City buys drug-ridden lots

Council votes on thousands to demolish properties

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Greenville is buying property at the intersection of Nichol and Rebecca streets in Nicholtown. (Charles Sowell/Staff)

Greenville City Council sided with advocates from Nicholtown and voted 4-2 to spend about $180,000 to buy and demolish two properties located on four lots at the intersection of Rebecca and Nichol streets that have been called a hotbed of drug and gang activity.

Councilman David Suddeth led the opposition in a spirited hour-long debate on the purchase.

“Unbelievable,” he said when only Councilwoman Susan Reynolds joined him in voting against the measure.

“People are going to be lining up for us to buy problem properties in their neighborhoods,” he warned fellow council members.

Crime around the intersection isn’t the worst in the city, said Police Chief Terri Wilfong. The situation there is “better than it was, but it isn’t perfect. We have to stay on top of things there or it will likely slide back.”

The chief said the department has gone as far as to station a police car there during the hours school buses pick up and let students out.

Mayor Knox White said, “My concern is this problem is right at the (Nicholtown) community center. We’ve got these young kids shooting hoops who are literally surrounded by grown men doing things we don’t want to see.”

Nicholtown advocate Margaret McJunkin said after the meeting she and others in the community had approached the owner of one of the properties and offered to buy it.

“They weren’t interested in selling to us,” she said.

There is a great deal of intimidation involved around the drug transactions and residents have reported having to blow their automobile’s horn to get drug dealers to move out of the street.

Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said she’d seen drive-by drug deals and as many as 25 people hiding from police in a nearby alley.

Sudduth said reports about the crime problem are either overblown or not a major priority for the city since the people committing any crime in the area have not been arrested yet.

He also noted another situation where the city was unwilling to spend as little as $4,000 to demolish a vacant home generating a similar number of police calls.

Former councilwoman and now State Rep. Chandra Dillard, speaking as a neighborhood advocate, said the city doesn’t have the manpower to keep an officer on the corner.

She said a compelling reason for the purchase is the city’s revitalization master plan and investment in the nearby Evergreen Place and the Jesse Jackson Townhome projects, which run into millions of dollars.

Councilwoman Diane Smock said the community center that adjoins the intersection compels the city an “extra measure of care in protecting the area.”

“I’m as conservative as anyone about money in times like these,” she said.

Amy Ryberg Doyle also voted for the purchase.

Flemming and White said the city has eliminated crime and redeveloped neighborhoods by buying up property in the past and that there’s nothing to indicate this purchase won’t work, too.

Suddeth said the city was just foisting off any drug problem on other areas since drug dealers would just move.

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