The Town of Kingstree has been addressing the issue of derelict properties since initiating its 2010 Demolition Project as part of its 2009 Downtown Master Plan to revitalize the downtown district. Working with owners through a stringent legal process, several properties have been brought back to life and are functioning as private homes or businesses. However, other properties continue to deteriorate as the legal process is challenged.
Charles Barr, who owns a property located at 106 S. Academy Street, was found guilty of unsafe structure after a June 24, jury trial. Barr was charged with a town ordinance citation with violation to the law relating to unfit buildings. In a telephone interview, Barr said he was never notified of the trial date, which proceeded in his absence. According to the South Carolina Judicial Department Summary Court Judges Bench Book, although it is to be avoided if feasible, an accused may be tried in absentia as long as the proper course of action is taken by the judge.
An unfit building is defined as one that is unfit for human habitation and includes findings such as dilapidation, has defects increasing the hazards of fire and accidents, and endangers pedestrians and other citizens. Such properties also diminish surrounding property values and can even impede economic development. In a September 16, telephone interview, Barr said the issue was not initiated by him. He also said the building is vacant thereby "is not in violation of anything."
According to Alvin Chambers, Kingstree Community Planning and Development Director, 16 properties in the city are currently unfit for habitation.
The former Belk Bargain building located on Hampton Street is one that nearly fell to the wreaking ball. The building sat abandoned for years while the owners were granted appeals by Kingstree Town Council who were in hopes the owners would renovate it. However, council's good intentions only augmented the building's decline until 2011 when Williamsburg County purchased it through a lease agreement with the Williamsburg County Developement Board for governement related office space. However, a total rescue of the structure was too late as a storm compromised the weakend structure causing portions of its walls to collapse. Engineers managed to save the front wall.
As for Barr's building, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The News to the Town of Kingstree provided documents that record a timeline beginning in 2010 with an initial hearing to determine the structure. On September 1, 2010, an inspection found the integrity of the roof and the floor had been comprimised due to holes in the roof and the electrical and the plumbing systems were non-operational, among other issues. A Work Write-up performed by the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governements determined that repairs would exceed the value of the building based on a 2010 tax asessment of the building and land estimated by fair market value. In the same month a Notice of Intent to Demolish was mailed to property owner. The issue would continue until the June 24, trial. He declined The News' request to discuss the documents provided by the Town of Kingstree. Barr said he filed a motion for a new trial and is waiting for a response from the court.