Beaufort City Council united in opposition to marina parking lot development

emoody@beaufortgazette.comApril 29, 2014 

The Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot photographed April 15, 2014.

ERIN MOODY — Staff photo

All five Beaufort City Council members now oppose developing the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot.

"It's just not the time for it now, if ever," Councilwoman Donnie Beer said after a council budget work session Tuesday night.

The informal consensus apparently signals the end of an ongoing effort to develop the 4.2 acre property.

The project has been spearheaded by the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission, which picked Historic Marina Partners to develop a plan to remake the parking lot off Bay Street. The company dubbed the project "River Place" and was working on plans for upscale accommodations, a restaurant and retail space.

Mayor Billy Keyserling tipped the scale earlier Tuesday and created a publicly opposed council majority by issuing a statement saying he no longer supported the concept. That email put him in line with Councilmen George O'Kelley Jr. and Mike Sutton.

Keyserling said he is "convinced that the vast majority of residents of Beaufort and the surrounding area are opposed to River Place as presented ... . Accordingly I will not support River Place or what the renderings represent. This brings the vote to three or a majority of council."

Questioned after the budget work session Tuesday night, Beer and Councilman Mike McFee said they stand with the council majority.

O'Kelley has opposed development on the parking lot virtually since the beginning of the process.

Sutton said at an April 22 meeting that he would not vote for the plan because so many residents have said they are against it.

A vocal group of such residents has emerged in recent weeks to support a park on the property rather than development.

Developers Jim Chaffin and Steve Navarro, principals in Historic Marina Partners, have an agreement with City Council and the Redevelopment Commission to come up with a development plan, which would need City Council approval.

Navarro said Tuesday he is disappointed by the loss of council support but not surprised. He said council needs to take a closer look at its Civic Master Plan, make changes as necessary, and "get comfortable" with the end product.

"I think people are trying to make this very black and white, and I don't think there's a right or wrong answer," he said. "... I think the City Council needs to do exactly what they're supposed to do and listen to the people, whether that's a vocal minority or a silent majority."

He said he will not comment further on what Keyserling's announcement means for redevelopment plans until council makes a formal decision, expected next week .

City attorney Bill Harvey is looking into the legal ramifications of ending the agreement, city manager Scott Dadson said.

More information is expected at a special meeting at 5 p.m. May 6. Council will receive legal advice during a closed-door meeting, Dadson said, but all other discussion and any action will occur in public.

"And I am confident we will come out of that session with an announcement so the public can fully understand council's position, and we as a community can move forward as we would all like," Keyserling said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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