In a lawsuit over a rejected rezoning for a new school, Hanahan taxpayers are on the hook for legal fees for attorneys suing the city and attorneys defending it.
The odd turn of events resulted from a decision in December by the Hanahan City Council denying a rezoning on a 12.1-acre site known as the Bowen Tract so that the Berkeley County School District could build a new elementary school. The district appealed that decision, setting up the legal challenge that cost more than $50,000 before it was dropped.
The school district has been billed $42,564 by the law firm of Nexsen Pruet to appeal the city's unanimous decision, while the city has been billed $8,985 by the law firm of Callison, Tighe & Robinson to defend their decision. The legal fees were obtained by The Post and Courier through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The district dropped its appeal May 12 after the landowner, Wrenn Development, chose not to renew a purchase contract with the district for the site off Foster Creek Road.
"As far as the cost of the lawsuit goes, there are a lot of places that we'd rather have spent our money than on attorneys," said Hanahan City Administrator Johnny Cribb, adding that the rezoning appeal may be a first for the city.
School officials said Wednesday that emails between city employees, planning commissioners and city councilmen obtained during the appeal show the request was doomed from the start because the city preferred a different site for the school.
"Through the appeal process, it has now been discovered that ... this process was never going to be accepted by city officials," School Superintendent Rodney Thompson said in a statement Wednesday, referring to emails. He also said Wrenn "suspiciously" pulled out of the project.
"The covert actions of the city have caused the district to lose a great deal of valuable time and money pursing a site that was never going to be approved," he said. "In fact, prior to going to the planning commission, it appears the decks were stacked against us."
Several of the emails provided by Thompson mention a preference for a 21-acre tract on Williams Lane owned by the city. City officials have also said in public meetings that the site is available and they would support building a school there. The city owns a second, similar-size lot across the street and plans to build parks on one or both sites.
"There was an accusation that we were somehow trying to force them in that direction," Cribb said. "Giving up half our property was a tremendous offer by our mayor and council and it shouldn't be interpreted as anything but that."
In January, Thompson wrote in a letter to Cribb that he would like investigate the site.
"Finding a suitable location ... has been a difficult task," Thompson said Wednesday.
The district rejected a couple of other sites before settling on Bowen, which Thompson said met local and state requirements. The rezoning denial was "arbitrary and unjustified," he said.
In denying the rezoning, Hanahan officials cited traffic, the acreage and the number of planned parking spaces. In addition, officials worried about a projected $200,000 loss of annual revenue, and wanted a deed restriction to guarantee that all children who live in Hanahan would attend its schools. Currently, some residents are zoned for Goose Creek schools.
The school is one of five new schools and several major renovations that are being funded by the $198 million bond referendum passed by voters in 2012. More than 60 percent of Hanahan voters supported the referendum, which included $22 million for an elementary school in the Tanner Plantation/Foster Creek area to ease overcrowding at Hanahan Elementary, Goose Creek Primary and Sedgefield Intermediate.
The school was scheduled to open in August 2015, but the district said it is delayed indefinitely.
"We need to get over whatever animosity there may be," Cribb said. "Nobody on City Council is trying to say or do anything that keeps this thing from moving forward. We are ready to get to work and have good, positive dialog. It will be a great day when that first bulldozer comes in and a school is getting built. I can still envision that day, and that's what we've got to focus on."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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