Residents should have appealed hotel approval, town says

The most recent rendering of the proposed Dorchester Hotel includes some changes to make it more residential looking.

A judge will have to decide whether some residents who want to stop a boutique hotel here followed the law in their attempts to halt the project.

The group which filed a lawsuit over the hotel on Dec. 19 should have instead appealed Summerville’s Board of Architectural Review’s decision within 60 days, according to the town’s response filed Thursday in Charleston County.

“State law provides a method to timely appeal decisions of the BAR and that is the Plaintiffs’ exclusive remedy for any alleged improper action of the BAR,” according to the town’s filing.

Summerville Mayor Bill Collins declined to discuss the lawsuit Friday.

“Our answer speaks for itself,” he said.

Heyward Hutson and other Summerville residents, the Summerville Preservation Society and the Dorchester County Taxpayers Association claim that the town violated federal, state and local laws when it entered into a public-private partnership to build the Dorchester hotel complex.

The town denies the allegations. The town, mayor and council, its Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review, Summerville Redevelopment Corp. and developer Applegate & Co. and its president, Arthur Applegate, are named in the suit.

Both the town and the Applegate’s legal team believe the suit should have been filed in Dorchester County.

Lawsuits can be filed in any county, according to the Charleston County Clerk of Court’s office. Those involved can file a motion to change venue if they believe it necessary.

Applegate’s lawyers asked Jan. 22 that the case be dismissed, while the town filed a motion Thursday to change the venue to Dorchester County.

Mike Rose, the residents’ lawyer, said in an email to The Post and Courier on Friday that the complaint was filed in Charleston County because most of the lawyers involved have offices in Charleston. In addition, he said, Applegate’s companies are in Charleston County.

“Indeed, the defendants may reconsider their request to transfer the case to Dorchester County when they consider the additional cost to all defendants of having to travel to St. George from Charleston,” Rose wrote. “Even if the Defendants continue to object to the lawsuit not being in Dorchester County, a judge in Charleston County may not agree with the Defendants, and the case therefore may stay in Charleston County.”

The $30 million project planned for the corner of Richardson and Cedar streets will include 27 high-end condominiums, a restaurant, retail space, a parking garage and conference center.

The events facility and the parking garage will be owned by the town but managed under contract; Applegate will own the rest. If it fails, it will leave the town “with a staggering $12 million debt and a two-acre ‘white elephant’ in the heart of downtown,” the residents’ suit says.

Applegate’s legal team believes he should be not be included in the suit because he is not a public official.

“The real controversy in this case is between the Plaintiffs and the Town of Summerville and its various elected officials and commissions,” according to Applegate’s motion to dismiss.

If Applegate is not dismissed, it asks that the plaintiffs be required to provide a $20 million security bond to cover Applegate’s investment, which includes $516,740 already spent in pre-construction costs, a pending loan for $13.6 million and 14 condo reservation deposits of $5,000 each.

It also asks for an emergency hearing on the issue because Applegate could have to refund the deposits if the project is not started by May 31.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.