09, 2005 - Last Updated: 8:13 AM
Suit fails to topple Mt.
Pleasant building cap
case has no merit, according to ruling
BY TYRONE WALKER
Of The Post and Courier Staff
won a major victory when a Charleston
master in equity ruled that the town acted legitimately when it established
a building cap to curtail residential growth.
Master-in-Equity Mikell R. Scarborough ruled late Thursday that a
lawsuit filed against the town by the developers of Hamlin Plantation in Mount
Pleasant was unfounded and did not merit a trial.
Mount Pleasant Town Council instituted the building permit
allocation program in 2000 to slow growth so the town's infrastructure and
services, including roads, police and fire, could catch up with the area's
population explosion. The cap limits the number of home-building permits
issued to a 3 percent growth rate per year.
Mayor Harry Hallman Jr. said he expected the favorable court ruling
because, in his mind, the building cap treats all parties fairly. The town
will continue to defend its right to limit residential growth, he said.
"Anybody can go to court, but we're prepared to meet them at the
courthouse," he said.
In the late 1990s, Hamlin Plantation and its parent, Sintra Corp.,
poured $7.5 million into development for roads, a sewer system and amenities
that include a pool and community center for a 900-home subdivision off
Rifle Range Road.
The developers filed a lawsuit in February 2004 after the building
cap brought the pace of construction in Hamlin to a near standstill, costing
the company millions of dollars as roughly 450 lots remained undeveloped.
The suit claimed the cap amounted to a lottery because developers
only get a chance to obtain building permits by paying the town's building
permit fee. Developers also claimed that the cap was an unconstitutional
taking of private land because Hamlin isn't being allowed to develop as
Developers sought an injunction that, if granted, would have ended
the town's building cap.
In a 21-page ruling, Scarborough
concluded that the economic impact of the cap does not amount to an
unconstitutional taking from developers, partly because the town did not
physically take any property.
Scarborough also concluded that the building permit
fee, which predates the cap, covers administrative costs and, thus, is not
an entry fee for a lottery. The cap also is not a lottery because the town
holds no drawing and sells no tickets, Scarborough
"Because the building permit allocation program, unlike a game of
chance, guarantees each applicant at least one permit, I conclude as a
matter of law that the program is not a lottery," Scarborough
Town Administrator Mac Burdette said the ruling validates the cap
and sends a message to other developers that the town is on solid legal
"We felt all along that we had built a solid program that can
withstand legal tests," he said.
It is not known whether developers will appeal the decision to the
state Supreme Court. The lawyer for the developers, Keith Babcock of Columbia, said
he was disappointed with the decision. He plans to review the ruling with
his client in figuring out the next step.