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Litchfield Plantation: Developer ready to reclaim POA and start work

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Clearing was expected to start this week on lots in Litchfield Plantation after the development company last week paid a shortfall in the budget of the property owners association. The move followed 17 months of legal battles between the association and the company.

Development will begin on 21 homes, said John Miller, president of Litchfield Plantation Co.

He bought the company’s assets last year from the plantation’s original developer, Louise Parsons, after the collapse of a buyout effort. That followed a meeting of property owners where the head of the buyout group, Scott Trotter, and his attorney were voted off the board. The new association board filed suit asking the court to declare that the development company no longer has control over the association since it failed to fund a budget shortfall as required by the deed covenants.

A Circuit Court judge ruled in May that the developer’s control was only suspended until the shortfall, $149,981, was paid. Miller said that was done Friday.

“It’s been quite an ordeal,” he said.

He has called a meeting of the property owners association for Aug. 24 and plans to elect a new board. The covenants give the developer one more vote than all the other association members combined until 90 percent of the lots are sold as long as he sells at least 100 lots in a five-year period.

Joe Johnson, current president of the association board, did not return a call seeking comment.

Miller said he will place other property owners on the board. “I want to reach out to the community,” he said. “It’s important to hear the views of residents.”

The current board has asked Judge Larry Hyman to reconsider his ruling. A hearing on that motion is scheduled next week.

“I don’t think the judge is going to reconsider what he’s already ruled, especially after we’ve paid the deficit,” Miller said.

The association board argues that there is other money owed by the development company. Hyman said those claims can still be raised. They are the subject of another suit.

There is the potential to develop over 400 homes within Litchfield Plantation, but Miller said the likely number is closer to 250. He plans to start construction along the Kings River Road side of the property with 2,000-square-foot homes that will sell for around $300,000.

“Instead of million dollar homes, there will be smaller lots and lower-priced homes,” Miller said. “I liked the [previous] plan, but the market just won’t support it.”

He is targeting the market for retirees.

“Over the next seven to 10 years, there will probably be over $100 million worth of real estate sold in there,” Miller said.

Along with resuming development, Miller said the 18th century plantation house will reopen as an inn. “We’ve got some reservations starting in September,” he said.

It will be primarily an amenity for real estate sales, but he hopes to attract other guests to its four suites.

The Carriage House, which was a private club and a restaurant until a foreclosure sale to a Virginia-based lender last year, is on the market for $1.4 million. “It can’t really function as a stand-alone restaurant,” Miller said, but he hopes to work with whoever buys it to make it an amenity for the development.

In the year since he took over the Litchfield Plantation Co. as head of an investment group, Miller said all the debt owed to banks has been paid off. Private debt will either be paid or converted to equity.

“The baggage is gone now,” he said.

Although he anticipated it would take a while to resolve the myriad issues surrounding the property, one of Waccamaw Neck’s first planned developments, Miller said, “I’ve wasted well over a year having to deal with this.”

The only potential benefit is having a court ruling that makes it clear how the covenants and related bylaws are interpreted.

Along with the dispute over funds owed the association and the developer’s voting rights, there is still a question to be decided over the validity of the board elected in 2011 after Trotter was ousted.

Property owners filed a criminal complaint after Trotter assigned promissory notes from the development company to the association over to his buyout group. He was charged with grand larceny, but never indicted. He claims he was still the association president when the assignment was made.

The notes have since been deposited with the clerk of court. A trial on the validity of the association board was delayed twice this summer.

“For the most part, the war’s over. There might be a few skirmishes,” Miller said. “I’m just excited about being able to begin the project.”

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