Beaufort police investigating fight outside County Council meeting Monday night

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comApril 15, 2014 

CITY OF BEAUFORT

Beaufort police are investigating a brief fight outside the county administration building that stemmed from a Beaufort County Council vote Monday night.

Beaufort Liquidation owner Jeff Lowe and Lt. Col. Scott Manning of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort -- two of the people involved in a months-long zoning debate over an outdoor flea market at the store -- were involved in the altercation, according to an incident report from the Beaufort Police Department.

Lowe contends the scuffle broke a metal rod in his hip and said he intends to press charges.

Police are still investigating, and no arrests have been made, Cpl. Hope Able said Tuesday afternoon.

The brief fight came after a County Council vote to disallow the outdoor Lowcountry Flea Market hosted at Beaufort Liquidation each weekend. The business is three miles from the air station's main gate and within a "compatible-use" zone that restricts activity on the property because of concerns about noise from fighter jets flying overhead.

County, air station and Beaufort Liquidation representatives have tried for the past three months to determine whether the outdoor market meets zoning rules and negotiate a solution if it does not.

Lowe and about 25 residents who came to support him Monday left Council chambers after council denied the business's request to amend its zoning to allow the outdoor flea market. Lowe said that's when tension turned into heated words between one resident and an air station representative.

Manning then shoved Lowe and sent him reeling, Lowe said.

Manning attended Monday's meeting in his official capacity as an attorney with the community liaison team for the air station, according to air station public affairs officer Capt. Jordan Cochran.

That team also included air station community plans and liaison director Jason Mann, who has worked extensively with County Council and Lowe's zoning attorney, David Tedder, on the flea market zoning.

Attempts Tuesday to reach Mann and Manning were unsuccessful. Interviews with either were not included in the police report, but investigators were conducting interviews Tuesday, Able said.

A doctor who examined Lowe after the incident Monday discovered the rod in Lowe's left hip was broken, Lowe said.

However, the doctor said it's impossible to tell exactly when the break happened, according to Lowe, who declined to name the doctor.

Lowe has retained Port Royal attorney Jared Newman to help with his case.

Without the flea market, Lowe said he plans to leave Beaufort, though he hasn't decided when he will close or where he will reopen.

However, he said he will not turn away those who already paid to have tables at this weekend's flea market, even if that results in a fine for violating the property's zoning.

A company that manages adult strip clubs is interested in either buying or leasing the property if Beaufort Liquidation leaves, Lowe said. He refused to name the business but said the company runs clubs in Atlanta, Cleveland and Greenville and wants to open a Beaufort location.

County attorney Josh Gruber and planning director Tony Criscitiello said zoning would not allow adult entertainment at the location.

"You have homes nearby and the access is off of a major highway, so those two conditions just knock that opportunity right there," Criscitiello said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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