Beaufort City Council likely to vote on marina memorandum next week

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comNovember 7, 2013 

Residents could know as soon as next week what the city plans to do with the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot.

City council is expected discuss those plans in executive session Tuesday, according to Alan Dechovitz, a member of the city's Redevelopment Commission.

The commission discussed a memorandum of understanding -- basically guidelines for the project -- between the city and the as yet unnamed developer in executive session at their meeting Thursday night.

Commission members expect council to vote in favor of the plan following the executive session Tuesday, Dechovitz added.

If approved, the city would introduce the developer at a public forum on Wednesday morning and give Beaufort residents their first look at the developer's concept, Dechovitz said. The developer should be in town for the meeting Tuesday night, he added.

The city has remained tight-lipped about plans for redeveloping the area surrounding the marina, and Dechovitz declined comment on the specifics of the memo, the developer's identity or the developer's concept Thursday night.

"In order to get the best deal for the city, the negotiations have to be done in private," he said.

The memo would outline how property would be transferred and under what circumstances, but would not include a lease or sales agreement, commission chairman Jon Verity has said. It would also outline the next steps, which include an "extensive" public comment opportunity as the commission and developer create a plan for the site, he said.

"(Mayor Billy Keyserling) wants to be sure that the public has plenty of opportunity to comment on the development," Dechovitz said. "It's a premier piece of property. We want it to be successful."

The plan council is expected to discuss Tuesday is not a development agreement, but simply an outline of how the developer and city will work together in formulating an agreement, Dechovitz said.

Because the city owns the parking lot, a development contract would be negotiated by city council, Verity has said.

Recommended uses include retail, residential, hospitality and recreational or tourism-related activities such as paddle sports or rowing craft storage, according to the commission's original letter soliciting developer ideas.

Five companies responded to the request, and Redevelopment Commission met with three of them, according to Verity.

Details of those proposals have not been made public, and the city has denied two requests for the plans made by The Beaufort Gazette under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

The city says it does not have to turn over the information because it might become part of a contract negotiation and thus is exempt from disclosure under the law.

S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender doesn't agree with the city's use of the exemption.

"If they're just floating ideas and there is no contract, there is no exemption," he has said.

Verity has repeatedly said an actual development plan will not be created until residents provide input.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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