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Mt. Vintage’s Rainsford on hot seat for allegedly violating the law 139 times or more


web posted January 7, 2009
EDGEFIELD – The first meeting of the County Council for 2009 was one that no doubt broke in its two newest council members, Rodney Ashcraft and Genia Blackwell, in an unprecedented fashion. After a routine third reading of an ordinance to amend the current budget, Dennis Brite, of Mount Vintage’s “Third Nine”, leveled serious allegations against Bettis Rainsford (Left) and Mount Vintage Development armed with emails, photographs, and the county’s own ordinances to bolster his claims. “I can assure you if you or I had violated the law 139 times the Sheriff would be on our doorstep with handcuffs,” Mr. Brite said.

Mr. Brite, just one of the well-represented Mount Vintage contingents at the meeting, was on the agenda to address what he called Mr. Rainsford’s repeated empty promises to complete the infrastructure of the new section of Mount Vintage that has been ongoing since 2006 and remains unfulfilled in 2009. “Some would say this willful systematic disobedience of the laws of this magnitude constitutes a form of racketeering. Others might point out that if Mount Vintage solicits payments for lots through the mail, which it did in my case, and I suspect it still does, this could constitute a form of mail fraud since no official plat approval has been recorded,” Brite continued.

Mr. Brite’s (Left) troubles began when he and his wife bought a lot on the new nine hole golf course section of Mount Vintage in April of 2006 with the understanding that the construction of the infrastructure would begin in April or May of 2006 and would be completed in a few months, prior to the completion of the construction of their new home. Mr. Brite stated that when he inquired again in June of 2006 he was told it would begin in another six weeks. This was followed with repeated promises throughout the year that never came to fruition.

In mid 2007, Mr. Brite said, he made a trip down to his property and saw that some infrastructure materials had been delivered and he felt that the required infrastructure would be getting underway and in March of 2008 obtained a building permit to begin the construction of their home. After ten months, “none of the infrastructure is complete,” Brite said. “There’s no water to my lot, there’s no sewer, there’s no road, there’s no cable, there’s no telephone, there’s no storm drains that are operable.”

Mr. Brite said Mr. Rainsford and Mount Vintage had “elected not to pay the contractor for the infrastructure work that had been completed up to that point and thus Prince Grading and Excavation stopped all work and pulled out of the subdivision, not once but twice.” According to public records Mr. Prince placed liens on all unsold properties at Mount Vintage in an effort to be paid for the work that had been completed to that point. Records showed the liens totaled just shy of $1 million.

Mr. Brite said after Mr. Prince received partial payment he lifted the liens and began to continue the work again, but that was short lived and after just a few weeks “being denied payment he (Prince) pulled out again, and has been absent for at least a couple months” Mr. Brite said.

Mr. Brite said the only contractors that are working on the site are those that do not have to be paid by Mr. Rainsford or Mount Vintage including the electric company, phone company, and gas company.

A letter sent to Edgefield County Administrator prior to the meeting by Mr. Rainsford stated that the infrastructure was 96.2% complete. After submitting pictures to the county council Mr. Brite said, “If that is 96.2% complete (Mr. Rainsford) is using a whole new math I’ve never heard of.” Regardless of what percentage of the work that is or is not completed was irrelevant to those homeowners who cannot move into their homes Mr. Brite said. “If I can’t get a certificate of occupancy it’s not complete.”

Mr. Brite presented emails from various officials with Mount Vintage stating the work would be completed in January of 2007; an email from Mr. Rainsford in September of 2007 claiming the work would be completed by year-end, another stating the work would be completed by February of 2008, and Mr. Rainsford’s letter to Administrator Pettigrew dated January 2, 2009, stating the work would not be completed for “several months”.

Mr. Brite then provided the county council with their own ordinance, Title 15 Section 152.131, which states that, “No subdivision or land development plat, portion, or phase thereof shall be accepted for filing by the Office of Clerk of Court until it has been approved by the Planning Commission or Zoning Administrator, and so indicated on the plat by the signature of the authorized agent.  No such signature shall be affixed to the plat until the developer has completed all required improvements or has posted a letter-of-credit, cashiers check, performance bond or other acceptable security with the county in the amount of 150% of the estimated cost of the improvements, guaranteeing the completion of the improvements in compliance with the requirements herein.”

No such bond, letter-of-credit, or cashiers check has been deposited with the county. It was also later revealed that Mr. Rainsford and Mount Vintage has never posted any of the required funds before selling lots and no approval of any of the sold lots have the proper signature required before transfer. This included not only the current new section but for the entire development of Mount Vintage.

