A long-planned program to limit growth around Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort has been praised by a state planning group, just days before its launch.
The program will offer land owners inside the air station's AICUZ, which is a buffer zone around a military air installation, a chance to sell the rights to develop their property. Homes and other buildings already on the property can remain, but those selling their rights cannot develop the land further.
Developers could then purchase those rights to increase building density for projects in other parts of Beaufort, Port Royal and unincorporated Beaufort County.
Letters offering more details about the program will be sent as soon as next week to about 500 eligible property owners by the Lowcountry Council of Governments, which helped develop the transfer-of-development-rights program with base and local government officials.
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"Starting out, we've decided to start with smaller land holdings because there are some big parcels of land in the AICUZ and purchasing those development rights will be more expensive," said Ginnie Kozak, Lowcountry Council of Government planning director. "We've already gotten calls from people who are ready to sell, and some may choose not to and hold out until the market improves."
Kozak said $250,000 in state funding will be used as seed money to purchase the first wave of development rights. Other revenue streams, including an additional $250,000 from the Navy, will follow.
The rights transfer is touted as the first of its kind in South Carolina and the first in the nation seeking to protect an air base from encroaching development.
That's one reason the program was honored last week by the state chapter of the American Planning Association. The Lowcountry Council of Governments received the organization's Outstanding Planning Award, given annually to a project that shows innovation and quality, among other attributes, a group spokesman said.
"These agencies worked together to modify (development zones) to allow for new growth outside of the flight path ... while (also protecting) the rights of property owners," said Phil Lindler, a spokesman for the planning association. "The approach used in this project has many practical applications that could be utilized in communities throughout South Carolina."
Kozak said the program's goal is to prevent encroachment around the air station while compensating property owners. She also cited the crash of an F-18 jet near Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., as an example of the importance of preventing development near air bases.
"I think the April crash really brought this issue to light," Kozak said. "If you allow development near air installations, you're just waiting for something tragic to happen. And it does happen."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort