By Stan Welch
The program designed to remove decrepit and abandoned homes from the area’s communities moves a step closer to reality this week, as the bids for the first phase of the demolition process will be received this week. Once the county accepts the various bids and awards the contracts, the demolition work will begin.
The Neighborhood Initiative Program, or NIP, is a federally funded, state administered effort to identify and raze the kinds of abandoned buildings that attract drugs and other criminal enterprises. The first phase involves nineteen of a total list of sixteen properties slated for destruction across the county.
Four of the properties are located in the Pelzer town limits, while two more are in Williamston.
Steve Benton, who oversees the program for the county,stated that the planning department is currently working with property owners in West Pelzer, in order to obtain several properties that are eligible for the program.
The main criteria for qualification is that the properties are residential, and that they are vacant and unfit for human habitation. The program is also entirely voluntary. No property is seized against the owner’s will. Benton explained that many owners see the program as a real solution, since the the properties are unfit for rental, and therefore generate no revenue for the owners. The taxes, however, continue to be imposed, often making the properties revenue negative.
The program is funded in the amount of two and a half million dollars to be used in Anderson County. Once a property is identified, and the owner agrees to sell it, the county assesses the property and makes a fair market offer. Once the property is purchased and the structure is removed, the County assumes responsibility for its upkeep and appearance for the next three years.
At the end of that time, public suggestions for the use of the various properties is solicited by the county planning department. The properties can be converted into small parks, green spaces, or can be sold to the private sector for other uses, such as housing.
The Pelzer Heritage Commission will be deeply involved, since they provided the tax exempt status required to obtain the NIP funding originally. Any revenues created by the sale of properties will go to the Heritage Commission, but Commission Chairman Larry Coker has assured the mayors of the three towns containing properties that it is not the Commission’s intention to sell properties that could be put to other uses encouraged by the program.
Those assurances were offered at a public forum to explain the program earlier this year. It was attended almost exclusively by the mayors and Council members of the three towns.
The mayors were obviously less than happy when they recognized the Heritage Commission’s position.
But Coker reminded them that the Heritage Commission stepped up last year when the county needed a tax exempt organization to front for them. “The county came to us, and we were glad to serve that function, so that this program could be implemented. We all have properties that are eyesores in our towns.”
“We have no money. We pursue grants but we have no in house source of funds. So if we do sell a few properties that will certainly help us. But it is our intention to use those funds for the purposes of the commission, and not to make money.”
Anyone who knows of a property or properties that need removal and might meet the criteria of the program can contact Benton at 260-1010 or Rhonda Sloan at 260-6993.