Judge grants dismissal of tech park zoning lawsuit – Coastal Observer


Judge grants dismissal of tech park zoning lawsuit

Feelings ran high at a public hearing on the zoning change last year.

A Circuit Court judge this week dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Georgetown County’s approval of multi-family development on property in Pawleys Island that it bought for a technology park.

Judge William Seals filed a form granting motions by the county and its nonprofit Alliance for Economic Development to dismiss the suit brought by Keep It Green Advocacy on behalf of neighbors and citizens groups. The formal order will be filed by attorneys for the defendants.

“We are just very surprised at the decision,” said Cindy Person, chief counsel for Keep It Green Advocacy.
“I’ll certainly be recommending making an appeal.”

The suit is one of four challenging the county’s land-use decisions.  At a hearing last month, Tommy Morgan, the assistant county attorney, told Seals that “this is an overarching issue that is facing the county.”

The county bought the 14.4 acres on Petigru Drive through the alliance using a $950,000 loan from Santee Cooper. It planned to create a technology park in partnership with Mercom. When that project failed to materialize, the county decided to sell the property and sought to change the “planned development” zoning to allow construction of 90 townhouses.

Area residents objected, citing concerns for the impact on the community and saying the zoning change conflicted with the future land-use maps that are part of the county’s comprehensive plan.

Morgan and James Gilliam, attorney for the alliance, argued that the state’s courts have a history of “judicial restraint” in their review of local zoning decisions. The only time the courts have cause to invalidate an ordinance is where it is “so unreasonable” that it violates constitutional rights, Morgan said. 

He disputed the claim that the county didn’t follow the law in approving the change to the planned development. The process was the same one the county used for previous amendments, Morgan said, “why is it not appropriate for the planned development to go forward now?”

Gilliam challenged the claim that the current planned development was invalid because it should have reverted to its former “forest and agriculture” zoning when no 

construction began.  

And they both disputed the claim that the zoning change violated the comprehensive plan.

“The comprehensive plan is not the law. It’s a guideline. That’s from the Supreme Court’s lips,” Gilliam said at last month’s hearing.

Both labeled the suit NIMBY, “a garden variety of Not In My Back Yard,” Gilliam said in a filing.

Cindy Person, chief counsel for Keep It Green Advocacy, argued before the judge and in filings that the issue before the court was limited to whether her clients’ complaint “states a true cause of action.” And the review was limited to the allegations in the complaint.

“Motions to dismiss are not vehicles to argue the merits of the case,” she told Seals. “The complaint is far and above the minimum of pleading an actual controversy.”

Person said this week that an appeal would focus on those legal arguments, not the issues raised by the lawsuit.

“I don’t know the details because I have not seen the formal order,” she said. “What we would be appealing is: Was the complaint sufficiently pled?”

The first of the four suits was filed in January 2022 after the county rezoned 14.8 acres south of Pawleys Island to reduce the minimum lot size from half-acre to 10,000-square-foot residential. In March, Seals denied a motion from the property owner, Benjamin Goff, for summary judgment and granted a motion from Keep It Green Advocacy to strike Goff’s counterclaims, including those that alleged a conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights.

Goff appealed the ruling.

A suit filed in October seeks to overturn the county’s approval of two townhouse developments in the Parkersville area that received site plan approval from County Council. A similar suit for another nearby project was filed in March. 

The county has filed motions to dismiss those suits, saying the plaintiffs “incorrectly and erroneously” cite state law and county ordinances.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to gcsd.k12.sc.us. Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to georgetowncountysc.org. Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to townofpawleysisland.com.   , .