York County: 'Clock is running' for action on Fort Mill tower

07/18/2010 12:00 AM

07/18/2010 8:23 AM

Last week, York County leaders took another step toward resolving the ongoing Fort Mill tower dispute between the county and the tower's developers.

Last month county officials asked MorningStar Ministries to join them in mediation to determine the fate of the former Heritage USA high-rise in the Fort Mill Township.

County Manager Jim Baker said he has not received a response from the ministry to that request.

Now the county is again asking MorningStar to agree to mediation, a legal way of resolving disputes without going to court.

If MorningStar does not respond, the letter emphasizes that the county will have the right to pursue legal action against MorningStar.

"Regardless of whether they're responding, there is a clock running," Baker said. "This is the next milestone."

Since 2004, MorningStar has planned to renovate the tower into a spiritually focused retirement community. The group runs the MorningStar Fellowship Church, camps, a school and a conference center at the former Heritage USA site off U.S. 21 near the state line.

In a letter dated July 14, Baker asks the developer to select a mediator from a list the county provided, or recommend one not on the list. He asks MorningStar to inform the county in writing of which mediator they want within 10 days of receiving the letter.

The letter then states that "on or about August 20" is the deadline for a mediator to be named and for mediation proceedings to be underway.

That date is 60 days after the last time the county asked MorningStar to show proof that they are financially able and prepared to move forward with the tower's renovation or demolition, or to agree to mediation to resolve the matter.

Baker said the deadline is set according to the 2008 development agreement between the county and MorningStar.

In closing, the letter states that if MorningStar has not complied after the 60 days is up, York County will have the right to pursue legal action against the developer. Legal action, the letter said, may result in termination of the development agreement and demolition of the tower.

David Yarnes, vice president of MorningStar Ministries, has said that the project is moving along: Building plans are nearly complete and the project has financial backing.

Yarnes, who could not be reached for comment, has said that there are aspects of the development agreement he feels are unresolved.

In June, Yarnes told The Herald: "I don't feel that mediation is merited at this point. We're well within our five-year development agreement. We're moving along. We're stunned that we're not getting more support (from the county) for the project."

Baker said the county does support the ministry and would like to see the project progress, but that their contract must be upheld.

"A development agreement is a contract with the community," Baker said.

"When you make promises, you're hopefully going to back them up and do what you have to do. If you haven't done it yet, we have to start taking action to hold you accountable," Baker said.

"If you can get it done in the meantime, great."

Baker warned that a resolution will take time. Taking the matter to court, he said, "doesn't mean that it's going to be resolved the next day."

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