Developer’s use of “closed road” causes riff among residents and local officials
By Charlie Morrison │ Community Editor
When is a law a law? That question was recently raised as construction continues on a City of Charleston-zoned, 38-unit residential development adjacent to the Harbor Woods neighborhood that utilizes a roadway that was and may still be legally closed. According to a 1986 bill sponsored by former S.C. House Representative Derwood L. “Woody” Aydlette Jr, voted on and passed in the House and Senate, and signed by then-S.C. Gov. Richard Riley.
Citing joint resolutions introduced last summer to the S.C. House and Senate that reversed the 1986 law and open the road, project developer Michael Washburn is going ahead with construction. The project is progressing with the blessing of the City, which maintains the issue is a matter the State should deal with.
Neighborhood residents and elected officials alike are crying foul. S.C. House Dist. 119 Representative Peter McCoy recently called a Town Hall meeting that was well attended by members of the public as well as elected officials, including those from the Town of James Island, the James Island Public Service District, and James Island-based City Councilmember Kathleen Wilson.
What emerged from the meeting was the residents of the weren’t necessarily concerned with the development, but rather of the use of Harbortowne Road as an access, something barred by the 1986 law. For all the commotion this issue has raised, construction crews continue working, clear-cutting portions of land, and bulldozing others.
On May 1 of 2012, the entirety of the First Congressional Legislative Delegation representing Charleston County was listed on a resolution sponsored by Rep. Chip Limehouse stating that, “notwithstanding the 1986 act (closing the roadway) the South Carolina Department of Transportation shall not close the unpaved portion of Harbortowne Road.” For his part, McCoy made a notation in the house Journal that he was listed as a sponsor without his knowledge and that he did not agree with the bill.
The work is progressing illegally, states McCoy. He says the bottom line regarding the bill is that votes were not recorded in either the House nor the Senate on either bill, and thus haven’t been signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley. As such, asserts McCoy, a law is being broken with the roadway being opened.
“The fact of the matter is that the City is relying on a resolution to repeal a governor-signed law,” said McCoy last month via email. “Relying on this is against a standing law and is therefore illegal. (Michael) Washburn cannot start bulldozing a street and beginning development without approval of who owns the road.
“While the City won’t help, they own the road and authorized the development. I still believe the proper course of action would be an injunction or, later down the line, a lawsuit.”
The City of Charleston maintains a position that the joint resolution opened the road, and from that point on, the issue became a State matter. The roadway, which is an extension of existing Harbortowne Road, was in the view of the City, legally opened when the joint resolutions were filed last summer.
On Jan. 16, Washburn submitted concept plan for the a 38-lot subdivision zoned for single family, residential development utilizing Harbortowne Road as the primary access point to the neighborhood to the City of Charleston’s Planning Commission, which approved the plan.
Following the outcry that followed, councilwoman Wilson reached out to City attorneys about the possibility that their allowance of the development is in violation of State law. Legally, the City contends it stands on solid ground regarding the law, the roadway, and the development.
“Upon talking with Ms. (City of Charleston attorney Adelaide) Andrews last week, the City has not further place in this issue, she feels it is a state issue,” said Wilson. “Given that sentiment, there is no basis for a meeting, it would last 2 minutes given that the original bill and recent resolution are the only documents to be shared.
Wilson says she asked Andrews about a long standing bill signed by House, Senate, and the Governor versus a joint resolution not bearing those signatures.
“She immediately said that the State needs to address it. I think she is correct,” says Wilson.
McCoy contends that his main concern is that concern is that he believes a law has been broken by reopening the road. “I’ve had sit-down meetings with the City of Charleston and let them know that this is an issue,” said McCoy, who further stated that he’s on consultation with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson on the matter. “If a lawful resolution cannot be found, this could lead to an injunction in court to stop the road/development,” says McCoy. “Hopefully we can work this out before injunctions and lawsuits are in the works.”