010418 Marlin Quay: Marina project foe threatens ‘takings’ suit
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The parking lot at the Marlin Quay Marina.

Marlin Quay: Marina project foe threatens ‘takings’ suit

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After a year spent arguing that plans to rebuild the store at Marlin Quay Marina should face a public hearing, the nearby restaurant that opposes that plan says it will sue Georgetown County for an unconstitutional “taking” if the plan that received a hearing last month is approved.

Such a suit would be in addition to the two pending appeals of decisions by the county Board of Zoning Appeals that the project didn’t require a hearing and two lawsuits that are also pending between the marina owner and the Gulfstream Café.

At issue is the plan by Palmetto Industrial Development, owned by Mark Lawhon, to replace the marina store that he tore down in November 2016 after receiving a building permit from the county. Gulfstream Café, owned by the CentraArch group of Atlanta, appealed the permit to the county board and then to Circuit Court after the permit was upheld. The court upheld the appeals board, but the case is still pending.

A revised plan was submitted in September, also approved by county staff as a minor change to the “planned development” zoning at Marlin Quay and also appealed by Gulfstream Café. The county board again approved the permit. Gulfstream appealed that decision to the courts.

Gulfstream is also seeking a permanent injunction to bar the rebuilding of the marina store and

restaurant, which it refers to as a snack bar, as planned saying the project will deprive the restaurant of parking spaces for which it has an easement.

Lawhon also sued Gulfstream alleging fraud by the restaurant employees who he said encouraged his project, but filed suit as soon as the old building was demolished. Those suits went to arbitration. On the eve of a hearing before the county Planning Commission, the mediator declared talks between the two sides were at an impasse, according to court documents.

Lawhon applied for a change to the Marlin Quay zoning district in order to move the project forward, said Dan Stacy, his attorney. “We need finality on this,” he said, dropping an inch-thick stack of court documents on the podium in the hearing room.

The original marina building contained 4,603 square feet in one and a half stories. The proposed building would have 4,598 square feet of heated space and another 3,112 square feet of decks.

Gulfstream said it went to court to block the project because it believes the building will take up parking space to which it has an easement. “There should not be interference with the parking that has existed since 1985,” said George Redman, one of two attorneys representing the restaurant.

Patrick Williams, an architect with SGA Architecture, said the project will actually create three new parking spaces under the proposed building. Even with those, the 61 available parking spaces wouldn’t meet the county’s current standards, said Holly Richardson, the senior planner.

The site needs 120 spaces for the marina, shop and restaurant and Gulfstream Café, said Simon Bloom, an Atlanta attorney who also represents the café. “The facility does not have the space to accommodate a 7,500 square foot restaurant,” he said, referring to the combined space at the proposed building. “I feel for Dr. Lawhon,” he added. “Dreams be darned, you can build parking spaces in the middle of the air.”

Yet because the area is a planned development with its own zoning, the county can set a different parking requirement, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

He also disputed Bloom’s claim that the building exceeds the county’s height limits, noting the height is measure to the midpoint of the roof, not the peak.

“This is about competition,” Lawhon told the commission. “They waited until the trucks rolled off the site and sued us.”

Family members and charter boat captains told the commission the new facility will be a needed amenity to the property. So did dozens of people who emailed the commission. Some owners in the adjacent condos raised concerns about their view, parking and noise.

The commission approved the plan 6-1 after Lawhon agreed to limit the number of restaurant seats to 110, the same as in the original building. Commission member Lee Shoulette was opposed. He said he had concerns about the space calculations.

County Council must approve the change, and Bloom sent notice to the county that Gulfstream will sue if the plan is approved. “It would unreasonably impair and destroy Gulfstream’s property and easement rights without first paying fair, adequate and just compensation,” he wrote. The change denys the business “economically viable use of its land,” he added.

First reading of the change is due next week.

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