Hibben St. Inn

The plans for a 25-room inn on Hibben Street near Mount Pleasant's Old Village have stirred up a legal dispute. The town's Planning Commission denied a request for a one-year vested right extension at the property. Craft Design Studio/Provided rendering.

A dispute over a small boutique hotel proposed near Mount Pleasant's Old Village is headed to court after the development group was denied an extension that it says is guaranteed under state law.

The 25-room project is planned for Hibben Street in Earl's Court, a residential development. The principal developer, Vince Graham, has led several major projects, including the high-profile and once-controversial I'On development, also in Mount Pleasant.

His Earl's Court LLC and Graham Holdings are appealing a decision by the town Planning Commission to reject a request for a so-called vested-rights extension. 

A vested-right period essentially sets a deadline for when construction must begin on an approved project. South Carolina offers plenty of leeway, up to seven years. 

Recently, it's been even longer for some projects, since the state Legislature voted to put a hold on tracking these periods during the last recession, allowing builders more time to recover. 

In the case of Earls Court, work on the hotel was required to start around late December, but by then Graham had filed for a one-year delay. In a 7-to-1 vote, the Planning Commission denied the request Nov. 14.

According to minutes from that meeting, an attorney for Mount Pleasant cited a "fundamental disagreement between the town and the developer's interpretations of the state's law on vested rights." 

The hotel received its first approvals in 2011, around the same time Town Council adopted an "overlay district" to encourage denser development along and around Coleman Boulevard. The area included the Earl's Court hotel site.

Under a new administration, that plan was scaled back, which changed parking requirements, building heights and other zoning policies. 

The shift posed a problem for the hotel project. Town staff had recommended denying the extension because of conflicts between the original overlay plan and the new zoning rules. 

The change in policy should have no bearing on the hotel project, said Ross Appel, who represents Earl's Court LLC in its appeal.

"Otherwise, a local government could easily sidestep the rights provided by state law by simply amending its ordinances," Appel said. "This violates both the letter and the spirit of the Vested Rights Act.”

The law guarantees a two-year right to an approved plan. After that, builders can request up to five one-year extensions "unless an amendment to the land development ordinances or regulations has been adopted that prohibits approval."

The dispute in this case is over whether the phrase "prohibits approval" refers to the extension or the site plan. 

The Town of Mount Pleasant declined to comment.

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.