Sol Legare weddings exception overturned

Residents living along Sol Legare Road on James Island won their legal fight to stop a wedding and special events business to operate there.

Folks love a good wedding party — unless it’s right next door, and they’re not invited.

Residents whose families have lived in the Sol Legare community on James Island for generations united with new owners of upscale homes and won a legal fight to stop a wedding and special events business from operating there.

Earlier this month, Master-in-Equity Mikell Scarborough overturned an April 2015 decision by Charleston County’s Board of Zoning Appeals to grant a special exception that allowed the planned venue to move forward.

His ruling brings to a close a conflict between Tim Willoughby, who wanted to hold up to 20 weddings and other special events each year at 2387 Sol Legare Road, and many neighbors, who feared the noise and traffic would clash with their mostly rural street.

The board never should have granted Willoughby the exception, which gave him a green light to move forward, according to court documents. Exceptions can be granted for special events of a residential or agriculture nature but not those such as Willoughby’s, which would have been commercial.

The board also failed to consider the impact on the immediate community, which is comprised of a “teardrop” of higher-end homes at the end of Sol Legare Road, his ruling said.

Becky Johnston, who lives across the road from Willoughby, said she and her neighbors are relieved.

“We have a piece of heaven out here it is so quiet,” she said.

Many residents were worried about the prospect of how amplified music and events with alcohol would change their historic community, where the all-black Massachusetts 54th regiment once fought a Civil War battle and where the squat brick building that opened in the 1940s as a segregated school for black children now serves as a community center.

In addition to traffic from cars and delivery trucks, the venue also would have brought a lot of noise, they said. That would have harmed their quality of life and possibly driven down their property values.

Willoughby, a wedding photographer, bought the scenic, waterfront property on King Flats Creek in July 2014 for $700,000 with the intention of also using it for a business. He said the decision means he will have to sell the 3.25-acre tract.

The property is expensive to maintain, he said, adding that flood insurance alone costs $7,500 per month.

Before he purchased the property, which includes a home in which he lives, he researched the county rules about granting special exceptions, and he thought he met the criteria. He also spoke with neighbors, who initially didn’t object to his business plan, he said.

Johnston said that while the neighbors prevailed, the victory wasn’t cheap. They spent tens of thousands on legal costs.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.