County sues over run-down West Ashley strip mall

Published: Aug. 26, 2014 at 5:31 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2014 at 10:04 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A lawsuit filed by Charleston County may soon be able to ease complaints from neighbors about a nearly-vacant West Ashley strip mall.

The county filed suit in July against Morton L. Scholnick of Troy, Mich., owner of Church Creek Plaza at 2571 Ashley River Rd., and Church Creek Plaza, LLC, a Michigan-based corporation the county says is a co-owner of the mall, court records state.

In the lawsuit, Charleston County is asking a judge to rule the property a nuisance and require the defendants to address the issues or to allow the county to address the issues and bill the defendant for improvements.

Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon said the county will file a preliminary injunction within days to seek court permission to enter the property.

The court action is necessary because the 5.81 acre property is outside of the Charleston city limits in an unincorporated part of Charleston County; the county does not have the authority to clean up the property without a court order, according to county spokesman Shawn Smetana.

"People get the idea the county is being lazy," Condon said. "Counties don't have the right to go onto private property to start inspecting and securing without a court order. A judge has to grant that."

Previous suits involving fines were handled through magistrate court, Condon said. This latest case was filed in circuit court, a move she would give the county the authority to step in.

If that happens, it is unclear whether the county would actually have the authority to immediately tear down the property, Smetana said.

"That's an unknown for now," Smetana said.

The suit alleges that since 2010, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office documented at least 50 incidents in reference to the property, including multiple armed robberies, grand larcenies, larcenies, burglaries, and observations of gang graffiti. The property has overgrown weeds, rank vegetation and accumulates garbage and electronic waste on the property, as well as broken windows and doors, court documents state.

"I would have loved for Mr. Scholnick to do the right thing," Condon said. "But he clearly doesn't care."

The lawsuit also demands Scholnick acquire a county business license and pay past license fees the county claims he owes dating back to 2007, the last year the county says Scholnick held a valid county business license.

The suit also claims the partnership company does not hold a valid Certificate of Authority from the South Carolina Secretary of State, a requirement for a non-South Carolina business to operate in this state, and asks the court to force them to pay a civil penalty for each year it has operated without the certification.

A January building inspection found the vacant building unsafe because of unsecured entries, court documents state.

In February, the owner of a North Charleston towing company said Scholnick asked him to help take care of the property with the assistance of landscapers. Thomas Nelson, co-owner of Pride Towing, said he and his crew trimmed weeds that had overgrown a mailbox along Parsonage Road.

Nelson said he and his crew saw that people had used the property as a dumping ground and that thieves had stolen copper piping from plumbing and air conditioner units.

Scholnick's attorney did not return a call for comment.

"The county is determined to follow through, and we will do whatever it takes," Condon said.