Dispute between ARB, Rothrocks may be over

  • Friday, September 7, 2012

A lawsuit filed last year by Steve and Jean Rothrock against the City of Georgetown and some city officials has tentatively been settled.
However, terms of the proposed agreement have not been officially released.
The Rothrocks, who have owned businesses and property in the city, filed the lawsuit in Federal Court in Charleston last November.
Named as defendants, along with the city, were City Councilman Paige Sawyer, former Architectural Review Board (ARB) member Debbie Thomas, former ARB Chairman Joseph Cave, former ARB member Brian Clark, and former ARB member Jan Lane.
The suit asked for a court order demanding the City release the necessary permit to allow completion of the home at 116 Cannon Street with HardiePlank siding and MiraTEC trim.
The city’s Architectural Review Board has repeatedly denied requests for HardiePlank siding for the home.
An order signed by U.S. District Judge David C. Norton on Aug. 22 states the court has been advised the suit has been settled. However, if the settlement is not finalized within 90 days either party can petition the court to have the case reopened.
A source that asked to not be identified, told the Georgetown Times last week the city has agreed to pay the Rothrocks $250,000 as part of the settlement. The Rothrocks, according to the source, would be allowed to place HardiePlank on three sides of the home.
Mayor Jack Scoville, on Tuesday, would neither confirm nor deny the proposed settlement details.
“Nothing has been signed by either party so nothing has been settled yet. We are working to resolve these issues,” Scoville said.
The Rothrocks were out of the country Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
As of late Tuesday, the Rothrocks were still on the agenda for Monday’s ARB meeting where they will be asking for the wood/HardiePlank combination for the home as agreed to in the proposed settlement.

The lawsuit

The suit details the condition the home was in when purchased by the Rothrocks in 2008.
“There were numerous holes in the roof, holes around the chimney caps, rotted-out windows, black mold, active termite infestation and rot throughout the house. In addition, the sewage had backed up for an extended period of time, making the house very unsanitary,” the suit states.
Early in the renovation process, the couple sought and received a permit from the City Building and Planning Officer for exterior demolition. This allowed them to remove the aluminum-clad siding from the exterior, exposing at least three kinds of wood lap siding, as well as plywood over a substantial portion, all of which had been covered by the aluminum siding.
The ARB held an onsite meeting at the home in September 2008. It was after that meeting the Rothrocks first tried to get ARB approval for the HardiePlank siding because it is “ more durable than wood but has the same aesthetic appearance as wood.”
The ARB denied the request although it had already approved that type of siding on three new structures in the Historic District. The ARB explained its denial by saying the home was a contributing structure to the Historic District.
The South Carolina Historic Preservation Office, a division of the State Archives Department, determined the house is not a contributor to the Historic District. That finding was “ignored” by the ARB, the suit states.
The Rothrocks say Thomas — during the 2008 onsite meeting — denied ever giving approval for HardiePlank siding for any structures.
“This claim has been shown to be completely false,” the suit states.
Through research, the Rothrocks discovered ARB members Thomas, Nancy Gilman and Cave had voted in favor of all three of the houses which were allowed to use HardiePlank. Clark voted on at least one of these three approvals.
The Rothrocks say the ARB members named in the suit developed a “will to win” attitude and refused to recuse themselves from deciding the request when asked to do so.
“Instead of conducting fair and impartial proceedings, the Defendant ARB members persistently voted their bias and prejudice,” the suit states. “Rather than admit the fact that bias and prejudice controlled their votes, and recuse themselves, these ARB members came up with numerous unfounded reasons/excuses to justify their denial.”
During a Dec. 17, 2008 ARB meeting, Cave ordered no new information about the request would be received “purportedly in accordance with directions from the City,” the suit indicates, adding this decision by Cave denied the couple “due process and equal protection under the laws.”
The plaintiffs say by denying their right to complete the needed work on their home, the city is engaged in “an improper exercise of governmental police power.”
The Rothrocks say after the battle with the city began, they came under investigation for unrelated matters such as whether they were properly insured on motor vehicles; whether signs on Mrs. Rothrock’s vehicles were legal and whether the couple were unlawfully parking their vehicles on or near their property.
According to the suit, Sawyer has been named as a defendant because he “became extremely involved” in the application process and “made it clear that he strongly dislikes Steve Rothrock and was willing to use his position and influence to cause him harm.”
The suit quotes an e-mail written by Sawyer to then-City Administrator Chris Eldridge which states “In my opinion, anyone who is a friend and/or confidant of Rothrock is or will be a detriment to the City.”

By Scott Harper
sharper@gtowntimes.com

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