Family Feud: Its cousin vs. cousin in Kiawah Island real estate dynasty dispute
Feuding cousins who own pieces of the real estate dynasty that developed Kiawah Island and two overseas resorts are heading to court in a financial dispute that could shake up the ownership.
All the people involved are related, through blood or marriage, to the late J.C. Long, who created a real estate empire that developed Isle of Palms, Kiawah and many subdivisions and commercial properties in the Charleston area.
Kiawah Partners President Charles P. “Buddy” Darby III, who is J.C. Long’s grandson, is accused in the civil suit of “siphoning off, and misappropriating” income and assets from the partnership companies to benefit himself and members of his family.
The plaintiffs are descendants of J.C. Long’s brother, L.D. Long, and are minority owners in Kiawah Partners. One of them, Leonard Long, was the partnership’s executive vice president until he retired in October.
At stake is control over extensive, international property holdings worth countless millions of dollars.
The real estate holdings involve large pieces of Kiawah and Johns islands, including Charleston County’s Beachwalker Park, as well as the 5-star Doonbeg golf resort in Ireland and the 2,500-acre Christophe Harbour development on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.
“It is a good thing my grandfather, J.C. Long, is not still around,” Darby said. “He would be extremely disappointed in his grand-nephew Leonard’s action.”
The suit, filed in Charleston County by a collection of 19 partnerships, trusts and individuals, is asking that the partnerships be dissolved, the properties be placed in trust, the ownership divided among all the owners, and the properties sold if necessary.
Other pieces of J.C. Long’s modern-day real estate empire — principally The Beach Co. and its subsidiary Gulfstream Construction — are not involved in the lawsuit. The Longs do not have an ownership interest in The Beach Co., and that company no longer has a stake in Kiawah Partners.
“The Beach Company is saddened to learn of the pending complaint from various parties against owners of the Kiawah Island Real Estate Development Group and hope that their issues may be resolved quickly,” said Beach Co. Executive Vice President J. Darryl Reyna.
“Please note that The Beach Company divested itself of all of its interest in the Kiawah Island development in January 1997 and has had no involvement in any way since that time.”
January 1997 is when Buddy Darby gained control of the Kiawah companies, which now include Kiawah Resort Associates, KRA Doonbeg and Kiawah St. Kitts, according to the civil suit.
Darby, the suit claims, has consistently tried to “squeeze the plaintiffs out of their ownership interests in the Kiawah entities.”
The suit also suggests that the minority partners objected to real estate ventures pursued off Kiawah Island. Those ventures aren’t specified in the suit, but Kiawah Partners today owns hundreds of acres on Johns Island, and the resort properties in Ireland and on St. Kitts.
“The plaintiffs, as minority owners, have been oppressed, abused, frozen and squeezed out, ignored, and misled,” the lawsuit claims.
The goal of the suit is to have the partnership dissolved and the assets distributed.
“Personally, I find it hard to believe that my cousin Leonard, who has been a very important contributor to Kiawah Partners success over 24 years, would take this action,” Darby said. “In the meantime, all of us at Kiawah Partners will strive to continue the high quality resort community development which has made us so successful in the past.”
Kiawah will be hosting the PGA Championship in August, on the golf resort’s Ocean Course. The island includes condos, a luxury hotel and some private homes with eight-figure price tags.
When Kiawah Resort Associates was formed to purchase the bulk of Kiawah Island in 1988, the $105 million deal was the state’s largest single real estate transaction.
The Beach Co. was a large part of KRA, at the time, but left when the partnership was restructured nine years later.
“We remain hopeful that the lawsuit will be resolved for all parties’ benefit and that the island will not suffer any ill effects from such claims,” Reyna said.
The Beach Co. is owned by the Darby and Way families, who are the descendants of J.C. Long’s two daughters. The company is run by John Darby, who is Buddy’s brother.
J.C. Long founded The Beach Co. when he bought most of Isle of Palms for $96,000 in 1945, and began developing homes there.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.