MOUNT PLEASANT — The former developer of Carolina Park lost its bid to reclaim a stake in the 1,700-acre project Wednesday, the latest twist in a long-running legal drama that includes a bitter business split and one of the region’s biggest foreclosures.
The S.C. Supreme Court found that Republic-Charleston LLC had not been wrongfully deprived of its legal rights to the Mount Pleasant property. At the same time, the justices upheld a 2011 court decision that determined that the Virginia-based company could not sue to take the land from a group that includes its estranged ex-partners.
Charleston attorney Joe Wilson, who represents the current owners, said the decision is significant for the future of Carolina Park, where construction is starting up again after years of inactivity and uncertainty.
The ruling “takes the real estate off the table” in other litigation between the previous partners, he said.
“The real estate is not subject to any dispute,” Wilson said. “This development can go forward without any interference at all from outside people.”
Republic-Charleston executive Steven A. Grigg did not respond to a request for comment. Attorney Richard Rosen said Wednesday’s decision won’t prevent the company from pursuing the other aspects of its lawsuit.
“The case goes forward. ... Money is on the table. Damages are on the table,” Rosen said.
Approved for about 2,000 residential units and millions of square feet of commercial space, Carolina Park was one of the most prominent master-planned developments in South Carolina to fall victim to the recession and the prolonged real estate downturn.
The firm behind the project was Carolina Park Associates, a 50-50 joint venture between Republic-Charleston and a local real estate entity formed by three former Wall Street executives, John Chalsty, Doug Dittrick and Ben Marino.
With the economy faltering, the development company got caught shorthanded when its main lender cut off its financing. Carolina Park Associates fell behind on its mortgage in 2009, exposing a rift between the two partners.
The property fetched $50,1 million when it went on the auction block in June 2010.
Republic-Charleston objected to the fact that the winning and only bidder included its estranged former business partners, who worked out a deal with Daniel-Island-based Grove Land Investors LLC.
Republic-Charleston pulled out all stops to halt the foreclosure sale, but was unsuccessful. In court papers, the company has said Chalsty, Dittrick and Marino improperly muscled it out of the project by secretly negotiating with Grove Land Investors, which declined to comment Wednesday.
After losing the property, Republic-Charleston sued the new owners. The case remains open, but Circuit Judge Roger Young found last year that the former developer had no legal rights to the land at Carolina Park.
Republic-Charleston appealed that decision, and the state Supreme Court heard the case in May.
This week’s ruling comes as the sounds of hammers and power saws return to Carolina Park, where just four houses have sat for years among a largely unused network of roads and other improvements.