A flattened plot of dirt and rubble lays where a more than 100-year-old house stood in the Mill Hill neighborhood of West Columbia.
On Tuesday, Aug. 1, the City of West Columbia took the initial steps toward creating a parking lot out of five homes in the centenarian community on the west bank of Congaree River. But before the backhoe could finish knocking down the first home, neighbors called the state Department of Environmental Control, concerned about asbestos dust. West Columbia voluntarily stopped the razing when DHEC engaged them in discussions about whether a permit was needed for the demolition and how to properly deal with the asbestos-containing material.
The halt only lasted a day. DHEC issued a permit Aug. 2 after the city of West Columbia contracted with Asbestos and Demolition, Inc. to complete the destruction of the house. The permit outlined the steps West Columbia would need to take to properly remove the hazardous material. A “Danger, Asbestos,” sign went up around the work site, the house already half-demolished, as crews hosed down debris to tamp down any dust.
“We are excited about what the future holds for this area, and this revitalization project will add a well-deserved amenity for all the citizens of West Columbia, providing easier and greater access to West Columbia’s most popular natural resource, the beautiful Congaree River and the Riverwalk,” the city said in a statement about the demolition.
The leveling of the house comes as a group of residents fight to save four more homes along Oliver and Hudson streets slated for demolition.
Samantha Hartwell owns her home in the Mill Hill and says the city took advantage of the fact that renters lived in the houses set for demolition.
“It’s a matter of time before the whole street is gone,” Hartwell says. “They gave the people who live here no say-so in any of this.”
West Columbia Councilman Tem Miles, who represents the area, says a public meeting to address traffic and parking issues in the area happened six months ago — a time when residents could have provided input.
“I’m not getting a lot of vocal opposition,” Miles says. “I have a lot of people in the Mill Hill saying they’re absolutely in favor of what we’re doing. … There’s a bunch of bad information out there and none of it’s true.”
Ali Moons is part of the Brookland Dwellers advocacy group for the Mill Hill.
“It comes down to lack of government transparency and lack of planning,” she says. “This has been done behind closed doors.”
At West Columbia’s Aug. 1 City Council session, members of the Brookland Dwellers presented their case for not destroying the homes that line Hudson and Oliver Streets in the former mill village. The homes provide a viable aesthetic for commercial space, they argued.
The remaining homes could be leveled within days.
Zoning Board Approves Downtown Liquor Store
By Chris Trainor
The City of Columbia’s Zoning Board has given approval for a liquor store at 1237 Washington St., in the heart of the revitalized Main Street District.
The board voted Aug. 8 after a long, lively public meeting. Sonny Narang and Low Spirit Solutions, LLC, which own other liquor stores in the Midlands, will be opening the shop on Washington. That storefront is where M Fresh restaurant used to be.
The zoning board put several conditions on its approval. First, the store cannot have any alcohol signage in the windows. Second, Narang is not allowed to sell any drinks below $5.25 in the shop. And third, Narang has agreed to a nuisance clause in his lease, meaning that the storefront’s owner can terminate the lease if the liquor store becomes a problem.
The zoning board victory rings out for Narang, as this is the third time he has tried to open a liquor store on Washington Street.
A number of people spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting with concerns about the proposed liquor store, including downtown property owner Martha Fowler and First Baptist Church Rev. Wes Church.
Also speaking against the idea, as expected, was City Center Partnership CEO Matt Kennell.
“We ask that this be denied,” Kennell said to the zoning board. “It is not a positive for the downtown area.”
Kennell specifically said that he is concerned that having a liquor store in the city center will be a problem as it relates to homeless people, who are frequently in the Main Street area. To drive home his point, Kennell waved a copy of The State newspaper at the board. Tuesday’s edition of the paper included a controversial story about homelessness downtown.
Kennell also told the zoning board he is afraid people will buy liquor on Washington Street and go consume it in nearby alleyways and nooks.
“This location is on an alley, which I have no doubt will be very convenient to buy alcohol and drink it immediately,” Kennell says.
City Center Partnership’s opposition didn’t sit well with citizen Peter Williams, who spoke at the hearing.
“[City Center Partnership] ought to get their nose butted out of this,” Williams says. He went on to say that CCP was “playing God” on the issue.