WHILE THE future of thousands of acres along the Congaree River once slated for a billion-dollar "city within a city" remains in limbo, it was refreshing to learn that a lawsuit over flood maps that rendered much of the property undevelopable has been dropped.
Columbia Venture's eight-year legal fight to get federal officials to loosen building restrictions on the property was counterproductive and only served to ratchet up discontent many have harbored for the controversial proposal to build on the flood-prone land.
The developer's decision to drop the lawsuit comes not long after environmentalists and others said they had less of a problem with a recent proposal to build a scaled-down development. Interestingly, Columbia Venture subsequently nixed the sale of a portion of the property to the developer who had proposed the mixed-use development that garnered the positive reception.
Greenville developer Larry McNair Jr. had said he would buy and develop about a third of the 4,600 acres once proposed as the home for the mega-development Green Diamond. One of the most attractive elements of Mr. McNair's $80 million plan was that it would not have disturbed the existing levees. A major concern about previous proposals was that they included fortifying the current levies, which would have put land on the Lexington County side of the river at much greater risk for flooding.
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With the McNair plan sacked, it's unknown whether Columbia Venture, which has been trying for years to recoup its investment in the property, will attempt to develop something similar.
Whatever might be the plan - the wise thing would be to develop a less risky project the community would embrace - it's good to see the legal fight end.
Although Columbia Venture's decision to drop the suit means the Federal Emergency Management Agency's most recently revised flood maps - released in 2001 - will stand, it's apparent the company hasn't totally given up. The agreement provides that Columbia Venture can't file the same case again, but FEMA will begin another flooding review within a year. Some hope the review would allow new levees and building, but it's hard to imagine the science that led to much of the land being undevelopable has changed to such a degree.
Regardless of what FEMA finds, local officials - in particular, Cayce representatives - will have a big say in what happens. Cayce, which is in Lexington County, annexed 3,100 acres of the Richland County property in 2007. Columbia Venture had approached the city hoping to get a better reception than it did from Richland and Columbia, both of which declined to embrace development on flood-prone land because of the potential liability and risk.
The fact that its neighboring governments were so willing to pass up new development, jobs, taxes and residents should cause Cayce to exercise caution and due diligence should it be presented with a request to develop the property. Cayce annexed the property in a rushed and hushed manner; it can't afford to be reckless in overseeing any possible development.
It does not make sense to build on flood-prone land. But if a portion of the land can be developed without endangering lives and property or unfairly saddling taxpayers with liability, it makes sense for the city to at least consider such proposals. Still, its guiding principle should be to do no harm.