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County to mull site of York offices

The York County Council is expected in coming weeks to make a critical decision on the site of a new county office building in York.

York city leaders, who last year fought county leaders for the preservation of the historic York County Courthouse in downtown York, have already taken an official stance on this issue. They want a new county office building to be downtown, next to the courthouse.

But County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said last week that he sees many advantages to having county offices at a different site, on the S.C. 5 Bypass, property which is now owned by York Electrical Cooperative.

Blackwell said Cumming Construction Management, a firm hired by the county, is compiling cost figures on both options that council members will use in making a decision.

“We have not decided as a council yet,” Blackwell said. “We’re going to wait and see until they give us the final numbers and see what it looks like.”

He said he expects the council would make a decision on the office building’s site within the next couple months, and perhaps sooner.

Blackwell said the county has narrowed down the choices for the location of new offices to the present Agricultural Building site next to the courthouse or the 77-acre undeveloped site off the bypass.

In an Oct. 23 letter from the York City Council to Blackwell about the need to continue the courthouse renovation, the council said county offices “need to stay centralized in downtown York, where the county has abundant property at the intersection of Congress and Liberty streets.”

York City Councilman John Shiflet said it would be more convenient for people who conduct business with the county to have the offices and the courthouse in the same location.

“We think from a practical standpoint, if we can have the services provided by the county confined to the downtown area, it would make a lot of sense,” Shiflet said.

Shiflet said more activity downtown is another bonus. “You would have more people in downtown York. That is an economic concern for us,” he said.

The city annexed the York Electric Cooperative property in 2013, when leaders discussed their hopes for a major economic development project there.

Marc Howie, York Electric Cooperative’s vice president of community development, told the Enquirer-Herald in 2013 that the land would likely be the site of a development anchored by “possibly an upper-end grocery store, an upper-end retail-type store that we think would be a good, unique fit, or a destination restaurant for York.”

However, Blackwell said the S.C. 5 Bypass site has possibilities for county offices. He said it’s level and large enough to allow room for expansion.

“You’d want it to be convenient for the 75 percent of the population in York County that comes from the eastern half,” he said of the office site.

Council members have noted that, unlike an economic development project, a county office complex at the bypass site would not help the city and school district by generating property tax revenue.

Blackwell said that he expects it would be “probably a logistical nightmare” to build a county office building in downtown York.

The project would likely involve additional grading expenses, he said, because the property in the back of the Agricultural Building, “is like a Grand Canyon.”

He also said both the present courthouse and a county office building would be landlocked, without space for future expansion, if they are downtown.

In addition, Blackwell said it might be a problem to be building an office downtown at the same time the courthouse renovation is in progress. The county agreed in November to continue with the courthouse renovation after weeks of debate about the cost.

“Those are facts that cannot be denied on the negative side of building it there,” Blackwell said, referring to the downtown location.

Mayor Eddie Lee said the cooperative’s property is zoned agricultural, which was the request of the company when it was annexed.

In regards to a county office site, Lee said, “It makes sense to place them next to the existing courthouse on property that is already owned by York County and that is zoned properly.”

Blackwell said after a site is chosen, the county will schedule a referendum for bonds to pay for the construction, probably in November.

A consultant last summer estimated the cost of a new county office building at $23 million. Additional courtrooms, more security and more parking at Moss Justice Center was estimated at $33 million, and a proposed eastern county judicial center at $28 million.