A judge took a pass Wednesday on barring homebuilding crews from using a James Island road that residents thought was closed by state law.

Ninth Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson said not much of a street existed when the dirt-surfaced dead end of Harbortowne Road was added to the state highway system in 1986 and was permanently closed to traffic.

After workers started using the road to access the land where they are building 38 new homes for the Harbor Woods community, residents filed a lawsuit citing an alleged violation of the law meant to preserve the peace in their neighborhood.

Saying they weren't opposed to the new community, they also asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the use of the road.

The once narrow, tree-lined path was cleared and widened in the past five months after a concurrent resolution by state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, was purported to have opened the road for developer D.R. Horton.

In a hearing Wednesday, Nicholson said such a resolution cannot override a state law. But the law is probably "null and void" anyway, he said.

"They didn't have the right to close it to begin with because there was no road," Nicholson said. "There was nothing to close."

About half of the two dozen residents named in the lawsuit whispered in disappointment.

Their litigation isn't over though. The judge said they could amend their filings detailing the losses they have suffered, but he also urged the two sides to iron out an agreement.

The residents' attorneys told Nicholson that the road, though slight, had existed and that the construction has disrupted residents' enjoyment of their own homes. What once was a wooded lot was transformed into an expanse of mud, plumbing tubes and heavy equipment.

A nearly 30-year resident of Regatta Road, which intersects Harbortowne, Susan Frawley said in an affidavit that she was selling her home at a greatly reduced price because of Realtors' concerns about the new traffic.

"We don't want to stop the business," said Christine Williams, who argued in place of the group's primary attorney, David Aylor. "We just asked that they find another access."

What other options the developer would have to the 15-acre tract wasn't known.

Residents were miffed, they said, when Limehouse pushed through the resolution at the request of landowner Michael Washburn. Such documents don't require a vote in the legislature.

Nicholson said the resolution "is not law" and shouldn't have bearing on the issue. But he also said he couldn't stop a development from being built by issuing a restraining order.

Aylor stood by the residents' view that the road's use is illegal. He said he plans to bring the case to trial "in the near future."

Kyle Dillard of Columbia, the attorney for D.R. Horton, said the development was "well on its way" and that it was too late to unwind its progress.

Sewer and water utilities are in the ground, Dillard said. Underground electrical lines likely will be installed next week, when the crews plan to pave the new road.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.