A South of Broad waterfront parking lot is at the center of two ongoing fights — a zoning battle and a lawsuit. If a landowner wins, he’ll have a great Cooper River view in a new house. If the City of Charleston wins, the lot could become part of a park.
The owner of the Concord Street lot alleges in a civil lawsuit that Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg helped someone who is trying to block his home project and that the city accepted a sizable donation to try to buy the land.
While the city admits in court filings that Tecklenburg had “conversations with concerned citizens” about the parcel, it denies several allegations, including an accusation that the mayor worked to “undermine and sabotage” the lot’s development. The city agreed, however, that one person was willing to make a “large donation” to help expand Joe Riley Waterfront Park.
The parcel at 10 Concord St., now a parking lot adjacent to a waterfront building for Charleston Harbor Pilots, was shown as part of the park in plans from 1980, but when the park was completed in 1990, it was not included.
The Concord Street lot is one of the last vacant waterfront properties on the peninsula zoned residential. If built, the residence would have a sweeping view of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor. And the view is what’s at the heart of the legal tussle.
Last year, a group of South Adgers Wharf residents and the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association filed a zoning appeal stating, “The construction of 10 Concord would block that remaining corridor and close off the entire view corridor along South Adgers Wharf from East Bay Street.”
The “remaining corridor” is the view that is not currently blocked by the Harbor Pilots’ building.
The zoning complaint cites a section in the city’s building code that covers buildings which could block views of the Ashley or Cooper rivers from certain streets on the peninsula. In addition, it mentions environmental and flooding concerns.
How this all started
Businessman H. Martin Sprock III, who founded the Moe’s Southwest Grill and later sold the franchise, bought the Concord Street parking lot in June 2020 for $1,480,000. Sprock’s civil suit says he made sure the lot was zoned residential and hired local architects to draw plans to make sure the structure would meet zoning requirements.
The suit said the city confirmed it “would support a residential use” of the property. According to a city email, more than a year after Sprock’s architect submitted plans for the structure to the zoning department, the city’s zoning administrator emailed the firm: “I’m good with the plans for zoning.” The date: Oct. 19, 2021. The next month, the trouble began.
In November 2021, the Adgers Wharf group filed a zoning appeal. A day later, on Nov. 23, 2021, Charleston City Council voted to “to acquire 10 Concord St. by any and all legal means available.”
The city then sent a condemnation notice to Sprock that said it wanted the parcel for public purposes to extend Joe Riley Waterfront Park. The city’s offer was $1,785,000 — just over $300,000 more than Sprock paid 17 months earlier.
Sprock sued the city in February 2022.
“The City has no right to condemn plaintiff’s property for the purpose of benefiting certain private interests,” according to the initial filing by Sprock’s attorney John P. Linton Jr. of Charleston. The suit alleges the private interests are a small group of individuals who want to protect their view.
The city has a different interpretation, saying the public purpose of purchasing the lot is to extend Waterfront Park, as reflected in its original 1980 plans.
“We [will] eventually get in front of a judge and the judge determines if we have a valid public purpose,” City Deputy Corporation Counsel Julia Copeland said in an interview.
But Sprock’s lawsuit points out that in addition to the lot being zoned residential, city council adopted a new City Plan in October of last year. The map for the peninsula’s future in the plan depicted the lot as “suburban,” not “park.”
Also key in the civil suit is how the city obtained the funds to make the offer to Sprock to buy the lot.
Sprock’s lawsuit alleges he was approached at one point by “an across-the-street landowner” who wanted to buy the lot from him. Sprock declined.
The lawsuit says he then got a text from the person saying he would still be willing to discuss the documented costs up to now, but not in the future. After thanking Sprock, the text said, “You might want to consider the barriers that lie ahead of you and your wife.”
The lawsuit alleges the text was sent “with approval from the mayor.” It goes on to claim the city’s plan was for this across-the-street landowner to fund Charleston’s purchase of the parking lot.
In a subsequent March filing, the city answered “that at least one landowner was willing and did make a large donation to the city so that all citizens could benefit from an expansion of Waterfront Park.” The city denied the text was sent to Sprock with the mayor’s approval.
According to city spokesman Jack O’Toole, a donor made out a check to the City of Charleston on Dec. 13, 2021, for $1 million, which was deposited into the city’s land fund.
The city declined a request for an interview with Tecklenburg, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.
Linton, the attorney for Sprock, emailed this statement:
“We look forward to proving our case in court, including that the city can’t condemn private property for the purpose of bestowing a private benefit on a small group of influential people who prefer the property to be vacant.”
The case is not currently scheduled for a court date at this time, according to O’Toole.
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