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Sarsfield lawsuit dropped

Posted: December 14, 2010 3:59 p.m.
Updated: December 15, 2010 5:00 a.m.

The city of Camden and the Camden Planning Commission (CPC) can breathe a sigh of relief.

The owners of historic Sarsfield have dismissed with prejudice a $1.4 million lawsuit in the Kershaw County Court of Common Pleas originally filed in June 2006. According to Law.com’s legal dictionary, dismissing a case “with prejudice” means it can never be filed again.

Sarsfield was the last home of Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut.

The story began in January 2002 when Sarsfield’s owners -- Robert and Sharon Kurschner, who bought the property in 1989 -- filed a subdivision request with the CPC. Their plan was to subdivide a portion of the approximately 5-acre property into 10 one-third-acre lots. The CPC denied the request as well as a subsequent one in 2004 for seven lots.

Both times, the CPC denied the subdivision requests based on language contained in Chapter 156 of Camden’s city code governing subdivisions. Most strongly, CPC members argued that because Sarsfield is listed on local, state and federal historic registries, the subdivision plan could be denied based on the most restrictive grounds possible.

The Kurschners appealed the 2002 decision to the 5th Circuit Court, but then-Judge Reginald I. Lloyd threw out the suit because the city was not notified in a timely manner.

In 2004, CPC members rejected the Kurschners’ argument that Sarsfield’s historic designation was only in terms of the home and not the property as a whole. They also ruled subdividing the property would go against a goal in the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan to preserve historic sites as sources community pride and as means to draw tourists.

The Kurschners appealed that decision as well, arguing that 1) then-Commissioner Laurie Slade Funderburk should have recused herself upon her election as a state representative; 2) they were denied their due process rights; and 3) that the commission’s decision was affected by an error of law.

A circuit court judge rejected those arguments and upheld the CPC’s 2004 decision. The case made its way to the S.C. Supreme Court in late 2007 which unanimously rejected those arguments and upheld the circuit court judge’s decision. The decision was published in early 2008.

When the Kurschners filed their 2006 lawsuit, they cited many of the same reasons as they had in their appeals of the CPC’s decisions. They claimed those decisions were an “unconstitutional taking” by the city without any formal act of condemnation or compensation. The $1.4 million figure was based on what the couple believed they could have earned had they been allowed to create and sell the 10 lots they originally wanted.

The Kurschners additionally argued that CPC members had “failed to be fair, unbiased (and) impartial,” meeting and talking with special interest groups and discussing the application with those third parties. They also claimed at least one commissioner had already formed an opinion prior to the 2004 CPC meeting.

According to the Kershaw County Clerk of Court’s website, the 2006 lawsuit was struck from the docket in August 2007. The Kurschners filed a motion to restore the lawsuit a year later, in August 2008. The court agreed in February 2009, moving the lawsuit to a new docket number.

The Kurschners filed the dismissal with prejudice Friday.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham said the city is pleased with the outcome.

“The city had been advised that existing law would support (the CPC’s) decision to deny subdivision without exposing the city to liability. The suit was dismissed as the parties prepared for a summary judgment motion filed by the city which, if (it had been) granted, would have ended the suit,” said Graham. “We are pleased this litigation has finally ended with a favorable outcome.”

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