The town of Bluffton filed suit Monday against a developer for cutting down more than 6,000 trees on property along U.S. 278.
The town announced Monday it is suing Indian Hill Associates LLC after the company cleared trees on more than 107 acres of the 162-acre Willow Run tract. The suit filed in Beaufort County Circuit Court alleges Indian Hill violated its development agreement, which requires the company to comply with landscaping ordinances and protect trees on the property.
The suit seeks monetary damages from Indian Hill and a timber company, including the timber profits and damages triple the value of the removed trees. It also calls on Indian Hill to stop removing trees and to replace the trees that were cut.
Willow Run property owner Paul Schlosser said Monday he had not been notified of the lawsuit and declined to comment. Schlosser signed the 2008 development agreement as a representative of Indian Hill Associates.
The town announced it had filed suit in a release sent out just before 4:30 p.m. Monday. Attempts to reach Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, town manager Marc Orlando and town attorney Terry Finger for comment were unsuccessful.
The town and Indian Hill first signed an agreement in 2003 after the company petitioned the town to annex the Willow Run tract, which is across U.S. 278 from Eagle's Pointe. As their five-year agreement was expiring in 2008, the town and Indian Hill agreed on a second contract, incorporating Willow Run into the larger Buckwalter Tract to the west.
Under the terms of the new contract, Willow Run had to follow the town's tree and landscaping ordinances, which prohibit the removal of trees larger than 8 inches in diameter without approval. About 5,800 of the trees cut down in Willow Run exceeded that size, and 350 more trees were 24 inches in diameter or larger, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, 98 percent of the trees on the 107.5 affected acres were cut. Affected land included wetlands and 50-foot wetland buffers, the lawsuit said. Some of the trees were also part of a 19.8-acre section of the tract donated to the town.
The lawsuit also says Indian Hill breached a conservation easement the town held on the land by cutting down the trees.
The town learned of the tree clearing in June, the lawsuit said. Indian Hill and Broad River Timber LLC agreed on a contract for the removal and sale of the trees without the town's permission, the suit says.
Attempts Monday to reach Broad River Timber for comment were unsuccessful.
Schlosser, who has owned the property since 1985, tried several times to develop the land over the years. The most recent attempt, a proposed 550,000-square-foot shopping center called The Shoppes at Willow Run, ended almost two years ago over environmental concerns and a lagging economy, former town manager Anthony Barrett said in December 2013.
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