RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Today, Richland County begins its defense in a multimillion-dollar, 2004 lawsuit over a failed riverfront development known as Green Diamond.
Testimony in the case is expected to conclude this week, leaving the non-jury case in the hands of special judge John Hamilton Smith.
Landowners Columbia Venture, represented by Manton Grier of Haynes Sinkler Boyd, laid out their case over 10 days in September. Now Mullen Taylor, with McAngus Goudelock & Courie, responds.
The case has gone on so long that the defendants witness list includes several people no longer working for Richland County, from former County Councilwoman Kit Smith and two previous county administrators, Cary McSwain and Milton Pope, to a former land-use planner.
The owners wanted to develop the property with houses, shopping complexes, golf courses, hotels and nature areas, but the county designated 70 percent of the property as an undevelopable floodway.
The judge has narrowed the case to a takings claim, an allegation that county government used its regulatory authority to take away the use and value of a 4,474-acre tract near I-77 and Bluff Road. Some of the land has since been sold for farmland.
The Columbia Venture lawsuit didnt suggest a specific amount in damages, but observers say it could run into millions of dollars.
Earlier this fall, Smith ruled that the county had not infringed on property owners right to due process.
In a 46-page ruling dated Sept. 8, Smith said the company did not show that the adoption of flood regulations was unreasonable. He wrote that, there can be no legitimate dispute that Richland Countys actions are related to protecting the health, safety and welfare of county residents.
The county also had argued the companys lawsuit was premature, because Richland County Council hadnt rendered a final decision on the proposed development. But the judge disagreed on that point, saying once the county placed the property into a regulatory floodway, it was clear that any further action by the landowners would have been futile.
In earlier court documents, Smith had said he expected to issue a final order on or before Nov. 21. Efforts to reach him Monday for an updated schedule were unsuccessful.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.