The Beaufort County Council unanimously denied a rezoning request from three cousins Monday that would have allowed for more dense development on 142 acres near the Okatie River.
The proposal would have changed the land's rural zoning to commercial and suburban districts.
The land, north of U.S. 278 and west of Berkeley Hall, stretches about three-fourths of a mile along the banks of the Okatie. The full council followed the recommendations of county staff and a subcommittee in denying the request.
"It's a complex issue," Councilman Stu Rodman said. "In the very near term, we ask the Rural and Critical Lands Program, as well as the planning department to be in communication" with the Graves family, which has held parts of the tract for more than 130 years.
The county's Rural and Critical Lands Program negotiates and purchases development rights to preserve environmentally sensitive land similar to the Graves tract, but discussions with the Graves family for preserving the land could not begin while the zoning proposal was still being considered by County Council, according to council Vice Chairman Paul Sommerville.
No Graves family members spoke at Monday's meeting, but they have argued that they have been good stewards of the land and it's not fair to deny them the opportunity to develop their property as some of their neighbors have.
In other action Monday:
The council accepted a $15 million grant from the S.C. Department of Transportation to complete two flyover bridges that would connect U.S. 278 with Bluffton Parkway.
The council gave final approval to Fraser Construction Co. for a $14.3 million contract to renovate the Beaufort County Courthouse and Detention Center. The renovations, according to 2004 study, are needed because faulty gutter systems have caused water to leak between the walls. The stucco-like exterior walls have mold and rust damage. Company owner Joe Fraser said construction could start in as little two months and will take about a year and a half to complete.
A deceleration lane on U.S. 278 at Hampton Parkway will be included in the widening of U.S. 278, the council learned. The council received an update of an S.C. Department of Transportation traffic study that said a deceleration lane there should remain. The lane was to be eliminated in the widening of U.S. 278, but was reconsidered after drivers who regularly use the lane complained to the council in February.
The council gave final approval of a $400,000 contract to Cape Romaine Contractors Inc. to remove a rusted railroad trestle over Huspah Creek.
Suzanne Larson, who served as the county's public information officer for eight years, has retired. She was honored for her service by the council. Her position has not yet been filled.
Mike Bonyne, the S.C. Special Olympics athlete of the year, was honored by the council. Bonyne competed in the state and national tournaments in bowling, bocce, and track and field.
Graves family again brings rezoning proposal to Beaufort County, Jan. 24, 2012
Council to vote Monday on Graves tract rezoning issue, April 7, 2012