The future paths of trains entering and leaving North Charleston could have significant repercussions on the value and potential use of nearby property, but it's not always easy to know who stands to gain.
That's because property can be owned by a limited liability corporation -- also called an "LLC" -- that are created, in part, to protect assets and privacy.
J. Kirkland Grant, who teaches business and commercial law at the Charleston School of Law, said LLCs must file paperwork with the Secretary of State and list a registered agent, but that agent can be a lawyer or other representative, not an owner.
"After that, there's no requirement that those people be identified," he said.
In the case of New Village Development LLC, the Secretary of State's filing lists the name of two of its three owners but doesn't mention Debbie Summey, wife of North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
Summey said his wife's involvement in the corporation and its residential development has been in the open. She has attended community meetings on behalf of the neighborhood and was mentioned in an earlier news story about it. Her name is listed on a corporate resolution on file at the Charleston Register of Mesne Conveyance.
John Crangle, director of Common Cause of South Carolina, said the secretive nature of some land ownership -- and questions about who is benefiting from major public decisions on infrastructure -- has been an issue at the Statehouse for years.
"The remedies that have been devised have been disclosure-type remedies ... than prohibitions," he said. "The Republican attitude toward this stuff is that disclosure is enough."
Elected officials are supposed to list their interest in LLCs and other business interests on an annual report to the State Ethics Commission. However, Summey's most recent report lists Old North Charleston Dev. LLC and DKS Properties LLC but doesn't mention New Village Development LLC.
"The problem here is you don't have any disclosure," Crangle said.
Kirkland said keeping an owner's identity secret can serve a legitimate function, such as when the Walt Disney Co. quietly snapped up thousands of acres of farmland outside Orlando, Fla., to build Disney World. If word had leaked out, asking prices would have soared and jeopardized the project.
"One of the reasons corporations and LLCs are used is to shield the identify of the true owners of the property," he said. "This is nothing unusual, frankly, in South Carolina or elsewhere,"
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.