Plans for a convenience store in Beaufort are in limbo, in part because the county wants developers to build a tunnel for the Spanish Moss Rail Trail.
Parker's, the Savannah company known for chewy ice and talking gas pumps, has proposed the gas station at the intersection of U.S. 21 and Parris Island Gateway on the former Dixie Mobile Home Park site. The plan for the project calls for several additional buildings to one day be built on the 10-acre parcel.
The gas station itself isn't controversial, but Beaufort County officials say they are concerned a driveway into the station from U.S. 21 that crosses the trail might be unsafe. Officials worry accidents could occur involving trail users and cars pulling into the station at high speeds.
"If a motorist is not familiar with the trail, there is a possibility that they will not be mindful of cyclists and pedestrians ... increasing the risk of accidents at the proposed trail crossing," county planning director Anthony Criscitello said in a Feb. 22 report.
The county recommends building a tunnel under the road to allow pedestrians to safely traverse the intersection.
The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority owns the trail corridor, but the county manages the trail route. Beaufort County Council will decide whether to grant an "encroachment permit" across the trail route.
"It's about safety, and how that is achieved is the issue at hand," Criscitello said last week.
Attempts to reach Greg Parker of Parker's were unsuccessful.
The driveway plan submitted to Beaufort's Design Review Board does not include a tunnel, city manager Scott Dadson said.
"Since the county owns surface rights to the trail, this crossing must be approved by them," Dadson said. "This is still under discussion."
Dean Moss of the Spanish Moss Rail Trail group said there is at least one alternative to building the tunnel. One calls for routing trail traffic into the development to avoid the dangerous U.S. 21 intersection. The trail would cross the driveway at a three-way intersection regulated by stop signs inside the development before returning to the former rail corridor.
"My understanding is the developer is not uncomfortable with (the at-grade crossing) at all," said Moss, who also is the former head of the BJWSA.
The trail group is not taking a position on the crossing issue. While Moss said he prefers the trail have no street crossings or intersections, that's not possible in Beaufort.
For instance, the trail route also crosses Parris Island Gateway. County officials would not explain Friday why that crossing would be considered more or less dangerous than the proposed entrance to the Parker's property.
About a mile of the trail already has been built between Allison and Depot roads in Beaufort. Another two-mile segment from Depot Road to Parris Island Gateway is being planned.
There are no estimates on how much the tunnel would cost.
Meanwhile, Parker's has reportedly offered to donate up to $25,000 for the trail. Moss confirmed the possible donation but said no money has changed hands.
County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said he has heard Beaufort is "ready to go" except for the crossing question, which he expects to be solved soon.
So does Moss.
"These kind of things normally get resolved," Moss said. "Normally, there is a lot of posturing and hollering and yelling and people staking out positions. But usually, by the end of the day, everyone has worked out a compromise, and it gets done and we move ahead."
The tunnel proposal will undergo a second of three readings at Monday's County Council meeting at 4 p.m. in the county administration building at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort. A final vote isn't expected until later this month at the earliest.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.