Homeowners urge 'River Club' to drop lawsuit; meeting set for vote

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW) -- The lawsuit filed against the City of North Augusta is stirring a fierce debate.

In it, the River Club Homeowner's Association President (RCHOA) Steve Donohue argues the land isn't blighted, so a ballpark and more shouldn't be financed using a TIF. The suit lists the plaintiffs as Donohue and the Homeowner's Association. The defendants are listed as the City of North Augusta, Mayor Lark Jones, and the City Council.

But now, if this suit goes to trial, the city says it'll counter-sue the neighborhood.

"While we realize that there are those in the RCHOA who oppose the lawsuit filed on their behalf, unfortunately they cannot be individually removed from the suit," the city says in a statement. "It is our hope that this can be resolved as quickly as possible to allow the project to remain on track.“

Ultimately, that means homeowners like Cynthia Gordon might have to pay legal fees.

"I think it puts a black cloud over our neighborhood that we would go after the City of North Augusta," says the River Club homeowner, who says she isn't actually sold on the idea of a baseball stadium.

Even though she doesn't support the lawsuit, she's a homeowner, which means she's part of the RCHOA.

"Steve decided to do this on his own and did not have the vote of the neighborhood," she says.

"We're looking at it like it's a loaded gun with somebody ready to pull the trigger, we don't want that trigger pulled. We want it withdrawn before somebody does that," adds retired police chief Lee Wetherington, who is also a homeowner there.

Wetherington says he's heard RCHOA board members weren't even consulted about the lawsuit. Meeting minutes News 12 found say, in a previous meeting on February 10, $3,500 was collected to "explore the legal rights of the neighborhood." However, in the minutes there's no mention that a lawsuit would be filed.

Wetherington believes board members and other homeowners were blind-sighted.

"For the most part, everybody's against this lawsuit," he says, adding that he and others have already canvassed the neighborhood.

So Wetherington and others have called a special meeting. Every homeowner will get to vote on whether to withdraw the RCHOA from the lawsuit or not during a meeting on December 29 at 3:00 PM at the River Club Golf Clubhouse.

Wetherington and Gordon are already collecting proxy votes.

"I'm hoping it'll just be peaceably withdrawn before then, but I don't look for it to happen. I think that we will have the meeting on December 29th," says Gordon.

News 12 reached out for comment from Donohue but never heard back. Donohue has previously told News 12 that he refuses to do interviews with the station, after our investigation showed possible blight along the North Augusta Riverfront.

However, News 12 obtained an email sent by Donohue to homeowners Tuesday afternoon. The e-mail suggests that even if the RCHOA votes to remove itself from the lawsuit, Donohue will still pursue legal action against the City of North Augusta.

"If the motion to dismiss the HOA from the case carries, we will request [our attorney] to amend the complaint to remove the HOA as soon as he can," the email reads.

The email says Donohue will not be at the December 29 meeting.

"I cannot attend the meeting because my son is on a short visit from California over the holidays and I do not intend to break into his brief visit for HOA business or Project Jackson," Donohue says in the email.

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