Drive through the Navy Yard on a weekend, and you'll think you've stumbled upon an abandoned city. Some of the buildings have fallen into dereliction since the Navy pulled out in 1996, but don't let appearances fool you: Development intrigue is afoot amidst the concrete, rails, and rebar.
The City of North Charleston illegally rezoned two tracts of land on the Navy Yard to heavy industrial so that South Carolina Public Railways, which owns the tracts, could sell them to Continental Tire Company, according to a complaint filed in a circuit court on March 29. The two parcels are worth about $5.4 million.
The Noisette Company, which owns 32 acres within a planned development district on North Charleston's Navy Yard, issued the legal challenge alongside co-plaintiffs Noisette Investors LLC and The West Yard Lofts LLC, which operates a 60-unit low-income apartment complex next door to the rezoned properties. The defendants in the complaint are the City of North Charleston, North Charleston City Council, and S.C. Public Railways.
The basis of the lawsuit goes back to early December 2012, when the City of North Charleston settled its own lawsuit against the state over proposed rail lines near the northern end of the Navy Yard. In exchange for $14.6 million worth of settlements and a land swap that netted the city more than 85 acres on the northern end of the Navy Yard, the city allowed the state to move forward with a modified northern rail route. Buried in the terms of the settlement was a promise that the city would "support the rezoning of Building 1079 and portions of the immediately adjacent acreage ... to a heavy industrial zoning classification." Building 1079 is a warehouse near Noisette Boulevard and Noisette Creek, and it and the surrounding property were set aside for "Parks and Recreation" and "Mixed Use Centers," respectively, under the planned development district.
On Dec. 13, 2012, S.C. Public Railways applied to the city for a rezoning of the properties from Planned Development to Heavy Industrial, and city zoning staff recommended approval to City Council. In their recommendation, the zoning staff wrote that the rezoning was requested "for a use which is not disclosed on the application," and that the rezoning "is needed for an economic development project code-named 'Project Crescent.'" The Noisette Company's complaint doesn't specify how it knows this information, but the company claims, "Upon information and belief, the primary purpose of the rezoning of the Crescent Property was for the benefit of SCPR and the South Carolina Department of Commerce which has plans to lease or sell some or all of the parcels to Continental Tire Company for warehousing of tires and raw materials for the manufacture of tires."
The Noisette Company and West Yard Lofts submitted written opposition to the rezoning in December, writing, among other things, that "The rezoning is for mere private development as distinguished from the good of the common welfare." City Council approved the rezoning anyway.
The complaint filed March 29 alleges that the Heavy Industrial rezoning is illegal because it "creates non-uniform regulations throughout the zoning district" and "was not enacted for any purpose set forth in" state laws that allow for rezoning. The complaint asks that the court overturn the rezoning, pay the plaintiffs' legal fees, and award the plaintiffs "such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper."
City attorney Derk Van Raalte brought up the lawsuit briefly at last week's North Charleston City Council meeting. "I don't see that as any particular problem. That was anticipated," Van Raalte said. "Obviously it's something that I think the state of South Carolina will be looking at closely and probably take the lead on, but we'll be watching with interest."