Left Hanging: City Board Denies Permit to Rebuild Flooded Devine Street Building

A photo from the City of Columbia shows the rear of the Auto Money Title Loans building on Devine Street hanging over Gills Creek. The creek bank eroded during the historic October 2015 flood. 

First I read this:

“The bright yellow and green building that served as an eyesore and painful reminder of Columbia’s deadly 2015 flood is no more. City crews on Monday demolished the Title Loans building that sat at the intersection of Devine Street and Crowson Road.” — The State, March 18

Then I read this:

“The dilapidated blue TitleMax building on Devine Street, a lingering symbol of the havoc wreaked by the historic flooding of October 2015, will soon be demolished. The building has stood as little more than a rubble heap and eyesore near the banks of Gills Creek since the flood.” – The State, March 19

Then I fell to my knees and thanked the gods of common sense for finally overcoming the gods of uncommon stupidity.

I first wrote about this subject on Oct. 5, 2016. With the one-year anniversary of the flood at hand, absolutely nothing had been done about the ruins of those buildings.

I felt a year was more than enough time to have determined the structures were beyond repair (which was obvious to anyone who rode by), and therefore to be removed in the interest of both public safety and eliminating visual blight on one of the city’s major multi-lane corridors (35,000 cars per day, per SCDOT).

But 12 months turned to 24, then 24 to 36, and finally 36 to 42 before the walls of the Title Loans ruins (which were all that was left, and those just barely) came tumbling down, with those of the TitleMax ruins (for which “just barely” overstates it) set to come down in a matter of days, according to property owner/developer Jim Pagett in The State.

That’s right, it took three and half years to remove the grotesque mess, which must be some sort of record of inaction even for Columbia and Richland County. Your government at work.

And please don’t tell me bureaucratic red tape justifies the delay. It doesn’t.

Good lord, the ruins of the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings after 9/11 in New York were removed faster than the Devine Street ruins of the Columbia flood.

In fact, that job was done in nine months. And it involved thousands of human remains and millions of times as much debris as our little title loans complex of two, one-story buildings on Devine Street.

But here was the attitude of local government, as reported by Free Times way back in June 2016: “No pressure is coming to tear down the TitleMax building from Richland County, which has jurisdiction over the site.” A county spokesperson offered this rationale: “The building poses no hazard to passersby.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Similarly, you can’t make up the Alice-in-Wonderland scenario that the TitleMax site is indeed in Richland County, while the Title Loans site — directly across the street — is in the city of Columbia. And no, Devine Street is not the city-county border.

Instead, the TitleMax ruins sit in what is called a “doughnut hole,” which, believe it or not, is a small plot of land that is completely surrounded by the city limits but is not in the city limits. This kind of hopscotch nonsense on city-county borders creates problems with police jurisdiction, code enforcement, property tax equity and so on.

It also robs the city of revenue it should be getting, and makes Columbia look weak in terms of establishing its boundaries, managing its operations and controlling its destiny.

Yet it is allowed to continue. Nor does Columbia City Council do anything about it.

But that is just one part of the larger issue, which is how and why it took Columbia and Richland County three-and-a-half years to do what obviously needed to be done on Devine Street.

The bottom line is the ruins of those buildings should long ago have been removed, as they served no purpose other to make citizens wonder what is wrong with their government.

But at least it’s over. 

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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