A family of longtime Beaufort County landholders says attempts to protect the Okatie River headwaters are coming late -- and at its expense -- after its request to rezone 142 acres to allow more development was rebuffed yet again by a county committee.
In the past decade, John, Robert and Paul Graves have made several requests for zoning that would allow more development on family-owned land west of Berkeley Hall and north of U.S. 278. Monday, the Beaufort County Council Natural Resources Committee denied the cousins' request to change the zoning designation from rural to regional commercial and suburban zoing districts.
"You can't save the county with 142 acres. It's not going to make that much difference," John Graves said, citing residential and commercial development nearby. "We're sitting with all these big things all around us."
Committee members conceded the family has been a good caretaker of the land it has owned for more than 136 years. Nonetheless, they voted unanimously to recommend the full council deny the request.
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The committee followed the lead of the county staff -- both said rezoning would bring more traffic to U.S. 278 and more development that might further degrade the Okatie headwaters which lie adjacent to the Graves tract. The river was listed as impaired in 1995 and closed to shellfishing, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Science."Historically the Graves have been great stewards for that entire area," committee chairman Paul Sommerville said. "But I have to look at it as a representative of Beaufort County -- what's the worst that could happen under the proposed zoning?"
The recommendations will be forwarded to County Council, and Robert Graves said after the meeting he isn't optimistic about the group approving the request.Staff said under current restrictions, about 57 houses and less than 5,000 square feet of retail or office space could be built. If the proposal were approved, as many as 428 houses could be built, and 21 acres of commercial regional zoning would allow developments such as big-box stores or car dealerships.
Submitting a development plan with a zoning request isn't required, but committee member Steven Baer said one might help their case.
"We don't vote for financial blank checks," he said. "I can't vote a zoning blank check on this."
The Graves, however, say they have no immediate plans to develop the property and only want the option to do so in the future. The denial punishes the family for other developments in the area, which includes a car dealership nearby, the Gravses attorney Jim Schieder said.
"This is a unique piece of property, and these men are trying to vet for future generations," he said. "We're here for a rezoning, trying to figure out what's best for the Graves, the county and the river."