SC Supreme Court rules for Yemassee in Bindon Planation annexation suit

March 9, 2011 

The S.C. Supreme Court this week dismissed a lawsuit against Yemassee for its 2006 annexation of the 1,317-acre Bindon Plantation on the Pocotaligo River.

The Supreme Court's decision filed Monday affirmed a Circuit Court's 2008 ruling that the plaintiffs -- the Coastal Conservation League and three local residents -- have no legal standing to challenge the town's decision.

Before Yemassee annexed the plantation, it annexed a 20-foot-wide, 2-mile-long strip connecting the town to the property.

The ruling comes at the same time the property's developer faces foreclosure proceedings and town officials are trying to save the development agreement that would allow as many as 1,300 homes and 450,000 square feet of commercial space.

The suit brought against Yemassee in July 2006 claimed the town mishandled the annexation and that Bindon is not properly connected geographically to Yemassee, as required by state law.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit shortly after Town Council voted in April 2006 to annex the land and permit construction there. The property remains undeveloped.

Coastal Conservation League spokesman Reed Armstrong said the nonprofit environmental watchdog organization is "disappointed with the outcome."

"We're discussing if we have any options specific to this ruling, but we have nothing to comment at this time," Armstrong said.

The court also said an attempt by the state's attorney general to join the suit and challenge the annexation came too late for the statute of limitations.

Developer Bindon Plantation LLC took out a mortgage from Buckfield Plantations LLC and Hollingsworth Funds Inc., according to the town.

The lenders have filed for foreclosure, although a hearing has not yet been held, according to Rick Marscher, an attorney for the town.

If the lenders foreclose, it would nullify the existing development agreement, Marscher said.

The town is instead urging the lenders to take back the deed to the property rather than foreclose. That would allow the development agreement to stay with the property. Otherwise, the property would revert to its original status as an agricultural district, which only allows uses such as farming, hunting and harvesting timber.

Town Council gave preliminary approval last month to a resolution that outlines the lenders' development rights if they accept the deed in lieu of foreclosure.

"It would keep us in control of the property's development and zoning," Mayor J.L. Goodwin said.

If the lenders sold the entire property, the existing development agreement would carry over to the new owner. But if they broke the land into smaller sections, each piece sold would revert to an agricultural zoning district. The new owners would have to come before Town Council for any zoning changes, Marscher said.

Representatives of Bindon Plantation or of Hollingsworth Funds, which Marscher said owns Buckfield Plantations, were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

At least one Yemassee property owner is frustrated by the town's predicament.

"It smells bad," Pat Pinckney said. "It smells like the town and the mayor got the population into a very bad situation, where we have a piece of property that's no good."

A second reading is still needed for the town's resolution to try to save the development agreement. The lenders would then have to sign off on the agreement before it could take effect, Marscher said.

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