By Stan Welch
Pelzer Town Council meeting got a little testy Tuesday night, with most of the tension centered around the purchase of two pieces of property.
One of the properties, located at 4 Blythe Street, was addressed during the public comments before the meeting actually began. During the public comments portion of the meeting, Linda Ford, a frequent critic of the town council and mayor, revealed that the property is owned by Moses Holland, LLC, which is managed by Williamston attorney and town councilman Lee Cole. Her tone and her words made it clear that she found the arrangement nefarious; or as she put it, “it seems something is fishy to me.” Her inference was plain; she stated that a lot of back scratching seemed to be going on.
Mayor Will Ragland, when the proposed purchase came up later in the agenda, explained that the property, comprised of .65 acres, was overgrown and an eyesore. He also expressed his wish that, in the future, the property might be turned into a ‘pocket park’. He chided Ford just a bit by saying. “You always complain that the upper mill area never gets our attention. Well, here’s a chance to do something for the upper mill area.”
He also mentioned that transparency was not an issue, since this was the first time the issue had come before the council. The fact that Cole expressed a willingness to sell the property for $3500 instead of the appraised value of $6000 further reduced the wind in the sails of a traditionally cynical and suspicious public. The purchase, which Ragland explained was contingent on the sale of the land where the cell tower is located, was approved by a vote of 3-2, with council veterans Eddie Waits and Mike Matthews opposed.
Town Attorney Richard Thompson had previously updated the status of that sale of the cell tower site, explaining that the process was ongoing, and might take another sixty to ninety days; but that American Towers’ commitment to the purchase was till firm.
The second proposed property purchase by the town was by far the most controversial. The old swimming pool site has been prominently mentioned as a potential site for a tire store. Its location in the midst of a residential area has drawn significant opposition. Ragland mentioned a petition, as well as numerous phone calls, opposing the proposed business. But Pelzer has no zoning ordinances in place and have no real basis to prevent such a business from locating there. Ford mentioned this in her opening comments, and Councilman Mike Matthews also expressed his concerns about imposing restrictions on a business that don’t exist in the town’s code, in explaining his vote against the sale. Former Councilman Gary Pridmore actually called Ragland a liar before walking out of the meeting.
Ragland, again reminding the audience that both purchases are contingent on the sale of the cell tower property, presented the purchase of the property by the town as the only viable course of action.
He enlisted the support of Skip Goldsmith, an attorney and an ally on the council, to bolster his argument. Goldsmith stressed the potential damage to adjacent property values if the tire store were to be established. The proposed purchase of the property for fifty thousand dollars, which Ragland acknowledged was double what the town sold the property for, was approved by a vote of 3-2, with Waits and Matthews again opposing.
Ragland followed with an impassioned oration responding to the issue of the petition, saying that there was no point in being mayor if he didn’t serve the will of the people. He also admonished the audience of less than a dozen people that the textile industry wasn’t coming back. “It is time to stop being safe, and to claim our future.” During his closing comments, he again chided the public, saying, “If you have questions for any of us, why don’t you call us? Why wait until a public meeting to accuse us, or present your concerns? We’re all happy to speak with you, but why always make a show of it?”
Alicia Tuttle is also organizing the town’s Freedom Fest, scheduled for July 3.