Dula Property

$3,000,000 ?!?

Since there seems to be a lot of false statements, false accusations, floating around about why I appeared in the Irmo Court in regards to Ron Dula's property, let me give it to you straight from the “horse's mouth”. And if you are one of those on the bully facebook page, you can insert another name as you may well please.
I just got through reading on the hate-filled facebook page where one gentleman JN has stated all kinds of stuff that he has “heard”. I could assume, but I won't cause I don't know, he has heard from some council members, or some others, on the hate-filled page who don't know what they are talking about or just enjoy ignoring the truth and perpetuating more hate, more lies, more falsehoods.

Now, let's go back a little bit in history and start from the beginning, not the end. There was a business there, Direct Furniture. Owned and operated by Sidney Dula. He had a building, a couple of them he built, and he operated out of them before we had parking ordinances. I believe I read somewhere it was built in 1929. Been there, before most of us have been here. After his property was built, the Town Council passed an ordinance that requires a certain number of parking spaces per square foot based on the zoning and the type of business operating. He may have been in compliance at the time the ordinance was passed, he may not have been. And then in the late 80's-90's DOT comes through and widens Lake Murray Blvd, taking part of his property, probably paid him for it, based on land value and square foot of land, but they may not have paid him for the loss of value due to no parking, we do not know.

We do know, that his property became non-conforming to our ordinances, but he operated his business for years with no problems from the town.

In 2003 or 2004, I knocked on his door when I was running for Town Council and asked if I could put a sign in front of his business. I don't remember a lot of conversation, I honestly can't remember if he let me then. I know we talked about my business, and his business. I liked him, I felt like he liked me. I do believe that either one of those two years, or in 2005, I am going to check my records, I do know where I put up signs in every campaign I ever ran, and I will verify when I first put up sign, but I was allowed. He dies in 2006. His property passed to his sons, Ron and Richard, who acquired the property in 2009.

Some on Council, and some on staff, have said Ron Dula came to the town at some point, with a blue print of how he would like to remodel the older wooden building and the two metal structures. But he was told even if he remodeled, the buildings did not meet our parking requirements, and he may not be able to get approval for someone to move in. Without assurances that something could be worked out, he, just like anyone else, was not or would not be willing to spend money to fix up and develop property that you would not be able to lease or do anything with. In 2009 or 2010, John Hanson, who was Town Administrator at that time, called around to Council to get an approval to let a tenant move in even though the required parking wasn't available for the metal structure. The lower metal structure is about 6,000 square foot, the upper metal structure was about 3,000. There was an agreement by Council members to allow him to do that. At least someone would be in the building, rent would be paid to the owner, business license to the town. Now just for the record, the person who wanted to rent the building was a friend of a prior town-appointed official, and had sway, so Council agreed. He operated for whatever time, and then he moved out. Building was vacant. Ron's brother, Richard, dies in 2012. The property is now given to Ron Dula. It was challenged in probate court based on SC Common Law marriage in South Carolina and was in probate until 2014 when Ron Dula became sole heir to that property. We have had a recession and many other things, the fact that it is still non-conforming and doesn't meet parking requirements, has held up a lot of possible sales and possible development for him. He currently has prospects and is willing to redevelop property, remove the wooden structure, build a new structure for a new possible tenant, remove the smaller 3,000 square foot metal structure, and remodel the 6,000 square foot structure for a possible tenant. I had been working with him a lot over the years, meetings with him, a real estate agent, Brent, who is working for nothing to help accomplish a lot of this. Some on Council (Barry) have been mad because they were not allowed to put political signs there. Some on Council serving now and serving in the past have mentioned before how the building ought to be torn down or burned down. I was recently told by the previous tenant that a current council member and an individual running for Council came to their place of business last election and asked if they could place their sign or their candidate's sign on the corner at Mr. Dula's property. The tenant told him he had no authority over that corner and had nothing to do with it. They asked the tenant if they could put their signs in front of his business, on his corner, and he informed them no he wasn't getting involved in putting up political signs at his business. I was told one of the individuals asked if he could put his CDs in the business for sale. The tenant said no. I was told that when they left there was mumbling and grumbling in regards to we won't forget this. The previous tenant had decided to close his existing business and change his business format to a different type business which would require him to get a new business license and he applied. His business license was denied based on the fact there wouldn't be adequate parking for that business. Now it sits vacant.

