Graves eyeing possible Hardeeville annexation for Pepper Hall

Family's focus remains dealing with Beaufort County, but will explore options, according to attorney

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comNovember 15, 2013 

Unable to strike a deal to sell their property to Beaufort County, the cousins who own Pepper Hall Plantation might now seek to have it annexed into the city of Hardeeville, their attorney says. John, Paul and Robert Graves still hope Beaufort County will accept Robert Graves' offer to sell 120 acres of the Pepper Hall tract for $18 million, attorney Jim Scheider said. Any discussions of annexation are just preliminary, he added.

Scheider said he met Nov. 6 with Hardeeville city manager Bob Nanni and Jasper County administrator Andy Fulghum to discuss the possibility.

"(We met) to merely review the alternatives as to whether annexation was a possibility if we got nowhere with Beaufort County," Scheider said.

Attempts Friday to reach Nanni and Fulghum for comment were unsuccessful.

Beaufort County Council meets at 5 p.m. Monday in council chambers at the county administration building at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort. Though not on the agenda, the Graves' property and annexation could be discussed in closed session.

"I don't have any crystal ball, but I'm sure there will be some discussions (at some point)," said Councilman Jerry Stewart, whose district includes the Pepper Hall property.

"I've been meeting with a number of councilmen," Scheider said, "and I will continue to do so over the weekend in anticipation of this coming up at Monday's meeting."

So far, the county and Robert Graves have been far apart on price.

County Council declined the offer Oct. 29, noting that a county appraisal completed last year values the property at $9 million, half of Robert Graves' asking price.

However, Graves says that if the property's rural zoning is changed to allow commercial use -- "it's highest and best use," Scheider contends -- its value would more than double.

A proposal to rezone the entire Pepper Hall property, including an additional 40 acres to the north owned by John and Paul Graves, to allow commercial development is pending before the council's Natural Resources Committee. The issue will likely come before the committee Dec. 9, committee chairman Brian Flewelling has said.

Scheider alerted Councilman Jerry Stewart of his annexation discussion with Nanni and Fulghum in an email the same day. Stewart shared the email with county administrator Gary Kubic, County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville and Councilman Stu Rodman.

"Although I believe this to be a negotiating tactic, I do take it very seriously. ... I cannot emphasize how critical this is to my district," Stewart wrote.

State law allows towns and cities to annex property across county lines, but the property must border the town or city limits, Stewart said.

According to county maps, the Pepper Hall property isn't adjacent to Hardeeville's city limit, which runs to the western edge of S.C. 170, county attorney Josh Gruber said.

However, if the Graves were to buy property that stretched from the eastern side of S.C. 170 to the Okatie River, which the Pepper Hall tract also touches, the Graves' property could qualify for annexation, Scheider said.

"If that annexation were to happen and the density that the owner is looking for is to actually come to fruition, that would be, in my mind, very detrimental and devastating to the region," Stewart said.

To stop such an annexation, the county would likely have to sue, Gruber said.

"Because of the traffic concerns and the unchecked development that has sometimes come with rapid municipal annexations, I think the county probably would be forced to look at (a lawsuit) as a possible option," Gruber said.

However, talk of annexation could merely be a way to put pressure on County Council to purchase Robert Graves' land, Stewart said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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