It seems like something that would never be tolerated in a resort town such as Hilton Head Island -- a half-finished, abandoned building covered in vines, surrounded by weeds and inhabited by wildlife.
Residents of Edgewater condominiums who live next door have begged for it to be torn down. They can't sell their condos because of the eyesore, can't enjoy their balcony views of the Broad Creek marsh -- and can't get over that their property values are taking a hit because no one will do anything to fix up or tear down the building.
They've sued Ephesian Ventures, the Nevada-based company that purchased the property next to their community, including the unfinished building, out of fore-closure. While there are plans to one day develop the property, it could be years before work begins. The company has a valid construction permit through 2017.
Town officials haven't been much help either. After Ephesian produced an engineering report that said the structure posed no safety risk, the town backed off .
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And so the building sits. And residents grow more frustrated.
It's not the first time Hilton Head residents have discovered that the town, for all its ordinances to protect trees, to minimize bright lighting and to prohibit tall signage, can't do much when an existing building is neglected or abandoned.
Several half-finished buildings dotted the town in the 1980s.
And since 2008, the annex building of the Metropolitan Hotel on Lemoyne Avenue has been vacant. The roof sags. Wires hang exposed from the ceiling. And Forest Beach property owners say vagrants have become adept at using screwdrivers and crowbars to pry into abandoned rooms and hole up.
It's certainly not the impression we want to give tourists of our town, and it's a far cry from the world-class resort reputation town leaders are trying to maintain. The town has, in this case, deemed the building a safety hazard and ordered the own to fix it up or tear it down.
Instead of waiting for the unfinished building near Edgewater to fall into a similar state of dangerous disrepair, Town Council should consider a new tool to address buildings that have become eyesores and apparent nuisances to neighbors, but fall short of posing public safety hazards.
We're not talking about the town reconsidering an appearance code. In 2010, town leaders rejected a proposed code that would have fined the owners of commercial properties with potholes in their parking lots, torn awnings, broken windows, peeling paint and other signs of neglect.
In the down economy, some worried it was a bad time to focus on curb appeal issues. Others raised concerns that enforcement could be a problem. And still others pointed out that such a code could lead to nit-picking and subjective calls on how buildings should look.
These concerns are valid, and we agree that an appearance code is not the answer. But an ordinance that would fine owners who flagrantly thumb their noses at town aesthetics with unfinished and abandoned buildings would be in order -- and should hasten owners' efforts to complete or tear down such buildings.
Town manager Steve Riley said Friday that staff worked diligently to draft such an ordinance in the early 1990s to no avail. No efficient way could be found to convince owners to fix up their property.
We think it may be time to take another look at it. The problem hasn't gone away and likely won't in the future.
And the town is already rethinking its look. It's overhauling its land management plan to make it easier for commercial properties to spruce up. At least one neglected corridor, Office Park Road, is scheduled for a face lift. And new facilities are popping up in communities such as Sea Pines Resort thanks to multi-million dollar owner investments.
A rule to address unfinished structures would complement changes already underway while also protecting the town's image as a place of natural beauty and welcoming commercial buildings.