North Charleston has spent $37,000 on extensive landscaping and other improvements by city work crews at a house owned by Elliott Summey, the mayor's son and vice chairman of Charleston County Council.
City officials said the work was related to sidewalk repairs necessary for public safety - a project that included tree and brush removal, the replacement of a brick retaining wall, and landscaping with four pallets of sod, rows of azalea and rose bushes and new trees.
"We would have done that for anybody's (house)," said North Charleston Public Works Director Jim Hutto.
Park Circle resident Erin Sharpe is skeptical. She said she's been watching the work progress for more than a month, and said she and others thought it looked like special treatment for the mayor's son.
"It's not right," she said. "They don't come and landscape my yard and trim bushes."
Elliott Summey said he didn't ask for the work, and didn't benefit from it. In fact, he says the city went on his property without his permission, destroyed a dozen "priceless" heirloom camellias cross-bred by a botanist who used to live there, and caused a sewer back-up.
"They destroyed $40,000 of landscaping," Summey said. "They caused the sewer to back up into my basement, and I had to give the tenant a free month's rent."
Sharpe said Elliott Summey's overgrown yard had made the sidewalk impassable. Summey lives in Mount Pleasant with his family, and his house on the corner of Buist Avenue and Old Park Road is a rental.
"If my yard looked like that, code enforcement would have been all over me," Sharpe said.
Summey said he sought a city permit in 2007 to replace the failing retaining wall, but it was denied because the wall was in the public right of way. City officials said the wall, sidewalk, and the trees and bushes behind the retaining wall were all on city property, so the city had to do the work.
Five city trucks and nearly a dozen workers were at the property Monday finishing the sidewalk.
Photographs of how the property used to look are available online, on Google Street View, and show trees and brush leaning over the walkway. Just last year, North Charleston City Council considered, but did not pass, regulations that would have required property owners to keep shrubs trimmed along sidewalks, and would have limited the height of shrubbery to 4 feet in front yards and on corner lots such as Summey's property.
Mayor Keith Summey said the city work took place because neighbors complained about the sidewalk conditions to Councilman Bob King.
"Nobody could use the sidewalk there," King said.
The city takes responsibility for sidewalk repairs, as cities do in South Carolina, but Hutto said that in this case the job just kept getting bigger.
A low, cracked brick retaining wall along the property threatened to fall onto the sidewalk, overgrown trees behind the wall were damaging the wall and the sidewalk, and then the city found utility gas lines running through the tree roots.
Heavy equipment was brought on to the property, and that created the need for extensive landscaping.
"Any time we go on somebody's property and damage it, we make it right," Keith Summey said.
Councilwoman Dot Williams is known as the "sidewalk lady" because she's always seeking funds to install new sidewalks in Liberty Park and other areas she represents. Williams said that funding for new sidewalks, and state permission to install them, can be difficult, but getting the city to repair a sidewalk is routine.
"Getting them fixed is no problem," Williams said. "They come right out."
She did not find the work done at the mayor's son's property surprising.
"The same people complaining about the yard being landscaped were complaining about the public safety issue," the mayor said. "If they hadn't brought the issue to the attention of their councilman, we wouldn't have fixed it.
"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, when you're a politician," Keith Summey said.
Elliott Summey said he didn't benefit from the city work, and his property was damaged.
"We bought the house because of the camellias," he said. "They've destroyed it. I'm going to sell the house now."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.