Judge rules North Augusta didn't have to prove new findings of blight for Project Jackson

North Augusta did not have to prove new findings of blight in the redevelopment area where it plans to build a new Augusta GreenJackets stadium, according to the judge who ruled in favor of the city in a lawsuit challenging Project Jackson.

South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard ruled that plaintiff Stephen Donohue, who sued the city in December, erred in his claims that North Augusta violated Tax Increment Financing statutes and the Freedom of Information Act, according to Kinard’s final order. Additionally, Donohue’s claim that the baseball stadium and development area would be a “nuisance” to his home was not supported by evidence.

The order was filed Wednesday in Aiken County, a day after North Augusta leaders announced the judge’s ruling and said they were moving forward with the $144 million project.

Kinard said findings of blight were established in 1996 when the TIF district was adopted, and law does not require additional or updated findings to revise the development plan and financing terms. The judge found credible testimony from city leaders that supported the need for redevelopment.

“At trial, the city’s Mayor Lark Jones, and its administrator Todd Glover, testified in detail concerning the continued existence of blight within the TIF district, the fact that certain properties were static and declining in value and the fact that continued public assistance is necessary to prevent future decline,” Kinard wrote.

Among the testimony was evidence that the property on which Project Jackson will be developed has collapsing buildings, vacant buildings and contaminated ground that will require $2.4 million for remediation. Also, the judge agreed that public assistance is needed “to attract commercial traffic back to the North Augusta downtown commercial district and thereby counteract conditions of stagnation and decline in the district.”

Also in the order, Kinard said minutes of city council meetings proved the mayor properly announced executive sessions, and there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the city council took action during a March 11, 2013, executive session.

“Obviously, Mr. Donohue believes that secret meetings took place, but I have no clear evidence to refute the finding I make as to FOIA compliance,” he wrote.

Lastly, Kinard rejected Donohue’s claim that the development would create traffic congestion, noise, light pollution and parking congestion that would reduce his property value. According to the order, his home is already exposed to similar disturbances and city leaders testified there are several ways to mitigate any negative impacts of a baseball stadium.

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Judge's order in the dispute over Project Jackson (.pdf)

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