Response filed to litigation alleging conflict of interest with Aiken's Project Pascalis

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Jun. 1—A response has been filed to a legal action seeking to overturn all Aiken City Council decisions concerning Project Pascalis.

Gary Smith, city of Aiken attorney; Rick Osbon, Aiken mayor; and Stuart Bedenbaugh; Aiken city manager, filed a motion to dismiss the litigation with prejudice on the grounds of lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The three filed the motion through the counsel of Clarke W. McCants III, and Clarke W. McCants IV, of Nance & McCants.

In the original May 10 filing, John "Drew" Johnson alleged a conflict of interest and an ethics violation, believing state ethics laws were violated when Smith, the city attorney, "counseled the City Council regarding their vote to give away a section of Newberry Street to RPM Development Partners who is Mr. Smith's business partner William Ray Massey," according to the filing.

"I ask that you make null and void every official decision the City Council has made on these items as the public have been completely unaware of Smith's conflict of interests and this massive breach of ethics," Johnson wrote in the May 10 filing.

In the response, McCants cites the S.C. Rules of Civil Procedure, writing "this matter is not a civil action commenced in accordance with the provisions of Rule 3, SCRCP."

"Mr. Johnson seeks to 'appeal' the enactment of City of Aiken Ordinance No. 05092022B, which was duly considered and lawfully voted upon and passed by the members of Aiken City Council on May 9, 2022," the document reads.

The ordinance referred to is the ordinance conditionally conveying Newberry Street to the developers, the condition being that the conveyance would "only take place if a master development agreement is in place between the Aiken Municipal Development Commission and RPM Development Partners LLC."

The amount of Newberry Street being conveyed would be 0.2678 acres, which is part of the block of the street between Richland Avenue W. and Park Avenue S.W.

The filing notes that Johnson was an attendant at the May 9 meeting and expressed his opposition to the ordinance.

"The enactment of the Ordinance by Aiken City Council does not constitute a final judgment of a Court, and from which an appeal may be undertaken pursuant South Carolina law," the filing reads.

"For this reason this Court, respectfully, does not have subject matter jurisdiction in this case and it should be dismissed with prejudice," the filing continues.

The document also asks for the defendants to "respectfully reserve the right to later petition this Court" for recovery of attorney's fees, costs and expenses in the event that the court "grants the relief set forth in this Motion."

The Project Pascalis footprint is bounded by Laurens Street, Richland Avenue, Newberry Street and Park Avenue, with plans to build a hotel, apartments, parking garage and conference center.

The new hotel is proposed to be built on the former Hotel Aiken site after that building is demolished. The proposed apartments and parking garage would be located at the corner of Newberry Street and Richland Avenue.

The potential conference center would be housed in the old Aiken Municipal Building on Park Avenue.

One of the city's goals pertaining to Project Pascalis was to keep any structure being built below the height limit of 55 feet.

Aiken City Council agenda notes from May 9 read, "In order to accommodate that restriction while still creating a project containing space for the 100-key hotel, approximately 100 multifamily residential units, a municipal conference center of 25,000 to 30,000 square feet and an adequately-sized parking garage, additional space east of the subject parcels was needed."