“Obviously the county has been grossly negligent in administering the laws and allowing Rainsford and Mount Vintage not only to sell lots prematurely but to collect in excess of $10 million in revenues and allow this travesty to continue,” Mr. Brite said. “I am not here to reprimand the council, quite the contrary; I’m here to ask for your help to find an immediate solution to this problem.” Mr. Brite told the county council, “What we have to do is make it painfully clear to Rainsford that he is not above the law. He does not have the right to take people’s hard earned money and do with it as he wants.”

Mr. Brite stated that he wants the county council to force Mr. Rainsford and Mount Vintage to complete the infrastructure in 21 days and insinuated that legal actions would soon follow if not done. Mr. Brite also presented the council with a summary of his entire statement as part of the record.

The county council members listened intently to Mr. Brite’s presentations and Chairman Monroe Kneece was rather stoic and disturbed.

It was then that Chairman Kneece asked Mr. Rainsford, who had previously said he did not intend to attend the meeting until council requested his attendance, to respond to the allegations. Chairman Kneece also pointed out that former Administrator Wayne Adams and former Building and Planning Director Howard Gibson were the ones who worked on the negotiations with Mr. Rainsford, “and this never came before the council.” Chairman Kneece also made it clear that he did not care about what promises had been made in the past because, “we’re going to do what we need to do” to resolve it immediately.

Mr. Rainsford took the podium stating, “We are not apologetic one iota for Mount Vintage Plantation,” saying they have tried to bring the finest development possible to Edgefield County. He also stated he felt Mr. Brite’s accusations were “in error” and that Mount Vintage has invested over $16 million in the development of the new sections, or the “third nine”.

Mr. Rainsford said sales of new lots came to a “critical level” in 2007 and that they hoped in the spring of 2008 things would improve but that did happen. As such they had placed over $3 million into the project to try to get the project completed.

Mr. Rainsford said that Mr. Brite’s statements that he or Mount Vintage could borrow money during the current tough economic times were not possible and that for over six months they have been trying to acquire loans from the banking industry but that banks were not lending money for real estate development. Mr. Rainsford stated that he felt that the roads and infrastructure could possibly be completed by the spring of 2009 but that, “financial difficulties have been substantial”.

Mr. Rainsford stated that during the development he and Mount Vintage did everything that Administrator Wayne Adams and Howard Gibson asked them to do and that they were never asked to place a bond, check, or other guarantees as required under the law. “At no time did anyone ask us to do anything that we did not do,” Rainsford said.

Mr. Rainsford said that they intended to try to complete the work as soon as possible but, “I don’t want to lead ya’ll astray, if we can’t find the money it might not can be done. But that’s what our challenge is to do that.” Rainsford said that there were other houses that were completed with the infrastructure but this area “was a little behind schedule.”

Rainsford continued, “Ya’ll need to appreciate the fact that banks have absolutely completely slammed the door on making any real estate loans at all. I’m sure ya’ll are sophisticated enough to know that.” 

Councilman Rodney Ashcraft asked Mr. Rainsford if he was aware of the performance bond that was required in order to perform such a development. “I was not aware that we were required to have one. We did exactly what we told we needed to do,” Rainsford said.

Chairman Kneece spoke up and said, “Bettis, as far as I remember back, performance bonds have been required to build in Edgefield County as long as I can remember. Guy (Muller), am I  right or wrong?” Guy Muller, of the Building and Planning Department, answered, “It’s in the Land Use Ordinance.” Councilman Ashcraft asked, “So Mount Vintage has been built without any performance bonds?” Mr. Rainsford answered, “That’s correct.”

Mr. Rainsford said he would suggest that the council look beyond these matters and consider the amount of tax revenues that Mount Vintage has brought in for the county over the past years. “That’s not the point,” Chairman Kneece shot back. ”The point is right now that is these people were promised that they would be in their homes and all by the time they got built that the infrastructure would be there.”

After a bit of back and forth between Mr. Rainsford and some of the property owners Chairman Kneece ended the discussion by saying, “In two weeks I want, particularly with Mr. Brite, to see if he (Rainsford) has gotten anything done and after that, why, get back with you and you have to do something Mr. Rainsford. You’ve put the council on the spot. We’ve worked together for quite a few years and, uh, to me a promise is a promise and hopefully you’ll live up to it.” Chairman Kneece asked Mr. Brite to give him a call in two weeks.

EdgefieldDaily.com checked out Mr. Rainsford’s claim that banks have “completely slammed the door on real estate loans” and his claim that in spite of their efforts for over six months no money was to be had. On December 18, 2008 Mr. Rainsford and his partner received a $550,000 loan on two parcels (0.47 acre and 1.00 acre) from Southern First Bank.

 
 




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