DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. — The Dorchester Trust Foundation has taken legal action against Dorchester County and Dorchester County Council over their recent adoption of a zoning amendment allowing a singular gas station or convenience store to operate on Cooks Crossroads next to the Ashley River floodplain.
In 2019, Dorchester County Council adopted unique guidelines for development at Cooks Crossroads in recognition of the importance of the Ashley River and to further its goals of developing it as a “gateway” to the Historic District. Located between a National Scenic Highway, a State Scenic River and close by county, town, and state parks and two National Historic Landmarks plus the historic town of Summerville, the Crossroads offers special development opportunities for the county and state. The guidelines specifically excluded gasoline stations and quick stop or convenience stores.
However, on September 7, 2021, County Council approved an amendment to its zoning regulations to permit gas stations, quick stop or convenience stores as a “conditional use” solely in the Conservation Zoning District where Cooks Crossroads is located.
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project filed the lawsuit in Circuit Court on Friday on behalf of the Foundation, seeking a court order declaring the zoning amendment null and void. According to the complaint, the decision by County Council was arbitrary and capricious, violates the state Comprehensive Planning Act and the County’s Comprehensive Plan, and amounts to unlawful spot zoning.
“The County Council’s decision to allow a gas station in Cooks Crossroads blatantly disregards the County’s Comprehensive Plan and the design guidelines specifically adopted for this critical gateway to the Ashley River Historic District,” said SCELP attorney Michael Martinez. “The explicit purpose of these guidelines and Cooks Crossroads’ designation as a Conservation District is to protect this ecologically sensitive, scenic, and historic section of Dorchester County, and its elected officials must be held accountable to complying with state law and their own ordinances.”
The Foundation, which owns a large parcel within Cooks Crossroads that consists of Rosebrock Park, has long opposed the zoning amendment.
Its chairman, George McDaniel, asked, “After only two years, why is the County Council changing its guidelines to allow a gas station at that location when three are already located about a mile away on Dorchester Road with a vacant corner available for another? Why assume the risks from flooding, litter, and pollution of the scenic Ashley River, which both the county and town are now investing in? A gas station/convenience store at that location is not a good example of wise business development, which we stand in favor of. “
Sharon Richardson, treasurer of the Foundation, is similarly concerned with water quality and health and safety concerns and invites collaboration with the County.
“It has always been our intention as landlord to the County’s first public park to be working toward mutual goals. As a passive park, our floodplain forests play a critical role in flood storage capacity as Dorchester County experiences more flash flooding from rain bomb events,” said Richardson, who has 30 years of landscape scale conservation expertise as a Conservation Entrepreneur.
“When we took on the obligation to steward Conversation Bank investments in public access space, we knew a convenience store business model would put that at risk. We will continue to look for better outcomes with willing partners. We will try to prevent 50 years of SC Department of Natural Resources partnerships with conservation and historic preservation allies from going down the drain,” she concluded.
For more information click here: https://www.scelp.org/cases/cooks-crossroads
Michael Martinez, Esquire
Staff Attorney, South Carolina Environmental Law Project
firstname.lastname@example.org or (864) 412-7921
George W. McDaniel, Ph.D.
Chairman, Dorchester Trust Foundation
email@example.com or (843) 708-5466
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project uses its legal expertise to protect land, water and communities across South Carolina.
The Dorchester Trust Foundation conserves and preserves the Bacon’s Bridge tract as a nature-based, passive park open to the public and seeks to provide additional passive recreational space for the citizens of Dorchester County and the general public.