Deadline Looms for Mt. Zion

Developer May Come to the Rescue

Next week may be FOMZI's last stand.

Next week may be FOMZI’s last stand.

WINNSBORO (Feb. 12, 2016) – Next week could be the end of the line for a local citizen’s group battling to save the Mt. Zion Institute from the demolition man, unless Town Council is willing to wait a little longer for a proposed developer to get into the game.

The 18-month deadline for the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI) to stabilize the buildings elapsed last Sept. 4. While faux windows were installed on the front of the school building last summer, FOMZI learned from Council during their Jan. 5 meeting that the building had failed to pass a Town inspection.

Vickie Dodds, FOMZI Chairwoman, said the inspection was skewed to fit Council’s agenda to demolish the buildings.

“They have stretched the inspection report to suit their purposes,” Dodds said. “They have stretched the wording of the ordinance to suit their purposes. And when I say ‘They,’ I mean Roger (Gaddy, mayor).”

Gaddy said he disagreed with Dodd’s assessment of the inspection and said the Town hired an outside inspector to perform the work specifically to avoid any perception of bias. But the Mayor has never concealed his feelings toward the former school site.

“When I became mayor, I said Mt. Zion would be torn down in 90 days,” Gaddy told The Voice after a Sept. 1 Council meeting, adding that he had made that pledge 10 years ago.

Dodds said Gaddy has also expressed to FOMZI the Town’s concern for liability, should anyone be injured by loose bricks falling from the school building. However, she said, the Town has no such liability.

“We own the building,” she said. “We carry the insurance on it. They are disseminating erroneous information.”

And although the building failed its inspection, she said there were no bricks loose enough to fall.

But Gaddy said the Town had been advised by legal counsel that should someone be injured because of an unstable building, the Town could be on the hook.

“The Town’s liability is knowing it’s an unstable building and not doing anything about it,” Gaddy said, “not requiring the owners to do anything. Our legal advice was that we were vulnerable.”

Council officially approved the transfer of the property, located at 205 N. Walnut St., on March 4, 2014. FOMZI purchased the site and its four buildings (the Mt. Zion School, the auditorium and gymnasium, the cafeteria and the Teacherage) for $5, with the caveat that the buildings had to be stabilized within 18 months to meet Winnsboro’s Dangerous Building Code or be torn down. The contract also gave FOMZI 30 months in which to hire a contractor or developer for the historic rehabilitation of the buildings.

But, Dodds said, this Tuesday’s Council meeting might be the end of the road.

“Tuesday would be the deadline to do everything they think we should already have done,” Dodds said. “And that’s not going to happen. I’m not sure what we can do to please them.”

A developer willing to stabilize the building, Gaddy said, would go a long way toward pleasing them.

Dodds said after the Jan. 5 meeting that FOMZI had received significant interest from a developer, who had made two visits to the site. That developer, Rob Coats, was introduced to Mt. Zion by Boyd Brown.

“I was approached by a developer independently of FOMZI,” Brown said. “I’m not getting a fee for it. He has developed several old school buildings, and he was looking for one around here. He made two visits to Mt. Zion and said it was a better fit than any project he has yet done.”

Brown said Coats is interested in converting the school building into market-rate apartments for seniors.

“We’ve got an aging population here, and we have to cater to them at some point,” Brown said. “It would be a good deal. And this is someone who actually has some experience in restoring school buildings in rural areas.”

Brown said he plans to have a letter of intent from Coats delivered to the Town late this week. But even then, he said, the project would be 180 days out from launch while Coats performed his due diligence. Hopefully, he said, that would not be a deal killer.

“Those buildings have sat there empty for 25 years,” Brown said. “It can wait another 180 days.”

While Gaddy said the Town would not be willing to wait another eight or nine months, whether or not they will sit tight for six months remains to be seen.

“That would be a Council decision,” Gaddy said.

 

Comments

  1. sallyfm says

    When a certain prominent 180 year old property in downtown Winnsboro has been blatantly ignored for citation by the town, even though the temporary roof cover is flying around in the wind and the chimney recently took a big tumble, just barely missing splattering out onto the sidewalk and perhaps injuring passersby and streetside vehicles, inquirers have been told by the Town that the property is protected as a private concern since the owner has an old tattered building permit tacked onto the front porch. I don’t understand the difference here, nor that of several other downtown properties that are eyesores or dangerous. Perhaps the town lawyer needs to look into these discrepancies as there are codes that are not being addressed elsewhere.

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