After weeks of speculation, the decision has been made: Project Jackson will move forward.
According to Belton Zeigler, the City of North Augusta's lead attorney, S.C. Circuit Court Judge J. Ernest Kinard has informed both plaintiff Steve Donohue and the defense, the City, that he ruled with the City on all points.
“We haven't gotten a final, signed copy of the document quite yet,” Zeigler said. “The judge's office notified us yesterday (Monday) evening that they would be sending a signed copy of the order to the Clerk of Court in Aiken County.”
Project Jackson is a proposed 30-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.
“The City of North Augusta is pleased with the ruling from Judge Kinard,” said North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover. “The judge found that the City followed the law in every detail in pursuing the project. After over 12 public meetings, the approval of three local governments, and now an expansive review by the courts, it is our hope that the City will now be able to move forward with this exciting project.”
The complaint lodged by Donohue, a resident of The River Club, stated, among other things, that the amended ordinance the City adopted last November establishing a Tax Increment Financing District to finance a portion of Project Jackson does not comply with state law in that there's no evidence of blight in the area, and there are no findings that property values would remain static or decline without intervention.
Donohue's complaint also alleged that North Augusta City Council “repeatedly met in private, executive sessions between January 2013 and September 2013 without properly announcing the specific purpose.”
Chris Schoen, master developer with Greenstone Properties, indicated that “this ruling keeps us on track to deliver a top-notch development that will become a destination for everyone in the region. We are dedicated to being good neighbors and bringing affordable family entertainment to the North Augusta riverfront.”
Zeigler added, “The development itself is a wonderful development that the town should be very proud of. North Augusta's citizens should be very proud of how farsighted it has been in setting up something very exciting.”
Zeigler said, should there be an appeal, the defense will take it in stride and look to get the same result. He said the developers are “completely committed” to the project, and that “no one is turning back.”
Donohue has 30 days to file an appeal.
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star.
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.