FORT MILL, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – York County leaders on Wednesday issued a lengthy statement on the county’s dispute with MorningStar over the ministry’s Heritage Tower, a 35-year-old building in Fort Mill that was once set to be part of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “Heritage USA” property.
Construction of the tower began in 1986. While the foundations and exterior were completed, only several interior floors were built to completion before financial scandal surrounding the Christian theme park and Jim Bakker halted work on the tower.
According to York County, PTL Ministries never applied for a certificate of occupancy during construction, and no certificate was ever obtained.
As a result, the statement said the tower has never been inhabited. York County said that since a certificate of occupancy was never received, any plans to complete the tower must “meet or exceed the requirements of current building codes,” meaning the building cannot be “grandfathered” in using old building codes.
York County went into the history of the project from the county’s perspective, which included orders and requirements to demolish the tower in at least two of the sales that happened specifically to the property in 2004 and 2005. In fact, they said the demolition was a part of the development plan.
In 2006, York County said it entered into a development agreement with MorningStar to either “complete or demolish” the Tower within five years with specific dates, deadlines and construction financing.
MorningStar was given 180 days to show the financing of the project after the site plan was approved in 2009.
York County officials said the ministry “failed to provide any tangible evidence, including bid, performance, bond information, letters of credit, or the like within the 180-day period.
In 2010, York County said it sent MorningStar a letter formally notifying the company of its default under the developer agreement and gave it 60 days to cure the default.
Officials said the county gave the ministry “well beyond” the 60-day cure period to reach a resolution.
In 2013, MorningStar Ministries sued York County for breaching the Developer Agreement. The county counterclaimed that MorningStar couldn’t produce “evidence of financial ability.”
MorningStar’s claims were dismissed. The county’s counterclaims were not.
In 2019, discussions between the ministry and the county led to a pause in legal proceedings to address the counterclaims, county leaders said. The result was reportedly a 2020 agreement to take legal issues off the table while MorningStar worked to get a building permit.
Both sides were given a year to come to a resolution, according to York County.
County leaders said MorningStar “failed to submit a building permit application for completion of the tower and failed to prove any evidence that the tower could be funded or completed.” The county made a motion to have its case reinstated.
York County said MorningStar Ministries filed two lawsuits against the county in federal court.
One reportedly alleged a violation of the S.C. Religious Freedom Act, the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the S.C. and U.S. Constitutions. The other lawsuit involved Freedom of Information Act issues.
Both lawsuits were dismissed, York County said.
The county said it has “shown significant patience with regard to the tower,” in what it called a rebuttal to MorningStar’s public comments.
“York County has done nothing to deny MorningStar the right to develop its own property,” the statement said. “All York County has asked from MorningStar is that it do so in the same manner required of any other developer in a similar situation in order to ensure the safety, health and welfare of citizens and residents.”
The county concluded its statement with a series of rebuttals to public statements MorningStar has made—among them, they haven’t treated MorningStar differently, disputed how long a case has been going on, disputed claims of MorningStar being “thwarted” from lawsuits by the county, claimed several statements made by MorningStar are “patently false” and disputed MorningStar having bond approvals.
Work to find a resolution between the sides continued as recently as last month.
“The only thing we can say at this point is that we’re in litigation, we’re in negotiations, or trying to move the ball forward to some resolution,” said York County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey last month.
Don Brown, an attorney for MorningStar, told Queen City News in February that the ministry had the funding and still wished to turn the property into a community, but that is incumbent on York County leaders to make that happen.
“They are the elected officials,” said Brown. “Those elected officials have to make the best decision for what’s in the best interest of the county. I don’t think it’s more and more money when we can flip a light switch as soon as few more things get done.”
Queen City News has reached out to MorningStar Ministries for a response to York County’s statement.