WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The City of West Columbia started tearing down five historic mill houses Tuesday to make room for more parking and a park.
At this point, one of the five homes has already been mostly taken down.
Last month, the City offered the unoccupied houses for free to anyone who could move them from their current sites in the old Brookland Mill Village near the Riverwalk Amphitheater.
"We found that the house removal process was not feasible for individuals wanting a free house due to obstacles including the high cost to move the structures and a lack of currently available sites on which to relocate the structures," said a statement from the City. "In addition to working with nineteen individuals interested in receiving a home, we received a professional opinion from two home moving companies about relocating the houses. Both companies said it would be a nearly impossible task to move any of the homes, even if an individual was able to pay the high cost to move the home and had an available site on which to locate a home."
However, residents in West Columbia are petitioning the city council at Monday night's meeting to save the homes.
"We have 300 signatures online and 200 written signatures," says Jennifer Boyd.
The City says none of the people interested in moving the homes were willing to pay the high cost of doing so, nor had they secured a property to which to move the structures.
With construction currently being done on the Brookland development on the corner of Meeting and State Streets, West Columbia lost an overflow parking lot that many people used when accessing the amphitheater and the Riverwalk.
"Due to parking limitations, the Riverwalk has not been conveniently accessible to all the citizens of West Columbia," the City's statement continued."Through this revitalization project, the City of West Columbia is opening a special asset to all the taxpayers in our region, not just the residents of the Mill Village and immediate surrounding neighborhoods. The City of West Columbia wants to provide excellent recreation and parking opportunities in the area, particularly for residents wishing to have feasible access to the Riverwalk, and for Mill Village residents frustrated by long-standing challenges with travel, traffic, and parking."
The long-term plan for the site of the demolished homes includes a park and playground for children with special needs at the corner of Norfolk and Hudson Streets. Still, residents would rather see the homes remain.
"They don't want to support the fact that these are historic districts," said Keith Adams. "They don't see the value in it like some of the other people do."
In fact, some believe the homes could have other uses in the community.
"Those houses should be used for coffeehouses, small commercial endeavors," says Cindy Moye.
In a statement Tuesday, a DHEC spokesperson says their department and the city are currently discussing whether a permit is needed to continue demolition.
"The City and contractor have chosen to voluntarily stop work while these discussions are ongoing. The City of West Columbia reported that an asbestos survey of these structures was performed and that no asbestos containing material was identified," the DHEC spokesperson said. "We have requested that the City provide a copy of the survey. Please note that at this time, no enforcement actions or fines have been levied against the City of West Columbia related to this demolition."