A Georgia developer's plan to build a large shopping center in greater Bluffton moved past a Beaufort County panel Friday. But some still think the proposal undermines the county's stormwater standards.
The Development Agreement Subcommittee decided not to change plans for 66 acres at the corner of U.S. 278 and S.C. 46, a site known as Bluffton Gateway.
Despite being prime real estate, the densely wooded, contaminated former location of a printing company has sat vacant for years. The developer, Atlanta-based Jaz Development LLC, has agreed to remove contaminated soil from the site. It has not made public the name of the large retailer tenant it says will occupy the site.
The project received preliminary approval in October from County Council but was sent to the subcommittee after some raised questions about the amount of paved and other hard surfaces planned for the project.
Hard surfaces, such as rooftops, sidewalks and parking lots, increase stormwater runoff, which can carry pollutants that reach local waterways -- in this case, the Colleton River.
Jaz has asked the county to allow more than the recommended 10 percent of paved and other hard surfaces -- preliminary plans show 14.4 percent, according to county stormwater manager Eric Larson.
Larson said the plans meet the county's stormwater requirements, which include controlling the volume and flow of runoff, despite showing more than the recommended amount of hard surfaces. That is possible because the developer will employ devices that will minimize runoff, such as rain gardens, retention and detention ponds, and pavement that traps runoff for re-use, he said.
"It is mathematically possible to meet our criteria and not meet 10 percent," he said. "I don't want to call it a loophole. That is not the word, but it is possible."
Councilmen Brian Flewelling and Jerry Stewart said they found the evidence compelling enough to advance the project.
"If seems if you meet the objectives we've set out, even without meeting the 10 percent, then that is sufficient," Stewart said.
However, Councilman Tabor Vaux said the 10 percent is based on numerous studies and should be a rule, not a recommendation.
He said he worries that allowing the exception could set a bad precedent for future developments.
"This could open up the floodgates," he said after the meeting.
The subcommittee did not take a formal vote Friday, but agreed to send the project back to County Council.
Council is scheduled to give it a second reading at its April 14 meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at the county administration building, 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort. A third reading is required before it can be approved, according to Flewelling.
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.