Pelzer Mayor Will Ragland is in the process of putting together several pieces of a puzzle, that if completed, will add to the attractiveness and growth of the town in the future.
Pelzer Town Council voted last week to purchase Church of God owned property along Hwy. 20, and with frontage on the Saluda River, for $179,000. The 26.71 acres of property has appraised for $237,400.
The Church property fronts on Hwy. 20, where there is a large ditch and drops off into a creek and wetlands. A portion of the property near the church cemetery is more level. “It is kind of land-locked,” Ragland said.
Though some citizens questioned the need for the property, Pelzer Mayor Will Ragland said it was needed so that a “park land swap” could take place which would allow the town’s “lagoon property” to be sold for future development.
“It is the biggest piece of land available to help satisfy the Land and Water Conservation requirements,” Ragland said. “It is a beautiful natural area that could easily be used for recreation.”
Ragland said church officials had approached him earlier about possibly purchasing the property before they put it on the market. At the time the town didn’t have the funds available. Since then, the town sold the cell tower property and now have funds available.
During the council meeting last week, Ragland explained that the lagoon property actually has two lots. One is the drive to the old lagoons which includes approximately 30 acres. The other includes 90 acres that are designated as “parks”, through the state of South Carolina and the National Park Service. To reclassify the property, there must be a swap of land in Pelzer with the same value or worth, in what Ragland called a “Yellow Book Appraisal”.
The Appraisal Foundation, in partnership with the US Department of Justice, is publisher of the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, commonly known as the “Yellow Book.” The purpose of the Yellow Book is to promote fairness, uniformity, and efficiency in the appraisal of real property in federal land acquisitions.
Ragland said the special type of appraisal is more expensive and harder to get.
The designation of “park” can only be switched with property not already identified as “park”, he said.
Mayor Ragland said that he is in discussion with the owners of the Central Rivers hydro company and the Pelzer Heritage Commission to identify additional property that could be designated as “park” to meet the requirements of the land swap. Those properties, along with the Pelzer Church of God property, would be used as a part of the “land swap”.
In a split vote at the October meeting, Pelzer Town Council authorized Ragland to execute documents to advance the purchase of the ‘lagoon property’ to a developer who plans to construct housing on the site.
At that meeting, Councilman Eddie Waits raised several questions about the proposed project stating that the buyer agreed to construct housing in compliance with accepted American architecture as it occurred between 1850 and 1930, thereby preserving the character of the town, with no mobile homes permitted and that the developer had thirty six months from the date that the property was shorn of its designation as a park to close on the property.
The documents also gave the town protection against any possible sale of the property to a third party. The vote was 3-2, with Waits and Councilman Mike Matthews opposing.
At the November meeting, Mayor Ragland said the developer plans to bring residential and retail development to the lagoon property. Before any development can happen, the property must first be free of its designation as a “park”.
According to Ragland, once comparable property can be located and designated for the swap, it may take up to two years for that to happen.
“I want to do something that will bring jobs and businesses to Pelzer,” the mayor said. “There is also property on Courtney Street across from the lagoon property that can be developed. Residential development is coming in the next ten years. We want to have a say in how it develops.”
Ragland made a motion for the town to purchase the Church property to satisfy requirements of the Land and Water Conservation Funding.
During discussions, he said the church property, which is located across Hwy. 20 from the upper mill site, “could become a recreation area and could be connected by a trail system”.
The upper mill site is owned by the Pelzer Heritage Commission and also has plans in the works for residential development.
The Parker Street development could also have a trail connecting to the River Overlook on the old dump site and West Pelzer has a lease on wetlands area on the other side of the bridge, Ragland said. “We could connect everything.”
Ragland said though the church property was not suitable for development, it could have open air shelters and trails on it.
“It is a big price, it is very expensive,” the mayor said, adding that the town has $680,000 available from the recent cell tower sale.
“The church wants to sell it to the town and the funds will help pay off their debt. I am thinking about the future, to free up the lagoon property and to purchase the property with cell tower funds.”
Councilman Waits had several question including how the town would pay for maintenance and upkeep of walking trails, especially with no tax base.
“That is a good question” Ragland said. “We will have to consider how to maintain it.”
Waits also questioned the comparables used for the church property appraisal, stating that property on Hwy. 29 was open pasture and more usable than the church property.
Councilman Skip Goldsmith said, “We have to have some property to swap. The lagoon property has very little value to us if we don’t have land to swap.” He pointed out that the same situation occurred with the Hughes development for the new BiLo.
A portion of the “Monkey Park” property was needed for the new grocery store and a “park land swap” was made, designating the lagoon property as a park. At the time Pelzer still had sewer treatment lagoons in operation.
The lagoons are no longer used, as ReWa is providing water and sewer treatment for the town.
During the discussion, Councilman Waits said that he was a public servant and was elected to ask the questions.
He again brought up concerns about the contract with the developer, asking about the style of houses to be built. Attorney Richard Thompson said that the wording was “plain in the agreement” and that Pelzer and the developer both have a lot of things to do to make it happen. “They have some incentive to cooperate with the town all down the road,” he said.
“I have no pre-conceived ideas on my vote tonight,” he said. “I do have some questions.”
The vote to purchase the Church of God property was 4-1 with Waits opposed.
In a follow up interview with The Journal, Mayor Ragland said, “There are great things coming to our three towns and there is a lot of interest in Pelzer.”