Council OK’s Blair Park

WINNSBORO – Ten months after County administrators removed the final pieces of playground equipment from the Blair Community Park at 544 99 Road, Council voted 4-3 Monday night to shell out $15,000 for an alternative site, also on 99 Road, within a half mile of the former park.

Yet the decision to replace the park was nearly as unpopular as Council’s decision to close the park, and prior to the vote, during the public comments portion of the meeting, some criticized the purchase.

Beth Jenkins called the $15,000 price tag “exorbitant,” while Carol Turner said that the purchase of the new park property should, perhaps, fall under the County’s comprehensive recreational plan. Council put off final reading of the ordinance authorizing the purchase of the property last summer following similar public outcry. During the public hearing on the purchase on Aug. 26, Jenkins and Wanda Carnes questioned the purchase, with Carnes wanting to know where, in Blair, was property worth $15,000 an acre.

Following the Aug. 26 public hearing, interim County Administrator Milton Pope asked that if the public had any information on alternative property in that area to please bring that information to his office. Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) reiterated that request at the close of the Aug. 26 meeting.

During Council’s Sept. 9 meeting, Pope updated Council on the status of the new park property and said that, at that time, no one had brought forward any alternatives.

“There was information provided at the last citizens input session (Aug. 26) that there could be the possibility of land that could be donated or provided to the County,” Pope said on Sept. 9. “I am waiting on that information. I have not received any information to date.”

Pope added that Council member Mikel Trapp (District 3), in whose district the former park had stood since 1985, had expressed his desire to have the purchase move forward.

The new park property is located at 118 99 Road in Blair and is being purchased by the County from Bonnie E. Goree, Dianne Eigner, Alice G. Reeder, Susan Mattison, Mary Ann Nelson and Betty Lewis. The property has a total assessed value on the County’s tax records of $15,000 — $7,500 for the property and $7,500 for a building on the property. The County said it will cost an estimated $72,000 to build out the park to completion.

While Trapp, Ferguson, Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) and Kamau Marcharia (District 4) voted to approve the purchase, Council members David Brown (District 7), Carolyn Robinson (District 2) and Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1) voted against. After the meeting, Perry said he was not necessarily against opening a new mini park in Blair, but wanted to see Council do more to search out less costly, perhaps even free, parcels of land. While Perry confirmed that no one in the community had come forward with land to be donated or sold at a lower price, he said Council had also not done any legwork to find alternate property.

The County began moving off the original property at 544 99 Road last September after negotiations to purchase the less than 3-acre lot broke down. The County had been paying $1,200 a year to lease the property from Felicia Trower, personal representative with power of attorney for her mother and property owner, Nancy T. Young. When the lease expired in August of 2012, Trower upped the ante to $6,000 a year, according to County documents. When the County suggested purchasing the land, Trower told the County she wanted as much as $300,000 for the plot.

“We couldn’t come to an amenable agreement with the landowner on a purchase price,” Davis Anderson, Deputy County Administrator, said last year. “What the landowner wanted was not anywhere near the fair market value, so it was shut down.”

Closure of the original park, which had served the community since 1985, sparked some controversy in the county. Trower claimed the County, specifically Sheila Pickett, Director of Procurement, never negotiated with her at all for the purchase of the land, and also said that the $6,000 figure for a new lease was only a starting point.

“She (Pickett) asked me what I wanted for it,” Trower said last November. “I said $6,000. In the past, we had always negotiated it. When I told her (Pickett) $6,000, she never got back to me. I called her back again, and she told me the County was not going to renew the lease. I threw the figure out there thinking they would negotiate. But they didn’t. No one ever got back to me.”

Members of the Blair community turned out at Council’s Dec. 10, 2012 meeting to voice their disappointment that the park was no more. Ernest Yarborough, speaking on behalf of the Shelton Templeton Foundation, a community group organized to bring the park back to life, asked Council to delay any decision to lease new land for a replacement park until the Foundation could come back to Council with an alternative. Yarborough said then that the Foundation would attempt to raise private money, then request matching funds from Council.

“The people here tonight have a right to be disappointed,” Yarborough said during the Dec. 10 meeting, “but instead of coming here to fuss, these people appear tonight to ask you to give them a chance to help themselves.”

The Foundation has not, to date, made another appearance before Council.

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