The city of Charleston is near closing on the last of 32 townhomes that were flooded three times in three years.
The purchases were made with a mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The total price for all of the Bridge Pointe Townhomes, which are near the Shadowmoss Golf Club in West Ashley, is $5.1 million, city spokesman Jack O'Toole said.
The gray-painted homes, built in 1987, according to county property records, currently sit abandoned, with overgrown foliage and forgotten recycling and trash bins sitting in the road. Charleston has not awarded a demolition contract, but the city hopes to by late July.
O'Toole did not provide a cost estimate for demolition, which is a necessary part of buying out flooded homes. It's unclear how the land will be used after the structures are pulled down.
"The city will be removing the asphalt and re-seeding and is continuing to plan for how that area will look, exactly, as greenspace," O'Toole said.
Meanwhile, police and fire officials will use the homes as a training ground, said Mike Julazadeh, Charleston's chief fire marshal. Staff will first complete an asbestos inventory before emergency services use the property to run search and rescue drills, fire hose deployment, cutting vents in roofs and active shooter situations.
"These buildings actually provide a fairly interesting training opportunity for fire departments, because we’re allowed to train in very near real-world situations," Julazadeh said.
Charleston first received a FEMA grant to buy out 48 total West Ashley homes, including the ones in Bridge Pointe, in October 2017. Local governments are required to cover 25 percent of the cost of buying and demolishing oft-flooded homes.
But a single property, which had a reverse mortgage, held up the closing on all the townhomes until this spring.
That mortgage has now been satisfied, O'Toole said, and closing is expected on that last property shortly. After the closing is completed, the former owners of the townhomes will receive equal portions of money left in the accounts of the development's home owners' association — about $116,000 — though the money will first be used to pay any outstanding utility costs.
The situation shows that even the most welcomed flood prevention projects can take years.
Flood buyouts are a voluntary process; cities and towns across the state apply and compete with each other for federal money. They're meant not as a remedy to past flooding but as a way of avoiding future damage, said Derrec Becker, a spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division.
Homeowners may pull out of a buyout offer up until the moment the final contract is signed. In some cases, it takes another flood or major storm to convince homeowners to sell.
Charleston's Church Creek basin has had drainage issues for decades. The Bridge Pointe homes are squarely in the middle of the area, which includes thousands of acres all drained by the relatively narrow creek.
A city consultant once suggested buying out as many as 350 homes in the basin. A major contributor to the flooding, that consultant found, was the fill dirt that was used to raise new homes.
The city's recently updated stormwater standards for the basin, developed in response to that study, have scuttled more than one development project since they were implemented this year.