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Downtown landmark lost in Chase City

South Boston News
Police tape lined the condemned building at Second Street. / August 14, 2013
The Town of Chase City is facing a new problem with its downtown: what to do with the old Leggett Department store building, which suffered a roof collapse this week.

Situated on the corner of East Second and Main, the brick structure is a cornerstone — albeit a partly vacant cornerstone — of Chase City’s downtown. The portion of the building facing Second Street, which houses Gino’s Pizza and Spaghetti restaurant, was unscathed. But the rest of the building at the southwest corner of Main and Second has been condemned by Mecklenburg County Building Inspector Eddie Harris, Town Mayor Eddie Bratton confirmed at Monday night’s meeting of Chase City Town Council.

The building is owned by Mohammed and Sahar Ghanem, proprietor’s of Gino’s. Ghanem said this week that right now, he has two options: “either knock the building down or fix the roof.” He has not yet decided which option to pursue, since he does not know what it will cost to replace the roof.

If he razes the building, Ghanem said he may use the space for parking for his customers.

Lamenting the passing of a piece of Chase City history — the two-story edifice was once home of Leggett’s Department store, which long reigned over the town’s retail scene —

Bratton offered his thoughts on the future of the property during Monday’s Council meeting. Bratton said it was too soon to know what the owners may have in mind for the site, but personally, he said he is not opposed to seeing a nice park on the corner, if the structure is removed.

Bratton was quick to acknowledge that future plans for either the building or the site will rest with the owners.

In other business, Town Council agreed to help fund workers’ compensation coverage for all firefighters with the Chase City Volunteer Fire Department (CCVFD). Bratton explained that “at the present time, the CCVFD has only an accident and health policy for its members,” and most surrounding area fire departments also carry a workers’ compensation policy on their firefighters.

The CCVFD could obtain workers’ compensation coverage for all 40 members for an annual premium of $10,412. Bratton asked Council to agree to the town paying one-half of the premium, $5,206.

Council agreed to appropriate the money from the general fund contingency. Both Fire Chief Winthy Hatcher, and CCVFD member Marshall Whitaker abstained from voting on the request.

Council finally approved an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance, section 6-3-202, B-2 Business General of the Zoning Ordinances.

Terry Eggleston Jr., the owner of a shopping center property located at 633 North Main Street, was approached by a school that wants to open at the site. However, schools were not a permissible use of property zoned B-2. Therefore, Eggleston asked the town to consider amending its zoning ordinance.

After a public hearing, at which no one spoke, the Chase City Planning Commission recommended that Council approve the change. Council agreed unanimously.

During the period for Council comments, Charles Willis expressed concerns about the number of property owners around town who refuse to cut the grass on their property. He said at least one home he saw recently on Sycamore Street had grass at least two feet tall. Whitaker chimed in to add his displeasure, claiming that the current policy, which first requires the town to send a letter to errant property owners and then grants an additional ten days to clean up their property, is inadequate and allows people to “game” the system. “They [the property owners] know they don’t have to do anything until they first hear from the town.”

Bratton agreed that unsightly property brings down the value of homes in the neighborhood and also deters new residents and businesses from moving to the area. He asked Town Manager Ricky Reece to convene a meeting of the property committee to consider alternatives to the current policy. Bratton also asked members of Council and the public to submit written suggestions for ways to strengthen the policy.

The town is looking for suggestions on ways to celebrate Independence Day in Chase City. Bratton said Chase City Chamber President Lisa Gillispie made a good start with the Cruise-In, but the town needs something more. Anyone with ideas is encouraged to submit them to the town or Bratton.

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