Leaders want to eliminate city's 'biggest eyesore'

CHESTER -- Chester County leaders hope to acquire a lot in the city of Chester that some consider downtown's greatest eyesore.

The concrete corner of Hudson and Saluda streets once held two gas stations, county officials said, and their goal is to clean up the property and create a space of grass and park benches.

Leaders hope the transformation will be a boon to economic development.

"Anything you clean up, anywhere, it's gonna be good for economic development," said Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey. "Even though they're gonna build in another part of the county ... they come into Chester."

The concrete-laden plot is now owned by Winnsboro Petroleum.

Local leaders voted this week to pursue an agreement with the oil company that would send the land for free to the county, which would clean up the property.

The county plans to uproot old underground oil tanks and remove the concrete.

"It is the biggest eyesore in the immediate downtown at this time," said County Councilman Alex Oliphant.

An outspoken advocate of restoring the county's blighted properties, Oliphant said he's looked at this site for years.

But he didn't get anywhere with the project until Roddey took office in January 2007.

For at least six months, Roddey said, the county has been negotiating with the oil company.

The site last held a service station in the 1980s, said Thom Berry, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The lot contains three underground petroleum tanks.

"We're not aware of any contamination on the property," Berry said, noting that when an underground tank is removed, environmental testing must be done to determine if the soil has been contaminated.

County officials have planned for the tests, but they don't foresee any environmental problems. Roddey said the tanks were drained long ago, and the county has agreed to spend up to $25,000 if there are any issues.

If the cost of addressing any problems exceeds $25,000, Roddey said an insurance policy will cover additional expenses.

The County Council has only voted to pursue an agreement with the oil company. Leaders also must vote three times to accept the land.