Mr. Dula has worked hard to find a new tenant, actually two new tenants.  If everything will work out, and he can demolish the old building, demolish the 3,000 square foot building, build a new building and remodel the 6,000 square foot structure, guess what, he still doesn't have adequate parking. Yes our town administrator has told Mr. Dula he will work with him and I believe he will. But I don't believe, nor does Mr. Dula, that some on Council will. Unless we can put something in writing, put our money where our mouth is, I would have my doubts as well. I have put a couple things on our agenda for discussion and have spoken with our town attorney on ways of resolving this problem with Mr. Dula's property, and how to resolve this problem and possibly avoid it from happening again when Broad River Road gets widened. I am currently working with our Town Administrator on a couple more scenarios that can possibly work, and Brent is working with Mr. Dula, SCDOT, and another property owner to resolve the parking issues so that this property can be developed in the very near future. I think we are all very close to getting something done. I am working on it from the Town's perspective, Mr. Dula and Brent are working on it from their expertise. Hopefully, with my addressing it from the political end and my assistance in helping with the DOT end, and with Brent's help with DOT and helping Mr. Dula with the development, I am sure we will have this resolved in the next couple months, and a couple of great new businesses on that corner.

But back to the point. The reason I appeared in court to testify was because an employee of the town did not say in court June 2017 what he had told Mr. Dula he would say in the courtroom.

So let's get to that part there.

We, as a town, passed an ordinance on dilapidated residential structures. It was made based on a ride around I had with Councilwoman Condom to try to address different things that had to do with run down homes, deferred maintenance, etc. We rode around.  She showed me 4-6 homes, what she was talking about and trying to describe.  I wrote up an ordinance to address those issues, and we passed it.  Then our code enforcement officers were sent to Mr. Dula's property to write his property up for code violations even though what we had just passed was for “residential” properties. I was called about it, and informed about it by Mr. Brown, by police officers looking for Mr. Dula's contact information.  When I asked about what were the code violations, I questioned Mr. Brown as to why they were writing up code violations for residential properties on commercial properties. There seemed to be confusion as to whether the ordinance addressed residential property only, or commercial as well. The town administrator stopped the abatement process on Dula's property, the ordinance was put back on agenda, redefined the confusing sections to say residential and had first reading. At second reading, Kathy made changes to ordinance to call the first section A Residential, and added a 2nd section B Commercial. It went through the normal process of 3 readings and passed. Yes, I did vote for it because I wanted the residential section to pass, hindsight being 20/20 I think we should have done it separately. We should have voted on residential alone and secondly to add commercial and voted separately. I would have probably voted against it because I felt like it was only on the books to address Mr. Dula's property. The other commercial properties that looked dilapidated had not been addressed, ticketed, or nothing. I guess nobody cares about those. After the ordinance was passed, his property was abated, and since the work wasn't completed in 10 days, he was issued a ticket. From my understanding in the course of trying to figure what he needed to do to be in compliance with the ticket there were multiple discussions about what needed to be done. In fact there was a meeting between Mr. Dula, the real estate agent, Bob Brown and Sergeant Bobby Dale, our code enforcement officer who wrote the ticket to address what exactly needed to be done in order to fulfill the requirements of the abatement notice. From my understanding, they left Mr. Brown's office and went to the property. And somehow or another proceeded to make a list that somehow or another never was agreed upon by all parties present. And somehow or another, Mr. Dula left with the understanding he needed to fix the stuff on the list they had just made. Which in my understanding was when he got the second ticket. And from my understanding when he completed the stuff on the list that he thought he had made in agreement with others present, he was told he hasn't completed everything that the officer wanted completed. That more stuff needed to be done.

