County to buy grocery property

York County's going to be the owner of the former Winn-Dixie building and associated strip mall on S.C. 901, the County Council decided this week.

Crunched for office space, the council for years has been trying to decide what to build first. The jail and prison at Moss Justice Center in York get top billing, in part because Sheriff Bruce Bryant has said the overcrowding there is "a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Also high on the list is finding more space for the Department of Social Services, which added 23 positions last fall and expects to add 15 more this year, in the wake of a state audit that found problems with the agency's response times and policy violations.

To that end, county staff proposed buying the Winn-Dixie, vacant since the grocery store closed its South Carolina stores two years ago.

"It just seemed like a good fit," said interim County Manager David Larson. "The owner is anxious to sell."

The building, small stores next to it and parking lot would cost about $1.5 million, and it would cost about $2 million to upfit it into offices. The county has about $26 million of capital needs in its current budget, approved Monday night.

Councilman Rick Lee had objected to the Winn-Dixie idea, arguing it would derail loose plans to build a new library in downtown Rock Hill that could be the main public library branch and also be used for a new magnet high school downtown.

"I can't support buying that old grocery store," Lee said. He said he wouldn't support a plan that took away the possibility of building the new library downtown sooner rather than later, giving the school district an incentive to build its high school in center-city Rock Hill.

But library leaders worried about the logistics of a high school sharing its library with the general public.

"The biggest concern is security," said York County library director Colleen Carney. The library's main branch on Black Street has had many security situations, she said, from staff harassment to gang recruiting to episodes of domestic violence.

"We see the homeless, we see the mentally ill," Carney said. "We're a public space, and it's part of what you deal with when you're free and open to the general public. You've got to be prepared for some of the behaviors you see ... that just doesn't always go hand in hand with a safe, constructive school environment."

The Rock Hill school district Monday night discussed the possibility of opening a magnet school that could be built downtown, without ballfields and needing less acreage than a typical high school. The district has asked the public what it thinks about that plan, which could help defray overcrowding at Rock Hill High School and potentially delay the need for a fourth high school.