The latest proposal to rezone most of Bluffton's Pepper Hall tract to allow more dense commercial and residential development should be denied, Beaufort County's planning staff said.
In a Feb. 25 report, planning director Anthony Criscitello said allowing greater development on the 113-acre tract sandwiched between the Okatie River, U.S. 278 and Berkeley Hall would worsen traffic and overburden a nearby intersection.
Further, development on the scale of what rezoning would allow would harm the Okatie River, the report says. The state already considers the river impaired and closed shellfishing beds almost 20 years ago.
"Allowing intense commercial and moderate-density residential development would contribute to the further degradation of water quality in the Okatie River and would be a departure from the county's historical commitment to restoring (the river's) water quality," Criscitello wrote.
The report was issued ahead of today's scheduled Planning Commission review of the rezoning request sought by three members of the Graves family.
Beaufort County Council has the final say on the zoning changes.
Attempts Friday to reach Criscitello and Jim Scheider -- an attorney representing cousins John, Paul and Robert Graves in the rezoning process -- were unsuccessful.
The Graves' proposal seeks greater commercial density for 65 acres near the front of the parcel, and mixed commercial and residential uses on 48 acres near the rear.
Current zoning allows construction of as many as 57 houses and as much as 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the entire parcel, according to the county. Graves family representatives, however, read the zoning code differently and dispute those figures.
Under the proposed zoning change, the Graves would agree to no more than 700,000 square feet of commercial development, and individual buildings no larger than 75,000 square feet. They also would seek no more than 240 housing units on the front section.
The zoning request is separate from the family's ongoing efforts to sell 10 acres along the river to Beaufort County and permanently preserve another 18.
The family, which has sought new zoning for the property since the early 2000s, has had two similar rezoning efforts rejected in the past three years amid concerns about over-development and damage to the river.
Graves family representatives began pitching their case for rezoning in January, but the commission took no action because a required traffic study wasn't finished. The proposal was pulled from the commission's February agenda because of a late filing.
The commission will meet at 6 p.m. today at the county's Administration Building at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.