Reaction varies in OK Tire land fight: Charleston SC Post and Courier, 10/13/07

By Prentiss Findlay

Anthony Noury's business, Sea Tow, works out of Shem Creek [in Mt Pleasant SC]. He supports public access to the waterway but thinks the town needs to reconsider condemning a nearby 1.05-acre tract known as the OK Tire property.

The town decided this week to use eminent domain to acquire the tract to provide increased public access to the marsh and water area and to develop a park for leisure pursuits and open space. How that would happen has not been spelled out.

"They (the town) went to the most aggressive level, condemnation, without putting out a public plan for the property," Noury said.

The owner, Mark Mason, plans 24 condominiums on the tract, which is about 100 yards from creek.

"I think access is critical," Noury said. But much of the creek can't be seen from the OK Tire tract, he said.

The tract, located on a frontage road off Coleman Boulevard, has a view of marsh and the backside of creek restaurants, bars and inns. It is between Mason's Tidewater office complex and sprawling parking lots for creek business patrons.

Planning Commission member Phil Siegrist addressed the situation Friday in an e-mail. "Should the landowners not want to negotiate in good faith a reasonable price for this property, then it should be condemned and brought into the town by eminent domain. Real estate greed is at work here," Siegrist said. "Preserving open space at Shem Creek is necessary and I'm glad

that the town is taking a strong position to preserve it," he said.

The options for public sightseeing at the creek are limited. The Shem Creek Bridge is scenic, but there's not much room for pedestrians. Creekside restaurant and inn patrons have a good view of the picturesque waters. And a boat ride is a way to get a close-up. But there's no designated public place to enjoy the historic spot, one of the most photographed in the Lowcountry.

Mason plans to remedy that situation with a public boardwalk on the north side of the creek. "He (Mason) was about to provide 1,200 feet of dock and boardwalk," Noury said. Mason would run a public marsh walk to the creek boardwalk.

A petition presented to Town Council bears the names of more than 700 people opposed to Mason's project. The petition states that the development "would not only clog and further pollute an already overburdened area, but spells the certain end of this historic center of Mount Pleasant."

Mason rejected the town's offer of $2.28 million for the OK Tire property, Town Attorney Allen Young said. Two years ago, Mason and partner Phillip Smith purchased the tract for $1.35 million. The town's offer was "fair and reasonable," Young said.

Mason received the town's condemnation notice on Wednesday, Young said. How much the town will pay for the property will be determined by the courts.

Mason, who could not be reached Friday, said by e-mail Thursday that before the town expressed interest in purchasing the OK Tire tract, Suntrust Bank obtained a property appraisal of $4.5 million in connection with a mortgage loan Suntrust made on the property. The town has named the project lender, Suntrust Bank, in the condemnation notice, he said.

Mason and Philip Smith plan to build a private 24-slip marina for boats up to 50 feet long. Those who own a condo at the OK Tire tract also would have a boat slip. Mason has a marina permit so construction can begin on that project.

On Sept. 12, Young, on behalf of the town, offered $6 million for the OK Tire property and the Bailey docks, Mason said. He said the properties are valued at $7.8 million. At the last minute, the town offered $2.2 million for the OK Tire property, a move he has described as "dirty tricks." Mason has said that he will fight the condemnation, which he described as illegal and unfair. He said he also will sue the town for damages.

In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public, even if the property is not blighted and the new project's success is not guaranteed.

In the wake of that ruling, South Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that allows private property to be condemned for public use only.

On Tuesday, Town Council voted to make a final offer for Mason's land and, if it was rejected, to exercise its power of eminent domain to acquire the property for public use. After an Aug. 14 closed-door session, council voted unanimously to enter into talks with Mason and Smith to acquire the property.

Charleston SC Post and Courier: http://www.charleston.net