Fewer homes and better water management near the May River will mean safer and cleaner water for future generations, according to Bluffton officials.
But that is "easily written about and planned for on paper, but much harder to implement in the real world," Mayor Lisa Sulka said Friday.
Sulka's comments were part of a news conference to unveil details about a plan, announced earlier this week, about an agreement between the town and Charlotte-based Crescent Resources LLC. The development company plans to build 1,300 homes in Palmetto Bluff farther from the May River than originally planned, though it has not yet determined where those home will be built.
The developer also is donating six acres for a stormwater retention pond the town will build using a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and town funds. The pond will treat stormwater from 300 surrounding acres, removing 80 percent of harmful bacteria before it reaches the river, according to Ron Bullman, director of the town Division of Stormwater Management.
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Sulka said town officials approached Crescent Resources about the changes, part of a town plan to protect the river.
"It is so easy to sit back and complain, but it takes far more time and effort to step up to the plate and help find solutions for problems," Sulka said.
The announcement comes on the heels of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's decision to reopen a half-mile section of the May River that had been closed to shellfishing since 2009. An agency spokesman said recent water-quality samples indicate it is safe to eat oysters and other shellfish from the area.
The shellfish harvesting season opens Oct. 1.
Stormwater runoff, which can carry fecal matter and increase in volume as more impervious surfaces are created by development, often is cited as a culprit when bacteria levels make shellfish beds unsafe for harvest.
The 1,300 homes Crescent Resources will build elsewhere would have created about 146 acres of impervious surface near the river, Bullman said. Crescent will build the homes in an area less environmentally sensitive, he said.
The developer will not receive tax incentives from the town but will be able to choose where the homes will be built, either in other areas of Palmetto Bluff, off U.S. 46, or within town limits, town officials said. Officials did not place a value on the land or homesite relocations.
Crescent Resources first began developing its 20,000-acre Palmetto Bluff in the early 2000s. It intends to build 2,900 homes in the gated community, which includes a five-star resort, spa, a golf club and stables. About a third of the property is protected by restrictions, including a 6,500-acre forest and 734 acres of conservation easements.
"You have to look at the past projects that we have participated in gladly, and we are very interested in protecting the May River and preserving it for the future," Crescent Resources representative Garrit Albert said.