Dorchester County Council to fight Summervilles attempt to add old hospital to towns historic district
SUMMERVILLE — Dorchester County Council members are fuming at Summerville’s attempt to stave off a sale of the county-owned old hospital site by making it part of the town’s historic district.
If you go
What: Summerville Town Council meeting
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Town Hall complex, 200 S. Main St.
County Council has opposed the move, and Chairman Larry Hargett will be at the Town Council meeting tonight to lay out the opposition. The council voted 6 to 1, with Councilman Bill Hearn casting the dissenting vote.
Town Council is scheduled to make a preliminary vote on the addition.
County Councilman David Chinnis was angry enough at Monday’s county meeting to call the move “classic NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — mentality,” and to cite a state law that allows the county to remove its property from town limits.
The law, though, states the town would have to approve that removal.
“It’s pretty clear, the purposes behind (the move),” Chinnis said, calling the historic-district addition an effort to prevent “what is free use of private property.”
Summerville Mayor Bill Collins said he expects the historic-district proposal to be approved in title only, meaning details of it are still being worked on. A public hearing then would be held before a final, binding vote.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” he said about County Council. “They should have sat down with us when they first considered selling it.”
Collins said the town didn’t hear from the county after notifying officials about the district proposal, until he called Hargett last week to advise him of the town vote.
“Somehow we have to figure out how to communicate better,” Collins said. “And we will.”
The county vote was to oppose the move until its council members have a chance to sit with town officials to hash out how use of the property would be restricted if it is included in the district.
The old hospital complex blew up into a controversy in February when County Council considered selling the site as part of cost-saving, revenue-producing consolidation of services in the lower county.
The Summerville Preservation Society pressed the town to add it to the district.
Historic-district designation could complicate or stymie demolition or redevelopment of the 1937 building, causing headaches for a developer. That would make the property more difficult for the county to sell at the speculated $4 million price. And the county still owes more than $1 million on earlier renovation.
The hospital is a center for human services in the lower county around Summerville, the place where residents in the busy suburbs can go to pay taxes and obtain building permits or flu shots.
It’s also a sentimental artifact of the old town. The stately brick and white-columned edifice is a scenic focus, and the World War II memorial out front is a proud monument.
The complex comprises an entire city block at the busy corner of Main and West Fifth North streets (U.S. Highway 17A and U.S. Highway 78) — potentially a profitable commercial site for a business, such as a hotel or retail center, that would be a tax revenue generator for both the town and county.
County Council members insist they wouldn’t sell the property without covenants protecting its historic elements.
“I don’t want to see it destroyed or demolished. It’s a symbol of Dorchester County,” said County Councilman Richard Rosebrock.
If the town is going to force the complex into the historic district, Hargett said, he wants the town’s assurance that it would pay the difference for any reduction in price if it’s sold.
“I don’t think we as a county should risk any loss of value of this property,” he said.
Longtime County Councilman Willie Davis said the dispute drove home the question whether the county should have hung on to the building in the 1970s when the hospital closed, instead of consolidating lower and upper county service offices in a central location such as Ridgeville.
“Sometimes we get historic mixed up with whoever wants something at the time,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Previous versions of this story incorrectly stated that County Council had unamiously opposed the measure. The vote was 6 to 1.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.