York County aims to ‘dream big,’ buy $21M, 1,900-acre greenway site on Catawba River

Amelia Solar, 3, is enchanted by the alpacas as Curtin Farm opens its doors to host the York County Ag + Art Tour last June. York County Council voted recently to allocate $50,000 to update a 2008 agritourism study.
Amelia Solar, 3, is enchanted by the alpacas as Curtin Farm opens its doors to host the York County Ag + Art Tour last June. York County Council voted recently to allocate $50,000 to update a 2008 agritourism study. Herald file photo

York County soon could buy roughly 1,900 acres for an Anne Springs Close Greenway-type project on the Rock Hill side of the Catawba River.

“It’s a very exciting project,” said Bill Shanahan, county manager. “When you think about it, how often does council get to make a decision like this?”

As of Monday morning, the county hadn’t announced the exact site for what’s been deemed “Project Destiny.”

Multiple York County Council members said then the location wouldn’t be made public, or that they didn’t want to be the ones to announce it, at least until after a second vote.

Then, a little after noon, Shanahan confirmed the location of the riverfront site just outside Rock Hill city limits.

Shanahan identified the property as the land owned by NNP IV-Catawba, 14 properties combining for more than 1,800 acres. Shanahan said about 90 additional acres would round out the sale. The land runs roughly between two sections of the Catawba Indian Nation, off Neely Store Road.

County land records show the property is valued at more than $33 million.

The county met last week for a preliminary vote, and had another planned for Nov. 19 on a proposed $21 million bond to fund “all or a portion of” the outdoor recreation and agritourism project.

A third and final vote would be needed. Barring a special called meeting, the council next meets Dec. 3.

Britt Blackwell, council chairman, said the property has several miles of shoreline -- so close to I-77 there could be some office space but it would be “just a small part” of the plan.

The site could be open to “all kinds of potential things” related to agritourism or green space, he said.

County partners in the land acquisition have referred to the possibility as “one of the greatest opportunities we may ever have,” Blackwell said.

“We want York County to control its destiny, not have situations control us,” he said. “It’s got great potential. You have to dream big to make things happen.”

According to the ordinance that would allow the bond, the land could be used for “outdoor recreation, agriculture/eco-tourism development, tourism and other purposes” and “is expected to result in economic development benefits to the county.” It’s “within the scope of tourism-related facilities” including “cultural, recreational or historic facilities.”

At 1,900 acres, the site could serve multiple purposes. That’s about twice the size of Catawba Indian Nation reservation. The land was part of a pitch for thousands of new homes more than a decade ago.

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Agritourism, or businesses and events drawing people to the area for agriculture-related purposes, is of interest to county leaders.

In summer 2017, the county hospitality tax committee cited agritourism, Lake Wylie and the Catawba River as the main county assets primed for tourism investment. Hospitality tax is generated from tourism, paid on prepared food and drink in unincorporated areas.

Last December council approved $50,000 in hospitality tax money to study agritourism.

The county has an agritourism committee. It started meeting more than two years ago. S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope and former county hospitality tax advisory committee chairman Watts Huckabee lead it. Huckabee said he heard the county may be “in the process of purchasing” a site “that could potentially be a site for” agritourism.

His group is focused more on agritourism and its potential for the county.

“What we’re mostly focused on is, what could make is successful?” Huckabee said.

The committee has made three trips to other areas in the region with agritourism centers. The committee hasn’t determined what type of site might best fit York County.

Huckabee said any potential site for agritourism will be up to council, with his group sticking to what might make an agritourism plan work.

“We’re not focused on the site for a future location,” he said.

Agritourism also has been part of the the year-long discussion, and rule tweaking, on what land uses should be allowed in what areas. However the 1,900 acres may be used, it will be council’s decision.

The assessed value of all county property in 2017 was $1.32 billion.

Based on that, the county can have a bonded debt of almost $105.6 million. The county has $34.5 million in outstanding debt now. That would allow the county up to $71 million in general obligation debt.

Since the $21 million for the 1,900 acres falls below that figure, the county doesn’t need voter approval.

Shanahan said the decision is one that will impact generations of York County residents.

“That’s why we’re calling it Project Destiny,” he said. “It’ll help York County move forward with the destiny of the county itself.”

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