NORTH AUGUSTA — The lawsuit filed by River Club resident Steve Donohue against the City of North Augusta will finally have its day in court.
The case will be heard at the Aiken County Judicial Center, 109 Park Ave. S.E., on Friday beginning at 9:15 a.m.
Donohue filed his complaint on Dec. 9 against the City of North Augusta, Mayor Lark Jones and the North Augusta City Council. Originally, the River Club Homeowner's Association was also listed as a plaintiff, but in a board of directors' meeting held later that month, the group voted to have itself removed as a party in the litigation.
Donohue is challenging the validity of the ordinance that amended a 1996 ordinance establishing the Tax Increment Financing district – or TIF district – to finance a portion of Project Jackson.
Project Jackson is a proposed 30-acre development along the Savannah River front possibly consisting of a hotel, stores and a baseball stadium. It will be located between the River Club and Hammond's Ferry neighborhoods in North Augusta.
“Putting a baseball stadium down there is awful. I can't think of anything worse than that,” Donohue said in a December interview. “It's awful what they're doing to the place. They have blinders on. All they want is a baseball stadium and that guy (the developer) showed up and is going to give them the hotel and the restaurants I keep hearing about. ... I want to get a judge to look at the law and what the City has done and make a finding,” he said. “They acted contrary to the law and should not be allowed to go forward.”
Donohue's complaint states that the ordinance the City of North Augusta adopted last November does not comply with state law because there is no evidence of blight in the area and there are no findings that property values would remain static or decline without intervention. Furthermore, the complaint alleges the Project Jackson development will bring “increased traffic, light pollution, noise pollution and parking congestion” to the River Club's “quiet enjoyment of their personal residences.”
The complaint also alleges that North Augusta City Council “has repeatedly met in private, executive sessions between January 2013 and September 2013 without properly announcing the specific purpose.” It specifically points to a meeting on March 11 of last year, which immediately went into executive session so Council could discuss “contracts” with no further description.
The complaint states that following that meeting, “the City Administrator declared he had been given ‘direction' by the city council on how to proceed with Project Jackson.”
Donohue's complaint requests that the court in its judgment declare last November's ordinance the “product of arbitrary and capricious findings by the city and is therefore contrary to law and invalid” and that the City be restrained from issuing any debt instruments secured by TIF money.
It also requests that every action of the City Council concerning the TIF district and Project Jackson be nullified as products of improperly convening private meetings.
The North Augusta Riverfront Company also has filed a countersuit against Donohue, which accuses Donohue of trying to halt or delay the development of Project Jackson with what it calls an “unfounded” suit.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct the scope of the proposed Project Jackson development. The development will span roughly 25 acres.
Motion to dismiss filed regarding countersuit
An attorney for North Augusta resident Steve Donohue filed a motion to dismiss a countersuit against his client, who is suing the City of North Augusta over the proposed riverfront development known as Project Jackson.
The motion was filed July 7 in the Aiken County Clerk of Court's office.
The North Augusta Riverfront Company filed a summons and complaint against Donohue on May 30. The complaint states that the company had a contractual relationship with Greenstone Enterprises Inc. to sell a portion of the property to Greenstone for the development of Project Jackson, and that an agreement to sell the property was “a close certainty.”
Donohue filed his complaint against the City of North Augusta, Mayor Lark Jones and the City Council in December. In it, he challenged the validity of the ordinance that amended a 1996 ordinance establishing the Tax Increment Financing – or TIF – district to finance a portion of Project Jackson.
Attorney James Mosteller wrote in the motion to dismiss the countersuit, “The (TIF) statute specifically authorizes such suits to be brought to challenge its application. ... Defendant would show unto the Court that bringing a statutorily authorized lawsuit against a third party cannot form the basis for a wrongful act as alleged in plaintiff's complaint.”
Donohue is accused by The North Augusta Riverfront Company of “intentionally and improperly” interfering with the relationship between the company and Greenstone by filing an “unfounded” complaint last year. The company is seeking judgment against Donohue for actual damages, consequential damages, incidental damages and punitive damages.
Aiken Standard File Photo North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones, left, makes a new case for “Project Jackson” to Aiken School Board members as City Administrator Todd Glover looks on during a previous meeting.×
Aiken Standard File Photo Project Jackson supporters hold up signs after a speaker during a previous meeting on the project.×
Aiken Standard File Photo Project Jackson detractors hold up signs in disapproval during a previous meeting.×
Aiken Standard File Photo Steve Donohue, a North Augusta resident, offers his opinion to Aiken County Council that the City of North Augusta’s Project Jackson redevelopment initiative would be a bad deal for the County Council during a previous meeting regarding the project.×
Aiken Standard File Photo Patricia and Steve Donohue show their displeasure as a Project Jackson supporter speaks during a previous meeting on the project.×