Plans to preserve about 86 acres of open land across from Sun City Hilton Head may move forward in June, about five months after Beaufort County agreed to buy the property.
While the parcel along S.C. 170 near the Okatie River was slated about 10 years ago for commercial and residential development by Florida-based New Leaf LLC, those plans fell through during the recession, according to town of Bluffton documents.
Hit hard during the downturn, the owner now owes more than $400,000 in fees to the town and hopes to sell the land -- part of a project known as Kent Estates -- and give up its development rights to absolve that debt.
Town attorney Terry Finger says Town Council has not sought to aggressively pursue the overdue fees from New Leaf. The town's priority has been reducing density on the land.
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"The less rooftops around rivers the better," he said.
New Leaf applied April 16 to transfer its development rights to Bluffton. Town Council plans to discuss the application in closed session June 9 and may seek further input from the Planning Commission, Finger says.
If council agrees to the deal, it would also promise not to develop the open land, the application states.
New Leaf would then sell the 86-acre parcel to the Beaufort County Open Land Trust for about $2 million, which would prevent future development and additional stormwater runoff into the already-impaired Okatie River, according to Rural and Critical Lands Program administrator Lisa Lord.
With the wet, low-lying property already taking on runoff from Sun City and nearby developments, the original New Leaf plan of about 450 homes "would have just been one more problem," Lord said.
"Preservation of this piece is pretty critical," she said. "It's been a target of our program for a long, long time."
Attempts to reach the owner of New Leaf or his attorney, Walter Nester of the McNair Law Firm, were unsuccessful Friday.
Beaufort County Council voted in December to approve purchasing the New Leaf property.
Rural and Critical Lands will pay about $1.83 million, while its stormwater utility fund will pick up the rest. The utility plans to build a small stormwater pond on its portion of the land, Lord said.
The county must wait for New Leaf to finish negotiations with the town because the Open Land Trust cannot purchase land that is restricted by a development agreement. Transferring development rights to the town would do away with New Leaf's previous agreement and clear the title for the county, Lord says.
"We're just sort of sitting back and waiting until they can work it out but, of course, we'd like to get it closed," she said.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Council gives first nod to Kent Estates annexation, May 13, 2004
- Bluffton, property owner disagree over easement to widen S.C. 170, June 27, 2011