A legal dispute has been simmering for years over public access to a tiny waterfront park on the Ashley River in the upscale Longborough neighborhood.
It remains unclear when and how the dispute will be resolved, but it's likely in the homestretch. It involves the Longborough Homeowners Association, the city of Charleston and the Beach Co., one of the region's largest real estate investment companies and the group that developed Longborough.
Court documents show that the homeowners association originally filed the lawsuit in 2006 because it thinks the park should be private, and that the law is on its side. But the city of Charleston claims that in 2001, as a condition of allowing the development to move forward, it had an oral agreement with the Beach Co. to provide public access to the park, which includes a fishing dock.
Longborough is a neighborhood largely comprised of single-family homes on the peninsula north of Hampton Park. The Beach Co. began developing it in 2001. To do that, the company demolished Shoreview Apartments, a low-income housing project with Ashley River views. Single-family homes there can sell for prices in the high six figures.
James Wegmann, a lawyer who represents the homeowners, said Tuesday that the development's covenants and restrictions since 2003 have made clear that the park is private. And, he said, the initial plat in 2003, and three other plats after that, also indicate the park is private.
The Beach Co. originally controlled the homeowners association, Wegmann said. When it turned over control to the homeowners in 2006, he said, it turned over other open spaces in the development, but not the park.
"If I bought an expensive piece of property with an understanding and that turned out not to be the case, I would be concerned," Wegmann said.
The parties had tried to settle the dispute through mediation, but they reached an impasse in January, according to court documents.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Friday that he thinks it would be unacceptable to deny the public access to the park.
John Darby, president of the Beach Co., and Trenholm Walker, an attorney representing the company, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Wegmann said that after mediation attempts broke down, a judge decided to first settle issues around the oral agreement between the city and the Beach Company.
Hearings on those issues began on Friday, he said, but it remains unclear when they will resume.
City Councilman Dudley Gregorie, who represents the district in which Longborough sits, said he thinks the park should be public. The Wagner Terrace Neighborhood Association would not have given a nod to the development moving forward without an agreement that there would be public access to the park, he said. "It's been there for eons," he said. "People crab and fish down there."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.