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June 7, 2008

Motz puts spotlight on Haefele's 1999 gamble

Nine years ago, Alex Haefele tried to bring a video poker parlor to the edge of downtown Rock Hill.

Haefele, a homebuilder and developer running for the York County Council, dropped the idea after an outcry from horrified neighbors. Now, his opponent in the Republican primary thinks voters ought to know about the 1999 episode.

"I'm not going to question his motives or what he did," incumbent Buddy Motz told Republicans at a recent candidates forum. "I'm going to leave that up to you."

Motz and Haefele are locked in a primary battle for District 6, where neighbors are fighting plans to expand the Rock Hill/York County Airport. In some ways, the current not-in-my-backyard dispute resembles the clash over the video poker hall -- except that Haefele finds himself on the other side.

Repeated attempts by The Herald to reach Haefele on Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

State lawmakers voted to ban video gambling in 2000. One year before that, Haefele inked a deal with CMB to operate a 30-machine video poker parlor at property he owned on the corner of Dave Lyle Boulevard and Willowbrook Avenue.

"I'm not in the video poker business, and I don't want to be in the video poker business," Haefele said at the time. "It's a real estate investment for me ... that's called free enterprise."

The project stunned nearby homeowners. Because parlors tend to congregate in bunches, some feared the Dave Lyle corridor would turn into another "Fort Vegas" like a stretch of road off Interstate 77 in Fort Mill.

"We all think it's horrendous -- we hate it," said Ray Koterba, then-president of the Confederate Park neighborhood association. "But because of the city's zoning, the man's free to do pretty much what he wants to do."

Before the ban, a handful of poker parlors operated in convenience stores around Rock Hill.

At the time, Haefele said his property's zoning allowed for the parlors. "I have no choice," he said. But when city administrators intervened to block the parlor, Haefele decided to build an office building instead.

His development company is headquartered there today.

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