The future is undecided for a trio of 80-year-old duplexes near Five Points whose new owner, the city of Columbia, is looking for neighbors’ input on their fate.
It’s unusual for the city to purchase and help redevelop residential property, assistant city manager Missy Gentry said. The city bought the properties because one of the three Saluda Avenue duplexes sits atop a huge, compromised drainage pipe that empties into Rocky Branch, which runs behind the buildings.
The ground surrounding the 72-inch pipe is eroding, and the city needs to tear down the house to make repairs, said city engineer Dana Higgins. The pipe is a critical fix: The drainage tunnels from the neighborhoods uphill as well as Five Points all converge in that area, Higgins said.
That duplex at 601-603 Saluda Ave. most likely will be demolished within the next few months, Higgins said.
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The future of that lot and the two beside it is to be decided by the city with input from the surrounding neighborhoods. Neighbors say they are grateful for the chance to discuss how the properties will be redeveloped.
Four of the six apartments in the duplexes at 543-545, 547-549 and 601-603 Saluda Ave. are occupied, with the city as their landlord. The house at 601-603, which will be demolished, has a cracked foundation, but that likely is not related to the erosion around the pipe, Higgins said.
The city purchased the three buildings and land as one property for about $457,000 in February, according to Richland County property tax records. Edens Properties sold the duplexes, which sit on a single land parcel, to the city.
Surrounding the duplexes are mainly other rental properties, neighbors say, which are largely occupied by college students. Just south and up the hill along Saluda is the well-to-do Wales Garden neighborhood flanked by the Wheeler Hill and Hollywood-Rose Hill neighborhoods, where some homes approach the $1 million range.
Just north of the duplexes is the bustling Five Points shopping and entertainment district, and behind them is the city-owned Maxcy-Gregg Park. Rocky Branch flows behind the houses and beside the park.
Once the drainage issue is repaired, the city’s next step is to decide the fate of the two remaining duplexes and the lot left vacant by the demolished house. The city does not intend to be a long-term property owner there, Gentry said.
“We would love, and I think the community as well would like, to see that turn back into home ownership,” Gentry said.
Owner-occupied housing – converting the remaining duplexes to either single-family houses or condominiums – and a “pocket park” are among the ideas that have been bandied among city officials and residents in the neighborhoods.
“What we would like to see right now would be more housing,” said Robert Wilson, the newly elected president of the Wales Garden neighborhood association. “Higher-end housing for maybe young professionals or professors at the university ... has a lot of support.”
Wilson added that the neighborhoods have been pleased with the city’s efforts to include them in planning.
Andy Marion, a Wales Garden resident and former neighborhood president, echoed the desire for owner-occupied housing in the space.
A “pocket park,” Marion said, “probably would not be a park that anybody would use.”
But, he suggested, the space could offer an opportunity to create an alternate entrance to Maxcy-Gregg park. That idea, said city engineer Higgins, is “definitely a possibility.”
Whatever becomes of the property, there are a few things the city says almost certainly will not happen there: It will not be turned into public housing, it will not remain in the city’s ownership, and it will not become anything that the surrounding neighborhoods do not approve of, Gentry said.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.