Here we go again: Charleston, James Island at odds

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley (left) and James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey are at odds again over annexations.

The peace between the city of Charleston and the town of James Island appears to be crumbling.

Nearly a year after Mayor Joe Riley said he would never again dispute James Island’s right to exist, Charleston’s legal department has filed notice it is preparing to challenge six questionable residential annexations approved by James Island Town Council.

The annexations are questionable because none of the six properties James Island took in is contiguous to the town.

Some of the homes involved are just a few blocks outside the nearest town boundary line, while others are farther, with the distances being measured in fractions of miles.

Historically in their favor is that all had been part of the town in its previous incarnations.

James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey said Wednesday he embraced the annexations because they are part of his previously announced goal to get all former residents back under the town’s umbrella.

“These people wanted to join the town,” said Woolsey, who added he was watching closely during the past few weeks to see if a person or government would seek to reverse James Island’s moves.

“My preference was that no one would challenge them,” he said.

Charleston officials, however, say the town’s grab is illegal under state law, filing court papers in Charleston County giving James Island officials 30 days’ notice of intent to challenge.

“They’re not contiguous; they’re not even close,” city Attorney Frances Cantwell said of the six properties involved.

Charleston has an interest in seeing that state annexation law is followed by “sister cities,” she added, saying the city has a stake in what happens with any boundary alteration on James Island.

Charleston also took its concerns to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson. His office has also filed court documents indicating it also is considering contesting the town’s annexations.

Charleston and James Island town supporters have a long history of being at legal odds. Three times since the 1990s town residents have voted to incorporate, with all three efforts being struck down after Charleston’s court challenges went to the S.C. Supreme Court.

After the fourth attempt was passed by voters in April 2012, Riley announced last June the city would not seek to block any incorporation again. One of the strongest legal defenses that allowed the new town to survive the last time was that the current version was drawn to be geographically contiguous.

That meant the town had to shrink in size from earlier designs, omitting some neighborhoods such as Riverland Terrace.

One of the six homeowners who sought to annex into James Island this time said she did so because she felt she was part of a community, and that she had clear representation and a vote with James Island.

Barbara Vickers of Schooner Road said Wednesday she “was very happy” with the town. She did say about Riley, though, “I don’t like him taking into the city so much of James Island.”

Now, depending on the pending legal turns, the two sides could meet again inside a courtroom.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.