Verdict expected next week in Project Jackson trial
The fate of Project Jackson will have to wait at least one more week.
Following an eight-hour trial, South Carolina Circuit Court Judge J. Ernest Kinard Jr. decided not to render his verdict until he reviews orders next week from the City of North Augusta and River Club resident Steve Donohue's legal teams summarizing their requests for relief. Kinard did grant a motion in the City's favor, dismissing Donohue's claim that the stadium would be a nuisance to the River Club.
Donohue filed his complaint on Dec. 9 against the City of North Augusta, Mayor Lark Jones and North Augusta City Council, 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.
Donohue's complaint states, among other things, the amended ordinance the City of North Augusta adopted last November does not comply with state law because there's no evidence of blight in the area and there are no findings that property values would remain static or decline without intervention.
Project Jackson is a proposed 457-acre development, 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.
Donohue's case rests on the fact that TIF districts require the value of property involved to be static or declining. His research finds that the TIF district in question has actually increased from $22.7 million to $138 million. Donohue stated on the stand that less than half an acre of the land within the 457-acre district can be classified as blighted in accordance with the TIF statute.
Scott Gudith, a River Club resident, was another witness for the plaintiff. Gudith, who contributed financially to Donohue's case, said he did not consider the area to be blighted “in any shape or form.” Gudith owns both residential and commercial land within City limits.
Dr. Tom Regan, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina in the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, testified that the relocation of the Augusta GreenJackets would not be a major economic development due to the stadium being moved only roughly 2 miles and having the same team, fans and employees.
Belton Zeigler, the defense's lead attorney, challenged Regan's credentials to make such claims, citing that he had no degree in public administration or finance. In fact, Regan's degrees are in accounting and education.
Donohue's 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.”
In regard to the City of North Augusta's alleged violation with the Freedom of Information Act, Donohue said this is a “controversial issue with a lot of public interest” and that it is “important for the public to have access to the information.”
North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover was called to the stand and said the majority of the 18 executive sessions from March 4 to Dec. 16, 2013, were to discuss Project Jackson, but that the City acted within the law by calling the matter a “contractual matter.”
Jones also denied that any decisions requiring action were done in executive session.
Glover was recalled as the defense's final witness, and he said the area where Project Jackson is proposed was “heavily industrialized” and full of “abandoned buildings, kilns, underground tunnels and bricks in the soil” that included lead paint as far as 13 to 20 feet down.
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at The North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheScottRodgers.