Charlie Smith was driving down Savannah Highway last Wednesday when he looked out the side window and gasped at what he saw.
A West Ashley Farmer’s Market?
Stephanie Chambliss of Charleston has started a online petition on change.org asking Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to create a West Ashley Farmer’s Market. She has 357 signatures to date but wants 1,000 before seeking a meeting with the mayor. Her effort is independent of the efforts to preserve Dupont Station, but it’s possible the two could intersect one day.
A wrecking crew was ripping down Dupont Station, a West Ashley landmark that served as a fresh-produce hub for much of the 20th century.
Smith, a real estate broker who once owned property nearby, called Charleston County to question why it permitted the demolition work, particularly given the site’s history.
His call was enough to halt the work temporarily: Upon review, the county realized that its officials did not have all the necessary information such a permit requires.
The owner, Jack Limehouse of Limehouse Produce Co., was able to complete the demolition application Friday, and the county renewed the permit.
Just hours later, however, the Historic Charleston Foundation appealed, and the permit was placed on hold yet again.
While Smith and the foundation have bought some valuable time, he said if the cavernous warehouse is to be saved, it will take still more people coming forward to suggest new uses or possible deals to save the structure.
“This place is not falling in,” Smith said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no reason this central part of the building could not be re-purposed.”
Limehouse could not be reached for comment late Friday, but County Planning Director Dan Pennick said the demolition was sought because vagrants have been living there, because it contains asbestos and possibly other hazardous material and because its large wood beams have salvage value.
The Seaboard Airline railroad built the original vegetable shed around 1939 at the request of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. At the time, truck farming was spread across what’s now Charleston’s West Ashley suburb.
The shed was expanded in the 1960s, and this section is what was torn down last week.
Even after the nearby railway was ripped up, Limehouse Produce continued to use the property as a distribution hub for trucks. A large, steel-frame addition was added around 1982, and the property eventually was abandoned when the business moved to its current Trade Street site in North Charleston about six years ago.
Inside, the shed still contains hundreds of cardboard tomato boxes, but also a few mattresses, couches and a other signs of homeless occupants.
Pennick said the permit will be suspended until the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals can consider the appeal, probably at its Oct. 7 meeting. The board will look at the property’s potential historic value and decide if it needs still more scrutiny before it can be torn down.
The county reissued its demolition permit because it could find no list or survey indicating the property is historically important, but Smith said he is asking the State Historic Preservation Office to determine if the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Still, a historical designation might not be enough to save the shed, if there’s no meaningful plan for reusing it, Smith said.
Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon said she would like to see the property redeveloped, possibly as a farmer’s market or other neighborhood use.
Smith said he also has been in touch with city officials, since the site is so close to both the city’s West Ashley Bikeway and West Ashley Greenway. He also said the owners have been “very nice,” and he understands their concerns.
“If we have a week or two, that would probably be sufficient (to know if such a plan to reuse it is feasible),” he said. “If we can’t save it in that time, I’m willing to let it go.”
“But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to do something.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.