Charleston County's 2008 state permit to expand a section of the Bees Ferry Landfill and more than double its height limit has been revoked by a judge, who said the county violated its own zoning rules.
The ruling raises questions about the capacity of the county's only landfill at a time when the county is trying to decide how to handle waste disposal. County Council decided this year to stop using the North Charleston incinerator where most of the county's household waste is taken and burned.
The June 2 ruling by Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson III deals only with construction and demolition waste, but developers who successfully challenged the permit for expanding that section of the landfill are also challenging an expansion of the landfill's household waste area.
A permit issued last year increased the height limit for construction waste from 74 to 168 feet, which is roughly the height of a 14-story building.
Anderson ruled the county was required to get a zoning special exception for the landfill before obtaining the permit modification, and ordered the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to toss out the permit.
The county now plans to change its zoning rules to say the landfill does not need a zoning exception in order to raise the height limit. A DHEC permit would still be required.
While the county could potentially change the zoning rules and regain a permit for the landfill expansion and increased height limit, there will first be public meetings and a hearing as the zoning changes are considered.
That's what the developers said was lacking when the permit was obtained last year.
"Our goal is to get that (landfill) mound restricted to a height that is acceptable to everybody," developer Taylor Bush said. "We would hope that they would take into consideration the concerns of contiguous property owners."
Bush is with Grand Bees Development, which controls a 310-acre undeveloped property adjacent to the landfill on Bees Ferry Road. The property was approved in 2006 for development of 507 homes.
"We knew the landfill was there when we bought the property, but we thought it was limited in height," said Bush, whose firm is also challenging a permit allowing a height increase for the municipal waste section of the landfill, where household garbage is taken.
The county faced criticism last year from residents and County Council members for the lack of public input when the landfill height was increased.
The county Planning Commission will take up the proposed zoning rule changes at a meeting this afternoon. A public hearing and County Council meeting are scheduled in July.
County Planning Department Director Dan Pennick said the county never intended for existing businesses to need special zoning exceptions to expand, and he said the proposed changes simply reflect the county's original intent.
"If you've already got it, then you don't need a special exception," Pennick said. "We're trying to make that very clear."
"If it was a grocery store, and they wanted to add another floor, and there was no height limit in the ordinance, then why would they need a special exception?" he said.
The construction and demolition waste pile at the landfill is currently lower than the previously permitted 74 feet, according to Jennifer Miller, county assistant administrator for Human and Environmental Services. She said no decisions have been made about whether to appeal the judge's ruling or seek a new permit.
Charleston County and the DHEC have 30 days from June 2 to appeal the ruling. Adam Myrick, a DHEC spokesman, said the agency is reviewing the case.
A consultant hired by the county concluded this year that people who live in existing subdivisions near the landfill would not be able to see it even if municipal waste were piled to the newly permitted height of 172 feet, which is 4 feet higher than allowed for construction waste.
Bush said the construction waste area is right against the property his firm plans to develop, and he's concerned about the view and the noise.
"I think they are going to railroad this thing through, but we do not intend to stop either," Bush said.