MorningStar's development suit against York Co. could end before trial

The Herald Online, South Carolina/July 8, 2014

By Anna Douglas

Fort Mill -- A nearly 18-month legal fight between York County and Fort Mill’s MorningStar Ministries could come to an end this month, if a judge grants the county’s request for a ruling before the case moves to trial.

York County has asked Master-in-Equity Judge Jack Kimball to dismiss MorningStar’s claim that county officials botched a development deal in 2010.

The 2008 development agreement was struck to allow for the renovation of a 21-story tower on MorningStar’s property near Starlight Drive and Regent Parkway.

The tower was built as a hotel in televangelist Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Heritage USA, a Christian-themed resort and park. The Bakkers, best known for their televised “PTL Club,” abandoned development plans in the 1990s. MorningStar – a Christian ministry founded in 1985 by Rick Joyner – bought the property in 2004.

In court documents, York County claims that the unfinished tower is a “nuisance” and “its progressively deteriorating shell ... has dominated the Fort Mill skyline for a generation.”

County officials say they want the tower to be torn down. The church estimates the building is worth $10 million. York County wants MorningStar to pay for demolition costs.

MorningStar sued the county in January 2013, alleging that the county didn’t properly approve site plans for the tower that would have moved development forward.

Without that approval, MorningStar contends, it couldn’t secure quotes for construction work. Without contractors’ estimates, the church says, it couldn’t deliver on the county’s demand for financial information and proof of their ability to pay for the development.

York County argues that it approved the church’s site plan on Aug. 24, 2009. MorningStar failed to provide proof of financing for the project within 180 days, which is required in the development agreement, according to the county’s court filings.

MorningStar alleges that York County never sent Joyner, MorningStar’s executive director and senior pastor at MorningStar Fellowship Church, a notice of the approved site plan or confirmation of approval. The church didn’t know, according to its court filings, that the plans were approved and that the clock was ticking for it to provide the required financial information.

Before MorningStar sued, county officials had claimed that the church was in default on the development agreement.

Now the church claims York County orchestrated MorningStar’s failure to comply with the 180-day requirement. The move was intended, MorningStar contends in court documents, to “move the tower project inexorably toward failure and demolition.”

On Tuesday, Rock Hill attorney Dan Ballou, who is helping represent the county in the suit, said he couldn’t comment on the case.

There have been two hearings on York County’s motion for summary judgment. Kimball’s decision on the motion, Ballou said, could “come any day now.”

Efforts to reach MorningStar officials and their attorney were unsuccessful Tuesday.

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