Pennsylvania Senators voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation that would make it illegal for Schuylkill County to purchase the former GIANT grocery store in Pottsville without getting consent from the city and local school district.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 45-5 in favor of SB 1296. The legislation was authored by Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) and inspired by Schuylkill County’s unpopular decision to pursue buying the former GIANT grocery store in downtown Pottsville.
“I am pleased that the Senate chose to act quickly on this important legislation,” Argall said in a statement released after Tuesday’s vote. “People in Pottsville have spoken very clearly on this issue on a bipartisan basis.”
Pennsylvania Senate Approves Pottsville GIANT Bill, 45-5
The GIANT store closed over the summer after 37 years in business. And not soon after that, Schuylkill County government officials expressed interest in buying the property for one of a number of purposes.
SB 1296 recently passed out of Committee in the state Senate. As soon as it moved out of Committee, Schuylkill County Commissioners hastily approved a motion to allow County Administrator Gary Bender to pursue purchase of the property on the county’s behalf. Commissioners were in such a rush to get Bender on the job that they failed to properly add the item to a public meeting agenda two weeks ago. And in their amended agenda, the action item was poorly and vaguely worded, a clear sign that it was rushed.
Republican Commissioners Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage voted in favor of the motion. Democrat Gary Hess vehemently opposed the motion and publicly scolded his colleagues for their reckless action.
After Tuesday’s action in the Pennsylvania Senate, it’s likely that Schuylkill County will up the ante and really make a strong push to purchase the former grocery store property along Progress Ave. in Pottsville.
Argall, in his statement Tuesday, blasted Hetherington and Halcovage for approving a motion to allow Bender to pursue the property.
“It is 100% wrong to jeopardize Pottsville’s ongoing revitalization efforts with this unilateral action by two of our county commissioners,” he said.
Schuylkill County Plan Still Unknown
If Schuylkill County does manage to purchase the former GIANT property, what happens with it remains a mystery.
Again, that hastily scribbled agenda item only created more questions. And it really exposed the reckless nature of this property pursuit.
Missing from the language of the motion was just how much the County was willing to spend, what property they were actually even considering – the agenda didn’t state a parcel number or even a proper street address (see attached below) – and what they planned to do with it. The agenda item merely said the property would, if it were purchased by the government, be used for “general county purposes”.
- READ: Schuylkill Commissioners Authorize Purchase of Former Pottsville GIANT in Literal Backroom Deal
It’s believed the county could go one of several ways with it: create office space, storage space and parking for county government or turn it into a pre-release prison center. County officials still haven’t ever said on the record that the former GIANT, if it got its hands on it, wouldn’t become a pre-release prison.
The idea of county offices and parking was only thrown out to the public through a drive-by media outlet (WFMZ-TV) which rarely covers Schuylkill County government. It sounds like the idea of county offices, etc., was meant to soften the blow of the original idea to purchase the property and put in a pre-release prison.
The public blowback the majority Commissioners received didn’t seem to care what went there, just as long as it didn’t fall into County government hands. Commissioners routinely ignored the will of Pottsville city officials and business officials in the county. In fact, they actively worked to keep their plans a secret and continue to do so today.
It was actually a Coal Region Canary article that hinted at the County’s plans for a pre-release prison at this site that initially brought the subject into the public light.
Argall added Tuesday, “This property should be available for use as a hotel, restaurant, or shops, not as a warehouse for old county records or a pre-release center for criminal offenders.
“This is not just a bad decision for Pottsville, it’s an extraordinarily bad decision for the entire county because if Pottsville’s tax base is decreased, that will cause the county to raise taxes on all of us.”
Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1296
SB 1296, as it’s written, isn’t specific to just Pottsville and Schuylkill County. The legislation, if it passes a House vote and gets signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, would bar any fourth-class county government from purchasing property in a revitalization area of a third-class city without consent from that city and a local school district.
Schuylkill County Agenda Item
Here’s a look at the agenda item quickly scribbled together prior to a Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting that gives Administrator Bender the authority to open-endedly pursue purchasing the former GIANT in Pottsville:New, New Business Motion for 9-23-20
Full Coverage of Pottsville GIANT Controversy
As noted above, Coal Region Canary has been ahead of the curve on this controversial topic. We were first to report that GIANT was closing and first to report the County’s interest in the property. And we’ve been following every step of the way:
- Secret Agenda: Schuylkill Commissioners Voting Wednesday on Former Pottsville GIANT Grocery Store
- Pennsylvania Senate Committee OKs Bill to Protect Pottsville GIANT Property from Schuylkill County Government Purchase
- Pottsville Councilman Demands Schuylkill Commissioners Pay Up
- EXCLUSIVE: Pre-release Prison Definitely the Plan for Former GIANT Property
- Argall Plans Legislation to Prevent Deals Like Schuylkill County Buying Former Pottsville GIANT
- State Orders Schuylkill County to Release Halcovage Tape
- Wolf Labels Schuylkill County an Area of COVID Concern
- Witnesses Say Woman Jumps from Burning Home in Pottsville
- Variance Granted – The Arts Barn Survives Zoning Challenge