More questions emerge around York City's $4M plan for Dentsply site

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York City officials debated a plan to purchase the former Dentsply campus for more than an hour Wednesday night before once again deferring a final decision until Tuesday.

The $4 million proposal drew opposition from several members of the public, mainly out of concern that the city didn't have a clear plan for what to do with the 17-acre site. It has sat empty since 2020, when the dental supply company laid off 200 workers.

"What are the plans for the community's input into the development? None of that has really been discussed with the community," city resident Michael Walker said during the meeting. "What are the plans to mitigate this property coming off the tax rolls?"

The City Council approved an initial letter of intent with representatives for Dentsply in May, but officials delayed a vote earlier this month on an amended version of that agreement, which could pave the way for an eventual sale.

More:York City Council to discuss $4 million Dentsply redevelopment

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Redevelopment Authority chairman Blanda Nace said the LOI approval is necessary before the city can access certain information, such as utility bills and environmental information, surrounding the proposed sale.

Later in the meeting, Nace said that he received some general information and that there would be community input later in the process. He cited a two-page executive summary of an environmental report from Dentsply that he needed to sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to gain access to.

One of the questions raised about the proposal is whether these documents should be public.

The York Dispatch filed a Right-to-Know request for the materials but has not received a response yet.

At the meeting Wednesday, City Solicitor Jason Sabol said information about real estate negotiations is generally not disclosed to the public. When pressed on the matter by Council President Sandie Walker, he said that it would likely be exempt from the public records law.

York City is considering purchasing the vacant Dentsply campus at 570 W. College Avenue.

Another question concerns a $40,000 escrow agreement included in the amended agreement. That money would be held until a decision is made about the sale, according to Special Counsel Rebecca Shanaman, of CGA Law Firm.

Shanaman, who represents the city, told the council that the new LOI would allow the city to terminate the agreement and receive the deposit back without penalty.

"That doesn't bind the city to pursue and get to a purchase and sales agreement, the only binding is that CGA is holding the money in trust," she said. "With that statement in the LOI, my concerns have been addressed."

If a LOI is approved, Shanaman said the city would have 45 days to do due diligence on the property and prepare a purchase and sales agreement. At any time during that period, the city could terminate that agreement and get its escrow payment back without penalty.

Mayor Michael Helfrich did not attend Wednesday's meeting and did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Messages left with Dentsply Sirona and the company's broker, Cushman & Wakefield, were not returned.

On Wednesday, Walker said there needs to be more discussion on any potential Dentsply purchase.

"With something of this magnitude," she said, "we need to make sure especially with public funds that we do due diligence."

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Councilman Lou Rivera said there is a certain amount of risk to any decision the council makes.

"This is a great opportunity for us, I believe, to purchase a piece of land that the city will have control over," he said. "But we all need to work together, we need to come together and make sure this is done right."

The item will next be discussed at the council's meeting on Tuesday. To watch the full special meeting and following committee meeting, visit the White Rose Community TV YouTube page at York City Council Special Meeting + Committee Meeting 9/28/2022 - YouTube.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.