Tall weeds grow along the edges of the abandoned Church Creek Plaza strip mall in suburban West Ashley.
The store fronts are covered in graffiti, and shattered glass from broken windows litters the sidewalk in front of the empty shops.
The back doors have been ripped off many of those stores, revealing black mold growing on the walls and trash strewn about.
And a pile of old computers and electronic equipment sits outside behind the building.
If the strip mall were in the city of Charleston, officials could clean it up and place a lien against the out-of-state owner for the cost. But it falls in an unincorporated part of Charleston County, in a “doughnut hole” surrounded by city property. Under state law, the county doesn’t have the right to place a lien.
County officials said they have heard the growing outcry from nearby residents to clean up the property, and they are taking legal action against the owner of the mall, which sits on the corner of S.C. Highway 61 and Parsonage Road. They are taking the owner to circuit court Jan. 29 for allegedly violating county nuisance and dumping ordinances. They hope the legal pressure will prompt the owner to clean up the property.
Much of the conversation about the mall is taking place on a West Ashley Facebook site. Members think the place is unsightly and growing dangerous, and they want something done about it.
Charles Young, who lives near the abandoned center, called it a major eyesore. “It’s affecting property values,” he said. Vagrants hang out there, he said, and he’s even seen needles on the ground.
County Councilwoman Colleen Condon, who represents the area, said county staffers tried for a long time to work out a solution with Morton Scholnick, of Troy, Mich., who has owned the property for about 35 years. But they weren’t able to get Scholnick to clean up the property.
“I want to fix this,” Condon said, “but the owner is not being very compliant.”
Scholnick said he hopes to be in Charleston for the court date, or to send a representative.
But he said he thinks he’s being made a scapegoat for problems at Church Creek Plaza. He pays taxes, he said, and local police should be doing something about the vandalism to his property. “We’ve cleaned it up several times,” he said, “and every time we clean it up, we get a new mess.”
People have stolen all the copper from the buildings, he said, and they’ve taken air conditioning units off the roof.
He said he would get better police protection if the property fell in the city. And he knows that nearby residents have complained about the property. But, he said, it’s likely that the people who are vandalizing the property live nearby. People aren’t going to drive from miles away to vandalize a shopping mall, he said.
Scholnick vaguely referred to plans for Church Creek Plaza. “We ultimately hope to redevelop the property, but it’s going to take some time to do so,” he said. He wouldn’t say what kind of plans he had for the property or when he might begin to implement them.
Condon said she has talked to several real estate agents who have told her they had called Scholnick about renting space at the mall, but Scholnick didn’t return their calls, she said.
County planning Director Dan Pennick said the county also might expand the list of violations against Scholnick. If the county wins in court, it could fine Scholnick $1,092 for each violation, Pennick said. And summonses possibly could be issued daily. But county officials still plan to work with Scholnick toward a solution. “You can fine somebody out the wazoo,” he said, “but you’re still going to be left with this.”
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.