Dunes W. Golf Club, LLC v. Town of Mount Pleasant

Decision Date09 January 2013
Docket NumberNo. 27208.,27208.
PartiesDUNES WEST GOLF CLUB, LLC, Appellant, v. TOWN OF MOUNT PLEASANT, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2011–194211.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

401 S.C. 280
737 S.E.2d 601


Appellate Case No. 2011–194211.

No. 27208.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard April 3, 2012.
Decided Jan. 9, 2013.

[737 S.E.2d 604]

G. Trenholm Walker and Katie Fowler Monoc, both of Pratt–Thomas Walker, PA, of Charleston, for Appellant.

Frances I. Cantwell, of Regan and Cantwell, LLC, of Charleston, and David G. Pagliarini, of Hinchey Murray & Pagliarini, LLC, of Daniel Island, for Respondent.


[401 S.C. 286]In this direct appeal, Appellant Dunes West Golf Club, LLC, challenges the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Respondent Town of Mount Pleasant. We affirm.

[401 S.C. 287]Dunes West is a 4,518–acre development in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. This case concerns only the Dunes West golf course property, which consists of 256 acres. As more fully described below, in 2006, the Town of Mount Pleasant amended its zoning ordinance to create the Conservation Recreation Open Space zoning district, which imposed land-use restrictions on all golf course properties in Mount Pleasant, permitting only recreation and conservation uses. Appellant desired to carve out residential lots on the golf course property by designating several noncontiguous parcels as potential home sites. Although Appellant has presented varying acreage amounts and has failed to identify specifically what portion of the golf course property it seeks to develop,1 it is clear residential development would require significant alterations to the golf course area of play. Because the new zoning

[737 S.E.2d 605]

designation did not permit construction of new homes, Appellant sought to have the golf course property rezoned to allow residential development. The Town denied the rezoning request, and Appellant filed suit, claiming the Town's actions violated its equal protection and due process rights, and amounted to an unconstitutional taking of its property. Following discovery, the Town of Mount Pleasant successfully moved for summary judgment. We have carefully reviewed each assignment of error and find summary judgment was properly granted. With this synopsis in mind, we now discuss the relevant facts and applicable law in detail.


The Dunes West Development (“Development”) is located on 4,518 acres of land within Respondent Town of Mount Pleasant (“Town”). The principal of Appellant Dunes West Golf Club, LLC (“Appellant”), John Weiland, through other corporate entities, purchased the undeveloped residential lots and the master developer rights to the Development in 2002, and thereafter invested considerable sums repairing the Development's infrastructure and updating its amenities. This appeal concerns only a small portion of the Development—[401 S.C. 288]namely, the 256 acres laid out over six contiguous tax map parcels that comprise the Dunes West Golf Course, related facilities and the immediately surrounding property, which we will refer to as the “Golf Course Property.” Appellant acquired the Golf Course Property in 2005,2 and at that time, the Development and the Golf Course Property were subject to the zoning requirements of the Dunes West Planned Development (“DWPD”), which permits flexible land use at the developer's discretion.3

According to Weiland, at the time Appellant acquired the Golf Course Property, he believed the golf course was an important amenity for the Development 4 and that there was unused land located on and around the golf course that had potential for residential development. It is this potentially developable land on the Golf Course Property that is at the center of this case.

Weiland initially identified these developable portions of the Golf Course Property by instructing an employee to walk the property and make note of any undeveloped areas outside the out-of-bounds markers on the golf course. 5 This informal [401 S.C. 289]approach first resulted in the identification of a series of noncontiguous lots, which together comprised approximately 57 acres. Neither Weiland nor anyone on his behalf examined existing plats to ascertain the location of easements and other restrictions or conducted any engineering analysis of soils, utilities, or potential impact to the golf course itself in identifying the developable areas.

As will be discussed below, as the matter proceeded to and through litigation, Appellant

[737 S.E.2d 606]

has presented widely varying projections as to precisely what part of the Golf Course Property was to be carved out for residential development. Nevertheless, all of the approaches had one thing in common—the alteration of the golf course, the filling of wetlands and the relocation of several easements which Appellant did not own.

