Circuit Court to lift stay on frontage road lawsuit, Beaufort County attorney says

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comMay 3, 2014 

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A lawsuit disputing Beaufort County's right to condemn land for a frontage road near Berkeley Hall's entrance appears ready to resume, according to the county attorney.

At a hearing last month in 14th Circuit Court, county attorney Josh Gruber argued before Judge Carmen Mullen that a stay placed on the case two years ago should be lifted. The stay was issued when Berkeley Hall appealed state environmental certifications needed to build the frontage road the county wants but Berkeley Hall opposes.

Now, Mullen has asked the county to draft a formal order to lift the stay, which indicates she intends to agree with the county and proceed with the condemnation case, Gruber said.

Once the order is officially signed, the court will schedule a hearing to resume the lawsuit, likely later this year, he added.

County officials contend that delaying the lawsuit jeopardizes public safety because of dangerous traffic on a stretch of U.S. 278 that includes its intersections with Berkeley Hall's entrance, Buckwalter Parkway and the entrance to St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church.

However, Berkeley Hall argues the suit should not move forward until an appeal of two environmental certifications for the road is decided in S.C. Administrative Law Court, said the gated community's general manager, Adrian Morris.

Earlier this year, officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control indicated it would approve one of those certifications again, Gruber said. However, DHEC has since withdrawn that decision as it reviews the second certification.

The agency plans to decide on the two certifications simultaneously, according to Charleston attorney Stan Barnett, who is handling Berkeley Hall's appeal of the certifications.

If DHEC reissues the certifications, Berkeley Hall intends to appeal again, Barnett said.

That could mean both challenges land in courtrooms before the end of this year, Gruber and Barnett said.

"At the end of the day, we're going to need to have both of these matters resolved (to build the road)," Gruber said.

PUBLIC FORUM

Later this month, St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church will host a public forum to discuss the status of the frontage road, which is designed to provide access to the church via intersections at Berkeley Hall and a Bluffton Township Fire District station.

The church is inviting local leaders, the public, and representatives from the county and Berkeley Hall to attend the forum at 7 p.m. May 21 at the church at 323 Fording Island Road in greater Bluffton.

The meeting goal is to shed light on a complex issue that has confused many parishioners and nearby residents, said Monsignor Ronald Cellini, the church's pastor.

"I hope we could just get more information out there, more clarification," Cellini said. "We've been low key about it all because Berkeley Hall is our neighbor, but we want our parishioners to have a formal presentation to see where things are now."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content:

Berkeley Hall, Beaufort County poised to go to court over frontage road, Feb. 22, 2014

Beaufort County wants lawsuit over Berkeley Hall frontage road to continue, Feb. 18, 2014

New speed limit signs, red-light timing aimed to alleviate St. Gregory traffic problems, Jan. 15, 2014

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