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Public safety: Four-year effort leads to cleanup at abandoned house

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The last four years have been filled with frustration for Larry Beasley, a part-time Pawleys Island area resident.

That’s how long he’s been trying to find a way to get the owner of the property next door to his home on Navigators Drive to clean up and make repairs to the house he said she abandoned four years ago. The property had become a refuge for rats, snakes, raccoons and other animals, and creates a dangerous situation for the entire neighborhood, according to Beasley.

“My grandchildren don’t even come and play here anymore because of the obvious potential for harm and a potential concern about rabies,” Beasley said this week. He recalled one day when the children came running in to tell him about large animal next door. He went to investigate and found it was a rat as big as a shoe box.

The house, at 43 Navigators Dr., owned by Melissa Marcus, was condemned by the county last year, in June. It was inspected under emergency conditions and Michael Young, senior inspector for Georgetown County, deemed it unfit for human occupancy.

But it’s only in the last few weeks that work began to improve the property. Now Beasley, who also owns the property on the other side of Marcus’ house, hopes it will continue.

Marcus was summoned to court over the issue on April 18, and Pawleys Island Magistrate Dan Furr ordered that she clean up the property, giving her seven days to get a trash bin hauled onto the site and instructing the county to monitor progress and report to him.

A Dumpster was moved on site two days ahead of the deadline, but it was about a week after that before anything was put into it.

“It started out kind of slow. We were worried there for a while, but last week she was making good progress,” said Boyd Johnson, the county director of Planning and Zoning. “A couple of rooms are just about completely clean now and I think she signed a contract with a roofer.”

A large hole in the roof and ceiling over the kitchen allowed water to get in, causing mold, and neighbors reported seeing wildlife coming in and out of the hole on a daily basis.

Marcus was at the house with laborers on Wednesday, and has been there just about every day overseeing work and inspecting items before they’re thrown out, according to Johnson.

Marcus said she didn’t want to comment on the work or the ruling. “I have to focus on what I have to do,” she said.

Beasley is relieved and he wants to be optimistic about the situation, but he isn’t convinced the problem is solved.

“They are making good progress, but I feel a little apprehensive about their connotation of progress.” He claims Marcus has a problem with hoarding and worries that even if she gets the property into shape, the cycle will repeat itself and he’ll find himself writing letter after letter and contacting county officials and legislators to force another cleanup.

“Ask any neighbor here and they’ll tell you the same thing,” Beasley said.

He also points out that Furr didn’t give Marcus a completion date.

Initially, Beasley got “virtually no response” to his requests for help. “People wouldn’t call me back and wouldn’t return e-mails,” he said. Early on, he couldn’t get in touch with county officials including County Administrator Sel Hemingway, Johnson or his County Council representative, Bob Anderson, he said.

State Rep. Carl Anderson still hasn’t gotten in touch with him.

County officials on the other hand have been much more responsive lately, but “this is something they should have been addressing four years ago,” Beasley said.

County officials did all they could to help him get the situation addressed and were very responsive to Beasley’s concerns, Johnson said.

“When he first started calling, we didn’t even have an ordinance in place that would allow us to do anything about that situation,” he said. “We pushed that ordinance through to be able to address his concerns and now we’re monitoring the property.”

It concerns Johnson that anyone thinks the county is unresponsive, he said, but the county was limited in how much it could do.

“If you start going inside somebody’s house, you get into trespassing issues and private property issues and all kinds of other legal issues,” he said.

What Beasley wanted was to have the house demolished, Johnson added. “But when we realized the bank had a lien on the house and the bank wouldn’t agree to that, we felt it would put us in a bad position legally, so it did take us a while” to make any significant progress on the matter, Johnson conceded. But it wasn’t for a lack of concern or desire to help.

There was also the problem of locating Marcus. She hasn’t lived at the property in years and letters were returned, marked undeliverable. Beasley hired a private investigator who tracked her down in Port Royal. That allowed a court summons to be delivered to Marcus.

In a letter notifying Marcus the property had been condemned, Young said he was asked to visit the property after the county received complaints from neighbors.

“After looking at the property I can see why they are complaining,” he wrote. “The shrubs and trees have taken over the yard and house, the house is covered with mildew, doors [are] standing wide open, hand rails are falling down. I was able to see inside the house because the back door is standing wide open. The house has garbage and trash stacked to the ceiling. The ceiling is falling down and the house is infested with mold.”

Beasley has pictures of mounds of items piled on the porch, which he could see from his yard, and of things stacked inside as viewed through the open door. He said there was food in the refrigerator that had been left for years and the smell emanating from the property was “horrid.” The refrigerator was removed a week ago, but the smell lingers.

“Nothing is being done to prevent it from happening again,” he said. That needs to be addressed, he added, and would save a lot of time, effort and money for everyone.

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