Paradise grant committee will benefit from past efforts

mharrison@fortmilltimes.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— If the town ultimately wins a federal grant to make improvements to the Paradise community, the roots of the effort stretch back two years.

In 2011, officials from the town and the Catawba Regional Council of Governments held a public meeting in a neighborhood church to explain the process, gather input and answer questions. They told the audience that volunteers would be going door-to-door to gather census-like data and, anticipating some reluctance, the church’s pastor encouraged residents to participate.

One of those volunteers, Rufus “Rudy” Sanders, who grew up in Paradise, was appointed co-chair of the Paradise Community Survey Coordinating Committee.

“Rudy was a real warrior,” Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk said. “He’d go out there on Saturdays and go door-to-door and say why this was important.”

The committee, including Sanders’ co-chair, Willie Culp, went to 725 households that year, he said. In the end, the town was not awarded the renewable, $375,000 Community Development Block Grant, but those involved learned valuable lessons they applied to this latest effort, which began in 2012. The next time volunteers went door-to-door, they were after a smaller sample that’s more in line with requirements from the S.C. Department of Finance, which chooses a winner from a list of competing municipalities.

But even a smaller sampling – 325 this time – was no small task. There’s a lot of personal information collected, including income, and more than a few residents were hesitant to participate. That’s where Culp played a big role, Sanders said.

“We had to see that every resident filled out each block – names, household income, everything – and we had to address the conditions of the property,” Sanders said.

“Willie L. Culp worked morning, noon and night,” Sanders said. “He’s a very important native of Paradise and was able to get doors open that I could not open. We were successful in getting approximately 72 percent of low-to-moderate income households [documented], which is what the CDBG [program] is looking for in prescribing these grants.”

What a grant would achieve

The “Paradise Neighborhood village renaissance plan,” as it’s called in the grant application, would launch major infrastructure improvements. Some officials, including Funderburk, mentioned replacing nearly century-old water and sewer lines as a prime option, but the money could be used for sidewalks, street lighting and park improvements. An advisory committee of officials and neighborhood residents will get to choose the project, but water sewer lines appear to be a dire need.

“Almost every week it seems, an old piece of plumbing erupts,” Sanders said.

Now in the planning stage, funded with $25,000 the state obtained from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the process pairs Fort Mill with a COG planner, said Jason Vance, community development coordinator for the COG. That planner, Robby Moody, who is paid for his time out of that $25,000, will be with the committee “every step of the way,” Vance said.

Two public meetings – one each in spring and summer – will be scheduled. In the previous effort, the meetings were held at Bethlehem Baptist Church, where the Rev. Caldwell Culp (no relation to Willie Culp) encouraged residents who showed up to get involved and not shy away if asked to provide data.

“We thank the church and Rev. Culp for providing a forum,” Sanders said.

It’s not been decided where the next set of meetings will be held, but Vance said Bethlehem Baptist or another community church would be a likely venue.

A resident’s concern

In the meantime, the prospect of getting $375,000 or more to improve Paradise is generating interest among residents.

Isaac Bouler, 58, said he has lived in Paradise for 35 years, and although he welcomes improvements – sidewalks in particular – Bouler said he wonders whether there will be any unintended consequences.

“The only serious concern I have is, in the long run, would this make the taxes go up and possibly people lose their homes? If it raises [property values] would it raise taxes and then some people, elderly people, in a 10- or 15-year span maybe lose their homes? I don’t want anybody to be put in that situation,” he said.

Bouler said he plans to attend public meetings once they are announced.

This is the second installment of an occasional series about the town’s attempt to secure a federal grant.

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