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What about Bi-Lo?

Posted: December 26, 2016 5:00 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2016 1:00 a.m.
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Camden Fire Department Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal Phil Elliott prepares to enter the building for inspection.

One might wonder, for all the projects and announcements the city seems to make about improving neighborhoods and infrastructure, why one area still sits derelict and abandoned.

The former Bi-Lo Shopping Center located on River Road and Wylie Street, by anyone’s estimation, is an eyesore. The buildings, empty for several years, have deteriorated badly. When the weather is bad, homeless people squat there. Public safety officials have concerns that such a situation could easily lead to a dangerous, even deadly situation.

“Vagrants break in and camp there – especially when the weather is bad,” Camden Fire Chief John Bowers said. “We’ve found where they’ve actually built fires inside the building.”

There are other abandoned properties in town, even in the county, but this one seems to be more of a problem than others. That’s because until fairly recently, law enforcement had a limited presence there. This is not an unusual problem for such a situation – despite being surrounded by the city limits and located less than two blocks from the Camden Police Department, the property is actually county property, making it more difficult for the sheriff’s office -- which must maintain a presence throughout the entire county – to patrol, officials say.

The S.C. State Fire Marshall’s Office has inspected the property twice within the last year; that office has cited the property owners with a number of safety issues and code violations which the property owner has addressed. At one point, tractor trailers were being parked in the empty lot, however, the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office recently stepped up enforcement efforts on the property, posting no trespass warnings and telling drivers that as of Nov. 1, 2016, any tractor trailer – or any vehicle, for that matter – found on the property without permission would be towed and the owner fined. KCSO also started issuing trespass notices to vagrants and warned that anyone found inside the buildings would be arrested on burglary charges.

These actions have helped curb some of the unwanted activity around the property, public safety officials said.

But nothing else seems to be happening on the property, at least not presently. The city of Camden has launched a number of economic development incentives and neighborhood improvement initiatives; indeed, an entire neighborhood wants to annex into the city but can’t because the property effectively blocks those properties from annexation, according to city officials.

The property has several unique issues associated with it. For one, it is what is known as a “doughnut hole” property – that is, it is virtually surrounded by city property but is not technically in the city limits. What that means, at least from a law enforcement and codes enforcement perspective, is that Kershaw County has jurisdiction over it, even though the Camden Police Department is less than a block away and the Camden Fire Department provides fire protection.

The city has made a number of attempts, and is still in discussion, with the owners of the property about the possibility of annexing the property into the city, but thus far this has not occurred.

“The city can’t force the property owner to annex,” City Manager Mel Pearson said “But we do sincerely believe it would be in everyone’s best interest – city, county and property owner -- to go ahead and come into the city.”

The property is owned by Garrett and Garrett, a commercial real estate development firm based in Fountain Inn, S.C.  Blake Garrett, Jr., of Garrett and Garrett confirmed that he has been in discussions with the city regarding annexation and is considering all the ramifications. He said the company does not want to own a derelict property, however, he said he also has a responsibility to ensure that annexation is in the company’s best interest.

“We have owned that property for many, many years,” Garrett said. “When we first got it, that area was not nearly as developed as it is now.  In fact, I have been amazed at how the area has changed and grown, especially along US 1 from Lugoff. We believe Camden and Kershaw County are in a strong position to grow and prosper.”

Garrett said he would consider selling the property – but the offer would have to be “reasonable”.

 

Garrett said his company leased to the Bi-Lo Corporation for a number of years; that business relationship ended several years ago. He also pointed out that the economic downturn in 2008 was a major setback for everyone in the retail industry and commercial property leasing industry. However, he added that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the market and the economy are correcting and improving and that some positive activity can occur there in the reasonably near future.

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