Three cousins negotiating to sell land along the Okatie River to Beaufort County say the county is vastly underestimating the property's value.
In an advertisement that ran Sunday in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, John, Paul and Robert Graves questioned the county's method of appraising three family-owned tracts in greater Bluffton comprising 142 acres. They argue the $13.4 million valuation -- which comes to $95,000 an acre -- is too low based on the purchase price of other nearby property.
The Graves don't want the county to buy all of the property. Rather, they seek to sell 18 acres along the Okatie and conserve an additional 10 acres in exchange for $10.4 million. As a condition of the sale, the family wants the county to rezone most of the remaining 114 acres to allow commercial development.
The advertisement appeared less than a week after Beaufort County Council rejected the Graves' offer. County attorney Josh Gruber has cited the disparity between the tract's appraised value and the asking price for the 28 waterfront acres as a key reason for the rejection.
Attempts Monday to reach the Graves for comment were unsuccessful, but the family's lawyer said the advertisement was intended to "set the record straight" and rebut claims the cousins were being "greedy."
"Our position is, a more detailed review of the Beaufort County appraisal will support the Graves' contention that the property is worth much more than the (offering) price," Jim Scheider of the Bluffton firm Vaux & Marscher said.
County officials said Monday they would not comment on the ad and its assertions until conferring with council.
Until then, the county also declined to release its appraisal of the three Graves parcels, located between the Okatie and Berkeley Hall off U.S. 278.
In a Sept. 12 letter to Scheider, Gruber wrote that nobody on council supported buying the land when it was discussed in a Sept. 10 executive session. The main sticking point, Gruber said, was price.
"The concerns ... surrounded the fact that the purchase price proposed in your offer significantly exceeded the appraised value," Gruber wrote, noting the asking price also exceeded the purchase price of land near the Graves tract recently acquired by the county.
The Graves' ad countered that instead of appraising the 28 waterfront acres offered, the county appraised all 142 acres, including lower-valued interior property they don't intend to sell. It also contended that the county's appraisal was based on the sale price of property not located on the Okatie River, or even in Beaufort County.
Scheider said he and Gruber have made some progress in the past week on aspects of the transaction other than price.
The Graves family, which has owned the land for 130 years, has tried repeatedly since 2000 to have the parcel rezoned for commercial uses. The most recent denial came in April, amid concerns about how the development could impact the river, which was deemed "impaired" by the state and closed to shellfishing in 1995.
Current zoning on the property allows up to 57 houses and 5,000 square feet of commercial space. The rezoning proposed by the Graves earlier this year would allow more than 400 houses and 1.4 million square feet of office space.
Scheider said the Graves cousins, all in their 70s, want the "highest and best use of the property" -- which they believe is commercial, not residential. He said the cousins remain open to continued negotiations with the county.