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Dunes West fighting to build 32 homes

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Dunes West fighting to build 32 homes

No new houses will join those already built along the golf course at Dunes West if Mount Pleasant’s conservation zoning is upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Dale (from left) and Mary Kay Gayeski from Michigan and Valerie and Jim Judd from Canada played there Tuesday.

A developer teed-off with Mount Pleasant and its golf course rules hopes to hit a hole-in-one with the S.C. Supreme Court.

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods and its Dunes West Golf Club lost out before Town Council and later a circuit judge in its bid to put 32 homes on 18 acres along the course.

The outcome of the case could have major repercussions for ailing golf courses across the state, said Rock Lucas, president of the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association.

"What you are seeing now with this lawsuit is going to be the first of many to come," Lucas said.

Golf course owners from around the country are meeting this week in Las Vegas to discuss how to revive their fortunes. Some courses in South Carolina are losing money to the tune of six figures, Lucas said, and the demand for play overall is falling.

"That's what we're doing right now in Vegas, is figuring out how to survive," he said.

Lucas is the owner of Charwood Golf Club in West Columbia.

The state has more than 350 golf courses, and the sport generates more income in South Carolina than any other single form of entertainment or recreation, according to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The top golf destinations are Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach.

At issue in the Dunes West case is new municipal zoning for the course that the owner argued tied his hands when it came to plans to build more houses.

"It was just a matter of time before someone challenged it," Lucas said.

In 2006, Mount Pleasant Town Council voted to rezone golf course property after bankrupt golf courses, such as Summerville's King's Grant, were selling to developers who would build homes there.

The council vote affected five Mount Pleasant courses -- Charleston National, Snee Farm, Patriots Point, Rivertowne and Dunes West -- and the green spaces around them.

A sense of urgency

Dunes West resident Paul Gawrych was on council when he led an initiative for the new conservation, recreation and open space zoning for golf courses.

"I'm not trying to stop anybody from trying to do something with their property," Gawrych said.

The new zoning for golf courses provides protection for residents but does not prohibit new homes. However, the conservation, recreation and open space zoning requires town approval for new building on a course, he said.

Trenholm Walker, attorney for the Dunes West Golf Club, said the 190-acre course includes about 60 acres that are not used for play. Eighteen acres of that property would be home sites if allowed, he said.

"It's in different little pockets around the golf course," he said.

The plan to build the homes would require changes to the 10th hole fairway; the relocation of cart paths; the shortening of a hole from a par-4 to a par-3; and moving tee boxes, according to court records.

He hopes the case would be scheduled for the April session of the high court.

"It's been treated with a sense of urgency by the Supreme Court," Walker said.

In its appeal to the high court, Dunes West Golf Club said the town's zoning of its property is a violation of its right to due process and equal protection under the law. It also alleges that the town has unfairly taken away its right to develop the property.

Preserving open space

Gawrych disputed that the town's action is "taking" property at the Dunes West golf course.

"In no way, shape or form is the town doing that," he said.

For the town, the golf course zoning is intended to preserve open space while lessening flood hazards associated with development. The new zoning was approved after a town staff report showed that the zoning on most of the golf courses in town allowed for other uses, such as home construction, with little, if any, oversight.

The town's legal department referred questions about the case to Town Administrator Eric DeMoura.

"The case is going forward to the Supreme Court. Other than that, I'm not going to comment on pending litigation," he said.

Cheryl Woods-Flowers, former Mount Pleasant mayor and current member of the Planning Commission, said she is confident about the town's position in the Dunes West case.

"The simple fact that the town prevailed in Circuit Court is a good thing," she said.

John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods purchased the Dunes West golf course for $4 million in 2005. At the time, the course was zoned as part of the Dunes West planned development, and that allowed single- and multi-family houses on the 18 acres in question, according to court records.

Spirited debate

In 2006, council approved conservation, recreation and open-space zoning for all golf courses, which meant 32 homes could not be built on 18 acres at Dunes West as originally planned without Town Council approval.

In 2008, the Dunes West Golf Club applied to the town to rezone the 18 acres for home sites. The Planning Commission recommended denial, and the company withdrew its application. In June 2009, the golf club again applied for the rezoning. Council rejected the request, and the developer appealed to Circuit Court, where Judge Markley Dennis ruled in favor of the town.

"The rezoning request sparked spirited public debate," Dennis wrote in his May ruling, which also takes note of numerous residents who opposed the request at a council meeting. "Politically, the rezoning proposal was not embraced by the Dunes West community."

In 2005-06, a number of golf courses along the coast were converted to residential uses, including the King's Grant course on Dorchester Road.

In response, Mount Pleasant Town Council instructed its planning staff to review the zoning applicable to every golf course in town and to prepare a report on the potential for the same thing to happen in Mount Pleasant, according to Dennis' ruling in favor of the town.

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