A zoning change to allow more residential and commercial development for Pepper Hall Plantation in greater Bluffton was endorsed Monday night by the Beaufort County Planning Commission.
But the approval came at a cost: New restrictions and environmental requirements were added to the zoning request, which would affect 113 acres of a 141-acre tract owned by three Graves cousins.
Robert Graves, who has tried for 11 years to rezone the land, said he was "excited and grateful" to see the scaled-down proposal advance.
"We've compromised on everything to this point that's been asked of us," he said after the meeting.
The Graves want 113 of the 141 acres they own along U.S. 278 and the Okatie River to be allowed greater residential and commercial density.
Most commercial development would be clustered in the 65 acres closest to U.S. 278. Mixed-use residential and commercial development is envisioned toward the back 48 acres.
The family had already agreed to cap commercial buildings on the site to 75,000 square feet and limit total commercial development to 700,000 square feet of ground-floor space. Two prior rezoning attempts without those caps were rejected in the past three years.
The commission took those limits a step further Monday, capping total commercial development to 700,000 square feet for the entire parcel -- which includes potential second- or third-floor space, as well as ground floor. The commission also required developers to prove construction would not harm the Okatie.
Graves family attorney Jim Scheider suggested additional restrictions could be added during the development review process if and when construction is proposed.
Current zoning allows for 57 houses and 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the entire parcel, according to the county.
The commission spent about two hours Monday listening to presentations by the county and the Graves' representatives.
Robert Merchant, the county's long-range planner, reiterated the county's opposition to the zoning change. He cited traffic issues and concerns about how the project would affect the Okatie, which would be separated from development by a 300-foot strip of land.
Scheider responded that stormwater runoff could be effectively managed and that traffic projections might not come true -- especially if several large projects along the U.S. 278 corridor never materialize.
"The Graves are essentially being tarred and feathered with projections," he told the commission.
Reed Armstrong of the Coastal Conservation League opposed the change, echoing many points the county raised.
The commission endorsed the zoning request on a 6-2 vote, with Randolph Stewart and Diane Chmelik opposed.
The request now moves to County Council for consideration.
Meanwhile, Scheider said he and the county are making progress on a possible sale of at least 18 acres to the county for preservation. The county rejected the Graves' offer last fall to sell 18 acres and permanently preserve about 10 more along the river for $10.5 million.