What If Green Diamond Had Been Built?

The site of the once-proposed Green Diamond development (photographed in 2007). File photo

If you think the present situation is bad (and it certainly is), what might have happened if the massive Green Diamond development had been built in the Congaree River floodplain along Bluff Road? One shudders to think.

While the worst of the flooding has been along the Gills Creek watershed, that watershed empties into the Congaree River at the former Green Diamond site. So does the water coming down the Saluda and Broad rivers from the formation of the Congaree a short distance above the Gervais Street Bridge. Yes, right there where part of the Columbia Canal levee was demolished by the floodwaters.

Of course, the Green Diamond developers told us everything would be fine. After all, they had those little earthen levees Burwell Manning had built with tractors decades earlier when he owned and farmed the land. No problem, folks — building permits, please.

In the wake of the Great Flood of 2015, it is worth looking back at the Great Floodplain Scam of 2005, when Myrtle Beach developer Burroughs & Chapin came in and successfully bought off, er, lined up, compliant local politicians and business people to support its plan to build thousands of homes, apartments, hotels, businesses and recreation facilities in a huge, federally designated floodplain. Indeed, it was to be so big and encompassing they grandly called it “a city within a city.”

The irony of this is particularly rich in that it was just a few weeks ago when the S.C. Supreme Court drove the final nail into the Green Diamond coffin, ruling against Burroughs & Chapin in its long-running lawsuit against Richland County over the failed development.

Though the floodplain maps that killed the Green Diamond project (in conjunction with tremendous public backlash, more on that in a moment) were an act of the federal government, Burroughs & Chapin had tried to convince the courts that the taxpayers of Richland County should reimburse them for their loss.

Moreover, their claim did not stop at the actual loss of buying the property from Manning, but even included their alleged loss from the future value of the property if developed. In other words, Burroughs & Chapin said give us not only what we paid, but the value of the land if we had developed it. No, I’m not kidding — that was their legal argument.

This unbridled greed and arrogance received the fate it deserved, as the state Supreme Court unanimously rebuked Burroughs & Chapin, and in very direct language. Speaking for the Court, Justice John Kittredge wrote: “In sum, we find no taking occurred. Richland County is not the involuntary guarantor of the property owner’s gamble that he could develop the land as he wished despite the existing regulatory structure.”

The decision went on to essentially tell Burroughs & Chapin to start acting like the big boys they were supposed to be, characterizing their decision to buy the land as follows: “[They] faced an uncertain path forward with very little technical data and a complex regulatory scheme. Even Burroughs & Chapin’s Board of Directors admitted that Green Diamond was ‘purely speculative in nature.’”

Hats off to local attorney Mullen Taylor, a solo practice lawyer who defended Richland County in the suit. She beat the team of attorneys from the big law firm who were getting the big bucks from the big client. How sweet for her — and for us as taxpayers.

Since it’s been more than a decade and many of those from the area’s political, business and public relations communities who carried water (pun intended) for Burroughs & Chapin in its effort to launch Green Diamond might not wish to talk about it, we’ll let them go unnamed. But they know who they are.

Conversely, if you see the Adams brothers (Robert and Weston), I urge you to thank them. Starting with nothing but common sense and respect for the land, they dared to take on Burroughs & Chapin and inspired others to do so. That included me, as Fisher Communications used its own money to launch its own TV campaign against Green Diamond. Maybe you remember the ads that featured the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” (commonly known as “They Paved Paradise”) and the Led Zeppelin classic “When the Levee Breaks.”

And now it has. But at least not at Green Diamond.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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