Miller Pond homeowners have agreed to sign Rock Hill's annexation petitions in exchange for the city's promise to not seek reimbursement for its legal costs arising from the dispute.
The homeowners made the decision at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday night at which 48 residents were present with their attorney, said David Grigg, president of Miller Pond's homeowners association.
"We just don't have the resources to fight anymore," he said, "especially since they're facing the risk of paying (the city's) legal fees."
The city has agreed not to pursue legal fees from residents, Grigg said, as long as all but five or fewer sign and return unaltered petitions by the city's Jan. 5 deadline.
City Attorney Mark White declined to comment. Efforts to reach Jim Meggs, the homeowners' attorney, were unsuccessful.
The agreement comes less than a week after a Circuit Court judge told the homeowners they didn't have any choice but to sign the city's annexation petition.
The city had threatened to cut off water service if residents didn't agree to be annexed, citing an agreement with Miller Pond's original developer. The judge ruled that agreement passed on to future property owners.
Neighborhood association leaders will deliver the signed petitions to the city early next month, Grigg said, giving them time to contact homeowners who did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
Homeowners on Wednesday seemed resigned to the outcome of the dispute - some still questioned the fairness of their dilemma.
"We just have to sign and go on, I guess," said Tammy Mackey. "There isn't anything else to do."
Resident Mike Hayslett said he expects most of his neighbors to sign the agreement and not appeal the ruling.
"It has run its course," Hayslett said of the dispute.
The challenge of the annexation was worth what residents have been through, Hayslett said, to show a general dissatisfaction with the way Rock Hill dealt with homeowners it wanted to annex.
"I have lived in the city before, and I had no problem with the city then and don't now," he said. "But I just don't like their approach."
Melia Sweatt, one of the original Miller Pond residents who sued the city, accepts the decision of the court and trusts that residents were given a fair shake.
"I am not saying I am happy, but I trust in the judicial system," said Sweatt, whose husband is an Army National Guardsman who spent more than year in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.
"We never would have known the answer as to whether the law was on our side, or the city's side, if we hadn't pursued it."
Despite the loss, residents are finding a silver lining in a story that Grigg said isn't over.
"I don't think the final chapter is written on this," he said. "There are 30 neighborhoods staring down the barrel of the same gun.
"People are waking up to the fact that there are much broader implications. Civil liberties are at stake here."
Tensions between the city and Miller Pond residents have run high since the summer.
When the city asked residents to sign petitions agreeing to be annexed, officials told residents they were legally obligated to sign because of an agreement the city made with the neighborhood's original developer long before houses were built or lots sold.
In that agreement, the city extended water to the neighborhood in exchange for annexation at a later date by whomever owned the property. The obligation to annex passed down from the developer to future property owners, city officials maintained.
When residents refused to sign, the city threatened to shut their water off - also a part of the agreement.
Arguing that the city's actions were coercive and that the city's policy wasn't legally sound, residents sued the city.
Last week, 16th Circuit Court Judge Thomas L. Hughston sided with the city, ruling that the city's annexation method was lawful.
Hughston ordered residents to sign the city's annexation petitions within 10 days or face penalties imposed by the court. He also said the city could ask the court to order residents to pay Rock Hill's legal fees in the case.