In 2005, before Appellant took any formal steps in furtherance of residentially developing a portion of the Golf Course Property, a number of golf courses throughout the coastal area of South Carolina were converted for use as residential home sites. Local city and county councils became concerned about this increasing golf-course conversion trend, particularly where developers exploited flexible, planned development zoning provisions to level existing golf courses without any oversight from local government. Among those concerned municipalities was the Town. Believing a prompt, proactive approach was in the best interests of the Town and its residents, the Town examined the existing zoning designations and permitted uses for all golf course properties within its borders to determine whether and to what extent future development could be evaluated and controlled.

As a result, to “more effectively control the process of converting golf course property to other uses” and to “balance the interests of golf course property owners and golf course community residents with respect to such conversion of use,” the Town's planning commission proposed implementing a new [401 S.C. 290]zoning district—namely, the Conservation Recreation Open Space (“CRO”) district. See Town of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Code § 156.333 (2006). The CRO zoning designation permits only recreation and conservation uses and prohibits residential development.6 According to a Town planning commission staff report:

Rezoning all [golf] courses to CR–O or amending the PDs would not necessarily prevent future development of the golf course properties. It would provide that the owner of the course would be subject to the rezoning process including a public hearing should the owner desire to redevelop part or all of the golf course for some other type of development. Town Council approval would be required.
See Town of Mt. Pleasant Planning Comm'n Public Hearing (April 19, 2006) (statement of Christiane Farrell, Div.
Chief, Mt. Pleasant Planning Dep't).

During the public hearing process on the proposed CRO Ordinance, Appellant voiced its opposition to including the entirety of the Golf Course Property in the CRO designation, claiming a total of 60.4 acres was not “part of the golf course” and was suitable for residential development. Appellant contended this 60.4 acres should remain subject to the DWPD's flexible floating zoning. However, no plat or survey of the proposed developable land existed at that time, and no graphic or other pictorial depiction of those areas was ever presented to the Town. The Town's zoning administrator testified at deposition that:

[I]t would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for [the Town] to decide or to determine what was indeed—what the developer considered developable land, not a part of the golf course, unless they showed it to us. And to my knowledge, that didn't occur until later on in the process [after the enactment of the CRO ordinance].

Following the public hearing process, the Mount Pleasant Town Council (“Council”) voted to amend the Town's zoning [401 S.C. 291]ordinance to create the new CRO zoning district. See Town of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Ordinance No. 06031 (June 14, 2006). Using tax-map-parcel boundaries, the Town identified the land parcels comprising part of any one of the Town's five golf courses, and either by way of direct rezoning or an amendment to the relevant planned development, each of those parcels was designated as a CRO district. See Town of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Ordinance Nos. 06032 (Patriot's Point Golf Course); 06033 (Snee Farm Country Club); 06034 (Charleston National

[737 S.E.2d 607]

Country Club); 06035 (Dunes West Golf Club); 06036 (Rivertowne Country Club) (June 14, 2006).

At Dunes West, the new CRO district was comprised solely of the 256–acre Golf Course Property. Following this amendment, the Golf Course Property was no longer subject to the flexible floating zoning of the DWPD. Instead, that land was subject to the use limitations of the CRO Ordinance, which did not permit residential development.

In 2008, Appellant submitted a rezoning petition seeking residential development of a portion of the Golf Course Property. This time, Appellant claimed that 17.93 noncontiguous acres located within the Golf Course Property were developable for residential lots. The location of the acreage sought to be rezoned fell within areas of play of the golf course and would have required extensive alterations to the course.7 The rezoning petition also contemplated filling wetlands and the abandonment of an easement not owned by Appellant. In addition, at the time of Appellant's rezoning request, there were approximately 1,200 available lots outside the Golf Course Property in the Development designated for residential use.

[401 S.C. 292]Appellant's petition prompted spirited public debate. The planning commission recommended that Appellant's proposal be denied by Council on the basis that it did not comport with the rezoning criteria set forth in the Town's Code of Ordinances. See Town of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Code § 156. 031(C) (providing the factors for consideration by the planning commission for rezoning requests,...

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