Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 21, 2017

SC Appeals Court Finds Department of Transportation Has Exclusive Authority over the State Highway System

The South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994 authorized local governments in South Carolina to adopt zoning ordinances to regulate land use within their jurisdictions. The Charleston County Council adopted the ZLDR to regulate land use in the unincorporated areas of the County pursuant to the Planning Act. On July 18, 2012, the County sent the Department of Transportation a Notice of Tree Violation for removing three Grand Trees measuring twenty-four inches or greater DBH on Maybank Highway without a permit in violation of the ZLDR. The Notice required the Department to either replace the trees or donate money to the Charleston County Tree Fund. On August 31, 2012, the Department responded by letter refusing to comply with the ZLDR on the grounds that zoning ordinances that conflicted with a state agency’s authority were void under the South Carolina Constitution. Charleston County appealed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
On appeal, the County argued the court erred in finding the Department was exempt from complying with the Charleston County Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance (the ZLDR), and the ZLDR was an unconstitutional tax on the Department’s maintenance of the state highway system. The court found that the Department was exempt from complying with the ZLDR because the ZLDR attempted to limit the Department’s exclusive authority to construct and maintain a uniform state highway system. Moreover, the State Constitution set forth that municipalities had no authority to set aside “the structure and the administration of any governmental service or function, responsibility for which rests with the State government or which requires statewide uniformity”). Here, the Department determined the trees at issue were a hazard to the traveling public. The court found that this determination was a responsibility that rested with the Department, as it has exclusive authority over the state highway system, and any ordinances which conflicted with this authority were void. Accordingly, the court affirmed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the Department.
County of Charlseton v South Carolina Dept. of Transportation, 2017 WL 2960751 (SC App. 7/21/2017)

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