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Property owners suing SC's Palmetto Railways over North Charleston construction

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Palmetto Rail intermodal center

Palmetto Railways is building a cargo transfer facility adjacent to homes at the former Navy base in North Charleston. Some of the property owners are suing the state-run railroad, claiming the work has damaged property values. David Wren/Staff

Palmetto Railways is facing another lawsuit over construction of a cargo yard in North Charleston that nearby property owners say is devaluing their historic homes.

John Parham Jr. alleges the home he bought on the former Navy base has been largely cut off from public access due to adjacent construction of the cargo facility. Parham leases the property to a custom jewelry and antique business that bears his name.

"It's cut us off from the business district," Batu Aytore, owner of Parham & Co., said of the construction. Aytore said he is no longer able to take large deliveries at the home, where he also lives, because the only access is along a narrow dirt road.

"The road is blocked but they say we don’t qualify for compensation," Aytore said, referring to Palmetto Railways.

A spokesman for the state-run railroad declined to comment on the lawsuit. Palmetto Railways has not filed an answer to the complaint, and no court hearings have been scheduled.

The home was built in 1917 and once served as quarters for naval officers. Parham bought it in 2013, before the rail route had been finalized, and spent $200,000 on renovations, according to court filings.

The home used to be accessible via Avenue F, which connected to roads leading through the former base and to the shipyard to the east. Avenue F has since been cut off by work on the cargo yard.

The lawsuit mirrors a complaint filed in June by Mike Turner, whose home is next to the Parham site.

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Turner bought his home in 2013 and said he spend $250,000 on renovations to the long-neglected property. He is trying to sell the home, but buyers "could not get a bank to provide financing due to the railway coming in and the banks’ concern over the impact on the value of the property," according to Turner's lawsuit.

Parham and Turner are asking for unspecified damages.

"I’m not asking for a windfall," Turner told The Post and Courier in June. "I’ve always been in favor of the economy moving forward and I’m not opposed to this project at all. If it brings jobs to this area and paychecks to families, that’s a great thing. What I am opposed to is somebody taking equity from my building."

Palmetto Railways also is involved in a separate legal dispute with a North Charleston property owner over the amount of money that should be paid in a property condemnation case.

A jury awarded $3.75 million to Gateway Properties after its Meeting Street building was taken for construction of the cargo yard. Palmetto Railways had offered $1.8 million for the site, which includes land and a two-story structure built for electronics contractor eLifespaces. The railroad is appealing the jury’s award to the S.C. Court of Appeals.

Palmetto Railways is constructing a $300 million facility where cargo containers headed to and from the Port of Charleston will be transferred between trucks and rail cars. Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp. will use the rail yard, sending trains up to three miles long through the facility.

The rail yard, officially known as the Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, will be linked to the State Ports Authority’s new Leatherman Terminal by a private road. The first phase of the terminal is scheduled to open in March.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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