Beaufort County Council declines offer to buy Pepper Hall Plantation tract

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comOctober 29, 2013 

Beaufort County Council turned down an offer to buy land for development at Pepper Hall Plantation on U.S. 278 at its meeting Monday night in Bluffton.

Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said the asking price for Robert Graves' 102-acre tract along the Okatie River was simply too high.

The offer contained several components, including an offer to the county to buy 18 acres along the Okatie to be conserved for $5.3 million and an option to purchase the remaining 102 acres for $12.7 million, county attorney Josh Gruber said. A full draft of the contract was not available Monday night.

That offer of $18 million for the entire tract is about $5 million less than the $23 million that an appraiser hired by Graves assigned the property, Gruber said. However, both of those numbers are significantly higher than the $9 million the county appraiser assigned the entire property last year, he added.

The difference in appraisals is because the buyer and the seller don't see eye to eye about the future use of the property, councilman Jerry Stewart said.

The property is currently zoned rural, but a proposal to rezone the property -- and an additional 40 acres to the north owned by Graves' cousins, John and Paul Graves -- to allow commercial development is pending before the council's natural resources committee.

However, the purchase of the property and the potential for it to be rezoned are two separate issues, Gruber said. The county can only base its decision to buy the property on the merits of the offer it was presented, not on any other factors, he added.

"Are we buying a head of lettuce? Or are we buying the whole salad?" councilman Brian Flewelling asked.

"The property is undeveloped," he added. "That's the only thing we can base our price on."

The council has been negotiating the sale of the property for about 18 months and spent two hours before Monday's meeting considering Robert Graves' offer in executive session.

At the end of council's public meeting, members waived their confidentiality privileges and opened the discussion for public record.

"We are hopelessly deadlocked across the council, and therefore we ought to bring this forward and vote it up or down and move on with life," Stu Rodman said.

The ball is now in Graves' court, Gruber said. Graves can choose to rescind the offer or amend it, but council has decided on the offer as it stands now.

The request to rezone the tract is pending before the council's natural resources committee, which is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Nov. 5 in the executive conference room at the county administration building, 100 Ribaut Road, Beaufort.

Find a locator map of the Graves property here.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content: Beaufort County commission endorses Graves zoning change, March, 4, 2013 http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/03/04/2404636/beaufort-county-commissio...

Beaufort County: Deny Pepper Hall rezoning, March 4, 2013 http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/03/04/2402763/beaufort-county-deny-pepper-hall.html

Graves family: Beaufort County land appraisal too low, Sept. 17, 2013 http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/09/17/2214420/graves-family-beaufort-county.html

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