Beaufort Liquidation to close following county zoning dispute

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comApril 15, 2014 

Beaufort Liquidation will close its doors later this spring, after a vote by Beaufort County Council on Monday to disallow the shop's weekly outdoor flea market. Tensions led to a scuffle outside council chambers and the county administration building after the vote.

The Lowcountry Flea Market, about three miles from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's main gate, is within a "compatible-use" zone that restricts what businesses can do because of concerns about noise from fighter jets flying overhead.

Representatives of the county, the air station and Beaufort Liquidation have negotiated for the past three months over whether the outdoor market meets those zoning rules.

On Monday, a tie vote by County Council did not approve a motion to allow the flea market to operate on Saturdays. Instead, council members voted to allow Beaufort Liquidation to use more of the property's indoor space -- which is also limited under current zoning rules -- but not to allow the outdoor market.

That effectively shuts the business down, said the shop's owner, Jeff Lowe.

Without the flea market, Lowe said he plans to leave Beaufort to open a new shop elsewhere. He hasn't decided when the current store will close and where the new one might open.

"I'm just going to get out of Beaufort County," Lowe said. "They don't want business here."

A company that runs strip clubs in Greenville has expressed an interest in buying or leasing the property, and that use may be allowed under the current zoning, Lowe added.

The scuffle came after the vote, when Lowe and a young man wearing a U.S. Marine Corps uniform exchanged words and tried to shove each other. The scuffle was broken up by county administrator Gary Kubic and residents who attended the meeting to support Lowe. The young man spoke with a Beaufort County sheriff's deputy in the parking lot.

After the incident, Lowe said he intends to file charges with the Beaufort Police Department.

In May, Beaufort Liquidation relocated from Robert Smalls Parkway to the former 84 Lumber building at 5 Parker Drive, just across Trask Parkway from the air station property.

The county's planning department gave Lowe temporary permission to operate the outdoor flea market each Saturday and Sunday, but a zoning amendment was required to allow it to operate permanently, said County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.

Air station representatives worry that allowing the outdoor flea market to continue would undermine zoning rules meant to keep businesses from encroaching on the station.

About 25 Beaufort residents and business owners attended the council's meeting Monday and spoke in defense of the flea market.

Highway 21 Drive-in owner Joe Barth and Ultimate Audio owner Chad Vassallo both argued the air station and flea market have coexisted without issue and could continue to.

About 1,000 people visit the market each day it's open, Lowe said.

Those people are primarily poorer residents and families who don't have any other clean, family-friendly events to go to, Beaufort resident John Chaplin said. Without the flea market, Beaufort loses a community center, not just a store, he added.

"There's no need for that one business to be singled out and shut down," Chaplin said. "This is an important part of the community, and (the air station and flea market) don't affect each other."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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