Dorchester County terminates longtime lease with Charleston Soccer Club
Dorchester County terminates longtime lease with Charleston Soccer Club (Rachel Ellis, WCIV)

Dorchester County has terminated its land use agreement with the Charleston Soccer Club, as the county looks to renovate property and sports facilities leased by the youth soccer group for decades.

Officials with Dorchester County said Wednesday the decision to end the lease comes after Charleston Soccer Club failed for two months to provide documentation proving the club was in compliance with the land use agreement terms.

County Administrator Jason Ward said the property the soccer club has been operating on must be used and available for public outdoor recreation, and Ward claims the club couldn't provide evidence it was upholding those conditions.

However, Charleston Soccer Club leaders suggest county officials have exaggerated a small issue as an excuse to end the lease agreement, as the county hopes to move forward with its $5 million Oakbrook Sports Complex.

"From my perspective, it looks like (Dorchester County officials) are looking for any way they can to kind of create something out of nothing," said Melissa Britton, Executive Director of Charleston Soccer Club.

"In January, we were presented with a letter saying we were in violation of our current land use agreement because of a gated fence that was around the property," Britton went on to explain. "So they told us in that letter to immediately leave that (gate) open, which we did immediately."

"We have communicated to them verbally that it's open. Our council has communicated with their council that it's been open," Britton added.

Despite this, Britton says the county is cutting ties with the Charleston Soccer Club. Britton said she recently received a letter saying the lease agreement is terminated.

"That all came as a shock to us because we have been working with them really closely. Not only in the last year, but really our soccer club and the predecessor that has been at that facility, in partnership with the county for about 40 years," Britton added.

County officials say they hope to begin work soon on the aforementioned Oakbrook Sports Complex project, which will be funded using special tax revenue set aside specifically for the project.

Dorchester County Councilman David Chinnis explained in January the Charleston Soccer Club's cooperation would be essential in going forward with the project.

Chinnis said the club would need to sign a memorandum of understanding about a revised lease agreement before the county could access the tax funds needed to move ahead with the complex.

But the club never signed the memo, citing the best interests of its players and their parents.

"The MOU we were asked to sign would have expired after 199 days, and every 199 days after, the county could decide if we were allowed to continue using the fields," Britton explained of the decision not to sign the memorandum. "We have an obligation to (...) have consistent and stable soccer programs available for all children."

Chinnis said the new MOU would've given Charleston Soccer Club "priority scheduling" at the new facility once constructed.

"If we can come up with some revised language and a new agreement that gives us that stability for the families, but also lets them spend the money, we would love to do that," Britton said.

In its letter announcing the termination of the land use agreement, Dorchester County gave the Charleston Soccer Club 10 days from April 6 to vacate the premises so the county can begin the pre-construction process for the new facility.

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