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Sheheen bill would allow city of Camden to annex shopping center

Posted: February 13, 2017 5:44 p.m.
Updated: February 14, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

The former Bi-Lo shopping center on Old River Road in Camden sits empty as it has for many years. The center is in a “doughnut hole” of Kershaw County surrounded by the city of Camden. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen is sponsoring a bill -- which could soon become law -- giving the city permission to annex the center without the owner’s consent. Sheheen said the city has stricter zoning ordinances and other tools to pressure the owner into better maintaining the property and finding new tenants.

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In a somewhat unusual legislative move, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden introduced a bill in January that would allow the city of Camden to unilaterally annex 1001 Old River Road. That is the site of the shopping center that once housed a Bi-Lo and other stores.

For several years, the center -- a “doughnut hole” in terms of being county property surrounded by the city of Camden -- has stood without a single active business. In November, the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office posted no trespassing warnings. Deputies told tractor-trailer drivers and others they could no longer park there. They also started issuing trespass notices to vagrants and warned any found inside would be arrested for burglary.

By the end of December, officials said those actions had helped curb some of the unwanted activity around the property.

Furthermore, the S.C. State Fire Marshal’s Office inspected the property twice during 2016, citing the owners -- Garrett & Garrett of Fountain Inn -- with a number of safety issues and code violations. Officials said those issues have been addressed.

City officials, who say Camden is being impacted by what it classifies as blight, said they want more to happen and could if the property were inside the city limits. However, cities are prohibited from annexing property without owners’ consent.

Sheheen’s bill, S.310, would make an exception, specifically citing the shopping center, and, if passed, would allow the city to annex the property. He said he introduced a similar bill late during the last legislative session.

“It got bogged down in the House,” he said.

The new bill has already passed through the Senate and been through two readings in the House. Sheheen said State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk is shepherding it through that side of the General Assembly. He expects third and final reading to take place this week.

“I introduced the bill at the request of the city of Camden,” Sheheen said. “As I drive by, I can see it is not being maintained properly. It’s a danger and blight in the county. The city has more tools to deal with this than the county does and I have gotten no objection from the county.”

He said it is his understanding that Camden has stricter zoning requirements than the county and can levy fines against the owner.

“The city also has a more robust ability, personnel-wise, to enforce requirements. That’s not a knock on the county,” Sheheen said.

Camden City Manager Mel Pearson agreed.

“First of all, our law enforcement is just a stone’s throw away,” Pearson said, referring to Camden Police Department headquarters, which is all but across the street at the corner of West DeKalb and Gordon streets. “Second, it is in our fire district, so we have the power to make sure it is up to code.”

Third, Pearson said, the city is now offering incentives for businesses looking to open in Camden. In late 2015, Camden City Council approved an ordinance creating a two-tiered system of incentives that can be granted on a case-by-case basis.

First, a business must open on commercially-zoned property within the city limits. The ordinance establishes a minimum capital investment threshold of $250,000 in an area bounded on the west by Chestnut Ferry Road and U.S. 1, south to Bull Street, east to U.S. 1 and Bishopville Highway (S.C. 34) and north to Dusty Bend.

This is the area in which -- should the property be annexed into the city -- the shopping center falls.

A minimum of a $1 million investment must be made for properties between the Chestnut Ferry Road/U.S. 1 interchange and the Wateree River, commercial property along Springdale Drive to Chestnut Ferry Road and the area from Bull Street to Exit 98 at I-20.

“We hope that, through these incentives, we might apply some pressure on the property owner to maintain the property and find users for the property and, in that way, help to keep the property up,” Pearson said. “We still need property owners to do what’s needed.”

Sheheen said unless the county changed its ordinances concerning blighted commercial property -- adding, “I don’t weigh in on county matters” -- and since the state law governs when a city may and may not annex, only a bill like his can give the city the ability to deal with the shopping center.

“South Carolina is, historically, very conservative about annexation,” Sheheen said.

The bill’s full title is “To Permit the Town of Camden to Annex Certain Real Property by Ordinance Upon Finding That the Property is Blighted.”

It notes the fact the property is “located within an enclave surrounded by the town.” The main section of the bill states “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the Town of Camden, located in Kershaw County, may annex the commercial property with improvements located at 1001 Old River Road by ordinance upon a finding that the commercial property, including its improvements, constitutes a danger to the safety and health of the community by reason of lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities; dilapidation; deleterious land use; or any combination of these factors.”

It then states the act would take effect upon approval of the governor.

However, Sheheen said newly installed Gov. Henry McMaster does not necessarily have to sign the bill for it to become law. He said governors have the right to sign a bill, not sign a bill or veto a bill. If McMaster simply chooses not to sign it, but does not reject it by veto, the bill would still take effect.

“This is not the ideal way to handle something like this,” Sheheen admitted, “but sometimes you do what you have to do to clean up a mess.”


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