Family accuses Town of Mount Pleasant of stealing their land

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 10:46 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2022 at 4:20 PM EDT
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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - A family in Mt. Pleasant is accusing the town of stealing land that has been in their family for more than 100 years, and the entire dispute may hinge upon the way a document was filed 30 years ago.

Henry Bailem says John Ballam Road has been in his family since 1893. Bailem and his family have all kinds of plats, legal deeds and documents confirming that they are the rightful owners of John Ballam Estates and John Ballam Road.

There was no dispute about it until just a few years ago.

In 2017, a developer bought a piece of property across the way, and all of a sudden the road became a public road.

The Town of Mt. Pleasant says the developer has a right to use the road because it’s a public right of way. The town is basing its claim to the road using some of the same public documents.

They reference a plat for John Ballam Estate approved by county council on Oct. 7, 1986. A note on the plat states that the family dedicates the road “for the use of the public forever.” Underneath, it’s signed by Henry Ballam, Rebecca Jefferson, and Estelle Capers.

Estelle Bailem Capers is the oldest member of the Bailem family, and she will be 93 next month. She claims she never signed or intended for her family road to be anything but private.

When asked if she remembers telling the Town of Mount Pleasant that they could have the road, she said “no.”

“No, I wouldn’t give it to them,” she said. “Why would I do that for? And I got nieces and nephew there living on the place.”

Mt. Pleasant acknowledges that three days later Charleston County Council sent a letter to the person who did the survey stating in part that what council actually approved was that the 50 foot right of way would be dedicated to the property owners.

“The first thing you put in your statement was dedicated to the property owners. How do you get over that to get to anything else you’re talking about? Dedicated to property owners was voted on by County Council. That should be the law,” said Diane Jefferson, who is another member of the family.

The wording on the plat was never changed.

Even so, Mt. Pleasant acknowledges that the dirt road was still considered to be a private road, then Hurricane Hugo happened.

“After Hugo there were some trees that fell into the ditch and trees were growing inside of the ditch,” said Henry Bailem IV.

“When you see trees of that size, you know they had to tear this place up to get them out of here and that’s what they did,” Jefferson said.

“We had a dirt road, and they tore the road up,” said Henry Bailem IV. “They said we can’t leave it like this. We have to make it the way it was, or better. So the next thing we knew they started paving the road.”

“Seems like you’re missing a step somewhere in there,” Jefferson said. “Shouldn’t the homeowner have a say so.”

According to Mt. Pleasant’s research, the paving of John Ballam Road improved it, and in their estimation took it from private to public.

Up to this point, they reason it belonged to the county. But in 1995, Mt. Pleasant annexed several roads and property into the town.

John Ballam Road was one of them.

“I believe we could win this case, because I believe we have the necessary documents,” Jefferson said. “I say this again, if you own something, give me the proof where the owners gave it to you. You have one sect of people thinking that they’re more important than another sect of people. And they just think that they can just come and take it. It’s a new generation now. What our forefathers couldn’t do, we’re not in that same situation. And if it takes every dime I got, I’ll fight it.”

The family says they will continue to fight to keep the road in their family.

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