U.S. Supreme Court denies developer’s claims for reimbursement of failed floodplain development

Inevitable impacts to the Congaree River, shown here, were a driving force behind years of legal efforts to demonstrate the folly in developing the flood plain near downtown Columbia, South Carolina. (© William Graf)

The businessmen behind a venture that proposed to develop 4,000 flood-prone acres near Columbia, South Carolina lost a final legal battle this week in the U.S. Supreme Court.

SELC played a leading role in a years-long effort to ensure that any development near the Congaree River respects the area’s historic significance and ongoing serious flood hazards. Columbia Venture LLC, had proposed to construct a “city within a city” called Green Diamond in the Congaree River’s floodplain. The development plan, first proposed 17 years ago, would have put thousands of people in an area that has experienced repeated and violent flooding in the past. SELC played a critical role in repulsing the developer’s attempts to get flood hazard mapping weakened on the site.

After the development plan came to a halt, Columbia Venture sued Richland County, asking for $40 million dollars from taxpayers. The developers argued that restrictions on floodway development amounted to a government “take” of their land, and they were due compensation. Reporter Sammy Fretwell covered the recent decision for The State newspaper in Columbia. He wrote that Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case effectively ends the legal fight that has stretched 12 years.

In the refusal, nation’s highest court sided with a unanimous decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court that the developers were due nothing. South Carolina Justice John Kittredge wrote, “In sum, we found that no taking occurred.” He went on to say the county cannot be held responsible for “the property owner’s gamble that he could develop the land as he wished despite the existing regulatory structure.”

Fretwell quoted SELC attorney Blan Holman, who worked on the original matter: “It brings finality to the case,’’  and that the decision “should give comfort to people who are trying to undertake rational floodplain management’’ rules. Fretwell wrote: “Columbia Venture no longer owns much of the more than 4,000 acres. It sold much of the property to state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, and as of last year, owned about 1,000 acres of the original tract. Today, some of the land has been considered for less restrictive flood regulation by the federal government. But Finlay has said he’s not interested in developing the land he acquired.”

Mother nature ultimately proved SELC’s stance correct last October when a massive storm flooded much of the land that had been slated for homes and businesses. Notably, the Congaree River did not even reach a 100-year flood level during that event.

Read Fretwell’s story here.

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