Charleston County is considering an unusual land deal in which it would swap a property and a building it owns on Morrison Drive for two other parcels at undisclosed locations.
County Council voted 6-2 last week to have staff members create a contract between the county and an unidentified developer, who wants the property at 995 Morrison Drive, and bring it back to council for consideration at its Jan. 2 meeting.
Walt Smalls, deputy county administrator for general services, said he thinks the county would come out ahead in the deal, getting upgraded facilities and a new EMS station at no cost to taxpayers. But at least two County Council members raised concerns about the plan, including the county failing to explore other options for dealing with the valuable property in an up-and-coming part of the city.
The building on Morrison Drive now houses the county's disabilities board and storage facility as well as the city of Charleston's small claims and magistrate courts.
A developer approached the county and offered the chance to swap the Morrison Drive property for properties on Upper King Street and Savannah Highway, Smalls said. The developer also would provide facilities on the Upper King property to house the magistrate court and a new EMS station. And it would provide space on Savannah Highway to house the disabilities board and county storage, he said.
County officials said they will not identify the developer or disclose the specific location of the King Street and Savannah Highway properties because they are part of confidential contract negotiations.
Smalls said the county would get upgraded facilities to replace aging buildings at no cost to taxpayers. It also would get a new EMS station.
County Councilman Joe Qualey, along with Herb Sass, voted against the plan, which was developed by County Administrator Kurt Taylor and other staffers.
Qualey said the "staff became enamored with the first proposal and now council appears ready to act without giving any other developer even an opportunity to make a proposal."
He thinks other developers should be allowed to bid on the property, even if bids are in the form of other land-swap proposals. "To do otherwise is irresponsible," Qualey said. "If this group turns out to be the best option, then let's go with it. But to simply assume that it is the best the county can get is wrong and is contrary to competitive bidding practices."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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