Town of South Congaree struggling with the details of enforcing town ordinances on appearance
South Congaree, SC (Paul Kirby) – The Town of South Congaree’s council held their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night with a large crowd in attendance. In the past months, the town started committees and commissions with volunteers donating their time to those. Early into the meeting, the council heard from the heads of the Planning Commission, a volunteer working to establish an Architectural Review Board, the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Finance Committee, and Sylvia Drennan and her “A” team who are busy with the Events Committee. It was impressive to see so many new residents willing to help with these important tasks that bring no financial compensation for them at all. These committees and commissions seem to be working well and the council was pleased that they were in place and busy.
One point that was on the council’s agenda was how to go about cleaning up the town by enforcing ordinances that are already on the books. Much like the problem of illegal immigration nationally, laws are in place but simply aren’t being enforced. Specifically, council’s discussion surrounded the look of the mobile home parks in town. Many parks have been in direct violation of town ordinances for years. This is because no one was tasked with identifying violations. Now, the council is struggling to figure out a mechanism so that these ordinances are enforced, but fairly in such a fashion that allows business and property owners time to make improvements when required. It seemed as if the entire council understood that the code violations didn’t occur overnight, and property owners wouldn’t be able to make all improvements overnight. Council also seemed to agree that the slow and easy approach was best, but that it was time to start taking baby steps toward getting things done.
Ultimately, the Police Department has the responsibility of enforcing the town’s laws. The problem is, most violations the police found last month were drug related and they stayed busy with those. Only a tiny fraction of summons issued were for traffic violations like speeding. The Police Department not only lacks the time to check properties for code violations when dealing with the epidemic of drugs, they also don’t have the expertise necessary. Chief Josh Shumpert acknowledged that his department may have to get involved at some point in enforcement of code violations; however he simply doesn’t have the resources to go from property to property to check for violations regarding codes regularly.
One concrete solution was introduced Tuesday and another that was vaguer because of its cost, where funding would come from to support it, and a lack of details. The committee in charge of property conditions developed a checklist they say is from the town’s existing codes to use when doing compliance inspections. The items on the list are said to already be the law in South Congaree so that wasn’t a point of contention during the meeting. The sticking point between council members was who would complete the checklist before handing major violators off to the police if a property was out of compliance. The checklist included things like:
• Greenery or decorative walls that would screen mobile home parks in the town.
• The signage for the park, sign locations, and sign appearance.
• The number of parking places a park provides for park renters.
• The way in which mobile homes are skirted.
• The distance each of the homes are from each other.
• Providing clear addresses markers so that emergency responders can find a home quickly.
• The provision of garbage service to the residents.
There are many more. You can see the entire inspection list by clicking this LINK.
While the Zoning Board has found a volunteer to do these inspections, that person is also the chair of the Planning Commission. Council members Prosser, Jackson, and Mabry thought that this might be a conflict of interest. Jackson also felt like issues of pre-existing conditions might not have been considered when the list was made. "Some properties might be under a "Grandfather Clause", Jackson said during a Wednesday interview. "It just might be called by another name."
Mayor Jones and Councilman Porter explained several times that the volunteer would not be involved in enforcement, he’d simply inspect properties and work through the checklist. If violations were found, those would be handed off to the police for further action and enforcement if appropriate.
Councilman Brian Jackson, whose family owns several mobile home parks in the town, suggested that Rick Lattimore, the town’s current building inspector, might do these inspections. Lattimore is an employee of the town on a part-time basis. He charges by the occurrence for inspections and has made about what a young police officer would make a year in the past based on that billing model. After Jones made an issue of the cost of having Lattimore do these inspections, Jackson never suggested what account his increased pay would be taken from Tuesday night. Mabry and Prosser seemed to agree although they never fully detailed what their plan for code enforcement during that meeting.
Jones and Porter were adamant that the town simply get started doing something. They both said they had been discussing this for months and it was time to move ahead. Jones believes South Congaree can’t afford to pay Lattimore to inspect all the mobile homes in every park, effectively stopping the cleanup efforts cold. Porter said that the council has been, “Kicking the can further down the road,” for a long time and it was time to do something.
Eventually, the issue of using the volunteer to perform the free inspections and fill out the checklist was voted down by a margin of 3 to 2. Jackson, Prosser, and Mabry voted against the proposal while Jones and Porter voted to accept the free help to begin using the list, the first step in enforcing the laws. The three who voted no said they were committed to coming up with a workable plan to begin enforcement and would discuss details at a meeting of business owners scheduled for Thursday, May 30th. That meeting will be held in the council chambers at 6:30 p.m.
Jackson said late Wednesday that he advocates waiting longer until the council can hold a workshop and review the list provided by the Planning Commission. “I’m not sure all these items on this list apply to parks that have been in business for years,” Jackson said. “Even though the town has ignored these ordinances for decades, we need to slow down and make sure we aren’t unfairly regulating someone’s livelihood.” Jackson said after meeting with business owners next Thursday, he felt the council would have the necessary information needed for the town to begin formulating a plan for the fair enforcement of its ordinances. Prosser, who campaigned on cleaning up the town and enforcing ordinances when recently elected, was unavailable for comment.