If York County has its way, the fate of the MorningStar tower in Fort Mill Township might be decided soon.
County leaders have invited MorningStar Ministries to help them settle their dispute over whether MorningStar should abandon plans to develop the former Heritage USA high-rise into a retirement community and demolish the tower.
The county and MorningStar disagree over who has failed to uphold the development agreement.
Mediation, a way of resolving disputes without going to court, is the next step in helping the parties reach an agreement, said York County Manager Jim Baker.
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In a June 21 letter, the county asked MorningStar to choose a mediator within 10 days or the county will select one. Both parties would share the legal expense of the mediation.
If MorningStar and the county still disagree, the alternative might be going to court.
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.
According to David Yarnes, vice president of MorningStar Ministries, the project is moving along: Building plans are nearly complete and the project has financial backing.
"Sales are robust," Yarnes said. "We've had over 200 people make priority reservations."
But according to the county, MorningStar defaulted on its development agreement, which requires the developer to "obtain bid, performance and payment bonds or letters of credit" within 180 days of the county's approval of the site plan.
That deadline and another 60-day extension have passed and MorningStar has not complied, according to the county.
The county claims that because MorningStar has not met the deadlines, it is liable for demolishing the tower at its own expense.
There is still one other option on the table, according to County Manager Baker.
"The way to resolve the dispute is to either get the financing in place or tear (the building) down," he said.
Yarnes, who says the tower represents a $15 million asset to MorningStar, disagrees.
In February, MorningStar told the county that it didn't adhere to the development agreement. Since receiving the county's June 21 letter, MorningStar's message hasn't changed.
Yarnes said there are aspects of the development agreement that still need to be resolved.
"I don't feel that mediation is merited at this point. We're well within our five-year development agreement. We're moving along," Yarnes said. "We're stunned that we're not getting more support (from the county) for the project."
Yarnes said MorningStar is preparing a response. When asked if MorningStar would select a mediator as the county's letter requests, he would not say.
From the county's standpoint, the dispute has gone on long enough.
"The urgency is that there are a lot of people surrounding it that view it as an eyesore and have been waiting for years to see something happen to it," Baker said.
"I am convinced they are trying hard to put their finances together," Baker said.
"The real question is, how long is it reasonable for you to try to put your plan together if you haven't been successful yet?"