Beaufort County Council approves Pepper Hall purchase

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comDecember 9, 2013 

STAFF GRAPHIC

  • In other action Monday, Beaufort County Council approved changes to zoning rules and awarded more than $780,000 in technology contracts. Council also referred discussions of a reserve fund policy and changes to the salary structure for elected and appointed officials to the council's finance committee.

Eighteen acres of the Pepper Hall tract along the Okatie River will join Beaufort County's critical-lands conservation program.

Beaufort County Council approved the $4 million purchase, which will be paid for by the county's Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program, on Monday.

The agreement also includes $500,000 from the county's general fund to buy an 18-month option to purchase the remaining 102 acres of Robert Graves' property on U.S. 278 for $12 million. That means the county will have 18 months to decide how to finance the purchase, if it decides to exercise that option, county attorney Josh Gruber said.

The council hasn't discussed specifics for possible financing, but might consider putting a tax referendum to fund the rest of the purchase on next November's ballot, Gruber said. That could be part of a larger capital project referendum, or it could be a standalone item, he said.

"It probably would not be part of a rural and critical-lands referendum," Gruber said. "On a rural and critical-lands referendum, you can only use the property for passive parks."

"I think council would like to see this developed in a responsible manner," he added.

Beaufort County and Graves have been working on a deal for the property for more than a year and a half.

"It was an interesting process," Graves said after the vote. "I appreciate the council's consideration on this, and I look forward to working with the council going forward."

Gruber and Graves' attorney, Jim Scheider, said they hope to close the sale of the 18 acres before the end of the year. Then discussions about the future of the remaining 102 acres will begin, Gruber said.

"We've still got work to do," Scheider said.

With the county gaining the option to buy, there will be no development on Graves' 102 remaining acres until it's purchased by the county or the 18-month window expires, Gruber said. A pending proposal to rezone the property and an additional 40 acres to the north owned by Graves' cousins, John and Paul Graves, will be put on hold until the 102 acres are dealt with, Gruber said.

The $16.5 million total offer for the Pepper Hall tract is a compromise between differing value appraisals of the property by the county and Graves. In October, council declined an offer to buy the entire property for $18 million because it was so much higher than the county's $9 million appraisal, council chairman Paul Sommerville said at the time.

The council has floated the idea of making the 102-acre Pepper Hall tract the future site of a new medical center or a possible tech park, but hasn't considered any specifics, Gruber said.

"Just broad, general concepts, nothing beyond that," he said. "Until we had an agreement tonight, we really didn't have enough to work with, as far as having some solid knowledge that we would have the opportunity to acquire that property."

Monday's meeting was council's last of the year. It will resume its twice-monthly meetings on Jan. 13 at council chambers at 100 Ribaut Road, Beaufort.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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