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River Club Homeowners Association files civil suit over Project Jackson

Posted: December 12, 2013 - 7:15pm  |  Updated: December 12, 2013 - 7:20pm
  Joseph Tubb
Joseph Tubb

Project Jackson has hit another hurdle and this time it’s in the court system.

North Augusta resident Stephen Donohue and the River Club Homeowners Association filed a civil suit Monday against the city of North Augusta, the mayor and city council in the Court of Common Pleas in Aiken County.

Donohue, who did not return a call seeking comment, is also the president of the homeowners association.

As of Thursday afternoon, the complaint had not been formally served, said city attorney Kelly Zier, who acknowledged he is aware it has been filed.

Upon being served, the named defendants will have 30 days to respond.

The lawsuit lists several claims, including that the city ordinance passed Nov. 18 by city council to help fund the riverfront development – No. 2013-19 – violates South Carolina’s Tax Increment Financing Law.

It states that there was no evidence to support “a current finding of ‘blight’ or ‘conservation area’ ” and that the city relied on findings from the early 1990s that did not include the proposed Project Jackson area.

A motion was also filed Monday asking the court for a temporary injunction to keep the city from issuing TIF bonds for Project Jackson, a proposed $144 million riverfront development covering 25 to 30 acres that will feature a mixture of public and private investments, including a baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

The lawsuit also states a concern that the development would “place burdens on the city for public safety and other essential governmental services for which the development will not contribute taxes since those will be captured to pay for public development, to wit: baseball stadium, parking decks, and conference center and as such will increase the tax burden on the plaintiffs to pay for the additional public services.”

Donohue and the association also believe that property values would potentially decrease as a result of the traffic and congestion Project Jackson could bring, according to the document.

They claim that a 10 percent decrease in the property values of homes in the River Club Homeowners Association would result in about $4,868,260 in total damages.

The plaintiffs also allege the city council did not properly follow the Freedom of Information Act when it held executive sessions between January and September, claiming that the specific purposes for the sessions weren’t properly announced.

The document specifically refers to an executive session held March 11 to discuss contracts.

A news release was issued the next day to announce the postponement of a public hearing regarding the TIF for Project Jackson that was to be held during the March 18 city council meeting and the council’s decision to postpone asking the Aiken County Public School District to approve the proposed TIF amendments.

If the court issues a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, they are asking that the court declare the ordinance invalid and keep the city from collecting school and county taxes from the redevelopment area or crediting them to any special tax allocation fund as allowed for in the law; nullify every decision the city council has made since Jan. 7 regarding the TIF and Project Jackson as a result of improperly holding private meetings; and pay for costs and attorney fees, the document stated.

If the city ordinance is not found invalid, the plaintiffs are asking the court to award damages for any decrease in property values.

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