Conflicts between town of Norris and local business owners heat up

NORRIS — A dispute between the town of Norris and a business owner has escalated into a heated debate between the two parties, with the town threatening to not renew the business’ license.
According to legal documents presented to Daniel Adams and Sharon Peery, owners of Sharon’s Place, a produce market in the town, from town attorney Stephen Alexander, the owners were accused of being in violation of the Code of Ordinances for the Town of Norris, Pickens County Building Codes and DHEC regulations.
Alexander’s letter, dated August 23, said that there had been numerous complaints about the condition of the property, which sits near the railroad overpass bridge on S.C. 93 on the east end of town at 138 N. Norris Drive.
The letter said that complaints included a sewage smell, a rat infestation, blocking the view of vehicles trying to pull off Winding Creek Road onto S.C. 93 and the overall unsightly, unsanitary and unsafe conditions of the property.
Alexander cited Ordinance 8-202, which says all premises within the town shall at all times be kept in a sanitary condition.
The letter stated that a concern was the business owners had a recreational vehicle (RV) on the property that was being used as a permanent residence that was causing a smell of sewage.
The letter also alleged that the power supply used on the RV was spliced and in violation of Pickens County building codes.
The letter also stated the business owners had the address of the business listed with Registrations and Election Commission as their permanent residence.
Alexander also said that the debris, garbage and other materials on the property were creating conditions affording food or harborage for rats in violation of ordinance 8-202.
The letter demanded the owners of the business move everything off the property with exception of the original produce stand and either a carport or another enclosed building on the site.
The letter went on to inform the business owners that if they did not comply, employees of the town or agents would enter the property and remove the nuisances and the cost would be liable to the owners.
Upon receipt of the letter, Adams and Peery turned the matter over to their attorneys at Cannon and Cannon of Clemson. A letter was sent to the town on September 9 with responses to the town’s requests.
In the letter from Cannon and Cannon, issues raised by the town were addressed one by one.
First was the allegation of unsanitary conditions. The letter said that the business owners had no damp or low places or materials that may hold water and no rank vegetation on the property. The owners also added that there was no garbage on the site and enclosed a letter from Upstate Sanitation showing that all garbage was removed weekly from the business and that the company never encountered an infestation problem on the site. The attorneys also included a letter from lawn maintenance personnel reiterating the information.
The second thing to be addressed by the business owners were the allegations of smell and sewage. According to the reply, the business owners and the property owner had the property inspected by a septic tank service and were told no smells could be noticed and there were no leaks of any kind. The septic tank company, Johnson Septic Tank Company, also provided a letter, which was enclosed, stating there were no odors and the tank was in good condition and was of sufficient size for the building and the RV.
The letter then addressed the alleged violations of Pickens County Electrical Codes. According to the attorneys, the owners had Jason Trotter, codes enforcement officer for Pickens County, inspect the property and found no violations and no safety issues. The letter also included a letter from Trotter detailing his results.
The attorneys for the business owners then addressed the RV being on the property and said that they could not find an ordinance in the town that prohibits having an RV on business property and also included a letter from a local property owner stating that the business owners rented a residence from them and did not live in the RV. According to the response, the owners only stay at the RV at night to prevent theft and vandalism at the business.
The letter also stated that that the owners had to adhere to inspection by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and had never been cited with violations, which would include the infestation of rats.
Finally, the response letter addressed the alleged violation of the line of sight for Winding Creek Road and S.C. 93. The letter states that the business owners asked Steven Henderson, resident maintenance engineer for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, to look at the property on August 25. The attorneys for the business owners also enclosed a letter from Henderson saying the intersection was clear, the line of sight was good and there were no encroachments in the right of way.
On November 18, Cannon and Cannon received response from the town stating that in an effort to resolve the matter regarding pending citations against the business owners, the town of Norris would agree to dismiss the cases if the business owners would agree to remove the RV on the property immediately and permanently and move the buildings on the property from their current location to be placed in line with the original structure on the property. The town also asked the business owners to remove one of the carports. The letter also asked that the owners not allow parking on the DOT right of way and to have the property owner agree to a contract as the landowner that all present and future tenants will comply to the conditions as listed in regards to any building on the property.
The letter from Alexander also stated that Norris Town Council had voted in a regular meeting on November 8 not to renew/issue a business license for Sharon’s Place and on the businesses on the property for 2011 until the matter is resolved.
Adams and Peery were also informed that the city’s judge has requested a jury trial as soon as possible. The letter says that the trial would be held on either December 20 or 29 and asked which dates the business owners would be available if the matter was not resolved.
According to Alexander, the trial has been set for January 12, 2011, at Norris Town Hall. Jury selection is set to begin at 9 a.m. with pre-trial motions and the jury trial to immediately follow.
“According to the letter they want us to remove certain items from the property that we use every day in the course of doing business,” Peery said. “We have an RV parked on the property that is used so that we can provide security for our business.”
“They are ‘requesting’ that we remove the carports,” she said. “The carports are used to protect the products that we sell to you the community to keep everything as fresh as possible. If they are removed, our produce will be baking in the hot summer sun and freezing in the cold winter winds. According to the letter, if I do not do what they want then I will not be getting my license back in January.
“With this being said, I feel like town hall — not the community — is trying to close me down. They have at their disposal our revenue money to fight us with, while I am depending on how much I can sell to pay for my lawyer. Something surely seems wrong with that picture.”
Efforts to reach Norris Mayor Odell Williams for comments were referred to Alexander, the town attorney. When reached, Alexander declined comment, citing ongoing litigation as the cause.