By JOSH McCANN, jmccann@islandpacket.com, 843-706-8145

Developers whose projects have stalled because of the recession will have more time to complete them under legislation recently passed by the General Assembly.

In a widely supported bill that cited “a state of economic emergency” in the state and nation, lawmakers extended through 2012 the terms of a host of development approvals and building permits issued by state and local governments. It applies to approvals “current and valid at any point” after Jan. 1, 2008.

The legislation was intended “to prevent the wholesale abandonment of already approved projects and activities,” it states. Many approved permits are expiring or lapsing because builders and prospective buyers are having difficulty getting financing, it says.

Without the extensions, “thousands of government actions” could have been undone by the passage of time, it states.Extensions are needed to maintain the value of collateral and the solvency of lending institutions throughout the state, the legislation adds.

“We’re trying to remove one impediment” to business, said Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, chairman of the S.C. House committee that first considered the legislation.

Sponsored by 67 of the House’s 124 members, the extension took effect last month after it was signed by Gov. Mark Sanford. Local sponsors included Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Richard Chalk, R-Hilton Head Island.

Patrick Moore, Columbia office director of the Coastal Conservation League, hopes the legislation will help business in the state but thinks it isn’t likely to keep many struggling developments alive.

Although the legislation seeks to save the public and private sectors the time and money necessary to re-approve expiring permits, factors that have stalled some projects “go way beyond permitting costs,” Moore said.

Any money developers save in permitting could also be lost if they have to go to court to litigate confusion wrought by the legislation, he said.

The league is concerned, for example, that it could cause complications if it revives permits that have expired on a given parcel, potentially upsetting nearby property owners who purchased with the understanding the area’s character wasn’t threatened by imminent development, Moore said.

“Is that going to wind up with neighbor suing neighbor, neighbor suing agency?” he asked.

The league also is concerned about what could happen if laws change after permits are issued. Beaufort County planning director Tony Criscitiello said the legislation might allow projects with old permits to be exempt from updated environmental regulations, for example.

Sandifer said lawmakers did not intend for the legislation to curtail local governments’ authority.

“If the rules have changed, they should be able to enforce the current rules,” he said.