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Finance committee erupts over Greer residential project

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This story first appeared in the Nov. 15 print edition of GSA Business Report.

If Greer Station is the compass rose of the city’s redevelopment plan, Project Homecoming would be its needle.

Where the $42 million, 275-family planned community points, returned investment in the city would follow, Reno Deaton, president and CEO of the Greer Redevelopment Corp., told GSA Business Report at the conclusion of the first phase of Greer’s streetscape project last year.

But the city’s plans may be in troubled straits after Greenville County Council’s finance committee shot down a fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement for the project in October — a decision that has sparked council debate on what type of projects qualify for economic development incentives.

“The city of Greer had worked with the developer to clear up some blight — a city block in the city of Greer,” County Councilman Dan Tripp said. “We went through the process and the chairman pulled the ordinance back to committee, changed the committee assignments up and put two people on there who helped him kill the FILOT agreement. I just think it sends a bad signal to our municipalities and developers that we’re not supportive.”

County Council Chairman Willis Meadows replaced councilmembers Joe Dill and Butch Kirven with Ennis Fant and Stan Tzouvelekas on the finance committee earlier this year.

Tripp, chairman of the finance committee, admitted the new committee had eliminated only the one FILOT agreement, but was afraid that is enough of a warning flare for incoming developers to trigger a “chilling effect” on development in the county.

“It’s unfortunate that someone came to me today and said, ‘I hear they’re going to move the Highway 14 matter back to the kill committee,’” Tripp said during the meeting. Earlier during the meeting, Meadows had agreed with a motion to move a $121 million project to alleviate congestion on Woodruff Road back to committee.

“To repeat that does a disservice to the council,” Meadows said.

Tripp replied that he just wanted to challenge the council not to play to the “kill committee” caricature.

“We are talking about growing by 40% over the next 20 years, and we cannot handle the congestion on Woodruff Road if we don’t do this project,” he said.

After the meeting, Meadows told GSA Business Report that the council has to play within certain parameters, and those don’t allow FILOT agreements for residential communities — even if they are mixed development projects like Project Homecoming.

“We’re criticized as the kill committee because we follow the rules,” he said. “FILOTs are used for manufacturing and industrial, not for housing. So, we follow that rule. Now, I’m sorry to say we haven’t always done that.”

Three residential FILOT agreements, two pertaining to affordable housing projects, had been approved by the council in the past, he said.

“This is part of the problem with council: we don’t always follow the rules,” Meadows told GSA Business Report. “That’s why we got sued. That’s why we owed $30 million, and we’re not giving that back — which we should. And now, we’re being sued for $330 million because we didn’t give it back.”

Greer resident Jerry Bruce sued Greenville County on Oct. 20 for not repaying taxpayers for $30 million in road and telecommunication fees ruled by the S.C. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional and illegal in July. Piggy-backing on council discussions of the suit, Tzouvelekas noted in session that at the next meeting, he would bring forward a plan to eliminate property taxes for Greenville citizens.

But as far as altering FILOT rules to allow for more residential development, Meadows said it is possible but that it would only increase residential developers’ profits, not bring in jobs or raise salaries.

“All rules can be changed,” he said. “But I would hope not.”

Reach Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1223.

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