Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Berkeley County Council had to do something most government agencies aren’t prone to doing last week.
When a resolution appeared on the Land Use Committee’s Jan. 13 agenda to approve the purchase of the vacant Food Lion building next door to the government offices in Moncks Corner, council had to decide quickly.
With a pending offer on the table, the current owners gave the county until Friday of last week to come to a decision to purchase the property for $350,000.
The notice of first refusal was delivered to the county on Dec. 17, which gave the county 30 days to come to a decision. The 30 days expired on Jan. 17.
Council voted to ask the building owners for a two-week extension on making a decision about the property.
Nekirk Salistown L.P., the owners of the Food Lion building, granted county council the two-week extension but according to County Attorney Nicole Ewing, council will have to reach a decision by its next county council meeting.
County council next meets on Monday, Jan. 27. In 2005, Berkeley County retrofitted the old K-Mart building to house administration offices and the new library.
It could do the same with the empty Food Lion building.
“It just seems to me that ideally when you’re talking about places for expanding county operations this would be a more ideal location as opposed to building from scratch on the fairgrounds,” said council member Tim Callanan. “We’re getting land with ample parking adjacent to the county administration building and a structure in place that would have to be modified and retrofitted for our needs ... the question I have is, why not explore this as a possibility for county expansion?
It seems like a much better value to me than to spend $1.6 million worth of land and then building a structure on it.”
In recent years the county had speculated about purchasing part of the Galliard Road property that used to be the Carolina Nursery and spent $1.6 million to buy the 12-acre fairgrounds property in Moncks Corner, a proposed site for a future health and human services campus, according to Davis.
But the supervisor balked at the $350,000 investment for the Food Lion structure. “We don’t have the immediate need for that office space for county offices,” Davis said. “Funds are not available in the budget for the purchase of the building.”
The supervisor said the proposed health and human services campus on the site of the former fairgrounads in Moncks Corner consistent with the Community Facilities Plan in that Berkeley County would need office space before the Food Lion lease expired in 2023.
“Obviously at the time we could not foresee Food Lion closing and planned with the knowledge Food Lion would be here for a long while,” Davis said. “The purchase of the fairgrounds property was consistent with the Communities Facilities Plan which assumed we would need the additional office space by 2023 and recommended we secure a Health and Human Services campus and actually put the onus on those agencies to build their own facilities.”
The fairgrounds property was earmarked primarily for the Dept. of Social Services and the Health Dept.
Council member Jack Schurlknight expressed caution with the condition of the building that up until last year housed a supermarket.
“What we’ve got to be careful of is that we haven’t had an inspection of the building,” he said. “We don’t know what kind of condition that building is in with the building being old and sitting empty for over a year. It’s one thing we’re going to definitely have to keep in mind. It might end up costing us more money than we think.”
Council member Steve Davis echoed the supervisor’s sentiment about purchasing a piece of property for which there is no immediate need: “My concern is two-fold, do we have the funds, number one, and do we have an immediate need? If we don’t have an immediate need, I would be very hesitant about that.”
While the property, if purchased, might stand empty for some time Callanan said the adjacent property with parking lot included was too good of an opportunity not to look into for a rapidly growing county like Berkeley County.
“The facilities plan stated it has needs to move some of the county’s departments around, renovate old buildings or to move better locations,” he said. “I’m not a huge fan of massively expanding government but if I couldn’t think of a more efficient way to do it than to centralize the location; I just can’t imagination that if we had to take down, renovate, build for any of those departments we’re going to get anywhere what we’re talking about for this facility.”
The biggest problem facing the county and the purchase of the Food Lion building was time. The owners wanted an answer by last Friday and five days simply wasn’t enough time to fully investigate the probabilities and possibilities of purchasing the property.