A Beaufort County Council subcommittee has indefinitely delayed action on the proposed Pepper Hall rezoning, giving county officials and property owners time to negotiate development caps and other concessions.
The Natural Resources Committee voted 4-2 to freeze the review until an agreement spelling out development limits on the 113-acre parcel is submitted.
The land is between the Okatie River, U.S. 278 and Berkeley Hall in greater Bluffton. It's owned by Robert, Paul and John Graves, who want new zoning to allow more commercial and residential development.
The family also is negotiating to sell 18 acres to the county and conserve 10 more along the river. Those talks continue and are separate from the zoning request.
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Jim Scheider, a Bluffton attorney representing the three Graves cousins, said he was satisfied with the committee's decision.
"Two positives come out of this," he said. "One is, we are still alive. Two, we now have a venue and a committee to negotiate with."
The zoning request, which has been scaled down substantially from the request County Council rejected last April, was endorsed by the Planning Commission last month.
The county planning staff recommends it be denied, based on traffic projections and concerns about damaging the river, which the state considers impaired.
For months, the Graves family has said it would cap total development on the front 65 acres to 700,000 square feet -- less than half what's allowed under the new zoning they want. The cousins also pledged to cap future buildings to 75,000 square feet or less.
Housing on the 113 acres probably would total between 400 and 500 units.
Current zoning allows for 57 houses and 5,000 square feet of commercial space over the entire parcel, according to the county.
The parties must also resolve the longevity of the development agreement.
In South Carolina, development agreements on tracts smaller than 250 acres last only five years. After that, the limits included in the document expire -- in this case, meaning building-size and square-footage limits would be scrapped.
Scheider said the family is willing to add a clause that renews the agreement every five years, but it's not clear how that would work. County attorney Josh Gruber said he needs to research whether such an extension is possible.
The agreement might also address other potential problems, such as stormwater runoff.
It's not clear when the agreement will be finished, although Scheider expects it will be a matter of weeks, not months. Once settled, it will come back to the Natural Resources Committee for consideration, along with the zoning request.
From there, the proposals will go to the full council for approval or denial.
- Beaufort County commission endorses Graves zoning change, March 4, 2013
- Graves family optimistic Okatie land tract rezoning will pass, Jan. 7, 2013
- Not buying: Beaufort County rejects Graves' sale offer on Okatie land tract, Sept. 10, 2012
- Graves family denied rezoning for property near Okatie headwaters, April 9, 2012