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Litchfield Plantation: Court order returns control of POA to developer

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A Circuit Court judge has ruled that a board elected by the developers is once again in charge of the property owners association at Litchfield Plantation. The order signed by Judge Larry Hyman and filed this week ends 20 months of control by a board elected by individual property owners.

Work will start on two new homes in the development next week, said John Miller, president of Litchfield Plantation Co.

The company has argued that control of the association, which maintains common elements and has architectural review of new construction, is essential for it to be able to sell property in the troubled development, which is among the oldest gated communities on Waccamaw Neck.

Property owners elected a new board in February 2011, replacing Scott Trotter, who was president of the development company at the time, and Jeff Van Treese, a lawyer for Louise Parsons, who started the development in the 1960s. The new board then went to court to seek a declaration that the development company had lost its right to elect the association board because it failed to make the annual payment to the association required under the bylaws.

In the meantime, control of Litchfield Plantation Co. passed to a new group of investors led by Miller.

Trotter was subsequently arrested for grand larceny on a complaint by members of the new association board who claimed he had illegally assigned promissory notes payable to the association to his own development company. That charge was dropped last month, but Trotter remains a party to the civil suit over control of the association board.

Hyman ruled in May that the development company still had its voting rights, but that they were suspended until it made its required payment to the association, $149,982.

Litchfield Plantation Co. called a special meeting of the association after it paid the past-due amount. But the property owners on the board refused to count the company’s votes because they had appealed Hyman’s ruling. They argued that the appeal stayed the restoration of the company’s voting rights.

At a hearing in September, the development company argued that its voting rights are a personal right that, under court rules, aren’t affected by the appeal.

In the ruling, Hyman agreed. The company’s voting rights are both a personal right and a property right because they are derived from ownership of property in Litchfield Plantation, the ruling states.

“Not only has the defendant’s fundamental right to vote been impeded by and its payment of over $150,000 taken by the plaintiffs, defendant’s ability to sell its property within Litchfield Plantation has also been thwarted by the plaintiffs,” the ruling states.

In order to maintain its voting rights, the development company must sell at least 100 lots in a five-year period. The current period expires Dec. 31, 2015.

“It is clear that if defendant’s property rights remain in limbo for the duration of this litigation and appeal, defendant would likely suffer significant damages,” the ruling states.

The plaintiffs – Joseph Johnston, Thomas Eckard, Carol Kirby, Robert McMahan and Thomas Phillips – and the management company they hired are prohibited with interfering with the board elected by the development company: Miller, Carson Benton, Jason Morris, Billy Deagan and Paul Suter.

Miller said he was pleased with the decision. “We knew it was just a matter of time,” he said.

He plans to hold a meeting of the association next week.

Johnston did not return a call seeking comment. A letter from former association board members Tuesday said “while we do not believe the order is supported by either the facts or the law, we will certainly abide by it.”

They also said they plan to appeal the order.

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