Cayce East project canceled

The latest development plan for the controversial tract of land once known as Green Diamond is dead, according to a consultant who worked on the project.

Columbia Ventures, which owns 3,000 or so acres along the Congaree River south of Columbia, has canceled a contract to sell 1,400 acres to Greenville developer Larry McNair Jr., said John McAllister, a real estate consultant who worked for McNair.

"They did not allow (McNair) to move forward with the contract," McAllister said. "It was really unusual. I haven't seen that before in 32 years in the real estate business."

Efforts to reach McNair were unsuccessful.

The Richland County property was annexed by Cayce, in Lexington County, in 2007 - a controversial action Cayce residents are still debating.

Under the $80 million plan, McNair had wanted to build about 1,000 homes, a golf course and some retail stores on the land. The project also would have included a hotel and several lakes.

Called Cayce East, the development unveiled in June was the latest in a decade's worth of aborted plans, lawsuits and political wrangling over the sprawling, flood-prone property that straddles I-77, south of the city.

In 1998, Myrtle Beach developers Burroughs & Chapin acquired the then 4,600-acre tract and unveiled a $1 billion proposal for retail, homes and USC research facilities.

But environmentalists and others fought the plan, saying it was unwise to build homes and businesses in a flood-prone area. There also were concerns that bolstering existing levees to protect the property could cause the Congaree to flood Cayce across the river.

In 2001, FEMA ruled the levees were inadequate and federal law prevented them from being reinforced.

Last month, Columbia Ventures dropped the eight-year challenge to that decision.

Burroughs & Chapin is still part of Columbia Ventures, anownership group that includes Carolina First Bank, Columbia's Deas Manning and others. However, the group ceded management of the project to Greenville's Hughes Development.

Efforts to reach project manager Bob Hughes were unsuccessful.

In June, McNair said he liked the property because it's close to the University of South Carolina and downtown Columbia.

Although federal law restricts buildings in floodways - the area most prone to flooding from the Congaree River after heavy rains - it does allow golf courses.

And much of the remainder of the 1,400 acres is either in a flood plain or on high ground. Flood plain development is allowed as long as buildings are elevated, much like those found along the oceanfront.

McNair said then that his homes would have been elevated.

McNair also was contemplating a marina for the land. It would have had a lift to take boats in and out of the Congaree River with canals leading to the home sites. He envisioned catering to USC football fans, with the marina hosting a "Gamecock navy."

When McNair unveiled the plan, environmentalists and other opponents of the former "city within a city" Green Diamond project said they liked it, mainly because it did not require improvements to the levees.

Cayce officials said they have been in the dark about the development since it was unveiled in June.

"Unless we hear something from Larry himself, we have nothing to go on," Cayce Mayor Elise Partin said.

Cayce city manager John Sharpe said this week he thought McNair might have had trouble landing financing.

Chris Kueny, a member of a Cayce master planning task force, this week speculated that Columbia Ventures might want to do a similar project itself.

"He got a warm reception from the environmental community, and the option was taken away," Kueny said.

That Cayce, located in Lexington County, is debating the future of property in Richland County at all is unusual.

In a surprising move, Cayce City Council in 2007 voted to jump the Congaree River and annex about 3,000 acres of the tract, expressing interest at the time in having the land developed. Partin was elected after criticizing the annexation.

This week, Partin said that although there have been no official discussions about de-annexing the property, there are private rumblings.

"There is a sentiment from a lot of Cayce people that they don't want anything to do with that property," she said. "A lot of people didn't want to deal with the levees, and a lot of people just said, 'That's not Cayce.'"

Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce said county officials had not heard any discussion about de-annexation, and said it would be, to his knowledge, unprecedented.

Richland County spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said the county planning and zoning office had received "no overtures" from Cayce officials about de-annexation.

Cayce city manager Sharpe said city attorneys believe it wouldn't be legal to nullify an annexation.