Knowledge Park deal gets 2nd approval after public hearing

In this 2011 file photo, the demolition of the Bleachery continuesat the site on White Street in Rock Hill. Winthrop University's Tillman Hall can be seen in the background.
In this 2011 file photo, the demolition of the Bleachery continuesat the site on White Street in Rock Hill. Winthrop University's Tillman Hall can be seen in the background. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Knowledge Park is one step closer to a 10-year extension.

The York County Council advanced an unfinished agreement with the city of Rock Hill to extend the tax district, but council members and speakers at a public hearing Monday want to see strict conditions met before the council gives final approval.

The margin of the vote narrowed from first reading. The agreement passed 5-2, with Councilman Bruce Henderson joining Councilwoman Christi Cox to vote against.

Cox, who also voted against the agreement two weeks before, said the county needs more information on the tax district before council members should support it, noting the County Council has not received a copy of the agreement between Rock Hill and the developer.

“I have tremendous problems with how this process works,” she said. “If we’re going to consider something, we should have a document to show the public.”

City leaders say the development agreement is not complete and won’t be until the extension is approved, but Councilman Michael Johnson also said he wants to review the document before giving final approval.

“Even if it’s in executive session, even if it’s alone,” Johnson said.

The city wants the County Council to agree to a 10-year extension of the special downtown tax district. Tax revenue that would otherwise go to the county and the Rock Hill school district will instead go to infrastructure improvements in the former industrial area between the business district and Winthrop University. An extension will take the life of the special tax district out to 2039.

The County Council rejected Rock Hill’s initial offer to extend the tax district, and the city and county continue to negotiate a final agreement. No draft agreement was presented to the council Monday, and the language of the ordinance approves only the amended agreement “subject to the terms set forth” in the deal, and empowers County Manager Bill Shanahan to “execute, acknowledge and deliver” the agreement to the county.

In the public hearing before the vote, some said York County is moving too quickly to approve the agreement before it is finalized, but Councilman William “Bump” Roddey said the issue has gone on long enough.

“We sent the city a letter in September, because if we hadn’t we would have approved the extension automatically,” Roddey said. “We’ve had this before us almost a year. We should have voted on it in October or November.”

Because the details of the final agreement have yet to be finalized, County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell has said he may hold another hearing on the plan at the council’s May 18 meeting before members give their final approval.

But despite voting in favor, Johnson said he “doesn’t get the feeling” negotiations are going well ahead of the final reading. He said the final agreement must increase the county’s tax share from the 2004 assessment rate, when the tax district was created, to the 2015 assessment rate during the extended period. He also wants a 60-day deadline for the city to submit regular spending reports to the county, or the county can “unilaterally” drop out of the agreement.

Henderson said he was opposed to the development because of its potential impact on lower-income residents nearby.

“I cannot support back-door eminent domain,” he said.

The only person to speak in favor of the extension during the public hearing was Manning Kimmel, co-owner and managing partner of Our Three Sons Broadcasting and chairman of the York County Economic Development Board. He said the board worked with the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. to vet the proposal.

“The Economic Development Board took formal action to support this months ago,” Kimmel said.

Those council members who reviewed the extension as part of the county’s Knowledge Park committee said the extra review was necessary because work in the district had not received the same economic development review that county fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreements do.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062