Beaufort County, landowners inch closer to deal on Graves tract, lawyer says

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 14, 2013 

Talks between Beaufort County and three Graves cousins seeking to develop the former Pepper Hall plantation in Okatie are slowly making progress, the cousins' attorney said.

Meanwhile, discussions about the possible sale of the family's 18 acres along the Okatie River to the county for preservation also continue, said Jim Scheider of the Bluffton firm Vaux & Marscher.

"We have made great progress. Both sides have," he said last week. "We also are down to the wire for the valuation of Robert Graves' 18 acres along the river."

Beaufort County Council rejected the family's offer to sell that land and permanently protect another 10 acres last fall, calling the $10.5 million price too high.

County attorney Josh Gruber said only that negotiations on the land acquisition were "still pending." He added that direct talks haven't happened for some time.

The parties have met a handful of times during the past three months to try to agree on a development agreement for the 142-acre Pepper Hall parcel along U.S. 278. The Graves cousins want it rezoned to allow more dense commercial development.

A development agreement probably would codify concessions the family has made on the square footage of buildings, stormwater drainage and other lingering issues. Efforts to protect the Okatie River, which the state deems impaired, also are likely.

Scheider said the agreement would include provisions allowing its terms to be enforceable well beyond the five-year limit allowed under state law.

"We would ... impose on the property a set of covenants that would incorporate terms of the development agreement," Scheider said. "Those covenants would run in perpetuity."

Both parties would have to agree to opt out to nullify those covenants, he added.

The Graves family, which has owned the land for about 130 years, has tried and failed several times since 2000 to have the parcel rezoned.

Current zoning allows as many as 57 homes, plus 5,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the county.

The cousins' zoning proposal would allow as much as 700,000 square feet of commercial development, and buildings no larger than 75,000 square feet each. There would be no more than 240 homes allowed on the 65 acres closest to U.S. 278. The number of homes on the rear 48 acres could vary, depending on whether they were single- or multi-family dwellings are built.

County Councilman Brian Flewelling, who heads the county's four-member development agreement negotiating team, said he's willing to continue talks as long as they are productive.

However, he said Friday, he's not willing "to give up everything the county wants."

"I don't believe we are obliged to negotiate away everything we hold to be important to Beaufort County," Flewelling said.

Any agreement that comes from the committee must be approved by the full council. The rezoning measure, which has been effectively tabled until that agreement is settled, also must be approved for the new zoning and development standards to take effect.

The next meeting between the parties is set for July 31.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Beaufort County commission endorses Graves zoning change, March 4, 2013 Graves family optimistic Okatie land tract rezoning will pass, Jan. 7, 2013

Not buying: Beaufort County rejects Graves' sale offer on Okatie land tract, Sept. 10, 2013

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