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St. Christophers Estates: Neighbors want county to crack down on overgrown lots

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The drug problem residents of St. Christopher Estates complained about last fall has abated, but another issue they’ve been battling has proven more persistent.

And it could lead the drug problem to return, said Betsy Powers and Becky Weaver, who live in the neighborhood, located off Waverly Road.

The people who were selling the drugs moved away, Powers said, but if some action isn’t taken to clean up overgrown lots there, she fears others will move in.

“The way it looks now, those properties are going to attract that exact kind of element we just got rid of, and we don’t want them back in there,” she said.

The property owner, Fred Majors, has not been responsive to requests to clean up the lots, so Powers and Weaver went to Georgetown County Council earlier this month to present the problem and look for a solution.

“We’ve tried placing calls to different agencies,” Weaver said.

But they haven’t made much headway.

“We’d really like to see this addressed, especially with the rollout of the new Hammock Coast tourism ads,” she said.

The sight the lots present are not in keeping with the image the county wants to present to visitors, and with grass several feet high and trash piling up, the lots pose a danger for everyone in the neighborhood.

“We’ve got varmints and more trash being added upon more trash,” Weaver said. “It’s very unsightly and it’s a menace.”

Snakes attracted by the overgrowth are a particular problem.

“We’ve seen a rattler under a bush next to somebody’s driveway,” she said. “The water and sewer meter reader, he was cutting down bushes next to a driveway so he could get to the meter, and a pygmy rattler just about bit him.”

Powers worries about special needs residents who live next door to the lots and routinely have to walk by the property.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway was sympathetic, but said the county doesn’t have the power to force owners to maintain their properties, or to have the properties cleaned up and the owners billed for the work.

“In essence, state law allows municipalities to cite residents and property owners for overgrown lots, but it hasn’t granted that right to county government, so we don’t have the same mechanism at our disposal,” Hemingway said.

However, the county, aided by the S.C. Association of Counties, has lobbied to have the law changed. Hemingway asked Powers and Weaver to assist their efforts by talking with state lawmakers and urging them to support legislation that would grant counties the same abilities as cities and towns in such matters.

The battle against overgrown lots is one County Council Member Jerry Oakley said council has been fighting for years.

“There are some situations in Murrells Inlet you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “But we’re powerless to do anything about it.”

A victory, he said, would only take a one-line change to the law. The county has already had its attorney draft the sentence it wants added and state Sen. Ray Cleary introduced it during the most recent legislative session, but it ran aground under committee review.

County Council Chairman Johnny Morant said it may be time for the county to renew its efforts for legislative change.

Under the current law the only action the county can take against owners of overgrown lots is to issue a citation for junk, debris and common nuisances. To issue a citation, the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office first has to send the property owner a 30-day notice.

If the property hasn’t been cleaned up by the time the 30 days is up, the penalty is up to $200 and/or 30 days in jail.

Powers and Weaver contacted the sheriff’s deputy who handles litter control last month. Majors was sent notice on May 27 that he needs to clean up properties at St. Christopher and St. George in Georgetown, according to Russell Goodale, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.

Cleanup has started at St. George, but Powers and Weaver said there has been no improvement to the lots at St. Christopher.

Phone calls to Majors on Wednesday were not returned.

“We went through the same thing last year,” Weaver said.

According to Powers, it took four months then for Majors to send someone out to mow the grass and clean up trash and building materials left on the site. She said they’d been sitting there for three years at that point.

“It took from July last year to Oct. 9,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. There are kids in this neighborhood who play over there. And nobody wants to look outside and see that. People with rentals are breaking their leases to leave, because they’re tired of living next to this.”

Powers and Weaver said they went to council hoping something could be done to force Majors to mow the lots at least once a month.

“All we want is for absentee landlords to take care of their properties, and if their tenants don’t, they need to come in and do it,” Weaver said.

She and Powers plan to keep working toward that goal. As Hemingway advised, they’ve already contacted Cleary and S.C. Rep. Vida Miller, and are hoping for some advice on what they can do to help get the law changed.

It could be their efforts that make the difference, Oakley said.

“You get two dedicated women involved and you start to see things happen,” he said.

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