South Carolina, Oceanfront hotel, historic black town

Residents In Historic Black SC Town Takes Legal Action To Halt Luxury Oceanfront Hotel Development

In historically Black town Atlantic Beach, SC, a group of concerned landowners has initiated a lawsuit to halt the development of a 21-story oceanfront condo-hotel known as “The Black Pearl of the Atlantic.”

According to a report by The Post and Courier, this ambitious project, situated near 30th Avenue South and South Ocean Boulevard, has raised fears of irreversible change within the tight-knit community. The lawsuit, spearheaded by the Supporters for Tyson’s Ancestral Restrictions on the Deeds (STARD), centers around the claim that the proposed project violates existing deed restrictions, originally imposed by the town’s founder, George Tyson. These restrictions explicitly forbid non-residential uses and hotels on the oceanfront property.

Atlantic Beach, often referred to as “The Black Pearl,” holds deep historical significance, having once been a popular vacation destination for Black families along the East Coast during the era of segregation. With its nightclubs, restaurants, and shops, the town provided a safe haven for people to congregate and socialize without fear of discrimination. In recent years, it’s been known as the home of the Black Pearl Cultural Heritage Festival, also known as Atlantic Beach Bikefest.

The legal dispute surrounding the condo-hotel project highlights a clash between potential economic gains and the preservation of the town’s rich heritage. While the developers argue that the project could boost tourism, increase property values, generate employment opportunities, and bring in significant tax revenue, the concerned landowners maintain that these advantages could come at the cost of their community’s history and culture.

The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 26, names several defendants, including the town itself, 9 Thru 11+1 LLC (the current landowner of the project site) and Morant Properties LLC, the New York-based company behind the proposal. In response to the lawsuit, Atlantic Beach Town Manager Benjamin Quattlebaum declined to comment. Efforts by The Post and Courier to reach Morant Properties and 9 Thru 11+1 LLC for comment were unsuccessful.

While the development plans propose a $80 million complex with numerous amenities, the lawsuit underscores several deed restrictions that forbid the land’s use for hotels or other non-residential purposes. These restrictions have been a point of contention, with the concerned landowners insisting that they remain in effect.

The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the town from permitting the property to be developed in a way that violates the deed restrictions. However, it’s worth noting that the town’s planning commission, responsible for overseeing planning and zoning, has already stipulated that the building should not exceed 20 stories to meet zoning requirements.

The oceanfront property currently designated for the project is surrounded by abandoned buildings, smaller beach homes, and a few hotels, closer to neighboring North Myrtle Beach. As the legal battle unfolds, the fate of “The Black Pearl of the Atlantic” remains uncertain, with the town’s cultural and historical significance hanging in the balance.

This story was written by Black Enterprise contributor Rafael Pena.

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