Beaufort County leaders say they are trying to prevent a conflict of interest by refusing to rezone 113 acres along U.S. 278 and the Okatie River.
But a man who owns most of the land in the Pepper Hall tract says the refusal is simply the county playing politics.
Cousins John, Paul and Robert Graves seek a zoning change that would allow commercial and residential development on property currently designated for rural use. On Monday, County Council sent a proposal to rezone 30 acres owned by John and Paul Graves to the county's Planning Commission for its consideration.
However, council declined to rezone 83 acres belonging to Robert Graves because the county has an option to purchase that property. To do otherwise would create a conflict of interest, according to county attorney Josh Gruber.
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"This is essentially holding (Robert Graves) hostage," countered Graves' attorney, Jim Scheider. "This is not over."
The Graves cousins are now in a quandary because they want to market and develop the entire property together if the county does not buy Robert Graves' land, Scheider said.
"They're in a pickle, and I get that," Councilman Brian Flewelling said, "but that's one of the things you negotiate away when you offer the purchase option."
In December, the county bought 18 acres along the Okatie River from Robert Graves for $4 million. It also paid an additional, nonrefundable $500,000 for an option to buy his remaining 83.5 acres for $12 million within 18 months.
The county has not exercised the option because it does not yet have the funding, but council hopes to eventually purchase and develop the property, Gruber said.
The $500,000 option was to compensate Robert Graves because the property can't be rezoned while County Council considers a purchase, said Gruber.
"We paid him to be in that predicament," he said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.