City of Beaufort files a response to lawsuit

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From staff reports

The City of Beaufort filed a response May 24 to a lawsuit brought against it by West Street Farms LLC and Mix Farms LLC regarding hotel, parking, and apartment projects in downtown Beaufort.

The projects include a hotel project by the Beaufort Inn LLC at the corner of Scott and Port Republic Streets, a parking structure on Craven Street, and an apartment project on Charles Street. All three projects have been developed by 303 Associates LLC.

The lawsuit asks that work be stopped on all the projects and that they first obtain a “Special Exception” zoning approval by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals for so-called large footprint buildings.

The Beaufort Development Code, which was adopted on June 27, 2017, defines large footprint buildings as exceeding 100 linear feet in width. The code requires a Special Exception approval for large footprint buildings in the Historic District.

Since the Charles Street apartment project was not submitted to the City until recently, Beaufort City Council believes that this project must receive Special Exception zoning approval by the ZBOA – if the plans for the apartment building meet the definition of a large footprint building.

However, the applications for both the hotel and parking projects were submitted to the City of Beaufort and the Historic District Review Board in 2016 and 2017, when the City operated under the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO did not require that the Zoning Board of Appeals issue a Special Exception zoning approval for large footprint buildings in the Historic District.

Under the UDO, when the proposed use is allowed by existing zoning, the only approval required for projects in the Historic District is by the City’s Historic Development Review Board (HDRB).

The HDRB gave various approvals for the hotel and parking structure projects under the UDO. Demolition permits were issued by the City in connection with these projects as well. 303 Associates relied on these approvals and permits as it spent funds to proceed with the demolitions and relocation.

In filing its response, the City made note of rulings from South Carolina appellate courts, including a recent one that said: “A landowner will be held to have acquired a vested right to continue and complete construction of a building or structure and to initiate and continue a use, despite a restriction contained in an ordinance or an amendment thereof where, prior to the effective date of the legislation and in reliance upon a permit validly issued, he has, in good faith, (1) made a substantial change of position in relation to the land, (2) made substantial expenditures, or (3) incurred substantial obligations.”

Taking into consideration the timeline of the applications, approvals, and agreements, City Council believes that Beaufort Inn LLC and 303 Associates LLC have acquired “vested rights” to continue and complete the hotel project and the parking structure project under the guidelines and restrictions of the Unified Development Ordinance.

City Attorney William Harvey, who filed the response, said, “This recognizes the rights of a developer to continue and complete these projects under the guidelines and restrictions in place when these rights were acquired.”