St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church is moving forward with a planned parking lot expansion that is supposed to connect to a frontage road at the property.
But construction of that road has been delayed by a legal dispute between Berkeley Hall residents and Beaufort County for six years. The latest development occurred Dec. 13, when the community's property owners board rejected a county-proposed settlement.
That leaves the church with its hands tied, parish manager Joe Ruoto said. Plans to expand and reconfigure the parking lot were designed to increase safety and parking capacity for a growing parish, he said.
Those plans are in limbo until the county and Berkeley Hall can resolve their dispute, said Monsignor Ronald Cellini, the church's pastor. For now, the church is completing the expansion's conceptual design and securing funding for the $1 million to $1.5 million project, he said.
"We're moving forward on it, and hopefully Beaufort County will work with us and just get our piece in," Ruoto said. "Then they can battle all they want with Berkeley Hall."
The frontage road would connect the church to intersections at Berkeley Hall, the Bluffton Township Fire Station and a new median crossover on U.S. 278. Previous proposals from the church to create a new traffic light, either at the median crossing or the fire station, have been denied, Ruoto said.
Because Berkeley Hall has disputed only the section of the road connecting the community's entrance to the church, Ruoto said completing the rest of the road could help alleviate traffic issues at the church, which now has only one entrance.
County officials have said they will not build the road in sections. Building the eastern portion of the frontage road wouldn't solve enough of the traffic problem to merit its own construction, county attorney Josh Gruber said.
"Getting to the (Buckwalter Parkway) light is the key," Gruber said. "We don't need to have a bunch of traffic sitting in front of a fire station when (firefighters) need to be responding to a call."
County administrator Gary Kubic has said construction will begin immediately after the legal dispute is resolved.
Church leaders hope that day comes soon but are left with few options, Ruoto said.
"We're getting our part ready so that we're able to move immediately when they finally find some resolution to this," Cellini said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.
- Berkeley Hall shoots down frontage-road settlement, Dec. 17, 2013
- Median closing leaves few options for St. Gregory parishioners, Oct. 11, 2013