society.

“Those properties are associated with some history in Summerville,” Hutson said. “We don’t want to lose four historic houses.”

Hutson said one of those houses is an antebellum house, built around 1858. He went on to say he wants the commissioners to feel responsible for whatever happens to those houses.

“We don’t want to be the only ones concerned about Summerville,” he said. “I know in your core you have some appreciation for Summerville, or you wouldn’t be living here.

“We are not trying to prevent you from doing what you need to do,” he added, “but we want you to take responsibility for preserving Summerville. We are going to depend on you.”

Hutson went on to question why CPW needs so much property – enough to remove “pretty much the whole block.” He asked if CPW has considered other options – such as moving the houses.

CPW Chairman Stephen Mueller said CPW does not yet own any of the property.

“If we do acquire the property we will take everything you said into consideration,” he told Hutson.

However, CPW Manager Charles Cuzzell told The Journal Scene he is not sure if CPW would want to try to move the houses, though they would be willing to donate them to anyone willing to move them.

“It’s really going to be difficult until we get the houses and do an evaluation of them,” he said. “We really don’t know what condition they’re in.

“Right now it’s really up in the air.”

Hutson also questions the placement of the new Summerville hotel, The Dorchester, planned to be built on Cedar Street near West Richardson Avenue.

Hutson addressed Summerville Town Council during its meeting Aug. 13, saying he had concerns about the town’s private-public partnership of the hotel, which was approved in July.

“We can’t reinvent historic Summerville,” Hutson said. “What we would like is the right thing to do in a democratic system: participatory democracy.”

Hutson went on to request a public meeting where people could express all the concerns associated with the hotel project, including placement of the boutique hotel within Summerville’s historic district; the hotel will placed on Cedar Street, near the intersection of West Richardson Avenue.

“I’m not saying that we are opposed to a boutique hotel,” he said, “but placement of a boutique hotel on that block creates enormous problems, and we want to have a public hearing and I think the public is entitled to that.”

Hutson also wants more information about the public-private partnership the town has executed in order to build the hotel. Hutson alleged the manner in which the council came to the agreement was “shrouded in secrecy,” saying people were completely blindsided by the partnership.

Hutson requested, citing the Freedom of Information Act, all of correspondence – memos, e-mails, letters, meeting minutes – that led up to the private-public agreement.

“We need that because we want to see what the agreement is all about,” he said. “We want a copy of any contract that has been signed, and if it hasn’t been signed we want a copy of the proposal.”

After the meeting, Councilwoman Kima Garten-Schmidt said there will be an “information type” public meeting to address these concerns. A date for such a meeting has yet to be determined but will likely be released within the next few weeks.

“A lot of things they addressed tonight were things that were already put out to the public,” she said. “There isn’t anything we’ve done in secrecy. There’s a lot of people who already have a lot of information about this joint venture.”

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