Yet another project in outer Charleston has hit a snag as builders face stricter standards near the notoriously flood-prone Church Creek basin.
However, the builders of the Middleborough Condominiums in West Ashley have at least a few city councilmen on their side who want to exempt the project because it's already partially built.
The legal implication of a possible exemption to the rules will be discussed by the council in closed session during the panel's Thursday meeting. The closed session is acceptable under the state's open meeting rules only as long as discussion sticks to legal advice, said Bill Rogers, head of the S.C. Press Association.
The proposed exception comes just three months after Charleston finalized its stormwater rules for the basin, the most stringent flooding regulations in a city that has struggled with adequate drainage for centuries.
"They have the right to go ahead and build these units," said Councilman Bill Moody, who brought forward the idea of grandfathering Middleborough under the old rules. "We’re going to get sued if we don't do something on this thing."
Councilman Harry Griffin also supports the carve-out, in part, he said, because the property is a construction site in progress with bare rebar that's an eyesore to the community. Griffin's district covers the Middleborough site, which is nestled inside the golf course at Shadowmoss Plantation.
"The way it currently is now, it's not good. It looks bad," Griffin said.
City staff insists that the builders have to comply with the rules enacted in December, which require more stormwater storage on the site in part to compensate for fill dirt used by developers, Stormwater Program Manager Kinsey Holton said.
In part, the city's rules for new development are meant to compensate for years of building with looser stormwater oversight that allowed for vulnerable development — including a neighborhood of condos that were so repetitively flooded that the city bought them out last year.
A little more than a month ago, another subdivision — the Harmony project — came before the city's Technical Review Committee and was told they could not begin work because that effort, which dates back to 2015, doesn't jibe with the Church Creek rules.
Moody said he agreed with the Harmony decision, but that the main difference is that project hadn't broken ground yet.
Though he's in favor of Middleborough's construction continuing, Moody said, "I don't want to do anything that's going to exacerbate that problem, and this is not something I think is going to exacerbate it."
The Middleborough saga stretches back to 2007, when the first two phases of the project were approved by the city. That first plan included 300 condo units in roughly 50 buildings.
But the financial downturn hit shortly after, and the permits granted to the builders were effectively frozen until 2016. The city granted an extension, but as the developer came back for another permit extension in December, they were told they would have to comply with the newer standards, Holton said.
In the meantime, a reassessment of the site showed many more wetlands than the original site design accounted for. Builders have reduced the total number of units from 300 to roughly 60, Moody and Griffin said.
Middleborough is also under review now for a permit extension with the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which could pause the project if the plan to avoid and mitigate for those wetlands isn't deemed sufficient.
A representative of the developer could not be reached by phone on Monday, and Cody Lenhardt, an attorney for the builder, declined to comment in detail on the situation.
Mayor John Tecklenburg said he's hoping the developers make a good faith effort to follow the city's updated rules.
"Even though this development was planned years ago and even had some approvals years ago, our knowledge of the basin has changed dramatically," Tecklenburg said.
However, there's already been some conflict between the developer and the city.
In early February, Middleborough Condominiums LLC filed a lawsuit against Charleston, claiming they had not fully complied with the state's Freedom of Information Act as the builder sought public documents about the project.
"Some documents have been produced" since that filing, Lenhardt said.
Charleston had not responded to the pleading as of Monday.