City stymies property swap (copy) (copy)

Charleston County is set to negotiate a potential sale of its property at 995 Morrison Drive. File/Staff

Charleston County will explore selling what's being described as one of its most prized pieces of real estate to a nearby landowner in a private negotiation.

The idea isn't sitting well with at least two elected officials.

The company that owns Laurel Island wants to buy 995 Morrison Drive, a nearly eight-acre expanse in an area of the upper peninsula where investors and developers have swarmed in recent years.

County Council approved a plan Tuesday authorizing its economic development committee to negotiate a price and other terms with LRA North Promenade over the next 60 days. 

"There is no guarantee of a sale," said Vic Rawl, council chairman. "There is simply a process and a time frame."

The approval wasn't unanimous. Council members Joe Qualey and Henry Darby voted no.

Qualey complained he was unaware of the details until they were disclosed Tuesday. More troubling is that the county isn't soliciting other bids for the property, he said.

"I don't like this sole-source stuff," he said Wednesday.

At Tuesday's meeting, Qualey said as many 30 potential purchasers have expressed interest in buying 995 Morrison at some point. He described the site as "arguably the most valuable piece of property in Charleston County's inventory."

"I don't think its right that one group gets pushed through the door to the detriment of, really, anybody else," he said. 

Private negotiations are legal. According to its procurement rules County Council has the authority "to determine an appropriate alternative method" when selling real estate, though any deal requires public hearings and public votes.

Darby said he opposes the proposal because it represents "a continuation of the infringement upon the poor people of downtown Charleston." 

"This lot is going to be sold for the well-to-do to ... become richer," he said Wednesday.

The negotiators for the county will include staffers along with council members Brantley Moody, Herb Sass and Elliott Summey.

The prospective buyer is affiliated with Philadelphia-based real estate giant Lubert-Adler.

Any redevelopment of 995 Morrison would require zoning changes from the city of Charleston, which is requesting a 70-foot-wide right-of way through the middle of the property. The swath would provide the land to extend Cool Blow Street to Lubert-Adler's 160-acre Laurel Island, possibly via an elevated bridge, according to the county.

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This isn't the first time the future of 995 Morrison has been a political football. "This has been going on for years," Summey said Tuesday.

It heated up around 2013, when the city wanted the site to house technology businesses there. That idea clashed with a county plan to turn it over to a student-housing developer as part of a land swap. The city then abruptly rezoned 995 Morrison in way that effectively killed that deal.

Since then, the long-planned development of nearby Laurel Island at the end of Romney Street on Town Creek is back in the mix. Last year, a real estate firm floated plans to turn the former landfill into a mixed-use community called "Lorelei." The company later scrapped the deal, blaming disagreements over traffic and vehicular access.

Summey didn't cite Laurel Island specifically while discussing the city's request that a new road bisect 995 Morrison. 

"It became apparent that this right-of-way is essential for other projects they want to do, and they need to come through our property to get there," he said.

Charleston planning officials believe an extension of Cool Blow Street is necessary to break up what is now a "very large" block of land, city spokesman Jack O'Toole said.

"It also might one day provide access to Laurel Island," he said.

Lubert-Adler did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott