By Al Dozier
Irmo Town Council came under attack Sunday in an emotional meeting with local residents on plans for a new “Downtown Project” that will require the purchase and development of local properties.
The meeting at Macedonia Baptist Church was held to invite input from the community on a plan to bring to Irmo a “Main Street” the town has never had. The development would feature retail, office and hotel space in 12 parcels of land along the backside of Irmo Community Park.
But the input at a meeting attended by about 100 people was very negative.
“Citizens are upset,” said Irmo resident William Bowman. “We are not happy about this. It’s a poor plan.”
Bowman describes the properties Irmo wants to acquire as an “African American safe place.”
Most of the residents attending the meeting were African American, many of whom have lived in the Irmo area for generations.
“I am shocked,” said Marion Boyd Jr. “All of a sudden you come in and said this is what you are going to do to our property.”
Another resident said his grandfather built the residence he now owns in the area.
“You can’t come and take people’s land,” he said. “It’s part of our history.”
Irmo resident Brent Chitwood said: “We should be there to preserve open land, not develop it.”
Another resident said the town, “is trying to steal our land.”
Irmo resident Patricia Bell said the current property owners are made up of families “that built the town.”
“You just want to do something for yourselves,” she said.
The town is considering the acquisition of several properties close to the Community Park of Irmo along Moseley Avenue, a dirt road. But council members say most of the properties being considered are not owner-occupied.
There has been some speculation that the town could use eminent domain as a legal method to force acquisition of properties, but council members are saying that currently is not planned.
At the beginning of the meeting Councilman Bill Danielson acknowledged the town moved too quickly on the plan.
“I apologize for not getting input earlier,” he said.
The meeting had an immediate impact on council.
At a workshop council meeting two days later, the council agreed to meet with community representatives for a round table discussion of the plan that could bring about major changes.
Danielson said the town is not out to displace residents from their homes.
During Sunday’s meeting a local attorney advised the residents they have legal recourse if the town attempts to force them to sell their property.
“If you don’t want to sell, they can’t make you,” he said.
Some residents pointed out the town could look at other areas of the town for future development, such as the area near the current town hall.
Mayor Barry Walker Sr. said the next step for the council is to make a decision to go forward with the plan or simply ask the residents and stakeholders if they want to sell it and if not leave it alone.