Best 'green' approach no development at all

info@islandpacket.comDecember 19, 2012 

Beaufort County's purchase of 87 acres near the New River brings full circle the county's input on what happens to the property.

In late 2007, the town of Bluffton agreed to consider annexing the Garvey Hall property after the county balked at the developer's request to triple the number of homes that could be built there.

The developer wanted to build one home per acre versus the one home per three acres allowed under the county's rural zoning. After the property was annexed in 2009, Bluffton and Quinnco Companies negotiated a development agreement that would have allowed up to 63 homes on the property and required the developer to buy 29 units from the town's development rights bank.

But the property went into foreclosure earlier this year. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which filed the foreclosure action, got the property at the price of nearly $1.7 million in a September foreclosure sale, according to the county's online property records. The county is paying $785,000. The appraised value was more than $2.6 million. The property sold in 2006 for $4 million. The county says it got a good deal, and the previous sales numbers suggest they did all right.

Bluffton officials insisted in 2007 that they could watch over the property's development better than the county and would ensure that the river and other environmental assets were protected. Indeed, the development agreement included buffers along the river and maintaining 65 percent of the property as open space.

But the development agreement was never really put to the test, and the county's purchase will do much more to ensure the environment and the New River are protected. It's hard to beat open, undeveloped land for controlling and filtering potentially polluting stormwater runoff.

Patty Kennedy, executive director of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, said the purchase offers new recreational opportunities, while also protecting crucial animal habitats and the river's sensitive headwaters.

It's a good, strategic purchase and a reminder of why voters in November overwhelmingly approved borrowing $25 million more for the county's land-buying program.

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