County applies for Midway revamp grant

As Lancaster County Councilwoman Charlene McGriff walked through Lancaster’s Midway community earlier this year, she was shocked to see its condition.

Gone was the once thriving mill community and in its place were row after row of weed-covered abandoned homes and streams of broken sidewalks.

Determined to turn the area around, McGriff spent months walking from home to home, knocking on doors to get residents to fill out income eligibility forms. The forms are a necessary step to qualify the area for a Community Development Block Grant from the S.C. Department of Commerce.

McGriff discussed the grant program during Lancaster County Council’s Aug. 25 meeting.

The CDBG program, run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides annual grants to areas with people who have low-to-moderate income. Grants are offered in several categories, including community infrastructure projects.

If awarded the funding, the ultimate goal, McGriff said, is to clean up the neighborhood by demolishing at least three abandoned homes and conducting sewer line rehabilitation.

Also on the list of proposed projects are sidewalk improvements along Hunter Street and Barron Boulevard, as well as lot clearances along Cross Street and 5th Street.

“This is an area in our city that really, really needs some revitalization. It was a very, very strong community years back, but to visit that community now, it has dilapidated houses, lots of problems and crime,” McGriff said. “We found while we were going house to house that there are some real good folks there who can’t move out. Hopefully, if we get this grant, it will really help this community rebuild and get rid of some of those bad houses.”

County Administrator Steve Willis told council during the meeting that the process would be similar to a previous CDBG project conducted in the city’s Brooklyn community.

“We’re working with the city of Lancaster to upgrade water and sewer lines and sidewalk improvements and work with the CTC (county transportation committee) on road improvements,” Willis said.

In a memo to council, Willis said the grant funding is much needed to eliminate leaking and overflowing sewer lines, and to eliminate trash and vermin from the abandoned homes and dilapidated lots.

The $500,000 grant, funded through the CDBG program, would require two local matches, one from the city and the other from the county. The city’s match would be $101,525, while the county’s match would be $28,250. The total Midway neighborhood project would cost $629,775.

“I am very confident this application has a chance of being approved,” Willis said. “And Councilwoman McGriff was instrumental in getting the surveys done to move forward.”

The deadline to apply for the grant is Sept. 15 and Willis said project awards are generally announced in late November.

Vacant homes

Robby Moody with the Catawba Regional Council of Governments was at the meeting to answer questions about the application process.

He said the Midway area is considered a neighborhood in distress, though he acknowledged how difficult it was to get CDBG funding for the neighborhood last year.

“It’s a statewide contest to get these funds and we did work hard last year, but there were so many houses vacant and according to the CDBG rules you can’t count those,” he said. “So, we expanded our focus this year.”

Quickly reading the proposed budget for the project, Councilman Jack Estridge questioned why it’s estimated to cost $29,000 to demolish only three homes.

“It’s very high. Welcome to the world of government projects,” Moody said. “It costs that much because of asbestos cleanup, if people had lead-based paint, those things.”

Willis said the price of demolitions has increased significantly during the past few years.

“What it used to be was $3,000 (per demolition), but now it’s $8,000 to $9,000 because we have to meet DHEC (S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) requirements,” Willis said.

Listening to the proposed improvements, Councilman Larry Honeycutt also remembered the Midway community during its glory days.

“It had theaters, had stores, had it all there, but now it’s a mess,” Honeycutt said.

Though he agreed with the revitalization plan, he worried about plans to demolish homes.

“I have a problem with us tearing people’s houses down. There must be a way to recoup these costs. I think we should bring property owners into planning and make the homeowners pay,” he said. “It’s wrong that we’re doing that (paying for demolitions). He’s (property owner) got rent off those buildings year after year and now he doesn’t pay. It’s wrong.”

Before approving the grant match, Councilman Bob Bundy asked where the county’s $28,250 grant match would be funded from.

“It would mostly be ‘in kind.’ It would simply be Public Works providing that service,” Willis said.

Bundy worried that if Public Works was asked to do the cleanup work, it would require the county to find someone else to do the department’s regular activities, though Willis said that was not the case.

“Public Works would just do that versus doing something else,” Willis said.

Council then unanimously approved the application and grant match.

By Christopher Sardelli, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News