The state Commerce Department’s plan to help Continental Tire Co. develop a distribution center on the former Navy base in North Charleston is facing a zoning challenge from nearby property developers.

The neighboring property owners, in an April 11 court filing, claim the city’s decision to rezone the land for heavy industrial use was illegal and unnecessary.

Most of the neighboring properties are residential.

The site in dispute had earlier been part of the Noisette redevelopment plan. The state acquired much of the land through a foreclosure sale and used it as a bargaining chip to settle a long-running dispute with North Charleston over plans for a new rail yard on the south end of the base that will serve as a new shipping terminal in that area.

Commerce’s Public Railways Division retained ownership of a roughly 20-acre property between Noisette Boulevard and Saint Johns Avenue, where some vacant warehouses are located. In March, North Charleston City Council agreed to rezone the land for heavy industrial use, clearing the way for Continental Tire’s plan.

Continental is building a manufacturing plant in Sumter that could begin production by early next year. The North Charleston facility would support that $500 million operation, a company spokeswoman has said.

At a hearing before the zoning change was approved, attorney Stephanie Roberts, representing the owners of West Yard Lofts, told the city Planning Commission the 70 apartments would not have been built if the adjoining property were zoned for heavy industry.

And at a City Council meeting, attorney Andrew Gowder, representing The Noisette Co., warned that the change sought by the state amounted to an illegal “spot zoning” inconsistent with the city’s growth plan.

North Charleston’s rail yard settlement with the state required the city’s staff to support the rezoning request, meaning it would recommend that City Council approve it. City Council was not required to do so, but it agreed to the change in March.

Now, The Noisette Co., West Yard Lofts and NH68SC — a building that houses the Lowcountry Innovation Center — have gone to Circuit Court, alleging that reclassifying the property for heavy industrial uses amounted to an unlawful “spot zoning” that wasn’t necessary for the Continental Tire plan.

North Charleston’s lawyer Derk Van Raalte said the legal challenge was expected.

“It’s not entirely surprising, from the comments at City Council meetings,” he said Tuesday.

A formal response to the legal complaint has not been filed. North Charleston, City Council, and S.C. Public Railways are named as defendants.

Derrick Dean, who represents all three parties, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Gowder was also unavailable Tuesday, and Roberts declined to comment.