A previous online version of this story incorrectly said a traffic report required the town to take action to improve Sea Pines Circle.
An opponent of a planned University of South Carolina Beaufort campus on Hilton Head Island is suing the town to try to block the campus’ construction.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 5 by Sea Pines resident and former Town Council member Kate Keep, says the project would violate town ordinance by adding more traffic to the Sea Pines Circle, where traffic flow already exceeds town standards.
“Should the USCB project complained of be allowed, the Plaintiff’s ability to access Sea Pines Circle within 150 seconds from any direction will be further impaired,” the suit says.
The town’s annual traffic report released last month showed it takes drivers up to 180 seconds to travel through the circle during the busiest afternoon hours of the summer tourism season. That’s 30 seconds longer than the town’s standards, the report said.
Town transportation engineer Darrin Shoemaker said Thursday the report is required to point out deficiencies and make recommendations, but the town is not required to make changes to improve traffic.
However, the town’s Circle to Circle Committee has been tasked with looking at ways to improve the south-end area’s flow on Pope Avenue, including Sea Pines Circle.
Shoemaker said he could not comment on the pending litigation.
Assistant town manager Greg DeLoach also declined comment on the suit, referring questions to town attorney Gregory Alford. Attempts to reach Alford on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful. Town manager Steve Riley was out of the office Thursday.
The suit, which also names Town Council, Mayor David Bennett and Riley, asks the court to prevent any building permits from being issued until the town brings the Sea Pines Circle into compliance and shows that the additional traffic from the campus won’t further overburden the busy south-island roundabout.
It also alleges the town violated S.C. open meetings law by approving an agreement with USCB to build the campus “without publicly debating and voting on the project or (that it) was accomplished in illegal, private session.”
Town Council approved the agreement in open session March 3 for a $24.5 million hospitality-management campus to be built on Office Park Road. Construction has been planned for early 2017, with classes starting in 2018.
Some opponents of the project, including Keep, have said residents were not properly notified about the campus being put on Office Park Road nor whether the campus was a good idea. Along with traffic, they have questioned the cost of the campus, which would serve only 200 students.
Supporters, however, say the campus will eventually bring in more students and, with its close proximity to the island’s resorts, the campus will grow in prestige. They also say it will help revitalize a dated area.
Attorney Russ Keep, who is representing his wife in the suit, declined to comment. Kate Keep was unavailable for comment Thursday.
The town has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.