Case 45

City of Columbia v. Soloman, No. 78-2109 (D.S.C. June 12, 1979).

The city of Columbia, South Carolina, sought to enjoin the General Services Administration (GSA) from beginning construction of a multilevel parking facility at the corner of Laurel and Assembly Streets. The parking garage was part of a larger project that included a Federal building and United States courthouse, which were being built nearby.

The parking garage site was in a depression approximately 70 feet below the level of Laurel Street. As originally designed, only the elevator and stair towers of the completed parking garage would extend above Laurel Street. The site of the project was near Historical District No.1, which contained several buildings listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, including the Caldwell-Hampton Boyleston House, the Horry-Guinyard House, the South Carolina Governor's Mansion, and the Palmetto Iron Works and Armory (Arsenal Hill).

GSA had consulted with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) on several occasions regarding the archeological and historic resources that might be affected by the entire project. Initially, the SHPO found that the complex would have an adverse effect on the historic district. GSA then prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on the project, noting the close proximity of the historic district and outlining GSA's plans to consult further with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the SHPO. Apparently, the multilevel parking facility had not yet been designed, for the EIS referred to the parking area as "surface."

GSA then sent the EIS to the Council. The Council responded, noting GSA's efforts to discover the historic impact caused by the entire project and thanking GSA for "the opportunity to comment on the project." Nevertheless, the Council advised GSA of the need to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Executive Order No. 11593 if any property listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places was to be affected by the parking facility. Evidently, GSA did not contact the Council again. Meanwhile, the SHPO wrote to GSA and, in a seeming reversal, concluded that the project would not have an adverse effect on the historic district.

Sometime later, GSA prepared a supplemental EIS. Apparently, GSA had redesigned the parking area from surface parking to a multistory facility, for the EIS referred to a "parking deck" of four decks and a "vehicle maintenance facility." The supplemental EIS cited the SHPO's latest letter finding no adverse effect and concluded that the parking garage would have no effect on any property eligible for or listed in the National Register.

The city then brought suit, alleging that GSA failed to comply with NEPA, NHPA, and Executive Order No. 11593. The city objected to the design of the facility and claimed that the proposed multistory parking garage would indirectly affect the historic buildings by interfering with the view from Assembly Street toward those structures.

After a discussion of the standard of review to be applied in the case, the court first addressed the city's NEPA claims. The city alleged that the design changes that prompted GSA to prepare the supplemental EIS were significant enough to require GSA to prepare a separate EIS for the parking facility and that GSA's original and supplemental environmental impact statements were not sufficient to meet the mandates of NEPA.

The court determined that no new EIS was required for the parking facility for two reasons: its impact on the view of the historic structures from Assembly Street would be minimal or nonexistent because of the peculiar geographic configuration of the parking garage site, slip op. at 14, 17; and the city's aesthetic concerns with the design of the parking facility were not sufficient environmental impacts to necessitate another EIS. Id. at 16-17.

Second, the court rejected the city's claims that GSA had violated Executive Order No. 11593, which requires an agency to locate, in consultation with the SHPO, properties that appear to qualify for inclusion in the National Register; to refer to the Secretary of the Interior for a determination of their eligibility for the National Register those properties for which an eligibility question exists; and to afford the Council an opportunity to comment on those properties determined eligible.

The court noted that the administrative record did not indicate whether GSA had actually referred the parking garage proposal to the Secretary of the Interior for an opinion. Nevertheless, the court found that GSA had satisfied the requirements of Section 2(b) of the Executive Order by affording the Council an opportunity to comment on the project. Id. at 19. [Ed. note: Presumably, this reference to the Council's "opportunity to comment" was to the Council's review of the EIS, infra.]

Third, the court disagreed with the city's contention that GSA did not comply with Section 106 of NHPA and the Council's regulations implementing Section 106, finding that GSA had taken into account the effects of the garage on the National Register properties because GSA had contacted the SHPO on several occasions requesting information on the historic resources of the area and his opinion of the effects of the project on the historic district, discussed the historic impacts in the EIS, and sought approval of the garage plans from a local landmark commission.

Additionally, the court found that GSA had complied with the requirement of Section 106 that the Council be provided an opportunity to comment because, after reviewing the EIS, the Council wrote to GSA thanking GSA for the opportunity to comment on the project. Id. at 20.

The court applied the definition of effect in the Council's regulations and concluded that a parking garage located in a depression, which might indirectly affect the historic properties by interfering with the view from Assembly Street toward the structures, was not an effect on the historic and architectural qualities that qualified the buildings for the National Register. Moreover, the court found that GSA had complied with Section 800.4(b) of the Council's regulations by consulting with the SHPO.

The court also rejected the city's argument that the Council's regulations were not met because the SHPO changed his mind on the effect of the project on the historic properties. Although consultation with the SHPO is required, SHPO approval of a project is not. Id. at 22.

Fourth, the court denied the city's request for injunctive relief, rejecting the city's arguments that it would be irreparably harmed by the garage because the location of the garage would interfere with the city's plan to create a greenbelt of parkland in that area. The court found that this potential harm was too tenuous, since the city had sold the land to GSA in the first place and had no funding for the greenbelt program. Id. at 23. The court also found harm to GSA in delaying the project because a construction contract for the garage had been awarded under which GSA was potentially liable for damages for each day of delay. Id. at 24.

Finally, the court held that the suit was barred by laches. Id. at 28. To determine whether plaintiff in an environmental case has unreasonably delayed, the lapse of time is calculated from the date of the final EIS until the date of the petition for injunctive relief. Id. at 25-26. If a supplemental EIS has been filed, the time is measured from that date. The percentage of the project completed at the time the lawsuit is filed is a proper factor for consideration in determining the applicability of laches. The city's wait of one and one-half years to file suit after the supplemental EIS was filed, during which the garage contract was awarded and the exterior of the office building completed, was found to have been too long. Id. at 26.

Moreover, the city failed to give GSA proper notice of its objections to the parking garage after the supplemental EIS was filed. Id. at 27. GSA would be prejudiced by an injunction issued after such a delay because the cost to GSA of abandoning or altering the proposed project would be substantial. The court concluded that the public interest clearly favored the construction of the parking garage on the selected site. Id. at 27. Although the court declined to enjoin GSA from building the garage, it cautioned GSA that the completed parking structure should not exceed the six stories currently planned. Id. at 28-29.

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