MOUNT PLEASANT — Three Town Council members leading the charge to appraise business properties near Shem Creek sought to assure people about their intentions Monday, but instead wound up in heated arguments with several property owners in a restaurant parking lot.
Picturesque Shem Creek is among the town’s top destinations, known for shrimp boats, restaurants and sunset views. On the east side of the creek, a controversial office building and parking garage — once encouraged by the town — is under construction, and now the town is talking about appraising that property and others, possibly for use as a park.
The effort is being led by recently elected council members, some of whom are aligned with the Save Shem Creek group, which opposes the office building and is suing the town to stop it.
Councilman Jim Owens was on the group’s board last year, and has rebuffed suggestions that he should recuse himself from votes involving the office building property.
At a press conference in the parking lot of RB’s restaurant, Councilman Joe Bustos said he wanted to combat rumors that the town plans to take the properties on the east side of the creek through eminent domain.
After handing out a statement that said the town is only looking at vacant land, Bustos refused to rule out using the town’s power to take the office property, or a vacant restaurant that was recently sold.
“We’re talking about sidewalks,” said Bustos, who did most of the talking while council members Will Haynie and Owens looked on. “We were not seeking anything but to find out what it would cost to create pedestrian access to the creek.”
However, at a Town Council meeting Friday, Bustos had asked about getting cost estimates for a town park that would also include a gift shop, restrooms, play areas with swings and benches, a statue of a shrimp trawler and more.
The town’s staff has been directed to find out the cost of appraising businesses and having a park designed.
Owens did not speak at the Monday press conference, even when businessman Tyler Flesch showed up and pointed out that Owens had made a campaign pledge in November to “invoke police powers of eminent domain” to stop the office project Flesch’s company is building at Coleman Boulevard and Mill Street.
Bustos brushed that criticism aside, saying that once people are elected they often take a different stance, while Owens stood silently behind him.
Billy Simmons, a lifelong Mount Pleasant resident whose family owns the property where the office building is under construction, as well as property leased to the restaurants Red’s Ice House and Tavern & Table, was also there. He told Bustos his property’s not for sale, and never will be, and in any case the town couldn’t afford it.
Later, Bustos and Simmons’ brother-in-law, Billy Webb, argued face to face in a confrontation that nearly became physical, with Bustos telling the older man to “walk away” and then demanding “Or what? Or what?” before a woman pulled the councilman away.
Despite the call for appraisal and park-design costs, Bustos insisted repeatedly that the idea the town might take property through eminent domain is just a rumor.
“If there was a rumor, it came from intelligent people reading your (Town Council) agenda,” said attorney Summer Eudy, who walked over to the press conference from her nearby law office at Coleman Boulevard and Mill Street.
The Good Law Group sits on one of the properties slated for appraisal.
Bustos said the town won’t harm any existing business, but he also said he doesn’t consider the office development an existing business.
“The hard-working men and women on this construction site find (that statement) offensive,” said Flesch, who noted that the business is licensed by the town.
Haynie said the town’s lawyer has told them not to mention the office building, because the town is involved in litigation over it.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.