In a tense moment on Tuesday night, Greenville County Council voted to proceed with the mechanism that will fund the massive $120 million County Square redevelopment – but just barely.
Council members voted 8-4 in favor of proceeding to a third reading of an ordinance that would approve the county to issue revenue bonds to pay for the project, in an amount not exceeding $120 million – the presumed budget for the project.
But that final vote tally is somewhat misleading.
While 8-4 may seem like an easy victory, the vote was preceded by a frustrated volley of arguments, and some council members who voted “yes” did so even as they openly expressed their displeasure of the process.
What does this mean for County Square?
As of now, things are still technically moving forward on the project.
But county council’s hesitancy to proceed with approving the funding mechanism through its second reading doesn’t bode well for the ordinance’s third reading, which will be held in January 2019.
If the county and city don’t reach common ground, the project could go right back to square one.
How we got here
The recent vote from county council comes after the county and the city released a joint statement just before Thanksgiving, announcing their mutual agreement to delay a vote on rezoning for the land. Those votes had originally been slated for Nov. 25 and Dec. 9, respectively. Had the votes been held and approved, the project presumably would have proceeded without any more significant roadblocks.
A major wedge issue on the rezoning, which led to the votes’ cancellations, concerned building height on the property, with the city pushing for a six-story limit in the proposed agreement.
“We all know what’s at stake”
While not ostensibly related to the funding, the topic of those zoning restriction limits was a key point of contention at Tuesday’s county council meeting. Council members also expressed frustration over the prospect of authorizing the funding mechanism before formalizing an agreement with the city.
The council voted on two motions, both of which had significant ramifications.
The first motion, proposed by District 25 Council Member Ennis Fant, was to put a hold on the ordinance indefinitely. This would essentially have served as a pause for a vote on the ordinance, not forcing council’s hand one way or the other.
“I don’t want to kill this project,” Fant said as he proposed the motion during the meeting, “so I say we hold it and try to find some common ground.”
That vote resulted in a 6-6 tie, which killed the motion in accordance with county council parliamentary procedure.
The second motion on which council voted had far more impactful implications. This motion concerned whether to move to a third reading on the ordinance related to approving the funding mechanism for the project. While an affirmative vote would simply mean the council would be able to make a final decision on the ordinance in the new year, a tie vote or a vote in the negative would have killed the ordinance entirely.
If that had happened, county council would have killed the entire project in the process.
“If we turn it down, we’re back to uncharted territory, back to ground zero,” said Chairman Butch Kirven. “We still got a third reading. This is not a final vote tonight. Let’s call a roll. I think everybody understands what’s at stake here.”
The final 8-4 vote ended the debate for that evening’s meeting.
But the ordinance’s fate, and the fate of the project itself, is left up in the air as the city and county approach the new year.