Graves family optimistic Okatie land tract rezoning will pass

cconley@islandpacket.comJanuary 7, 2013 

In this file photo, residents of River Bend walk up the clubhouse's dock, which overlooks the Okatie River.

FILE, STAFF PHOTO

Members of the Graves family say they are optimistic their latest rezoning proposal for land along the Okatie River will succeed where two previous attempts have fallen short.

Speaking Monday after an informal review of the plan by the Beaufort County Planning Commission, Robert Graves said he hoped concessions he and two cousins offered are enough to secure final approval.

"It's quite a bit," Graves said of self-imposed limits on commercial space and building sizes offered in the latest plan, which comes about nine months after a similar proposal without the limits was rejected. "But life is full of balance, and anytime you move in the spirit of compromise, everybody wins."

The commission took no action on the proposal, which was not part of the formal agenda because the rezoning application has not been completed. A traffic analysis is needed.

Commission Chairman Jim Hicks asked staff to work up a detailed review of the plan for the February meeting. He warned commissioners a vote was likely then. County Council will have the final say on any zoning change.

The Graves family wants 113 acres it owns between the Okatie River and U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton rezoned to allow for more development. The current proposal seeks greater density for 65 acres toward the front of the parcel and mixed commercial and residential uses on 48 acres toward the rear.

Currently, the Graves could build up to 57 houses and as much as 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the entire parcel, according to the county. Graves family representatives, however, disagree with those figures.

Under the proposed zoning change, the Graves would agree to no more than 700,000 square feet of commercial development on the site and buildings no larger than 75,000 square feet. They also would seek no more than 240 housing units on the front portion. The proposed residential and commercial density is less than the maximum amount allowed under the type of zoning they seek.

The family, which has sought new zoning on the land since the early 2000s, has had two similar rezoning efforts rejected in the past two years amid concerns about unsightly big box stores and impacts on the Okatie, which the state deemed impaired in 1995.

Attorney Jim Scheider said the family would agree in writing to the self-imposed limits if the rezoning is approved.

The zoning request is unrelated to the family's ongoing efforts to sell 10 acres along the river to Beaufort County and permanently preserve 18 more. Those negotiations recently began anew after the county rejected a $10.5 million offer in September for the conservation easement and land, which hugs the Okatie's east bank.

Although no action was taken Monday, some new details emerged about the family's plans for the site. Milt Rhodes, a planner hired by the family, indicated the heaviest commercial uses would be concentrated toward the front of the site. Development would get less dense the farther one traveled from U.S. 278.

He said the family envisions building a showcase development that would be attractive from the street and walkable once inside.

Related content

  1. Planning Commission to consider Graves zoning plan Monday, Jan. 5, 2013
  2. Not buying: Beaufort County rejects Graves' sale offer on Okatie land tract, Sept. 10, 2013

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