Beaufort County wants lawsuit over Berkeley Hall frontage road to continue

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.com

February 18, 2014 

Beaufort County wants to resume a lawsuit disputing the county's right to condemn land it says is necessary to build a frontage road near Berkeley Hall.

County attorney Josh Gruber said further delays jeopardize public safety because of dangerous traffic along U.S. 278 near the gated community in greater Bluffton.

Last week, the county asked the 14th Circuit Court to lift a stay placed on the lawsuit two years ago, when Berkeley Hall appealed state-issued environmental permits for the frontage road, according to Gruber.

That lawsuit, filed by Berkeley Hall in late 2008, challenges the county's right to condemn land between the community's entrance at the intersection of Buckwalter Parkway and U.S. 278 and its neighbor, St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church.

The county and community have been locked in litigation since.

In 2012, the circuit court put aside the condemnation lawsuit while the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reviewed the appeal and the environmental permit issued for the road, Gruber said. State environmental officials reapproved and reissued that permit last month.

Unless Berkeley Hall and the county can come to a settlement, the community's appeal against the permit will return to S.C. Administrative Law Court later this year, Gruber said.

If the county's request to resume the lawsuit is granted, the circuit court likely would schedule a court date for later this year, and Berkeley Hall's appeal of the DHEC permit in administrative court could take place at the same time.

"If we were to win this case about the permit, we wouldn't want to be arguing before the circuit court for another six months after that," Gruber added. "We want to be able to move to start the road immediately once both issues are taken care of."

Gruber and Berkeley Hall general manager Adrian Morris said they do not know whether a court date has been scheduled for the environmental appeal.

Morris said the county's request to resume the lawsuit was expected, but Berkeley Hall remains committed to finding a different resolution that's safe for everyone.

Representatives from Berkeley Hall, the church and the county plan to meet in the "next couple of weeks" to discuss an out-of-court resolution, Morris said. He declined to comment on specifics.

County administrator Gary Kubic has said if a resolution is reached, he intends to have surveyors begin construction of the frontage road the next day.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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