Dorchester County Councilman David Chinnis didn't pull his punches Monday morning during a special meeting of council to address the Town of Summerville seeking to put the county-owned Old Hospital building at 500 N. Main St. in the historic district.
"It's pretty clear that we all know what is behind this," Chinnis said. "To prevent you from, in effect, is free use of the property ... I'm looking for the outrage of property rights people. In this case, it's strangely empty."
Council then voted 6-1 to oppose the town seeking to place the property in the historic district without first consulting with the county on potential ramifications. Councilman Bill Hearn, who represents District 6, which includes the Old Hospital, voted against the motion.
The town will have first reading on placing the building in the historic district during Wednesday's regular meeting of council.
The question of whether or not the county's services building is historic or not came in the wake of council mulling moving county services to a more suitable building — while still keeping it on the lower end of the county. According to council, the current building is too small to house some services, requiring thousands to be spent annually on leases.
Later, it was learned that selling the building was a moot point since the county still owes money on the property.
In an online Patch poll, 68 percent of respondents consider the site historic. Council members in Monday's meeting agreed that the building may be historic, but don't want any unnecessary restrictions placed on the property's use, which can hinder a future sale down the road or stymie value.
While Chinnis came out swinging against the town, he said he is not opposed to working with them for the good of the property.
"The threat of a preservation historic district just kind of perturbs me," Chinnis said. He also mentioned the county's right to remove the property from municipal control and place it back under county control.
Council members like Richard Rosebrock reiterated the importance of the building.
Hearn, who faces a primary challenge this June and reelection in November, said he supports the building going into the historic district.
But while his fellow council members may agree that the building is historic, they wanted more cooperation between the county and town.
"If the town of Summerville puts a restriction on us, I don't think that's fair to the people of this county," Councilman George Bailey said.
"I don't like a small group or even the town of Summerville telling us what to do with property," Councilman Larry Hargett said. "As representatives of the entire county, I don't think we as a council should risk any loss of value in this property ... This is a very valuable piece of property."
Chinnis also sought to clarify rumors from what he called "an intentional campaign of misinformation." He said county services would not leave this end of the county, and the county would not raze the building or remove the veterans memorial. He said the county would work with the town for the best use for the building.