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I'On developers ordered to pay $1.75 million to property owners

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I'On developers ordered to pay $1.75 million to property owners

The ownership and use of I'On's Creek Club, pictured here, was at the heart of a recent civil lawsuit that resulted in a $1.75 million award for the neighborhood's homeowner association.

MOUNT PLEASANT - A Charleston County jury has ordered that the developers of the I'On neighborhood to pay $1.75 million because they sold its Creek Park and Community Dock for private use.

The award, announced late Friday night, will help I'On residents recover most of the costs that their homeowner association incurred to buy back those properties - the only deepwater access in the neighborhood.

The lawsuit was filed by I'On property owners Brad Walbeck and Lea Ann Adkins as part of the I'On Assembly, against I'On developers Vince and Tom Graham.

In 2009, the Grahams sold a 0.75-acre deepwater parcel with a boat ramp and the neighborhood's 3,000-square-foot Creek Club. The buyer, 148 Civitas LLC, has closed off those properties at times for weddings and other special events.

Walbeck, also was personally awarded $20,000, said the jury's award marks an extremely favorable end to a long and complicated effort.

"To the extent that they could, the jury righted a wrong," he added.

His' attorneys claimed the developers either breached their fiduciary duties by failing to convey amenities that their agents promised would be conveyed or by failing to act in the best interest of I'On residents when the developers ran the I'On Assembly. Either way, they argued, the Grahams should pay.

Brian Duffy, an attorney for the Grahams, said Monday they plan to appeal.

"While we are disappointed in the results, we are nevertheless pleased that the jury rejected all suggestions of fraud," Duffy said. "In layperson's terms, the jury determined that the I'On Company made a mistake that caused damages, but they flatly rejected the long-standing campaign to portray my clients as malicious and predatory."

The 148 Civitas LLC originally was a defendant in the lawsuit, but it settled before last month's trial by selling the property back to the I'On Assembly for $500,000 up front.

The deal also allowed 148 Civitas to lease back the properties for 20 years at no cost and 10 more years after that at reduced cost. The neighborhood can buy out the lease after 20 years for $1 million more.

"Although it is not possible to make our HOA 'whole' for the loss, I thank the jury for getting it right," Walbeck said.

I'On resident Julie Hussey said Monday the lawsuit not just about money but a fight for the vision and promises on which this neighborhood was sold.

"We have several markers around I'On sharing the area's history," she added. "I am looking forward to seeing one at the Creekside Park and Community Dock which tells the story about how Brad and Lea Ann fought for and won our neighborhood's greatest assets."

The Grahams have won national acclaim for I'On, which many consider the Lowcountry's premier neo-traditional neighborhood, where the lots are smaller in exchange for larger public parks and other amenities. The development was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine.

But their sale of the dock and Creek Club in the wake of the start of the Great Recession left many residents with a bad taste.

"We want to be sure to thank the many residents who have continued to support the I'On Company throughout this legal challenge, including some who testified at trial," Duffy said.

Circuit Judge Stephanie P. McDonald presided over the trial.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.

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