A lot of stuff may need to be done on that property but the only thing we as a town can make him do is the stuff we had just passed in the ordinance. If it wasn't in the ordinance, we can't make somebody do it. There was a breakdown in communication you may say.  At some point during this breakdown it was brought to my attention. I spoke with Mr. Brown about it, and I asked Mr. Brown if him and I could meet at the property and have Sergeant Dale meet us at the property so we could clarify what needed to be done according to the first meeting, and the first list, and what needed to be done now based on a new list. In that discussion, Sergeant Bobby Dale told me in front of the Chief when I asked specifically, when everything gets done on this list, that hopefully is gonna get settled today since we as a Council are always told we are not about writing tickets we are about compliance, what is gonna happen once he is in compliance and shows up in court. I had been told that an officer can noll pros tickets, which is basically drop them. I asked Sergeant Dale if he was gonna noll pros these tickets, he said no. I asked why, if he is in compliance? He said he had never noll pros tickets, he wasn't gonna start. I said fine, then what are you gonna do. He said he would make recommendation to the judge that one be dropped, one be reduced. I said fine, reduce to what? In my best recollection, I believe he said $200-300 but I won't swear on a stack of bibles, cuz I can't 100% remember that portion. But the jest was, I will make a recommendation that one be dropped and one be reduced. We turned our attention to the list of what needed to be done for Dula to be finished and bring his building up to the new code. The real estate agent had a better grasp of what was on the original list, even though I had the list and abatement notice, and he started talking to Mr. Dula about what Sgt Dale wanted to be done in order to bring the property to compliance. They talked, I felt like the real estate agent had a good grasp of what the Sgt wanted. I let them work it out, talked, they came to an agreement as best I remember as to what needed to be done by Mr. Dula.  We all left. Mr. Dula came back into town to work on his building, the real estate agent got with him and went over the list that had to be done. Mr. Dula came to me a couple times to complain about the continual of this list, and the additional stuff added to the list.  I agreed with his assumptions, but I also informed him just to do it. Get it all done, make officer happy, get in compliance, and that he had said he would drop one ticket, reduce another. Live with that. There was a meeting in Mr. Brown's office to discuss the completion of the work.  From my understanding it was decided at that meeting that everything had been done satisfactory, and from my understanding from the real estate agent, from Mr. Dula, and from Bob Brown, that Officer Dale made the same statement, that yes he would make a recommendation to the Judge that one be dropped, one be reduced. They went to court June something, the officer did not make the recommendation to judge as he said he would in front of me, the chief, Mr. Dula, the real estate agent, and Bob Brown. Mr. Dula was found guilty of both charges and was fined between $200-300 for each ticket. He was upset that the officer did not make statement. Dula came to my shop and after discussing for 30-45 minutes, Mr. Brown walked in having heard what had happened in the courtroom, and came to see me.  He said he didn't know why Sgt Dale did not make the statement.  We discussed for another 35-45 minutes, and Mr. Brown called Chief of Police to come to my business and talk with Mr. Dula about what happened and why. The Chief did, we talked for about another 35-40 minutes, and I believe Mr. Brown, could have been the Chief, informed Mr. Dula he had the option of asking for the case to be re-opened and be heard by the judge and then he could make the statement to the judge about the officer's recommendation that didn't get made previously. Mr. Dula went and did that, a new hearing date was set for reconsideration by the judge to open the case or not. It is my understanding Mr. Dula was told by an attorney friend that he probably needed to speak to Sgt Dale in the presence of a witness and make sure that he was gonna make the recommendation at this new hearing. Mr. Dula asked me about helping him get that set up, and if I would be party to that. I said no, he should call Mr. Brown and see him, and have meeting set up with Mr. Brown, himself, Sgt Dale and same witness so the same four people that were in Brown's office the first time would be in it this time, so he left to go do that. I called Mr. Brown to inform him to help Mr. Dula help set that meeting up and resolve this once and for all.

The meeting never took place.  From my understanding, Sgt Dale would not meet with Mr. Dula. From my understanding I was told from Mr. Dula that our attorney had advised Mr. Brown, Sgt Dale, and Chief not to meet with Mr. Dula. So the meeting never took place. Mr. Dula came to see me the day of court, to let me know they hadn't met, the attorney would be their representing the town, and that Sgt Dale had not met with him, and he felt like he was getting ready to get screwed. I was unaware of all that, tried to call Mr. Brown, couldn't get a hold of him, court started at 4:30, this was around 4:00, Mr. Dula asked if I would come to court with him and testify to the judge as to what I had heard Sgt Dale say in regards to making that recommendation. I agreed to do that because I felt like it would resolve this matter, once and for all. I did go, I did testify as to what Sgt Dale said in regards to making the recommendation that one be dropped and one be reduced. I did testify that I had also heard Bob Brown say he heard the same thing, and the other witness in the courtroom would also testify that he heard the same thing. The judge after hearing testimony of Mr. Dula and myself, he made a ruling to reopen the case, and then the judge made a ruling that one ticket would be thrown out, and the other reduced to $247 or something, and informed Mr. Dula if he wasn't happy he could send it to a higher court, and he basically said that's that. We got up and walked out. And that is that.

Except, some decided to make an anonymous story to FitNews and some council members decided to add their two cents. One even went so far as to fabricate and make accusations and false allegations to a local paper. This is, as I call it, “small mind, small town politics”. BTW, he is up for re-election.

Irmo, South Carolina