Lawyers for Beaufort County and the Beaufort County Council have moved for the dismissal a lawsuit brought by the owners of the Hilton Head National Golf Club, who argue they didn’t get a fair shake in their attempts to redevelop the greater Bluffton property.
The suit, filed early last month on behalf of course owner Scratch Golf LLC, includes allegations that the council violated the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, denied the owners due process during a zoning change decision, and deprived the company of its property rights by not allowing the course to be developed in accordance with the county’s established land use rules.
In a 19-page document filed Friday, the county denies a host of allegations raised in the lawsuit and demands further evidence of many others. The filing admits only basic factual statements included in the complaint, such as board meeting dates and discussion topics.
Key elements of the suit— which comes after a May decision by County Council not to approve rezoning application that would have set the stage for a transformation of the 300-acre property off U.S. 278 — are outright rejected by the county’s lawyers, court documents show.
Those denied allegations include a claim in the suit that “certain members of council … mischaracterize(d)” Scratch Golf’s application for a zoning change to permit redevelopment “as overreaching.”
Conceptual plans initially called for the possibility of building up to 700,000 square feet of retail space, 400 apartments, 500 single-family homes, an assisted-living facility, a 125,0000-square-foot convention center and a 1,500-seat performing arts center by 2030.
A revised rezoning application submitted last November scaled the project back, reducing the retail space by 300,000 square feet, apartments by 100 units, single-family homes by 200 units, and convention center space by 25,000 square feet.
Still, some in the community and on the council expressed concerns about the scope of the proposal and potential impacts on the environment, traffic, and sprawl.
But Scratch Golf’s lawsuit argues that this type of development has been deemed appropriate in the area by the county’s own Community Development Code, a document used to guide growth.
Neither party’s attorneys responded to requests for comment as of Monday afternoon.
The county’s Nov. 3 response to the suit rejects the allegation that the council “wrongfully failed or refused to apply” its land use planning documents, court filings show.
That response also claims that Scratch Golf failed to comply with a 60-day statute of limitations for how quickly zoning-related complaints must be filed.
The county also disputes allegations that conduct by members of a County Council subcommittee formed to negotiate a development agreement with Scratch Golf “was biased, unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, and unethical.”
Scratch Golf’s suit also alleges that members of the subcommittee of violated open meetings regulations by taking part in a series of emails which appear to show discussions about aspects of the Hilton Head National development proposal and the rezoning request.
Scratch Golf’s lawsuit argues that because all of the subcommittee members were copied on the email thread, it constitutes a meeting of a public body held without public notice — a violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
In a court document filed Oct. 31, lawyers for the county moved to have this portion of the suit dismissed because Scratch Golf “relies on copies of (the) emails to assert the Freedom of Information Act violation and, therefore, the content of the meeting is known to (Scratch Golf),” according to court documents.
Because Scratch Golf is already in possession of the emails, “there is no further remedy that can be provided,” the county’s October motion says.
The county’s most recent filing challenges accusations that the alleged open meetings violations rendered invalid the council’s decision to deny Scratch Golf’s rezoning request.
Beaufort County civil cases are first required to go to mediation prior to being heard by a judge. There is a mediation session set for April, according to court documents.