Braden’s Folly, LLC v. City of Folly Beach* involves two small, contiguous developed residential coastal properties on the northeast end of Folly Beach. The City of Folly Beach amended an ordinance to require certain contiguous properties under common ownership, like the properties in question, to be merged into a single, larger property.
The ordinance did not impact the existing uses of the contiguous lots as vacation rental properties, but Braden’s Folly challenged the ordinance, claiming it had planned to sell one of the developed properties, and that the merger ordinance interfered with its investment-backed expectation under the Penn Central** test, which states that in regulatory takings cases, courts must examine the economic impact of the regulation on the property owner’s investment-backed expectations, as well as the character of the government action.
Folly Beach denied the claim of an unconstitutional regulatory taking, and pursuant to cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court agreed with Braden’s Folly. Folly Beach appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of Folly Beach.
The Court stressed that underlying its applicability of the Penn Central test was the distinct fragility of Folly Beach’s coastline, which was subject to such extreme erosion that the General Assembly exempted Folly Beach from parts of the South Carolina Beachfront Management Act. The exemption empowered the City to act instead of the State in protecting the beach.
A portion of the northeast end of Folly beach has a double row of properties. The “A lots” are directly adjacent to the ocean-side of East Ashley Avenue, and the “B lots”—also known as “super-beachfront” lots—are closer to the ocean. There is no road between the A and B lots, so the B lots are accessible only through the A lots. Between beach renourishments, the B lots could be surrounded by the ocean on three sides. Braden’s Folly owns adjacent lots (Lot A and Lot B) on East Ashley Avenue. Both lots are very small.
Braden’s Folly contended that it had always intended to keep one of the lots and sell the other—whichever received the highest offer—to pay for the construction of a house on each lot. When the merger ordinance passed, the City sent a letter to Braden’s Folly requesting it stop marketing the lots separately. In response, Braden’s Folly filed the subject lawsuit.
The Supreme Court found that some facts weighed in favor of finding Braden’s Folly’s investment-backed expectation was reasonable and some facts weighed in favor of finding its expectation unreasonable. The Penn Central balancing test did not weigh in favor of either party, according to the Court.
Folly Beach and its witnesses set out the advantages to local beachfront property owners and the public at large of unwinding the super-beachfront development. The most important of the benefits to local property owners is the continued existence of federal funding for beach renourishment which in turn (1) protects A and B lots—particularly given that all the lots would be underwater if it were not for the continual renourishment; and (2) avoids property owners paying higher taxes if federal funding is extinguished.
The Court held that the merger ordinance was not a taking but responsible land use policy. Braden’s Folly retains, according to the Court, a near-full “bundle of sticks” incident to its ownership of the lots.
*South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion 28148 (April 5, 2023)
**Penn Cent. Transp. Co. v. City of N.Y., 438 U.S. 104 (1978)