South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Another Win around Captain Sams Spit, but the Developers Do not Relent
Posted: October 5, 2017

SCELP, on behalf of Inlet Cove Club Homeowners Association (“Inlet Cove”) and the Kiawah Property Owners Group (“KPOG”), intervened in quiet title action brought by the Kiawah developers against the community association, Kiawah Island Community Association (“KICA”), over a disputed 4.62-acre parcel of beachfront property near Beachwalker Park and Captain Sams Spit on the west end of Kiawah Island. The case has many players and multiple layers but what it boils down to is simple: the Kiawah developers gave the homeowners beachfront land and then later wanted it back once it became developable.

Over 20 years ago, the Kiawah developers conveyed approximately 10 miles of beachfront property to KICA to be held as “Common Property” and maintained in a natural state for the use and enjoyment of Kiawah Island homeowners, residents and their guests. In addition, the Kiawah developers agreed to set aside Captain Sams Spit as open space or a park and to convey the Spit to KICA by 2008. However, in 2005, the Kiawah developers and the Town of Kiawah Island entered into an amended agreement which granted development rights on Captain Sams Spit to the Kiawah developers. Shortly thereafter, the Kiawah developers claimed there was a mistake in the deed and that 4.62-acres was included in the transfer of beachfront property to KICA by mistake. The Kiawah developers tried unsuccessfully to convince the KICA membership to give up the 4.62-acres then resorted to seeking legal relief in court in 2013.

Inlet Cove and KPOG were granted intervention in the case in order to ensure that the aesthetic and recreational interests of Kiawah homeowners and residents in using and enjoying common property in a natural state was adequately protected. We presented evidence that the majority of the 4.62-acre parcel, and the entirety of Captain Sams Spit, was undevelopable when the beachfront property was conveyed to KICA, as well as the testimony of Kiawah homeowners who regularly use and enjoy the disputed property. Ultimately, the trial court agreed with us that there was no evidence of mistake to warrant reformation of the deed and that the 4.62-acres of natural beach and maritime forest was owned by KICA as Common Property. In addition to asking the court to reconsider, the Kiawah developers asked that Inlet Cove and KPOG be dismissed from the case. While we were pleased the court upheld its decision on the disputed property, we were disappointed that it dismissed Inlet Cove and KPOG, especially since it was our evidence that the court relied on in reaching its final conclusion.

The Kiawah developers appealed the decision on the disputed property and we appealed the dismissal of Inlet Cove and KPOG. The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on March 8, 2017, and on September 27, 2017, issued an opinion upholding the lower court’s decision on the disputed property and declining to address the dismissal of our clients on procedural grounds. We are in the process of preparing a petition for rehearing in which we will attempt to persuade the Court to consider, and hopefully overturn, the dismissal of Inlet Cove and KPOG.

Alas it was a bitter-sweet victory, given the controversial land swap that recently took place affecting the same parcel. The fight goes on!