Aiken City Attorney Gary Smith has denied violating state ethics laws regarding Project Pascalis and asked for the court to dismiss him from a lawsuit challenging the actions of the city, its municipal development corporation and design review board on the project.
Aiken attorney Clarke W. McCants III filed an answer on Smith's behalf Thursday afternoon in the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas.
Project Pascalis is the city's name for an estimated $75 million redevelopment project focused on the block bounded by Laurens Street, Richland Avenue, Newberry Street and Park Avenue in downtown Aiken.
Current plans call for the demolition of the vacant Hotel Aiken and a building next to it on Laurens Street and the construction of a 100-room hotel in their place. The Holley House and several buildings located between it and Newberry Street would be demolished to make way for an apartment complex and a parking garage. The city's former municipal building would be expanded into a conference center.
A lawsuit challenging the actions of the Aiken City Council, Aiken Municipal Development Commission, Aiken Design Review Board, RPM Development Partners, Raines Company, Aiken Economic Development Director Tim O'Briant and Smith on the project was filed July 5.
The plaintiffs in the suit are David Blake, Luis Rinaldini, former City Councilman Dick DeWar, Jenne Stoker, Beatrice McGhee, Gail King, the Historic Aiken Foundation, the Green Boundary Foundation and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation.
In the answer, Smith denies advising Aiken City Council on the project after he became aware that his law partner, Ray Massey, had a financial interest in the project. He later adds that if he provided any advice after that point it was a mistake and that such advice was innocently offered.
Massey is the registered agent for RPM Development Partners and one of the owners of properties adjacent to the properties that would be redeveloped if Project Pascalis goes forward.
Smith admits he was present for a March 28 Aiken City Council meeting but denies providing any specific legal advice to the city council at the meeting.
"This defendant further states that if he did provide any such advice, such advice was offered innocently and by mistake, and without any intent on his part to create and/or violate any conflict of interest he may have had in his role as serving as the attorney for the city of Aiken," McCants said.
Smith says he stopped providing legal advice to the Aiken Municipal Development Commission after June 2020 and that he has never provided legal advice to the Aiken Design Review Board during their consideration of the project.
He also argues that the court does not have the authority to hear the case and that the lawsuit fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted.