For nearly three years, the identity of who sued Town Council to overturn its approval of the Central Mount Pleasant development has remained secret.
That changed Wednesday in court when the plaintiffs were identified as Charleston County Planning Commission member Robert E. Miller Jr. and his friend and business associate, Jay Orvin.
The revelation that Miller and Orvin were behind the suit came during Orvin's testimony in the trial of defamation suits filed by Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Ken Glasson and Miller against each other. Under cross-examination by an attorney for Glasson, Orvin was asked if he and Miller were the sole members of the limited liability corporation that sued Town Council to overturn its approval of Central Mount Pleasant.
"Yes," Orvin said.
Council approved Central Mount Pleasant on May 17, 2007, in a 5-2 vote. On July 9, 2007, a group calling itself Save Hungry Neck Corridor LLC filed suit to overturn the council action. In September of 2007, a settlement was reached in which the plaintiffs remained anonymous and all claims related to the dispute were dropped. The LLC, the town and the developer were involved in the agreement.
The town spent $5,000 defending the suit. The LLC paid a lawyer $20,000 to handle the litigation. Orvin said he was concerned that Central Mount Pleasant was too big for the town. "I was upset about it because of growth issues," he said.
At the time of the suit, there was speculation that then-Planning Commission member Steve Brock was involved in the litigation, a claim that he denied. On Wednesday, Brock repeated that he was not a part of the suit. "I didn't know it was going to be filed at all," he testified. Brock said it was wrong to hide behind the LLC shield. "I think you should put your name on things," he said.
The LLC lawsuit against the town said that the Planning Commission in a 7-1 vote recommended denial of the application for Central Mount Pleasant on Dec. 20, 2006. In response, the developers significantly reduced the size of the project before presenting it to council. The suit said that the new, smaller project should have gone back before the Planning Commission for its consideration.
"The lawsuit was really about the process that the town had followed," Orvin said.
LLC members are not required to be identified in incorporation papers, officials said. Council approved the settlement in early September 2007 in an 8-1 vote.
Central Mount Pleasant is envisioned as a 110-acre residential, retail and office complex between Rifle Range Road and Hungry Neck Boulevard. So far, not much has happened with the project because of the economy, developers have said.
Glasson has alleged that on May 16, 2007, Miller offered him $250,000 in exchange for voting against Central Mount Pleasant. Orvin said that wasn't possible because at the time Miller didn't have that kind of cash. "I hold Bob in high regard and I know that it is not true," he said. Spending $250,000 for one vote against a project when it wouldn't change the outcome didn't make sense, he said. Glasson voted for Central Mount Pleasant.
Charleston County Planning Commission Chairman Noel Thorn, who has known Miller for 40 years, said Miller has an excellent reputation as a builder and developer. He also praised Miller's work on the Planning Commission. "He's always been straight-up. He didn't ask me if I like what he said, but he tells me the truth," Thorn said.
Wednesday was the eighth day of the trial, which is expected to conclude this week at the Charleston County courthouse.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.