Richland purchases flood-prone property on Decker Boulevard

dhinshaw@thestate.comDecember 14, 2013 

— A flood-threatened restaurant that has been vacant for two years will be demolished by Richland County under a federal program to remove structures built precariously close to waterways.

In the first project of its kind in Richland County, officials applied for and received federal money to cover 75 percent of the cost of returning the property “to what God made,” as Councilman Jim Manning put it.

According to plans, the county will spend $633,447.50 to buy and demolish the now vacant Zorba’s restaurant building, $422,298 of it from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county is covering the rest of the cost.

FEMA has an interest in removing buildings from floodways because the nation’s flood-insurance program is subsidized by taxpayers and “it’s cheaper for the government to go in and get rid of the property” than to continue paying claims, said Buddy Atkins, director of the county’s conservation department.

The project is part of the county’s focus on the declining suburban corridor under a push by Manning. It would reduce flooding and could fit into a long-range proposal to develop pedestrian and bicycle paths for nearby residents.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Manning, who represents the area on Richland County Council.

While it’s not clear exactly how the county will use the three-acre tract at 2628 Decker Boulevard, near its intersection with O’Neil Court, there’s been talk of creating a trail along Little Jackson Creek between Cary Lake on the south to Windsor Lake to the north.

The lack of a specific intent for the property didn’t take the shine off for Manning.

He said the site has the potential to create a partnership with Richland 2, which plans to build an elementary school nearby, if not as part of a trail, then for some type of environmental study.

Quinton Epps, the county’s stormwater division manager, said the property should change hands later this month. The building should be demolished by summer, Epps said.

The county figured the commercial tract would only decline with time since it was at risk for flooding. Aerial photos from 1939 and 1959 appear to show the creek flowed through the property where the building now is, Epps said.

Property owner Robert Chen said hard rains routinely forced water up into his parking lot.

Chen said he bought the site in 1992 for $850,000 and that it was just appraised for $550,000. If he had decided to hang on to it, he said, he would only have lost more money.

“They’re trying to beautify the area, and I agree with it,” said Chen, who lives in Sumter. “It’s a good idea.”

Atkins, head of county conservation, said a 2007 neighborhood study of Decker Boulevard and nearby Woodfield Park included pedestrian paths that could be funded with the penny sales tax for transportation.

“It’s coming together,” he said.

And planning director Tracy Hegler noted the citizen-driven study called for improving the water quality of Little Jackson Creek by taking it back to its natural state.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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