LongCreek Resident Files FOIA Lawsuit

RICHLAND – A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Samuel T. Brick of LongCreek Plantation against Richland County will be heard the week of June 10 in the Court of Common Pleas in Columbia. The lawsuit stems from a year-long fight by residents of LongCreek Plantation to stop rezoning for a 100-acre development they considered incompatible with their rural neighborhood.

In an effort to succeed in its rezoning plan, the developer, LongCreek Associates, turned to the County’s Green Code. The issue has been before the Planning Commission more than once, examined by the Richland County Development Review Team (DRT) repeatedly and appealed by Brick and Monica Iskersky, another LongCreek resident. As a result, the County has now scrapped its Green Code in favor of a new Open Spaces code and declared that the DRT doesn’t meet. Along the way, Brick claims, the state’s FOIA laws were breached multiple times by Richland County, Tracy Hegler (Chairwoman of the Richland County DRT), Sparty Hammett (Assistant Richland County Administrator), Patrick Palmer (Chairman of the Richland County Planning Commission) and Fairways Development, LLC (registered agent, John T. Bakhaus).

Brick makes four complaints in his filing:

1. Brick alleges the Richland County DRT is a public body but operates in secret. He says the DRT developed the Open Spaces legislation in secret after it was requested by the County Council to develop changes in the law and report back to them. Brick says that because the DRT is supported by public funds and actually drafts ordinances that the County enacts, its business should be open to the public.

2. Brick alleges that the Richland County Planning Commission held two executive sessions, on two separate occasions, during an appeal of the DRT’s approval of a major land development. Brick alleges the following three things: In each session the Planning Commission voted on and announced they were going into executive session to receive legal advice. They took in with them their attorney, the Planning Director and another attorney who represented the Planning Director. The Planning Director basically was the respondent to the appeal as she is head of the DRT. Furthermore, Brick says there was no other reason for them to go into executive session.

3. Brick alleges Richland County failed to make a determination to provide requested documents within the 15 work-day period required by state law. Brick says the County didn’t comply until the day he filed suit. Brick said the County considers its determination to be a letter, that it has the complaint and Brick has to pay to get it, but that the County will not release it until the legal office approves. Brick’s contention is that waiting for the County legal office means a determination has not been made.

4. Brick alleges that the DRT is a public body. But he says the DRT does not consider itself to be a public body. Recently, Brick says, provisions regarding approvals of major land developments, which include interpretations of land development ordinances, were made to keep the DRT from actually meeting. Brick says that the public does not know when or even what the DRT is reviewing. Brick alleges that the only public announcement of a meeting is on the wall outside the Planning Department office and does not say what the action entailed — only that so-and-so’s application was approved. Brick’s complaint says the DRT now acts totally in secret, and they make final decisions on major land developments with the only review being if someone appeals. Brick says the appeal would be to the Planning Commission, but to appeal one would need an FOIA request regarding the application, which would take almost the entire period within which an appeal is authorized.

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